How to Save Money on a Cruise with Over 28 Proven Tips

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How to save money on a cruise? While cruising can be a cost-effective travel mode, costs can quickly add up with unnecessary upgrades and perks. Everyone loves a good savings tip, and being strategic can help you enjoy a fantastic cruise without overspending.

One of the best ways to save on a cruise is by monitoring cruise rates even after booking. For example, we saved $900 on our Celebrity cruise by looking for rate drops and promptly calling the cruise line to adjust our fare. It’s also worth noting that a competent cruise agent can manage this for you, which can be incredibly convenient.

Additionally, consider what truly adds value to your cruise. Skipping on extras like unlimited drink packages, which aren’t worthwhile if you don’t drink much, can save a lot. Also, for shore excursions, look beyond the cruise line’s offerings; booking independently can often be cheaper.

The key to saving on a cruise is mindful spending—avoid getting swept up in marketing ploys onboard. Focusing on what enhances your experience and cutting out the fluff can keep your spending in check.

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This article will explore effective cruise money-saving tips and hacks for cruising on a budget. From booking strategies to smart onboard choices, we’ll help you navigate ways to economize on your next cruise. Savvy planning can still secure a memorable and affordable journey despite rising cruise costs.

1. Book a Cruise Early

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We booked our Alaska cruise two years in advance. By the time our final payment was due, our cruise was almost 1k more.

Booking early is one of the most effective ways to save money on a cruise. When itineraries are first released, prices are typically lower due to lower demand and higher availability. This is particularly true for popular lines like Disney or sought-after destinations like Alaska or Antarctica. Early booking secures you lower rates through early-bird discounts and guarantees your choice of dates and cabins.

An early booking allows you ample time to plan other aspects of your trip, such as finding affordable flights and accommodations or securing spots on popular excursions. Furthermore, you benefit from having more time to budget and pay off your cruise, as most cruise lines require final payment only 4-6 months before departure. By spreading out the costs, you can manage your travel budget more effectively, ensuring that every dollar is well spent.

2. Book a Last-Minute Cruise

Snagging a last-minute cruise deal can lead to significant savings for those who thrive on spontaneity. After final payment deadlines, cruise lines often reduce prices to fill unsold cabins. If you’re flexible with your schedule and open to making quick decisions, these discounts can be an excellent opportunity to economize.

However, consider additional expenses like flights or hotel stays, as these might be pricier close to your departure date. Also, be aware that last-minute bookings usually require immediate, non-refundable payment. Review the cruise line’s cancellation policy and consider third-party insurance to protect your investment.

3. Find Cruise Deals Departing From Your Home Port

Opting for a cruise that departs from a port near your home is an excellent way to capitalize on last-minute deals. This approach eliminates costly flights and hotel stays, allowing you to drive to the port and start your vacation without dealing with all that. Additionally, consider booking a nearby hotel that offers discounted parking for your cruise, which can often be cheaper than parking at the terminal.

4. Travel During the Off-Season

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Traveling off-season is a smart way to save money on cruises. When demand is lower, prices typically drop, allowing you to enjoy the same destinations at a fraction of the cost. Off-season periods also tend to have fewer travelers, offering a quieter, more relaxed experience.

The timing of the off-season varies depending on the cruise and destination. For instance, cruise lines may hike prices during spring break and summer when families are more likely to travel because school is out. You can find better deals and less crowded ships by cruising outside these peak times.

Read more: Pluses and Minuses of Cruising in Fall & Winter

5. Book a Cheaper Cabin

Opting for an inside cabin can significantly cut the cost of your cruise compared to booking a balcony cabin. Cruise lines often advertise eye-catching sale prices for less expensive inside cabins.

Consider whether a balcony is essential for you. While the allure of private outdoor space is strong, the savings from choosing an inside cabin can be substantial—sometimes nearly 50%. You could potentially use those savings to fund another cruise. Instead of a private balcony, you can enjoy the ship’s public decks and outdoor areas.

6. Kids Sail Free

Many cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, periodically offer a “Kids Sail Free” or “3rd and 4th guests” sail-free promotion. Or they offer it at a heavily discounted price. This can lead to substantial savings for families, making it an excellent opportunity to enjoy a family vacation more affordable.

Read more: NCL’s Free-At-Sea Promotion Explained

7. Book a Shorter Cruise

If you’re on a budget or new to cruising, consider booking a shorter cruise. These cruises are generally less expensive than their longer counterparts and provide a perfect opportunity for first-time cruisers to experience life at sea without committing to a long duration. They’re an excellent way to enjoy a cruise vacation economically.

