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Travel Talk

7/28/2009
How NOT to Overspend on a Cruise!
Cruise Blueprint for Photo of ship art goes here.

Saving Money &    

Achieving Value 

By Susan J. Young

Life is tough these days. The economy has tanked, family budgets are pared, and, depending where you're headed, airline seats can be pricey.

If you’re taking a budget cruise, you’re likely seeking innovative ways to pinch pennies ashore or onboard. Those on a premium cruise also want good deals. Even luxury customers seek good value for their money.

No one wants to overpay. So we've compiled a helpful check list of items that show you how to save money while cruising from a southern U.S. port. We'll also show you how to achieve the best value for your cruise purchase.

Planning Your Cruise

Artwork of a cruise ship goes here.Too many people think they can do it alone and they can. Yes, in this era of "Internet-click and it’s sold," you can certainly buy a cruise online – but resist the temptation. You’ll possibly overpay.

Most travel agents don’t charge any fee to book a cruise (a few charge a nominal service fee); it’s worth every penny. With a few exceptions, a good agent will compare cruises and get you the best deal.

Do your homework up front, though -- reviewing Internet cruise sites and cruise line sites. See what's offered and what interests you. Have a base of knowledge before heading to your agent.

That said, the choices are prolific. It’s very easy to think that all cruises are alike – and that’s far from reality. Each product is very distinctive and the choices today can be mind-boggling.

A professional agent will listen to your desires and then “qualify” you for the cruise – meaning they’ll match your personality, your interests, your budget and your style of vacationing to the cruise product.

That said, make sure you explain to your agent what you’re seeking. Find an agent who doesn't just talk but also listens. Most do both well.

But if you’re uncomfortable or feel the agent is pushing an agenda – not listening to you as a customer and what's important to you – head out the door. Check our article with tips on How to Choose a Good Travel Agent. 

Photo of money savings goes here.Anyone can usually get a great rate on a cruise if they do one thing – book early.

The cruise lines offer sizable Early Booking Discounts for those bookings six months out and beyond. 

Also, many cruise lines say they guarantee that if the price drops later -- which frankly doesn't happen that often these days as cruise cabins have a very high cabin occupancy rate; most ships sail full -- you'll also get that difference back. 

Look for shoulder season deals. Or, some voyages like repositioning cruises can be (not always but sometimes) more affordable.

Consider an inside cabin or a cabin with an ocean view in lieu of one with a balcony if you're seeking the best price value. Even premium and luxury line ships have rates slightly less for staterooms or suites with a picture window versus a balcony.

Also, your agent might seek out lines (NCL is one) that offers multiple category upgrades; book early enough or during a promotional period (typically Wave Season during the first quarter of the year) and you might end up with a far better cabin than you had planned to book. 

A good agent will look at options to move you to a higher level of cruising if the comparable costs are appropriate -- say from a contemporary to a premium line, from a premium to a luxury line, or from one cabin to a better one on the same line -- if the move offers value-added perks that you may find helpful to your cruise budget. 

This is not always a good deal, but agents typically know when things are ripe for a shift. For example, at times, a standard yet luxurious cabin on a luxury cruise line might be comparably priced to a larger suite on a premium ship. If unlimited alcoholic beverages during the entire cruise, complimentary alternative dining options, and a complimentary shore experience in one port (at times) sound appealing, talk to your agent. 

Active military personnel – and in some cases, retired military or others who have served – can also get very good discounts. 

Photo of champagne bottle goes here.Agents who are preferred agents with a particular line or book group space on a particular ship in advance may have cabins selling for highly advantageous rates.

They also may tap into perks the lines offer them such as onboard cabin credits or a free welcome champagne party for people in their group (no worries, you’re definitely on your own – not part of a group for any activities unless you wish to be, yet you reap the group pricing benefits).

Loyalty is important to the cruise lines. So if you’re a past guest and sail again, you’ll likely reap some perks – particularly with each additional trip you take. For example, cruise lines might offer past guests a VIP reception, priority dinner reservations or onboard cruise credits. 

