Thoughts On Selecting A Cruise

New To Cruising?

Anchored at Santorini

If you are new to cruising and are thinking about what you should book next you should first decide what you are looking for in that cruise.

Everybody seems to be cruising. It’s actually gaining in popularity every year, but all cruises are not alike and it’s important to understand what to expect. Consider, you’re looking for a calm, relaxing, short ocean cruise and you don’t want to find yourself surrounded by a noisy party crowd that celebrates way into the early hours. Be careful or you could select the wrong itinerary.

Anchored at Akaroa, New Zealand

Often the character of a cruise comes less from the cruise line or a particular ship and more from the passengers a particular cruise attracts. With many cruises, the passenger character changes with the seasons. Summer is school vacation season so if you would prefer to avoid children on your cruise, summer Caribbean and Alaska cruises probably aren’t your best choice. Not sure you would be happy with a wild, party crowd on your cruise? The shorter winter time Caribbean Carnival cruises are probably not the best fit. Also, if you have children and you would like a cruise with an active children’s program avoid those wintertime longer cruises. They tend to attract a more mature passenger and less families. On a number of the longer cruises that we’ve taken, if there were any children onboard they actually belonged to the crew.

Next to the Sydney Opera House
A Grand Lobby Onboard Carnival

If you are thinking of booking a cruise from a distant port, which is becoming much more popular lately, you need to also consider some additional possibilities. In the case of Royal Caribbean they are working at opening up new international markets by stationing some of their ships in Asia and South America for extended seasons. While you will always find a passenger compliment that represents a good number of countries some of these sailings can have very few English speaking passengers. We had friends that sailed out of Japan with Royal Caribbean and there was only one other English speaking couple on board. The good news for them was that most of the crew spoke English and they ate dinner with the Captain almost every night. It seemed he also didn’t speak Japanese.

Surfing the Royal Caribbean FloRider

Cruises out of New Zealand and Australia are growing in popularity and also very popular with the locals so you will have an opportunity to make a bunch of Australian or Kiwi friends if you choose those itineraries. Cruises out of

Royal Caribbean Ice shows

Southampton naturally attract a large number of Brits and Canadians are frequent Alaska cruisers out of Vancouver, so there are opportunities to make some new international pen pals.

We have friends that are frequent Disney cruisers and they claim that while there are a lot of children on board, Disney is very good at providing and enforcing adult only areas. Much better, in our experience, than other cruise lines.

While Carnival is famous for its Caribbean party cruise atmosphere, its Alaska cruises aren’t usually anything like that. Royal Caribbean is very good for families with an excellent kids program. Early in our cruising we had trouble getting our youngest to leave the kids program. The teen also had a great time in the teen hangout. One thing that we find we really enjoy about Celebrity is their lecture series. We’ve listened to lectures by the director (retired) of the Kennedy Space Center, a government official (retired) that spent decades in Asia and professors on dozens of subjects.

There is also a world of cruise lines out there and while a number base their operations on serving American cruisers there are lines that have been focused on Europe, Asia and other regions. For examples, with Carnival, almost all your fellow passengers will be American, giving Carnival cruises a real American feel. On Costa and Azamara, passengers are usually from a number of different, mostly European countries. MSC historically has been another line focused on the European market but is now reaching for a share of the American market. It is based in Italy, but now with a U.S. office in Florida and a number of Caribbean itineraries.

Carnival with packed Pools & Hot tubs

Cruising is a truly international business, Ownership and managed can be headquartered in one country, with a crew from dozens of countries and passengers from all over the world. It is recognized that Cunard is a British company and it was founded in the UK and still has its headquarters there, but its ships are registered in Bermuda. It’s owned by a Panamanian corporation (with headquarters in Miami), and while officers onboard are still mostly British, crew members come from around the world.

A Celebrity Christmas

Most travel agents that specialize in cruising are a good source for recommendations about what to expect on various cruise lines and itineraries. We strongly recommend you select a travel agent and develop a relationship. It won’t cost you anything additional and can help to save you money and grief.

Disclaimer – While we have now taken over fifty cruises, as far as firsthand information is concerned we can only speak about cruise lines and ships we have sailed. These include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival and Viking River Cruises. Loyalty programs have rewarded us enough benefits that we return often attracted to that extra value. We have booked an NCL cruise next year primarily because it offered an itinerary we couldn’t get through our preferred cruise lines which provides some insight into why these companies are doing the things they are.

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Telephone Service At Sea

Often when people take a cruise they want to stay in touch with family back home by calling. Before you take that cruise it is advisable to check with you cellular service concerning your options and costs. Being forewarned is forearmed.