8. Be Flexible

Flexibility can lead to significant savings when booking a cruise. By comparing different departure dates, you might find that the same itinerary is considerably less expensive just a month later. Staying adaptable allows you to take advantage of the best deals and enjoy a memorable cruise experience without overspending.

9. Take Advantage of Free Perk Offers

Keep an eye out for free perk offers when booking your cruise. Many cruise lines promote valuable incentives such as complimentary onboard credit, Wi-Fi, gratuities, or specialty dining experiences. These perks not only enrich your cruise experience but also offer substantial savings. You can enjoy enhanced luxury without additional costs by capitalizing on these offers, especially during great sales.

10. Book a Cruise on an Older Ship


Booking your cruise on an older ship can lead to significant savings. While new ships often attract higher prices due to demand, older ships can offer a comparable and enjoyable experience at a lower cost. You could save 30-50% on older ships with similar itineraries.

Though they may lack the newest features, older ships often deliver a more intimate and charming cruise experience. If you’re traveling with a large family or group, consider booking multiple cabins on an older ship for the cost of one on a newer model. This can be a cost-effective way to enjoy your vacation together.

11. Book the Sail Away Rate or Guaranteed Cabin

Consider booking a Sail Away rate or a guaranteed cabin for significant savings on your cruise. This discounted rate guarantees a cabin within a specified category, such as inside or balcony. Still, you won’t have control over the exact location of your cabin, which will be assigned by the cruise line closer to the embarkation day.

While this rate often excludes additional perks or promotional offers, exceptions may apply, providing even more value. Opting for this booking strategy can be a great way to enjoy lower rates while securing your preferred cabin type.

12. Book the Cruise-Only Rate

Opting for a cruise-only rate can lead to substantial savings. This straightforward rate includes the essentials of the cruise without any added promotions, perks, or special packages. Focusing solely on the cruise can save you a significant amount of money, sometimes over a thousand dollars, compared to bundled package deals.

Before deciding, compare the total costs of both cruise-only and package deals. Evaluating both options will help you determine the best and most cost-effective choice for your cruise vacation. You may want the perks included in the package deals, and buying it as a package may be cheaper than everything separately.

13. Keep an Eye On Those Rates

It’s important to monitor cruise rates even after booking, especially up to the final payment date. Prices often fluctuate based on supply and demand. Don’t ignore those marketing emails; they can alert you to promotions that might make it worthwhile to check if rates have dropped.

If you notice a potential decrease, you can either make a mock booking online or call the cruise line to confirm and request a rate adjustment. A good travel agent can also track these changes and promotions for you.

Adjusting your booking might affect any special perks or promotions originally included. However, the savings can be significant. For example, we once saved $900 by rebooking during a promotional period before our payment was due. After the final payment date, reductions are harder to claim and not guaranteed. However, it’s still possible to negotiate for credits, like a $500 future cruise credit we received after noticing a price drop.

14. Bid to Upgrade Cruise Cabin Category

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Our $500 pp bid to upgrade won us a beautiful Penthouse cabin in the Haven on NCL along with other perks like the use of this beautiful courtyard.

Some cruise lines offer passengers the chance to bid on cabin upgrades after the final payment. This allows you to move from an inside cabin to an ocean view, a balcony, or even a suite at a fraction of the cost. For example, we once successfully bid to upgrade from a balcony to a Penthouse suite on the Norwegian Getaway for an extra $500 per person, far less than the retail price.

This bidding option is not guaranteed, so it’s wise to book a cabin you would be happy with, regardless of the outcome.

Note: To be eligible to bid, you must book directly with the cruise line well before your sailing date.

15. Use a Travel / Cruise Agent

Travel agents are invaluable resources when planning a cruise. A good cruise agent knows all the cruise lines, itineraries, and destinations and can tailor suggestions to fit your budget and preferences. Agents often have access to exclusive deals and promotions unavailable to the general public, potentially saving you money.

Additionally, agents can handle any issues or changes that may arise, saving you the hassle of dealing with customer service directly. If you initially book directly with the cruise line, remember that you can transfer your reservation to a travel agent within 30 days. This transfer can sometimes result in better deals or additional onboard credits.