Packing for Efficiency

Photo of suitcase goes here.Too many people get the “it’s the trip of a lifetime” mentality when planning for their trip. As a consequence, they shop ‘till they drop.

If you’re got a great price on your cruise, then don’t blow the difference on over-buying just to go.

Take a look at the onboard dress code of the line you’re on, and then take whatever out of your closet may apply. Don’t run out and buy everything new. See what you have.

Try on any clothes you’ll wear. Don’t wait until you’re cruising to find out the slacks you loved last year simply don’t fit.

Accessorize. Scarves and jewelry can make the same outfit look entirely different each night.

Then separate by color. Select two main color schemes – say blue and green. Pick everything out that mixes and matches. Include many neutrals like white or cream tops or shirts that go with any outfit.

Photos of shoes goes here.Only take two to three pairs of shoes maximum per person - sneakers, casual/business shoes and a pair of elegant evening shoes for the ladies, for instance. You simply don't need six or eight pairs.

Editor's Note: I take only two -- sneakers and a pair of heels that can double for resort casual or elegant attire nights.

Men should only take one jacket and two ties maximum -- not one for each night of the week. On most lines a tie isn't required for at least three or four nights of a weeklong cruise.

Take a tuxedo if your ship has a formal night. But don't invest in buying one if you won't wear it at home; tuxedos can be rented onboard most large cruise ships. Check with your agent if you're traveling on a smaller ship, as the rental option may not be available on some of these vessels. 

Remember to take what you really “need” versus "want." Have a budget, go to the store, look for a great sale, and come away only with just a few items that freshen your wardrobe. Don’t buy an entirely new wardrobe.

And remember, most airlines now charge for more than one bag and some charge for every bag you check. So packing efficiently and lightly is critical.

Also, airlines now routinely add "overweight" charges for any bag that typically is more than 50 pounds. So weigh your bag on your home scale the day before you leave for the airport; if it's overweight, start removing the least important items. 

Pack one extra nylon carry-on bag within your main suitcase. That way if you're not up to the limit of carry-ons, you can bring more home without the weight concerns.

Getting to the Ship

With the high cost of fuel, both air and car travel is increasingly expensive. The obvious best tip is to choose a cruise that sails from a port “close to home” if that’s doable. 

For instance, if you live in Orlando, why not check out the cruises from Port Canaveral or the Port of Tampa? If you’re in Huntsville, AL, the Port of Mobile is an obvious choice. 

But if you’re not close to a southern port, or you prefer the itinerary of a cruise that sails from a different port, here are some tips.

Driving? Then start early in the morning – and by early we mean 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. – to avoid traffic and drive when temperatures are cooler. You’ll save a bit on gas in that it won’t evaporate as quickly.

Drive at an even pace and lower speed (say 55 or 60 rather than the speed limit of 65 or 70) to get the most per gallon.

Photo of airplane goes here.By air, use frequent traveler miles, if you have any. If you must buy a flight, shop around on Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and check a few individual airline sites as well – the prices vary widely.

If you see a good deal, be prepared to buy and pay right away. It likely won’t be there when you try back again in an hour or so.

Photo of bus goes here.If you’re overnighting pre-cruise in a port of call, look for hotels with “cruise packages" that include free shuttle service to/from the airport and to the port.

Your travel agent usually has a good handle on which hotels in port cities offer these packages.

Drive travelers should definitely seek out packages that offer free or reduced parking during the length of the guest’s cruise. Parking at the Port of Miami, for example, can be a $20 a day experience – or $140 for a seven-night cruise.

So park at a hotel for free, take the hotel's free shuttle to the port, and perhaps a cab back to the hotel (or a shuttle if the hotel will provide that); together those inclusions offer huge savings.

Check the distance from pier to airport; if it’s only four or five miles, a cab might be a much more cost-effective deal than booking the line’s optional bus transfers between the pier and the airport, and vice versa.  

