Each week, I will bring you a new guest post in the series “Money Mondays”. Today’s post is by Sanna from Vegan Cruiser sharing her tips to save money on a cruise holiday.
Now, I’m well aware that the words ‘saving money’ and ‘cruise holiday’ don’t often go together in most people’s minds. The old assumption of cruises being traditional and expensive holidays (read boring, or stuffy) is thankfully getting challenged by many a young cruiser. Cruises these days are definitely not just for elderly couples or honeymooners – they are family-friendly and often surprisingly economic too. Let me explain how, so you too can save money on a cruise holiday
For many years my boyfriend (now husband) and I booked both traditional package holidays or did our own flight & hotel combination trips. Each year the cost just kept going up. Resorts were getting more expensive and the Pound Sterling weaker. We found ourselves booking ‘affordable’ holidays but spending a lot when in our destination. We tried an all-inclusive (AI) holiday too. Though it did prove to be economical in expenditure and overall cost, the poor evening entertainment and the low quality of food and drink left a lot to desire for. It wasn’t the money-saver we thought it was.
For our 10th wedding anniversary, I convinced my hubby to cruise, having been recommended one by a cruise-addicted colleague. We ended up loving ours too – and have cruised each following anniversary. Why? Because there is no other way to holiday in such style (food, entertainment, ports of call) for the same money. Yes, the initial outlay is more than what we used to pay for our self-catering apartment holidays. But, we’re not spending time shopping in the local Netto or Spar or cooking our own meals. What a welcome break that is! Saving time, not just money. On a holiday you want to have a break from all the usual daily tasks. And dine in style.
On an apartment or a hotel holiday we would dine out most evenings, which pushed up the cost of the overall holiday. This is where we found our package holidays became expensive. You wouldn’t really know how much the holiday cost you until you got back home. But with a cruise all of the dining over the length of your holiday is covered by the fare. You just need to book the right cruise for you, just like you would select from a number of holiday or villa operators to find the one right for you – and for your budget.
My 6 top tips for saving money on a cruise holiday:
1) Book outside UK school holidays & traditional holiday times.
As expected like with any holiday, if you can go before the kids break for summer holidays you will save yourself a fair bit of money. Same applies for after the kids go back. If your local authority isn’t too strict or your headmaster so allows, taking the kids out on the last week or first week of school may save you a lot of money. Certainly did for my parents. If you are travelling as a couple or with friends, end of May weather on the Mediterranean can be amazing and a total bargain. Also, both the start of the season and the end will naturally be cheaper as the weather is less predictable.
2) Use a travel agent
We can all think of a number of holiday operators and airlines which sell direct to the customer and are considered cheaper. When booking a cruise holiday this way of thinking may end up losing you money. Specialist cruise travel agents bring the cruise lines so much custom that they have negotiated better, lower rates for the same cabins. You already check hotel booking websites for room rates. Why not do the same for a cruise? You’ll generally find the same cabin cheaper when booking with a travel agent. Or if you’re looking for value for money, rather than spending less, you can often secure a better class of cabin with the same money. But generally only when you use a specialist cruise travel agent.
Travel agents will sell you the same cruise holiday with the same perks that the cruise line is offering at the time (free onboard credit, drinks package etc). But they will often offer additional extras, just to secure your business. You may receive extra onboard credit or free Wifi. They may even comp you the gratuities (the daily service charge) on your behalf. This gratuity/service charge is anything from £6.00 daily per adult on P&O to $13.50 on Royal Caribbean when travelling in a regular cabin. It is usually applied to your onboard account but you can choose to pre-pay it too for budgeting reasons. It covers tips to your hard-working cabin attendant and those who serve you in the dining venues.
3) Pick the right cruise line for you – and your family
Just like hotel chains, cruise ships cater for different clients and ages. Find the right one for you – a cheap holiday on an old ship full of retired folk isn’t going to be great for a young family or couple. Choose the one for the right demographic and the facilities that suit both you and your family.
Companies also charge different kids’ fares so no child place is the same. On UK Marella Cruises (former Thomson) anyone over 12 years of age is considered an adult and pays accordingly. On the British P&O or the Italian MSC (latter sails from Southampton also) kids’ fares go all the way to 17 years of age. For a family, it pays to compare companies and their fares. It is worth noting that not all ships in have family favourites like water slides, climbing walls, surf simulators either. Those that don’t, are often older ships and therefore cheaper to book.
