Planning a Cruise? Check Out 36 of Our Best Money-Saving Tips Before You Sail Away
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Looking to plan a cruise? Here are some must-know cruise tips!
We’re all a-boat these helpful cruise tips!
Want to save money on your net cruise vacation? It’s actually easier than you think. In fact, we’ve rounded up a whopping 32 of our favorite helpful hacks first-time cruise tips to Disney cruise tips, and more to ensure smooth sailing and help keep more money in your wallet!
*Note that these tips may vary between various cruise lines.
First– time Cruise Booking Tips:
1. Book your cruise through a Travel Agency.
You can frequently find perks, bonuses, and occasionally even lower prices whenever you book through a travel agency or third party (such as Expedia or Priceline) instead of directly with the cruise line. However, some cruise lines even have a place on their site where you can find a local agent.
The majority of a travel agent’s income comes from commissions paid by the cruise lines; however, some travel agents may also charge a nominal service fee (around $15) for their time and effort.
What’s the difference? Cruise line sales representatives only know what they’ve been taught about their own brands; most have not sailed on the cruise ships they’re booking. However, travel agents (or cruise specialists) likely have been on board many cruise ships and can offer first-hand advice, like which cabins to avoid (because they’re under the main theater or across from a crew-only access door).
2. Consider booking excursions with local agencies.
Booking excursions through your cruise can get pretty pricey. If you’re looking to save some money on fun adventures while you’re off the ship, do some research on reputable local excursions, price compare, and decide what you’ll have time for while you’re there.
Disclaimer: As any seasoned cruise goer would tell you, if your off-shore venture is not directly booked through the cruise then there’s a great chance you won’t be covered. Therefore, if you’re not back in time, you and your group could get left behind and in that case, the potential risk may not be worth the savings at all.
Hip Tip: You can also consider purchasing your excursions through Costco Travel (they offer the same ones for various cruise lines) and prepay your gratuities when you purchase your boarding passes.
3. Don’t book travel insurance with the Cruise Line.
It’s very important to have travel insurance! If you don’t have travel insurance and get sick or need treatment during your cruise, you’ll be looking at a very expensive medical bill. But NEVER book travel insurance with the cruise line directly as their policies have minimal coverage and inflated costs.
How to Save Money on a Cruise:
4. Get the BIGGEST bang for your buck by cruising during off-peak times.
To secure the best prices for your cruise, consider booking your vacation during off-peak cruise times. A few good times to travel can be in early fall during back to school and between Thanksgiving and mid-December, as opposed to the busy Spring Break, holidays, and summer cruises.
Hip Tip: Make sure to also keep an eye out for deals with expenses or paid perks. If you’re lucky, you can save on drink packages, excursions, and more! As an example, one of our readers booked with Norwegian Cruise Line and scored free drinks, free specialty dining, free internet, and $50 excursion credit per person for their trip in March!
5. Look for cruise deals early or book last minute for BIG savings.
It’s typically best to book a cruise as early as possible to lock in the best price. That said, be sure to keep an eye on the prices, because if the price of the cruise changes or a better promotion pops up, you can change your booking to take advantage of the new pricing or promotion. A reader also recommended when you book online, to use an incognito tab or erase your cookies, so when you keep searching they may not know to raise the prices.
Also, if you’re flexible and don’t have a strong preference regarding a specific itinerary, cruise line, ship, timeframe, and/or you are comfortable booking a non-refundable cruise within a month or so from departure, you may be able to find the best deal booking last minute!
6. Buy discounted Carnival gift cards from Allstate or AARP Rewards.
If you decided to cruise with Carnival, you can buy discounted gift cards from Allstate or AARP Rewards. You can use them to pay for your exciting shore excursions, onboard account, gratuities, in-cabin gifts, internet, etc. One of our readers even said that they saved 10% on their last cruise when using this trick! 👏
Funds can be applied to your account at Guest Services, however, just note that some people have reported a delay when being applied, and could take a couple of days, so make sure you go to guest services early during your trip. Other options are to add these cards to your account at the cruise terminal or the ship kiosk.
