Cruise vacations have held a particular mystique in the minds of vacationers for decades. Whether the potential passenger reflects on the roaring twenties and the opulent wealth of a transatlantic voyage or the more recent and familiar Love Boat, people are absolutely intrigued about this vacation option. There are a lot of misconceptions about cruising though that prevent many from taking the plunge and booking a trip – not the least of which is cost. Most people would be shocked if they knew that taking a cruise is actually one of the most cost efficient ways to travel.
According to industry statistics, more than 14 million people will take a cruise in 2010 and more than 10 million of those passengers will originate from North America. Since 1990, over 154 million passengers have taken a 2+ day cruise. Of this number, over 68% of the total passengers have been generated in the past 10 years and nearly 40% in the past 5 years.
Think about that number for a moment, that means that not only is the industry growing, but it is growing extremely fast. One reason for the incredible increase in passenger levels is that there are currently 30 ports of embarkation in North America, which means that about 75% of North American vacationers are within driving distance of a port.
What makes this type of vacation appealing to so many people? Beyond the obvious fact that it is definitely a luxurious and convenient way to travel, it can be extremely cost efficient; if you do it right.
Location, Location, Location
As proof that the average traveler is not ignorant, the number one reason why cruisers say they cruise is the opportunity to visit multiple locations. Whether you are in the Caribbean, or doing a tour of the Eastern Mediterranean, you will disembark in at least three countries, and many times four or five depending on cruise length. This is a wonderful opportunity to visit areas of the world you may not have visited independently, but to which you may return.
As an example, we did an 11-night Mediterranean cruise in 2009. Before our trip, I thought that I would have preferred to spend more time in Athens and less time in Istanbul. Imagine my surprise however when the opposite proved true. I couldn’t wait to leave Athens, but we are already planning a longer trip to Turkey. Had we, instead of taking a cruise, used our precious vacation time to visit Athens, our trip would have been a disaster. The cruise gave us the opportunity to “taste” a culture without having to commit to it for a week or two. For the slow traveler, this may sound awful, but as someone who only has two weeks of vacation a year, these decisions are important.
It is also an extremely cost efficient way of visiting multiple places. The cost of flying to all the various cruise stops, hotels and associated fees would be much more expensive than visiting them on a cruise.
That being said, most people do not cruise in a cost efficient manner. The average person on vacation spends about $1,200 a person, per week. On a cruise they spend more than $1,700 per person, per week. So how can you actually save money while cruising?
Just Say No
The cruise lines are absolute experts on maximizing the opportunities for guests to spend money. Once you enter into the magical world of the cruise ship, common sense seems to disappear along with your stress. Here are some tips to REALLY make cruising a cost efficient way of travel.
At the center of any cruise vacation are the excursions. These of course are the
actual activities one does while in port. There are a multitude of options available to the cruiser, from swimming with dolphins to zip lining over a jungle canopy. However these amazing experiences usually come with a hefty price tag. I recently saw an excursion in Russia that was more than $1,000 a person. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to skip these unique experiences to save money, you just have to do them differently.
Cruise lines partner with local tour operators to offer their passengers these excursions. The cruise line does not operate a dolphin center, rather they enter into an agreement with the center to sell their passengers these packages. Rather than book with the cruise line, cut out the middle man and book these experiences on your own. It may not always be possible to do the exact same activity, but usually you can. A little online research at home will save you a lot of money while on your trip. This is particularly true in European ports of call, which are extremely easy for the vacationer to navigate on their own.
Food and Drink
After a long day feeding stingrays or tramping around the Parthenon, you return to the ship exhausted and hungry. It is true that your cruise fare includes meals and basic drinks – this usually means tea, coffee and juice. However the cruise line adds a premium not only to soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, but to meals as well. Most cruise ships have several special dining restaurants available to passengers for an additional fee of anywhere from $25-$40 per person.
In order to avoid accruing a massive bill, it pays to eat and drink smart. First, if you have kids or if you drink more than one or two sodas a day, see if the cruise line has a special soft drink option. Most do and it will save you a lot of money. On our last cruise, we paid for unlimited fountain drinks for the duration of our cruise. For a self- confessed Diet Coke fiend, this saved me a lot of money over the course of 11 days at sea. Similarly, if you do drink alcohol, think about some moderation while on board or purchase a beer and wine package. Just like the soda package, these packages will save you money if you consume a lot of alcohol over the course of your trip. Finally, avoid waiters with fruity drinks! What may seem like a complimentary cocktail is actually a $10 mug of umbrellas and pineapple chunks.
Eating at a specialty restaurant once during a cruise is a nice treat and a good way to have an intimate dinner. However, there is no reason to eat there more than once unless you absolutely have to try everything. There is no reason to pay to eat while on a cruise. The main dining rooms are amazingly adept at pleasing the guests, offering a level of service hard to find anywhere else. Similarly, the lunch and breakfast options are generous and included in your fare. Paying to eat while cruising is simply a waste of money.
[stextbox id="custom" caption="LandLopers Tip" float="true" align="right"]There is a caveat to my food rule. On the new Celebrity Solstice class ships, Bistro on Five serves delicious all-you-can-eat sweet and savory crepes for just $5 a person. Now that’s a deal![/stextbox]
Cruise lines are in business to make money and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, it does mean that as a consumer you need to be on guard. Money is not used on board, instead you use your room key to charge everything. This makes it so much easier to spend vast amounts of money.
- Do NOT play bingo;
- Do NOT buy gold by the inch;
- Do NOT pay for pictures and;
- Do NOT attend shopping seminars, which are nothing more than paid advertisements for local shop keepers.
If you successfully avoid some of these extras and plan everything else beforehand, then taking a cruise is not only a wonderful vacation, but it can also be extremely budget friendly.