16. Shop Around for The Best Rates and Perks

It’s best to shop around to make sure you get the best deal on a cruise. This means comparing prices and offers across cruise lines, travel agents, and online booking sites. Flexibility with your travel dates and destinations can also lead to more savings.

While cruise lines generally set the rates and promotions, booking through a travel agent or a wholesale site like Cruise Compete or Costco Travel can provide additional benefits such as onboard credits, free upgrades, or special offers.

Cruise Compete allows you to receive competitive bids from multiple travel agents for a specific cruise, helping you to choose the best offer. However, remember that only the agent you booked with can resolve issues if issues arise.

Costco Travel offers significant perks and savings for its members. We’ve booked cruises and all-inclusive stays through them, benefiting from extras like photo packages, WiFi minutes, and even Costco gift cards, which are as valuable as onboard credits for frequent shoppers. Note that customer service wait times can vary, especially during busy periods.

17. Book Shore Excursions Independently

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I booked an independent excursion to Croatia Cruise Port. It was a small group, half the cost of a similar tour offered by the cruise line, and we were the only cruisers in the group.

Booking shore excursions independently can lead to substantial savings compared to cruise lines’ options. Cruise lines often mark up the prices of tours operated by local companies to increase their profit margins. By researching and booking directly with local tour operators, you can enjoy the same experiences at a significantly lower cost. This approach saves money and often provides a more authentic and personalized tour experience.

18. Explore on Your Own at Port

You don’t always need to book a shore excursion to enjoy your time in port. Exploring on your own can be a fulfilling and cost-effective option. Whether walking, hailing a taxi, or using local transportation, you can discover much about your destination independently. Look for simple pleasures like visiting the nearest beach or notable local attractions.

To prepare, research your port destinations ahead of time. Search for “free things to do” in each location or check our website for detailed guides on what to see and do, helping you make the most of your shore time without breaking the bank.

19. Bring Your Own Soda, Water, or Wine

Many first-time cruisers don’t realize they probably can bring their own soda, water, or 1-2 bottles of wine onto most cruise ships on embarkation day. However, it’s important to note that bringing other forms of alcohol is usually prohibited, apart from sealed wine bottles.

Each cruise line has its own beverage policy, so it’s crucial to check the specifics before you travel. For example:

  • NCL: Passengers cannot bring beverages except wine or champagne, which incurs a $15-30 corkage fee per bottle.
  • Celebrity Cruise Line: Allows passengers to bring up to a 12-pack of soda or water (which must be carried on personally) and one bottle (750ml) of wine per guest, with a $25 corkage fee per bottle.

Bringing your own permitted beverages can lead to significant savings, as onboard drink prices can range from $3-6 each. Packaging a refillable water bottle and using it to refill it at the ship’s filtered water stations can reduce costs.

20. Avoid Purchasing a Drink Package if You Don’t Drink

Before opting for a beverage package, carefully consider your drinking habits. These packages can be costly, and if you typically consume mainly water or limited amounts of alcohol, they may not offer good value. Calculate your likely daily drink consumption and compare this to the cost of the package to see if it truly saves you money.

Remember, purchasing drinks individually could potentially be much cheaper, particularly if all eligible cabin members are required to buy the same package. This could potentially save you thousands.

Additionally, take advantage of the complimentary beverages provided on the ship, such as coffee, tea, and lemonade, to further cut costs.

21. Check the Drink of the Day Special

If you’re looking to save on drinks during your cruise and haven’t opted for a drink package, consider taking advantage of the drink of the day specials. Many cruise lines offer daily drink promotions, such as two-for-one deals or discounts during happy hours. These specials allow you to enjoy a variety of beverages at a fraction of the regular cost. By focusing on these deals, you can still indulge without the hefty price tag of standard drink prices.

22. Skip the Specialty Restaurants

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To save money on dining during your cruise, consider avoiding the specialty restaurants and instead enjoy the meals offered in the main dining rooms and buffet, which are included in your cruise fare. The food quality in these venues is usually very good, and you’re guaranteed not to leave hungry.

If you’re a foodie who appreciates specialty restaurants’ unique offerings, consider pre-purchasing a dining package before your cruise. These packages typically cover 2-3 meals at a significantly lower cost than paying a la carte. Additionally, some cruise lines offer discounts for dining in specialty restaurants on the first night of the cruise, providing further savings.