Cruise Room Tips:
7. Take advantage of room service.
Many cruise lines offer complimentary room service to guests, allowing you to order food delivered right to your cabin (of course, a tip is appreciated). Check your cruise line’s policy to verify if they do indeed offer free room service before ordering dinner for the family. Note that soda is not included in room service, so you’ll need to stock up at a beverage station if you need more.
8. Bring your own wine or champagne from home.
Celebrating a special occasion or love toasting to a great trip? Although most cruise lines do not allow passengers to bring beer and liquor onboard, some do let you bring one bottle of wine or champagne per person in your carry-on luggage. Also, note that some cruise lines charge a $10-$25 corkage fee for consuming wine in the dining room or restaurants, so consider bringing a corkscrew with you and sipping it in your room.
Hip Tip: If you see yourself going through more bottles than you have people to bring on board, many of our readers suggest going with the available drink packages on your cruise, as they more than pay for themselves with more frequent trips to the bar.
Are prices constantly fluctuating? One of our readers also mentioned he saved hundreds by checking prices and asking for a price adjustment. Some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean will do this.
9. Need extra showers? Use the spa for free.
You can use the showers, saunas, and steam rooms not located in the fancy thermal suites completely free. Plus, showering in the spa can often mean access to more clean towels, nicer toiletries, and bigger shower stalls – it also prevents fights over who gets cabin bathroom access first.
10. Plan out where your room is.
Before booking your cabin, pull up the deck plans and make sure you know what’s above and below you (and near you as elevators can get pretty noisy too). If you’re below the galley, be prepared to hear carts rolling across the floor like a bowling alley all night long as they clean up at night and prep for breakfast. As a tip, if it’s an unmarked space, don’t just assume, call and ask what it is before booking just to be sure. As one of our readers recommended, be sure you don’t book a cabin right below a club or restaurant. 😉
Cabin Organization Tips:
11. Magnetic walls? Bring these!
Most cabins are made of metal, which means the walls are magnetic! It’s a great idea to bring along some heavy-duty magnets so you can hang all your cocktail party invites, alternative dining reservation notices, daily planners, accessories, bags, and other odds and ends that you’ll want to have handy. As an idea, you can bring a shower curtain along and hang it up with magnets to create an extra changing area.
12. Use the TV to keep gadgets charged.
Staterooms are often limited to only a couple of electrical outlets. However, many TVs on cruise ships have a USB port located on the back which you can use to charge your cell phones, ebook readers, and other small electronics with a lightning cable if you have a lot of devices to charge.
13. Or bring a universal power adapter & power strip.
Often cruise ships have one single European power outlet and a single North American outlet (some cruise ships now offer USB options as well). Make use of the European outlet by bringing a Universal Travel Adapter with you. Plus, you’ll be able to use it wherever you travel in the future.
If your cruise line allows, you may also want to pack a power strip (such as this Belkin Travel Power Strip) to keep all your gadgets charged. This highly-rated charger and surge protector turns one wall outlet into three outlets and it includes two USB ports!
NOTE – Some cruise lines do not allow you to bring power strips because they pose a fire hazard (Disney is one that does not allow them), so be sure to contact your cruise line to ask before buying one. Also, some cruise lines will have outlets that work fine with your plugs (i.e. Disney Cruise), so check with your cruise line before purchasing a universal power adapter.
14. Have fun decorating your cruise cabin door!
Whether you’re traveling with a partner or family, decorating your cabin door is a blast! It helps make your door stand out so you can spot it from a mile away. Even with something as simple as a press-on porthole, it makes the cruise feel more at home. 😍
This Pinterest board offers some great inspiration. There are also cute peel stickers on Amazon and custom options available on Etsy that we’re loving! You can theme the door based on your destination, a special occasion, or even ocean-themed. 🦀
Cruise Food & Dining Tips:
15. Visit a specialty restaurant on the first night.
If you want to try one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, do this on the very first night of your cruise. Everyone wants to eat in the main dining room on the first night, leaving the specialty restaurants with several open tables (often with special discounts, such as 50% off and a free bottle of wine)! Check your ‘Day 1 itinerary’ for these promotions after embarking.