Relaxation or Do It All?

Remember, a cruise is an inclusive product – but extra charges can add up fast, particularly if you enjoy spa treatments, casino play, alcoholic beverages, art auctions, extensive shore trips, souvenirs such as jewelry or designer goods, Internet and phone usage and more.

It’s really up to you – based on your budget and demeanor as to: (1) what you do and, as a result, (2) how much you spend onboard and ashore.

“When I go on vacation, one of the reasons is to relax,” says Alan Wilson, editor of CruiseNewsDaily.com (www.cruisenewsdaily.com). “On the cruise, it's easy to get caught up in thinking ‘I must do this,’ or “Everybody is doing that, and if I don't do that, I'll regret not doing it later.’

Resist those thoughts, he says, noting: "I find some of my best cruise vacation days are often the ones where I do the least, and appropriately enough, those are the ones where I've spent the least."

Photo of chairs on a river cruise ship deck goes here.He takes a couple of days and steps back from the "do it all" mentality -- blocking out a few days to do little.  “Nothing says you have to get off the ship when it comes into port, especially when there is nothing in particular about the port that speaks to you,” says Wilson.

On what he terms R&R days, he sleeps late if he wants to, has a leisurely breakfast and might spend what’s left of the morning reading on deck or on the balcony.

“After lunch, I may change my venue to a shady bar by the pool, just to sit at the bar and talk with whomever comes by,” says Wilson. “A port day is one of the least busy on the ship, and it's a chance to have some interesting conversations.”

After dinner, if the show doesn't particularly interest him, he wraps things up early enjoying the piano lounge for a short time.

“When I look back, these days are usually some of the best days of my vacation because I got the R&R I went on vacation for, and when I look at my account at the end of the trip, it's been one of the most economical,” emphasizes Wilson.

Smart Tips about Shore Trips

Most people boast that they received a great deal for their cruise. Then they turn around and spend hundreds of dollars on shore excursions. Yes, it’s definitely important for you to see what you want to see and do what you want to do on vacation. But here are some tips to avoid a budget overload. 

Most cruisers book shore trips in advance. If so, review your shore trip choices immediately after boarding; tickets for the excursions you selected are usually waiting in your stateroom.

When booking from home -- in eager anticipation of the cruise -- people tend to get excited and select the longest, most extensive tour in every port. But once you are on the ship, you have time to look around, view the onboard facilities and decide if you really want to do all you booked (and pay for it too!). 

Most lines have a deadline for turning tickets back in for a full refund, often 48 hours prior to the tour’s departure, so if you are going to opt out of something you pre-booked, do it right away. 

I often pre-book my trips, then opt out of at least one after talking to the shore excursion staff about whether the port has a walkable downtown. Other times, I just decide that a half day shore trip rather than a full day excursion is more relaxing, cost-effective or appropriate if the climate is hot. 

Photo of helicopter goes here.When it comes to shore trip options, the cruise lines have become increasingly creative in designing more intimate, more adventurous and more experiential tours. This is a plus for guests, who have more choices.

The downside is that helicopter flights; a private car/driver day trip with personalized options; and swim-with-the-dolphin encounters - as well as other such intimate tours -- can be pricey, depending on the line.

Costing up to several hundred dollars (or even more) per person, these can also be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. For many, that makes the cruise a special vacation and, thus, not doing it, may be a disappointment. 

Here's one suggestion.... On a week-long cruise with four port calls, you might try to follow this formula to keep costs in check: one pricey shore experience that you consider a "must do"; another of moderate cost, and two inexpensive ones. 

Photo of Nassau, The Bahamas, goes here.And "free" is better than inexpensive. Talk to your travel agent and read online bulletin boards about specific ports of call. Which ports are safely walkable?

For instance, unless you want an around-island experience, you might consider a self-guided walking tour around Nassau (a downtown historic building is shown at right*); the city has historic sites, restaurants and shopping within walking distance of the pier. For ideas, check out our Walking Tour of Nassau story.

