Cruising has a reputation as an expensive way to travel, reserved for old folks and young families. But if you live in a port city, it can be a great way to sample the luxury lifestyle and see some exciting ports of call for less than the price of a train ticket and a hostel.
The cruise industry has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, and that means there are some incredible deals to be had. This May, I headed off on mother-daughter adventure – a 7-night cruise through Alaska for just over $600 each, including all taxes and fees (except tips). In a few weeks, my boyfriend and I are cruising one-way to San Francisco for $240 each less than the cost of a one-way flight.
Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of your cruise dollars:
- You’ll get the best deal if you live in a departure port. If you have to fly in and add hotel costs, prices start to climb fast. From my home base in Vancouver, BC, I’ve got easy access to the Alaska and Pacific Coastal routes I check the cruiseline websites to find out if they come by your hometown.
- Max out the amount of alcohol you’re allowed to bring on board. Meals and entertainment are included on most cruise ships, but drinks are not. Generally, each passenger is allowed to bring one bottle of wine or equivalent onto the ship at the departure port. With two people to a cabin, that gives you two bottles to nurse through the first few days of your cruise at significantly less cost than buying on-board. The catch? You can only drink the wine in your cabin, technically. We had no trouble pouring it into glasses in the cabin and going to a nicer spot on the ship, we just couldn’t take our own drinks into the bars or restaurants aboard.
- Make your own shore excursions. In Alaska, we hiked, explored old gold-rush historical sites, and did a town walking tour, all without shelling out the big bucks for organizing an outing through the cruise line. For the hike we did in Juneau, our only cost was a $7 bus to the glacier. The cruise line sold day trips to the glacier park for about $80. Use sites like iloho or Tripadvisor to get the inside scoop on what’s really worth seeing in each port of call, then arrange it yourself.
- Make sneaky meals. Technically you’re not supposed to take food out of the dining areas on cruise ships, but you’re paying for that buffet feast, whether you eat it or not. Our trick was to take a couple extra rolls, pieces of cheese, packs of peanut butter, and pieces of fruit at breakfast to make ourselves picnic lunches for days when we were off the ship at lunchtime. Bring a couple of ziplock bags to make the sneak easier!
- Take advantage of anything free. The ships have loads of free activities, but you’ll quickly learn to spot which are worth attending and which are just sales pitches. One of the best, in my opinion, is the art auctions most ships feature. For one thing, you get a free glass of champagne. Plus, you get a chance to look at some really great art, and learn about some big names in the art world from very knowledgeable art auctioneers.
Follow these five tips and you can have a much cheaper cruise vacation than you ever thought possible. And have fun and there’s nothing like indulging in a little (cheap) luxury on the high seas.
All pictures by Christina Newberry.