16. Skip the buffet on the first day.
On embarkation day, most people head straight to the buffet to have lunch and wait for their cabins to open – it can be chaotic and crowded! Many cruise ships have alternative venues open, such as the main dining room or a mini-buffet in the solarium or atrium area. Ask a crew member or check your daily newsletter to find an alternative for a calmer first meal.
17. Order one (or more) entrées your way.
You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entrée, and dessert in the main dining room. You can order two entrees or three desserts if you’d like! You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrées as starters or order a few appetizers for your main meal. It’s a great way to try new foods!
18. Score free dessert & snacks.
Specialty coffees at the designated coffee shops onboard have an additional fee, but some of the desserts, pastries, sandwiches, and other foods at these venues are often free – just be sure to ask! Plus, there are often designated shops offering all sorts of included desserts and goodies.
19. Get free candy, too!
Have a sweet tooth? Don’t pay for the overpriced boxes of candy on board. Instead, head to the ice cream stand and ask the scooper for a cup of candy toppings of your choice completely free!
20. Get bottled water delivered to your room.
Staying hydrated on vacation is important, especially if you’re setting sail to a warm destination. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, will deliver a whole 12-pack of bottled water to your room for less than $5, whereas the large bottles that are typically offered are priced at $3-$4 a piece! And while it may not last you your whole trip, some cruise lines will even allow you to bring your own bottled water, up to a certain quantity.
Hip Tip: Want to get away with more than just water? You could also consider packing your other favorite drinks as one of our readers did. Pack Red Bull cans and juice boxes for the kids into your suitcase and place them in Ziploc bags.
21. Or bring your own reusable water bottle.
By packing your own reusable water bottle, you can fill it up at drink stations. Fill up with all the onboard free juice, water, iced tea, or coffee, and take them with you to the shows, the pool, or whoever else you are going. Yup, those drinks are free. 😉
Cruise Wi-Fi Tips:
22. Buy Wi-Fi packages before you embark…
If you’re planning to use Wi-Fi on your voyage, you can typically get a 10% discount if you book a Wi-Fi package before you get on the ship. You can find these packages as add-ons in your online account. Just log in with your cruise line and take a look at the different Wi-Fi packages that they offer.
23. Or score free Wi-Fi (but you’ll have to be fast).
Rumor has it that some ships’ Wi-Fi will only deduct usage from your account if you’ve been logged onto the Wi-Fi for 30 seconds or more. Although you really can’t do much browsing in that short amount of time, it’s a great way to quickly pull in new emails or send a pre-written email to friends.
24. Access Wi-Fi during off-peak hours.
Unfortunately, Wi-Fi can be extremely slow aboard cruise ships. If you end up purchasing a Wi-Fi plan, use those minutes during a popular show, during peak meal times, late at night, or early in the morning to get the fastest speed compared to other times. Keep in mind that the “off-peak” times may vary by ship and itinerary, so be sure to ask the desk manager for the best times to log on.
25. Ditch the walkie-talkies.
It’s been a long-used cruise tip to bring walkie-talkies with you to communicate with your cruise mates during the voyage. However, it’s actually pretty affordable to communicate using the cruise line’s app. This feature does cost extra, but that fee is likely less than $10 for a week-long cruise – less than the price of a pair of walkie-talkies that you likely won’t use again.
26. Stay updated with the Shipboard App.
Most cruise lines now have their own app that you can use onboard for free. Just connect your phone to the ship’s Wi-Fi network and you’ll be able to use the app without incurring any Wi-Fi charges.
These apps are helpful for checking your onboard account balance, browsing the day’s up-to-date activities, reading up on your next port, checking daily menus, accessing a ship map, or even making dinner reservations. Be sure to download the app before your voyage so that you don’t incur Wi-Fi fees or roaming charges.
Motion Sickness Tips:
27. Find the best ship location to avoid motion sickness.
If you’re prone to seasickness, consider booking a lower stateroom in the middle of the ship where the motion is much more subdued. If your cabin is elsewhere, head to the most central part of the ship. Also, keep the air on ice-cold, which will further help counteract motion sickness.
28. Feeling queasy? Make note of these remedies.
If you’re feeling sick, room service can bring you fresh green apples and saltine crackers completely free. The green apple remedy (or really any apple) is highly recommended among the crew members for nausea. Also, you may be able to get free seasickness medicines from the purser’s desk.