San Juan, Martinique, St. Maarten and other Caribbean ports also have walkable downtowns that are adjacent to the cruise piers.

If you're a beach person, ask the shore office if there's a beach safe for tourists within walking distance. In many cases, you can stroll a few blocks and find a very nice beach experience for free.

Photo of tropical scene goes here.Another economical option is to choose a cruise itinerary with a private island experience.

You’ll receive a great beach/tropical island experience with sand, surf and a barbecue -- all included within the cost of your cruise.

You might check out a story we did a year or so ago about Private Island Experiences. While we'll be updating this piece in the next few weeks, it will give you some perspective about what's available on these idyllic isles.

You'll pay only for beach rentals (snorkeling equipment or watersports toys) or for such activities as spa treatments or horseback riding.

Even so, renting a water float or snorkeling equipment for a nonimal charge can make for a great day and be far less pricey than touring on another island.

When selecting shore trips, consider half-day rather than full-day options. Save the extensive, full-day tour for the island you want to really explore. Then just get a taste of the others with a half day tour and perhaps follow that with a walk around the downtown area.

Hiring a taxi for sightseeing can be cheaper than a cruise line shore trip. Just be sure the port is a “safe” one for hiring taxis. Know the local rules and prices as well. Read online bulletin boards and talk to the shore staff onboard.

Perhaps share a taxi tour with another couple. When selecting a taxi and driver, make sure the driver speaks English. Have a real conversation to find out. Ask questions. The driver may say "Oh I speak English, no problem," but if he can't tell you where you're going or what's the significance of what you're seeing, it won't be a very good tour.

Find out what’s to be covered in the tour. Where will you be going? Take a list of what you want to see. Don’t pay up front. And agree on the price in advance.

You might also forego the cruise line’s shore trips and hire a private tour firm such as ShoreTrips.com (www.shoretrips.com) or PortPromotions.com (www.portpromotions.com.

Nothing says you absolutely must book the shore trip with the cruise line. Both the shore trip firms listed above have been around for awhile and are used heavily by travel agents -- who typically seek reliability and quality when arranging excursions for their guests. Pricing tends to be less than the cruise line offerings.

One factor to consider, though: When you book a cruise line sanctioned shore trip, you likely won’t be left behind if your bus is late back to the ship. In contrast, the ship absolutely won’t wait if you’re on arrangements for another operator.

But if your ship is spending a long day in port, then taking a half day tour from a private operator is usually just fine. 

Just be very aware of the time when you must be back onboard. Leave plenty of cushion to get there and consider that even a three-mile trip could be a nightmare in hefty traffic. 

While active adventures are thrilling, in some cases so is their price. Zip line tours, off-road vehicle adventures and river rafting sometimes carry a higher price tag than the basic city tour or shuttle trip to a downtown area. That's because typically fewer guests are handled on each tour; city tours by motorcoach can accommodate many more guests.

So mix and match your shore choices. Go for the zip line tour on one island, but perhaps take a half-day city tour of the next island and leave time for exploring on your own. Think "moderation" in how you book your shore adventures.

Shopping and Other Shore Factors

Cruisers are huge spenders when it comes to shopping in foreign ports of call. In Grand Cayman, St. Thomas and a host of other islands, the brand-name shops occupy a large part of the downtown area. The shops are basically there for tourists who can’t seem to drop enough money ashore .

Put the philosophy, “It’s such a great deal I can’t pass it up,” out of your mind. Yes, some shops have good deals. Others may convince you they have, but you may find later that you could have purchased a similar object back home for about the same price.

If you're in the market for a particular item, check prices at home before you leave. That way when you’re shopping ashore on a tropical island, the weather is great, you’re relaxed, it’s a fun day and life is good, you won’t buy just for the sense of buying. You'll be an educated consumer and know what's a good price and what isn't.