23. Stay Away from the Casino

The casino on a cruise ship can quickly become a significant expense, so avoiding it is a wise choice if you’re looking to save money. While sometimes cruise ship casinos may offer free drinks to players, the cost of gambling usually outweighs these perks. Consider whether the money you’re gambling away is worth it for a “free” drink.

For those who enjoy gambling, it’s worth noting that regular players can earn perks such as future comped cruises or substantial discounts. While these benefits can be appealing, they should not be the sole reason to spend time in the casino unless you genuinely enjoy the experience and are comfortable with the risks.

24. Be Mindful of Entertainment and Activity Expenses

While there are many free activities on a cruise, the cost of additional entertainment options like bingo, go-karts, laser tag, escape rooms, arcades, and wine tasting can quickly accumulate. To save money, carefully consider which activities you choose to spend on.

Cruises offer many daily activities and shows included in your fare that can keep everyone entertained without extra charges. Make it a habit to check the ship’s daily newsletter, which lists all activities; those requiring an additional fee will be marked. Planning your day around the free offerings allows you to enjoy a fun and budget-friendly cruise experience.

25. Skip the Extragravant Spa Services

To save money on your cruise, consider skipping spa treatments. While indulging in spa services can be a delightful part of vacationing, the cost on cruise ships is often significantly higher than what you would pay locally. Although it’s tempting to treat yourself while on board, the same treatments are usually available near your home for a fraction of the price.

If you’ve previously enjoyed spa services during a cruise, consider allocating those funds towards experiences at the ports instead, where your money can stretch further. However, if you’re aiming for a spa-centric cruise, ensure your budget is prepared to handle the higher costs associated with onboard spa treatments.

26. Forego Having Wifi While at Sea, Consider Alternatives

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To save money on a cruise, skip purchasing an expensive WiFi package. The quality of ships is often subpar, which can lead to frustration. Instead, consider these alternatives for when you need to check in:

  • Use Port WiFi: Free WiFi is often available at cruise ports, especially in cafes or where crew members gather.
  • Check Your Mobile Plan: See if your current mobile plan covers the ports you’ll visit, or consider purchasing a daily data plan, typically costing $5-10 for unlimited text and data.
  • Invest in an eSIM or WiFi Hotspot: For international travel, buying an eSIM data plan for your region or a portable WiFi hotspot can be a cost-effective alternative.

This approach saves money and helps you disconnect so you can fully enjoy your vacation.

27. Forget the Photo Packages, They Can Get Pricey

Investing in a good camera and taking your own photos can save you significant money, allowing you to skip the often costly photo packages offered on cruises. While some passengers appreciate the convenience of professional photos for family portraits or special moments, individual photos can cost around $20 each, and the quality may not always justify the price.

28. Ask Onboard About Discounts for Your Next Cruise

Many cruise lines offer special incentives to book your next cruise while still onboard your current one. These offers typically include benefits like reduced deposits, onboard credit, or discounted fares, which can significantly lower the cost of your next vacation.

Examples of Onboard Booking Offers:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL): Purchase a “Cruise Next Voucher” for $250 and receive a $125 onboard credit. The key is not to spend the onboard credit. This voucher can be used as a deposit and never expires.

How can I pay less on a cruise?

To pay less on a cruise, you can book early, be flexible with your travel dates, use a travel agent, skip the drink package, avoid specialty dining, and take advantage of free perks. Following these tips can save money on your cruise vacation and still have a great experience.

How do I get the best deal on a cruise booking?

To secure the best deal when booking a cruise, compare your options. Start by exploring various cruise lines and itineraries to understand the range of available vacations. Then, compare prices across multiple platforms, including travel agents and online booking sites. Agents often have access to exclusive deals and perks not available directly from cruise lines or on standard booking websites. Additionally, consider the timing of your booking—early reservations or last-minute deals can also offer significant savings.

How do you save money on cruise excursions?

After researching the activities and experiences, you can save money on cruise excursions by booking with third-party vendors rather than the cruise ship, sharing excursions with others in your cruise roll call, looking for free guided tours, or exploring on your own.


Kathy Ava

Meet Kathy Ava, a food, travel, and cruise writer based in Los Angeles/Pasadena, and the owner and main writer of Tasty Itinerary. With over 20 years of experience planning trips and logistics at her full-time job and for herself, she's become a pro at crafting unforgettable tasty itineraries. She's always on the hunt for delicious, fun travel destinations and cruise itineraries. She firmly believes that life is short and we must make the most of it, so always say yes to dessert.

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