How to Save Before Taking a Cruise and Other Important Tips

Taking a cruise for your next vacation is an experience in itself, never-mind the many amazing places you could see along the way. For someone who is constantly dreaming about buying a sailboat to sail around the world, I jumped at the idea of going on a cruise over the Christmas holiday season this past year.

While the thought of hopping on a giant floating city and waking up to some of the most beautiful views filled my mind with much excitement, there was also a lot to plan beforehand and some crucial tips I learned along the way to bring onto my next cruising adventure.

Here are some crucial tips that every first time cruiser should know before taking their trip:

The When & From Where

As most may already know, it can be very expensive to travel anywhere during peak travel times. Especially around Christmas holidays and March break. That being said, if you live anywhere in the East Coast (hello from Toronto), you already know, winters can be harsh and very unpredictable. Thus, finding somewhere hot is a must, but may not always agree with your bank account.

When we decided on a cruise, we were quickly deterred by the $800 flight to Miami (not including any of the other fees). We soon found (with the help of my travel agent) options to cruise from Bayonne, New Jersey. This way we could save money by making the 8 hour drive instead, and taking a longer cruise (ours ended up being 8 nights). We also avoided luggage limitations that would normally occur from flying by driving to the embarkation port.

View of Statue of Liberty, Bayonne Port

Tip: If you don’t have young children or are a couple travelling, think about an adult-only cruise. It may be a bit pricier however, it’s easy to forget that MOST families travel during the Christmas break and March break and cruising is a top option for families. While, the hoards of children didn’t make or break our trip, an adult-only cruise would have made for a different experience.

Anthem of the Seas

Saving Money (and still enjoying everything)

Cruising can start to add up, especially when you’re unaware of the fees associated onboard and port excursions.

I had no idea gratuity was automatically a $14.50 USD charge per person, per day on our ship (Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas). Some basic math, for a Canadian, that’s about $20 a day each. That’s another $320 spend to include in the budget that we didn’t know about before booking. However, it is possible to tell customer service to change this amount if you felt like the service received was either under par, or overwhelmingly amazing.

Most cruises are all-inclusive in terms of food and dining, however, beverage packages are typically not included and can really add up. On our ship, the deluxe package (soda, specialty coffee, and alcohol) came out to about $500 each for the week (it’s not possible to buy just a day package). This is great, if you’re taking full advantage and can obviously afford it.

Remember, cruises want to sell as much as possible, we had crew telling us drink packages were only available until the third day (hoping you buy from the fear of missing out), on the second last day, there were booths selling beverage packages for $140 (which would have meant $70 a day of unlimited everything mentioned above). We jumped on this and got to enjoy the last two sea days trying different drinks, and being able to enjoy some good cappuccinos.

Read the fine print and do your research before since, this Royal Caribbean cruise actually allowed each stateroom to bring 12 cans of pop and two 750ml bottles of wine for no fee. Every cruise is different, but you can always call or look on their site. This definitely helps salvage some costs and make the cruise more enjoyable.

I would highly suggest, spending the extra money on a cabin with a balcony! It may not seem like a big deal as you may not spend a ton of time in your cabin anyway. One of the most memorable and amazing parts of this vacation was leaving our balcony door open for fresh ocean air and waking up to sound of the waves every morning. Aside from that, we loved ordering room service for breakfast and spending our mornings on the balcony.

Tips to Know Beforehand vs. Onboard

Dining

This one ties into the money saving tip above but only if you booked beforehand ;). Save on the specialty dining experiences (which are definitely worth it) by booking before you cruise. The food on Royal Caribbean was delicious, but the specialty dining was INCREDIBLE, and you can order anything you want plus as much as you want.

You’ll also want to try a few restaurant options to get the best experience. We tried Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant and Chops Grille. It may seem a bit pricey at first, but for the most part, a flat rate will let you order anything you want on the menu as much as you want.

Excursions:

If you’re booking excursions through the cruise line, definitely do so beforehand to ensure you get what you want. However, depending on your destination, some excursions are cheaper or may offer more options with a bit of research. Our cruise was headed to Bahamas and we knew Atlantis was definitely something we would want to experience. To buy through the cruise was about $60 more expensive than buying right from the Atlantis website. However, you should note, if for some reason the cruise cannot dock at the scheduled port, you wouldn’t be able to get a refund should you decide to buy from another source.

Nassau, Bahamas Cruise Port

Onboard Activities:

While the destination definitely matters, half the fun of going on a cruise are the copious amount of activities to do onboard! Anthem of the Seas is great choice for this, (especially since we had four sea days). It highly recommended that you book activities and shows BEFOREHAND so you can avoid long lines on the ship. Some fun activities we had onboard included, iFly, which is indoor skydiving, Royal Caribbean’s FlowRider, that is a surf simulator, roller blading and bumper cars!

Pro tip: motion sickness can still strike even on a huge cruise ship. The best place to be is on the lowest decks and midship to ease the discomfort. Bring sea sickness pills beforehand, or even go to the medical centre and ask for one from the crew instead of paying double the price for a bottle onboard.

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead; it can save you some money and allows for the best chance of being able to do and see everything (since there is A LOT).

Use these tips above to get the best out of your holiday and don’t forget to add in your own through the comments!