Find out whether bargaining is permitted or appropriate at your port of call. If so, start low and go higher; but if you begin bargaining, in many cultures, it's assumed you ultimately will buy.

To avoid splurging, many savvy cruisers take a limited amount of cash ashore and just one credit card (some leave all credit cards on the ship). That way you won’t have a choice about spending or not.

Georgina Cruz, a full-time travel writer with three decades of experience, limits her purchases to one souvenir, such as a small watercolor by a local artist

Other ways to save money ashore focus on refreshments and food. If permitted, take bottled water or a juice bottle from the ship ashore. It will likely be hot and you’ll need refreshment at some point before any break the shore trip provides. For a family of four, spending money on bottled water or sodas ashore can add up.

Photo of dining fare goes here.Don’t go ashore hungry. Eat breakfast or lunch before your depart on any shore trip.

If you’re booking two half-day tours – one in the morning, another in the afternoon – definitely return to the ship for lunch. After all, you’ve paid for it.

Some islands permit no food to be taken ashore. Others are more lenient. “Bring power bars from home for snacks while on tours to avoid having to shell out more than $10 for a couple of ice cream cones,” says Cruz.

She also advises people to always eat dinner on the ship and “if you want to sample local cuisines indulge in a light lunch. You can almost make a meal of the black bean soup in Puerto Rico, for instance.”

If you are dining ashore, read the menus first. Check prices before sitting down. Compare several restaurants before selecting one. Ask what the service charge is and whether that's separate from the gratuity. Some fees can really increase the final meal tab.

Saving Money Onboard

Photo of wine glass goes here.If your family likes wine with dinner or the kids live on sodas at home, ask the line immediately upon boarding what the options are for wine, beer and soda packages. It can be cheaper to buy one of these packages in advance so you don’t get a sticker shock bill at the end of your cruise.

For instance, kids might get a card that allows them to get one free soda at a time at every bar or dining venue. Parents might buy four bottles of wine that will be available to them at dinner – for a less pricey tab than just ordering at the table.

If you’re a spa enthusiast, “look for specials on port days and also for packages, as many cruise lines have them,” notes Marilyn Green, a spa expert and veteran travel and cruise journalist based in New York.

In otherwords, take the spa tour upon arrival, and find out what’s offered. Sometimes they have specials the first day aboard.

Photo of spa treatment room goes here.Most spas also have packages – so three or four specific treatments are included in a package priced less than the individual packages alone.

Survey what’s available onboard -- including accommodations -- for spa options before you book; “Costa's spa staterooms are a fantastic bargain,” Green says. “You get superior amenities, a dedicated gourmet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and supper, private access to the spa and a spa package including a spa treatments and classes, all for less than most of the spa packages would cost.”

When it comes to cruise fares, how can cruise lines can charge such affordable rates? Cruising is truly a great value in today's world. Prices paid today for a seven-night cruise are often comparable or, at times, even less than they were a decade or more ago.

So how do they do it? The answer is: onboard revenue! So when perusing all there is to see and do on a ship, understand that onboard revenue (sales of incidentals, programs, spa treatments, photos and shore trips) is a big chunk of the lines' income. 

For cruisers, too often buying stuff onboard becomes an "emotional decision" -- based on the "I deserve" or "It's vacation" mentality.

Avoid buying anything at the gift shop the first or second day out. Remember, you’re going to be touring ashore and you might want a souvenir from a tropical island itself. Yes, at the end of the cruise, if you want the line’s tee-shirt, by all means come in and buy. But give yourself time to see what’s available in ports of call.

While shopping onboard or ashore, also remember you must stay under the U.S. Customs limits for purchases abroad or you’ll pay duty on your return. Duty applies to most everything you buy and bring back on your cruise – from tee-shirts to glassware, rum to jewelry. And there is also a limitation on the amount of liquor you may bring back.

The duty exemption for each U.S. citizen is $800 or $1,600 per couple. But for the specific rules, print out a copy of the U.S. Customs’ booklet “Know Before You Go.”