29. Or…head to the pool.
The pool water will feel refreshing and help cool you off. Plus, it allows you to move with the water in the pool rather than with the ship, which often helps with the imbalance in your inner ear that causes seasickness in the first place! One of the best times to head to the pool is when it’s raining (unless there’s a bad storm) as it’s less crowded and you’ll have fewer lines at the waterslides and the bar.
Disney Cruise Tips:
30. Look for discounts throughout the year and book early, like WAY early.
Since discounts are super rare, once you think you might be going on a Disney cruise, keep your eyes open! They typically offer Florida resident discounts for those leaving from Port Canaveral, Miami, or Fort Lauderdale as well as Military discounts, and you may be able to snag kids go FREE tickets if you’ve got a keen eye!
Just take it from Hip Sidekick, Liz, herself…
Be sure to look for discounts although they don’t have a ton they do offer Florida resident discounts, Military discounts and last year they even offered kids go free tickets (which saved us about $1000!) And book early. The earlier you book the more you’ll save. – Liz
31. Use gift cards on EVERYTHING.
It can be tricky to save on Disney-anything, but you can save on gift cards. Sam’s Club and Costco regularly offer $5-$10 discounts on Disney gift cards which can be used toward your cruise tickets! 🎟 Once you’re on board, you can also use Disney gift cards to save on drinks, merch, even BINGO according to our Disney cruise expert!
Bookmark this page to find the latest gift card deals!
32. Love a good fireworks show? Avoid the crowds and book a room starboard if possible.
The Disney Cruise line is most known for its spectacular fireworks display – straight from the ship itself! 🤩 Since the pools and other top decks can get pretty crowded, consider booking a room on the starboard side and you may be able to see the show from your balcony!
33. Put your popcorn buckets to good use!
If you collect popcorn buckets from the Disneyland theme parks, you’re in luck! Bring them on your cruise to score refills for just $1.50 whenever you want them. No bucket? No problem! You can grab a collectible one on the ship for ~ $7.50 then get your refills after that!
I loved being able to grab popcorn and go see the shows/watch a movie in the huge theater.– Hip Sidekick, Liz
Miscellaneous Cruise Tips:
34. Go to Port Lectures for helpful info.
At the Port Lecture, the lecturer will highlight and show pictures of many of the tours on offer. You can use this information to help you decide which sites you may be able to see on your own or by simply renting an inexpensive rental car for the day. You may even pick up some money-saving coupons to use onshore or other shipboard freebies they use to entice attendance to these lectures.
Plus, there are some very helpful port maps and mini-guides available for every port of call, but for some reason, these maps are typically not distributed to all passengers. Often they’re handed out at the Port Lecture, so look for them there. These maps tend to contain a ton of helpful information like sample taxi fares, ATM locations, and Wi-Fi hot spots you won’t want to miss.
Hip Tip: Although Port Adventures are fun, they’re also pretty expensive. Since you’re usually only at that particular location for one day, there’s enough to do just by exploring and playing at the beach. Your day will usually fly by without the need to pay for any activities.
35. Turn leftover onboard credit into cash.
If you have onboard credit and don’t spend it, you will lose it. Unfortunately, you can’t go to guest relations and ask for this onboard credit in cash, so don’t ever let your credit go to waste!
Here’s what you can do: Just insert your sign & sail card into the slot machine. Add whatever is left of your onboard credit to the slot machine. Now that your funds are loaded as gambling credits, you can simply cash out those casino funds with the casino purser. You’ll have just turned your onboard credit into cold hard cash. Jackpot!
Hip Tip: Be sure to do this while in international waters. The casino will be closed once it nears port, and you’ll have lost the ability to cash out your onboard credit.
36. Don’t overpack!
It can be tough to prep for your cruise, but refrain from overpacking! Because you’ll likely spend a ton of time in the sun, make sure you bring the classics like hats, bathing suits, and weather-appropriate clothing. Some cruises also have themed or formal dress-up nights, so confirm with your cruise line and pack accordingly!
We love to roll up our clothes to fit as much in our luggage as possible. Note that this doesn’t really apply for larger items like hoodies; otherwise, they may take up your entire suitcase. 😂