On a resort holiday you would need to find and pay for extra activities for the kids but on cruise ships, these planned daily activities are included. You’ll find them listed in the daily programme delivered to your cabin. Cruise ships have a range of dedicated kids’ clubs for different age groups. They run from breakfast time till late, many till 11pm. British P&O even offers free a night nursery until 2am for the young ones, leaving parents free to dine in adult company. Royal Caribbean offers a similar nightly service and even a babysitting service in your cabin, but both are chargeable by the hour.
4) Book the right deal
Sometimes it pays to wait. Final payments on cruise holidays are normally due 57-90 days prior to departure, depending on the cruise line. After the payment deadline cabins become available and in order to fill them, cruise lines may offer good deals on the departure. Not everyone can wait to see whether a deal appears and if the departure port is in another country, booking late flights will hike up the holiday cost. But, if you’re flexible on travel dates, you can save money on a late deal.
You can also save money by booking far in advance. Every year the month of October is a ‘Plan a cruise month’ where cruise lines and trade partners feature various deals for the following year. This October (2017) MSC offered child places on their Southampton 2018 departures at only £99 per child. Royal Caribbean featured a free AI drinks package while Princess Cruises were giving away free flights for their European sailings.
Another good time to look out for deals is the Wave Season, traditionally between January and March. During this time cruise lines promote their offerings for all of us fed up with the winter darkness and cold weather. This is the time to grab yourself a cruise deal with extras such as flights & transfers included. Some may offer you the all-inclusive (AI) drinks package too, which is not to be scoffed at, as normally it may cost in the region of $60 per person per day.
5) Spend money to save money
Traditionally cruise fares are only full-board, with very few cruise lines being fully inclusive with drinks and tips (service charge/gratuity). Very few, such as UK Marella Cruises (former Thomson) include flights, transfers, tips (gratuity) and now also drinks on their newer ships. Overall cruise prices can be higher as the ‘free’ item cost is built into the holiday cost but at times there are great bargains to be had – see point 4 above. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) also sell their sailings to UK customers inclusive of drinks and tips.
If you don’t drink alcohol or have very little, opting for a non-AI cruise line may save you money. You can always PAYG with each drink getting charged to your onboard account. Or if you drink a lot of soft drinks, purchasing a soft-drinks AI package on top of your full-board cruise fare may save you plenty. On Carnival Cruiseline the soft drinks package is only $7.50 per day (plus 15% gratuity). Anyone consuming more than 3 soft drinks or mocktails per day will break even. If you’re like me and can guzzle the stuff, paying the daily soft drinks package rate will save you money over the length of the holiday. Plus if you have pre-paid the package before departure, you won’t have to budget to pay for it at the end of the sailing. But you can, and the charge will be added to your onboard account.
6) Cruise more to save more
Once you’ve been bitten by the cruise bug, it is worthwhile joining the various cruise line loyalty clubs. Regular cruisers earn perks such as free drinks, free internet access or laundry services onboard. MSC cruises even offer a status match if you have reached a certain level with another cruise line they will honour that level and grant you the same on their own membership, in addition to past cruiser discounts on future bookings.
7) Use your Tesco Clubcard for booking savings
Although I advocated booking with a cruise specialist travel agent, sometimes it pays to go direct. Especially if you have a Tesco Clubcard and have vouchers to spend. The saving that a travel agent can give you can easily be beaten by some Clubcard vouchers as current agreement triples their value with two popular cruise lines I’ve mentioned above.
At the moment £10 in Tesco Clubcard vouchers converts to £30 spend on a Royal Caribbean 7-day sailing. Any quantity of vouchers in increments of £10 is tripled until total maximum value of £510 per person. See all the T&Cs here. In a similar fashion any Clubcard vouchers in increments of £5 can also be used on P&O bookings of 6 days or longer. Clubcard vouchers are tripled in value as above, up to total value of £810. See more details of the P&O Clubcard offer here.
I hope these tips will help you to book a great cruise – hopefully at a great price too! What you should experience is an excellent value for money holiday with great lodgings, service and wonderful food – even for those of us who have dietary needs. See my ten reasons why I love to cruise to tempt you further – I’m sure once you try a cruise you too will have a similar ten to share with the world. Number 11 for me would be the Lawn Deck above, as found on Celebrity Solstice class ships. Picnic blankets, garden furniture and even hammocks. What’s not to love – especially as cruising doesn’t have to be as expensive as people think?
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