If you enjoy a glass of wine in your cabin or wine with dinner most nights, buy the wine package -- as previously noted. Alternatively, on some lines it’s possible to bring your own wine and champagne aboard if you physically check it in with the crew at embarkation and pay a small corkage fee.

Ask your travel agent about the line’s policy; not all lines allow this. But if allowable, then the line will deliver the bottles to your stateroom or the restaurant on a date/time you specify. While the corkage fee is extra, if you’re into quality, yet affordable wines (bottles you might get on sale for $8-$20 or so at home), you'll likely still save money for the same quality wine.

One of the best inclusions in your cruise fare is the line’s entertainment. On many lines, this includes the chance to enjoy full-scale production shows, as well as cabaret acts, pianists and musical quartets. It's a tremendous value that's already part of your cruise fare.  

If you participate in any "extra fee" entertainment or activities, think "moderation." So play bingo by all means but you might play two cards rather than eight -- and still have a great time! 

Photo of casino playing cards goes here.If you must go the casino, set a limited time for play (say just an hour before dinner, when you know you have to leave at a certain point). Winning is great but you’ll likely put it back – unless you’re able to “walk” with a time restraint.

Another good tip for casino play is to set a separate casino “budget” – separate from your cruise vacation spending. Then when the casino pot is gone, it’s gone.

On the dining side, you might want to enjoy one of the ship’s alternative dining venues; these typically charge a very reasonable $15 to $30 fee, nominal considering the quality of the cuisine and the experience. But keep in mind that a bottle of wine or cocktails add up. 

Sometimes you might save by reserving and enjoying the alternative dining experience on the first night of your cruise. Fewer people typically want to eat at the alternative restaurant on that embarkation night. Check when you get onboard. Ask if they have any other options, like specials for lunchtime dining later in the cruise.

Photo of tropical drinks goes here.Those lovely tropical punch drinks they serve on the pool deck can be $8.50 or more apiece. Order the drink at the bar without the souvenir glass and you'll likely save.

Consider a drink of ice tea, soda, wine or beer; it’s still a cost item but less expensive. Or, just ask for ice water with several wedges of lime, lemon or orange. 

If you want a mixed drink, ask the bartender what the special drink of the day is. Or, consult your daily program. On any given day, you might enjoy a margarita, a Bahama Mama, or a strawberry daiquiri  -- and at a reduced price. 

After a few days of cruising, you may find you are running out of clothes. “If your ship does not have a self-service launderette, pack enough changes of clothes to avoid laundry fees,” says Cruz.

That's not a problem for guests driving to their cruise port. But if you fly, lots of extra clothes can cost you with those onerous airline baggage fees.

If you fly, limit your clothing but bring along small packs of laundry detergent and hand wash clothes in the bathroom sink. Most lines now have a retractable clothesline that spans the tub/shower area.

If you have a mini-bar in your room, you might want to ask for it to be locked. Then you or your kids won’t be tempted. You can take snacks, cookies or fruit (within reason of course) from the buffet back to your room. That way you’ll have an afternoon snack.

Art auctions sound tempting and they can be great fun. Many times you’ll get a free glass of champagne to show up.

Just remember, these folks running them – who seem your best friend – are experts at motivational selling. These folks are adept at “flattering” guests to the point that you feel special. Thus, as a special person, you believe the purchase is something you absolutely deserve to have! (any of this sound familiar?). 

Sometimes the art is a good buy, other times not. If you don’t typically buy art at home, or you don’t have a specific spot already in mind for a piece, leave the credit cards/room key elsewhere so you’re not tempted.

Photos taken by the cruise line's staff can be a huge expense. Everyone loves a great photo of the family enjoying their cruise. But it's so simple to just take your own camera, and ask people to photograph your family along the way.

Save your onboard photo dollars to purchase one formal photograph of the family, perhaps, or the family at dinner one night (but NOT photos of dinner on three or four nights). Avoid the gangway shots taken by the photo staff; again, you can do just as well yourself with your own camera with the destination behind your family.

