Recently my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Because it was a big milestone, we decided about a year ago that we would take a big trip. I began researching rates for cruises, destinations, airplane flights, etc.
We eventually settled on the idea of a cruise. Being the thrifty shopper that I am, I compared cruises for several different cruise lines as well as several different types of cruises. What I learned through this first cruising experience was eye-opening. Hopefully, some things I can share with you will make your first (or next) cruise much more fun without breaking the budget.
First, if you are considering a cruise, I encourage you to start looking for it well in advance of your vacation date. To find deals on cruises you have several options. Begin by researching with each cruise line specifically. Register your email with them and you will begin to receive information in your inbox about their deals, early bird rates and more.
We booked our cruise in January, 11 months before the actual cruising date. Booking early saved us $100 off the total cruise price.
Now, not everyone knows 11 months in advance that they have something to celebrate, and even if they do, sometimes the funds just aren’t there for booking such a trip. If you are looking for a cruise or other celebratory travel event for you, your spouse or even your whole family, look into TravelZoo or other “Groupon-like” travel discount services.
Frequently I receive emails from TravelZoo offering great rates for cruises. The challenge, for our family, is fitting these quick deals into our budgets and our schedule as well. This method for scheduling a cruise is not for everyone, but can be used by many with success.
Second, once you have compared apples to apples -- making sure that you are comparing a cruise based on dates for travel, destinations, inclusions, etc. -- and you are ready to book the cruise, understand that there are some extras that will be added to the initial price of the cruise.
As a first time cruiser, I expected to pay tax on the purchase, which we did at the time of booking. But I had not factored in the cost of travel insurance (a cruise during hurricane season necessitated that $98 expense). I also did not know about gratuities, which can be added to the cruise price. Instead of tipping your room steward regularly during your cruise, and tipping servers at each meal on the cruise, you can add a fixed rate gratuity to your overall cruise price.
You do not have to select this option; you can choose to personally tip each person who serves you during the cruise. However, we decided to go ahead and add that gratuity option to our cruise price. In the end, I was glad that we did so. Knowing what we paid for the gratuities up front, and understanding that the cruise line has a formula for dividing that among the waitstaff and people who served us helped us feel at ease.
While we were cruising, we did give some extra tips to the porter at the boarding station, to a server who was above-the-top helpful, and then we left some money in our stateroom for our steward. However, based on the number of meals we ate in the dining room, if I had been tipping at the table, I am sure I would have spent more than the suggested price that the cruise line gave us as an option at the time of booking.
While it might seem like the taxes, the insurance and the gratuities inflate the cost of the cruise, I believe the insurance would have saved us money if the cruise had been canceled, and the gratuities ended up saving us money. Next week, I will tell you about excursions and some interesting on-the-ship ways to save money.