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Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to Be a Tightwad and Still Have Fun

We’re not the cruise lines’ best customers. Well, yes, we’ve done a lot of cruising—14 so far, with number 15 coming up fast. But we spend little beyond the cost of the cruise.

Yet our tightwad-ness does not detract from the experience one little bit. In fact, that we are frugal on trips allows us to take more of them.

If you’re on a tight budget or just want to be able to afford more trips, here are a few tips on saving money when you cruise:

Start at the very beginning. Get the lowest price on the cruise that you can. There’s plenty of info out there on how to snag the best price. For example, book early—at least a year out—for the best price and choice of room. Or, get a last-minute deal. If you’re going with a cruise line you’ve sailed with before, you might be able to get a loyalty club discount.
Saving the night before. When we first started cruising, we spent the night before in the traffic-clogged, high-octane, always-expensive, stress-producing Ft. Lauderdale. We wised up and now stay outside of town, for a cheaper, more relaxing experience. This only works, of course, if you’re driving to the port.
The lowdown on stateroom savings. The cost of a stateroom varies all over the place. Not just inside room (the bottom price) vs. suite (the top price), but categories of staterooms, based on where they are on the ship and where they are on each deck. Getting a room on “guarantee” (the ship picks where you’re going to end up) can snag savings.
A trip within a trip can pay off—or not. While cruise line-sponsored excursions at the ports can be memorable, other times they’re not worth the cost. You can try reading the forums (such as on cruisecritic.com), but with the cruise lines offering so many, it’s hard to get any feedback on the specific excursion you’re interested in. Look carefully at the excursion itinerary and the timing to help make a decision.

No-cost beaching. Some ports have nearby beaches or pools you can use for free, so you can skip the beach excursions. Some examples: St. Maarten’s Philipsburg (tender to the public beach right in
The public beach in St. Maarten's Philipsburg
town), Aruba’s Oranjestad (public beach is about a 10-minute walk from the pier), Grand Turk (beach--as well as a big pool--are right at the pier) and Costa Maya (huge public pool right at the pier).
Walk, don’t cab. Balance off all that sitting and eating onboard with a walk into town. Not only do you get to see more of the town that way, but you’ll burn off some calories, which makes room for some more!
Booze for free. Most of the cruise lines now allow you to bring a few bottles of wine on board. And if you cruise a few times on one line, you’ll automatically be included in their loyalty club, which entitles you to special events, which often include free drinks.
Ask the veterans for their tips. Anyone who has cruised a few times has money-saving tips of their own. Like when you’re in St. Maarten, invest in the unlimited tender fee instead of the one-trip fee, so you can go back and forth to the ship as many times as you want. Or take advantage of the free wi-fi at the library in Dominica’s Roseau, which is just a short walk from the pier. Get your bottles of rum at the Kmart near the Havensight port in St. Thomas.
If you don’t think the excursions, specialty restaurants, bar bill and casino visits add up, consider this: on his first cruise, what a friend of mine spent on all of these nearly equaled the cost of the cruise itself!

Have some of your own tips for saving money on cruises? Please let us all know!