Set a photo budget. Stick to it, and select only photos you plan to frame and show in your house or hang on the wall -- that will eliminate the ones you can do without.

Bring PLENTY of digital camera cards; you'll likely take far more photos than you had planned. It's far cheaper to buy digital cards on sale at home than on a cruise ship or in a tropical port. The same goes for video camera supplies.

Photo of phone receiver goes here.And finally, everyone likes to keep in touch by phone or Internet with those back home. But it can be very pricey.

Talk to your phone provider; find out what costs apply for roaming from foreign ports and if your phone can be used outside of the U.S.

It may be cheaper to use your own cell phone than the stateroom phoneShip to shore phone calls from your cabin phone can be $4.99 to $11.99 a minute.

Photo of computer goes here.When considering Internet use, remember that the servers on many ships are incredibly slow at times. 

Pulling up several sites or just composing a short email message could take a half hour. You'll use far more time than you think very quickly.

If you plan to use the ship's Internet cafe or Wi-Fi throughout the cruise, definitely buy a package of minutes. It's generally more economical than paying by the minute.  

One option is to stay out of the Internet cafe, set up your Blackberry or phone to receive data/email from your outside account. Again, if you have international service, this can be a more cost-effective option.

End of Cruise Housekeeping:

A few days before the end of the cruise, you’ll get a copy of your estimated cruise bill thus far under your door or in your stateroom mail slot. Read it. Read it very carefully.

In addition, some lines put the itemized bill on your in-stateroom television. So if you see something mid-cruise that looks suspect definitely inquire about it at the purser’s office.

At times, charges do appear on the wrong account. Retain all onboard receipts for spending, organize them by date, and check them item by item with your bill. 

Then again on the final night, you'll receive your final bill. Again, read it carefully and do so immediately. If you do nothing, this will be your bill, plus any charge incurred later in the evening.

But if something looks amiss, go down to the purser’s desk as soon as possible (don’t wait until 8 a.m. or later on the day of departure as the lines often close out the books at a certain time -- so after that you can't adjust the bill -- and lines tend to be long).

I always plan to question any bill at about 6 a.m. or so on day of departure; that may avoid the worst lines, which always materialize around 7-8 a.m.

Ask to see the receipt from something questionable – usually the line will produce it automatically for your review and you can tell if you signed for it or not. Remember, the burden is on you to review your bill carefully.

Photo of cabin stewardess goes here.We hesitate to mention this as a cost saving tip -- as it should only be used as a cost-cutting step in the event of poor service... which is not likely on most cruises. Cruising has a high satisfaction rate.

Tipping policies vary by line, but more are now adding a certain percentage to the final bill. No one works as hard as most cabin stewards or waiters on a cruise.

Still, some lines allow you to adjust the tipping up or down, based on your satisfaction.

If service on your cruise was good or excellent, we advocate not touching the tipping percentage! But if service was not up to par -- or, alternatively, if it was beyond the norm -- it’s your right to adjust the percentage on most lines.

That said, don’t be a cheapskate and cut the tip altogether just to save money -- unless the service was horrific; onboard staff depend on that for income. 

If you do opt to adjust it, do so before noon on the day before you depart (at the latest). That way the proper tips will be accurately figured in your bill that evening.

Photo of cruise artwork goes here.Cruising is one of the most value-added and affordable vacations out there. Your cruise, food and onboard entertainment are included. The lines offer a plethora of choices beyond that, for an extra fee.

The key is to pick and choose activities and to travel in "moderation." Don't overspend based on the feeling that “I want to do it all!That way you'll return from your cruise happy. Better yet, you won't still be paying for the vacation next year. 

Thanks to professional travel/cruise journalists Georgina Cruz, Marilyn Green and Alan Wilson for their input for this story! If you have a great money saving idea based on your cruise, send it to us in our feedback form. 



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