Using cell phones while on a cruise can be very expensive. The major U.S. cell services range in cost between $2.99 a minute up to $5.99. In order to provide cell service the cruise lines contract with a marine cellular service that operates while at sea. A number of the U.S. based cruise lines use Cellular At Sea for the service and the charges are passed from Cellular At Sea through to your cell service to appear on your monthly bill. Because of this arrangement most prepaid plan services just won’t work onboard ship. Using the ships in cabin service isn’t any better with $5.99 a minute being typical.

If you wait until you are in a port to place calls the service switches to the regional carriers in that country where costs are based on your cell services roaming charges. Roaming charges vary depending on your service so you’ll want to check with your carrier for those rates. If you’ve got T-Mobile, check to see if the country visited is included in the Simple Choice plan. If it is, making phone calls will only be $0.25/minute whie data is free. Calls from Mexico and Canada using T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan are free. Verizon’s TravelPass and AT&T’s International Day Pass charge $5 to $10 per day for travelers to text, call and use data based on the plan they have at home but you must sign up for the service. Without the pass, pay-per-use data rates for both carriers costs more than $2.00/MB.

Receiving and sending text messages are usually pretty inexpensive while at sea. Typically incoming texts are free and outbound costs are typically 25¢ to 50¢. Be cautious of MMS and ask your carrier for rates as they involve data charges.

A number of years ago the major carriers had reasonably priced cruise plans but AT&T acquired Cellular At Sea and changed the rate structure. Now AT&T is the only company that currently has cruise rate packages with the lowest priced package providing 50 minutes and unlimited texts for a fixed price of $50 (overages are $1.99 a minute) with no data.

When you’re in port, your cell signal will switch to a carrier in that country where international roaming rates apply. You need to be very aware of the service switch as you enter and leave port. If you are on a call as the ship sails out and it switches to the marine service – so will the rates.

If you are looking to save money on calls, most ships have data plans with some being reasonably priced. Often you can install an app on your phone that allows calling over internet that usually works well. Services that provide video calling, like Skype may encounter internet speed issues however.

Cruising and Tours

Cruise Ship port of Call Tours

While we are just not “guided tour” enthusiasts, we have been on a fair number of them. To begin with, there are some land tours that make good sense to do. The first is where there is someplace you really want to see and even the bus trip is on a very tight schedule. The one thing you can be sure of is, if you are on a ship sponsored tour the ship isn’t going to sail without you. And yes, we have seen people left behind. We have taken a number of tours also because the costs were just too good to ignore. Sometimes that is because we have onboard credits that we just need to spend and others have been provided by our agency as a perk.

From our point of view the biggest problem we have with guided tours is that you become a prisoner of the tour. It is common for us to get stuck visiting some place that we are just not interested in. Why do we have to spend forty-five minutes at a chocolate factory or a nut packer? I’m sure the tour operator is being paid to deliver people to that business but we resent paying for visit. The other case is visiting a location where we could spend hours and are informed we have to be back on the bus in a half hour. Going it on our own eliminates those possibilities.

There is also the issue of cost. If you understand your options, often you will see that the ships tour will cost you significantly more money. A few examples:

Cozumel Chankanaab

Cozumel Chankanaab National Park – When you get down to it, this is a day at the beach. The park is equipped with bars, restaurant, along with beach and snorkel rental stuff. A taxi ride will cost between US$10 and US$20 each way (make sure you have plenty of singles as drivers don’t offer change) and park admission is about US$21. A recent tour booked through the cruise ship cost $69 per person. That’s $138 for what would have cost $62 on your own.

Mendenhall Glacier Alaska – This is a national park outside of Juneau Alaska. The park is serviced by a bus route from the historic downtown area with round-trip fare being $31. Add to that the admission to the park (NPS standard fees) $20 which totals $51 ($31 if you have a NPS Senior Park Pass). The basic cruise tours usually start around $75. They often will add in a salmon bake for $20 to $30 more. For more on Mendenhall CLICK HERE.

 

Rome from the Port of Civitavecchia – On or first cruise stop in Civitavecchia we booked the “Rome On Your Own” tour at $89 each which included a bus ride in to Vatican City and back to the ship. Six blocks from the Civitavecchia port is the train station and for as little as US$12 you can get a round-trip ticket to the St. Peters station. For two that’s a savings of $154 and the trip in and back can actually be quicker.

For more on visiting Rome from Civitavecchia CLICK HERE.

In order to head off on your own and save some cash you do have to be a bit adventurous. We are pretty independent and prefer to use local buses and trains with our biggest fear being missing the ships departure. Our protection is to always build in a good time allowance in our plan. We are also good at doing research on our destinations and have a good idea of what we want to see and how to do it before we leave on a trip.

On the other side of the discussion here are a few examples of ship tours that we thought were well worth the cost and why:

The Golden Triangle Iceland – This tour was a bit pricy but so were the local tour companies. The reason we selected this tour is because our ship docked in the afternoon and sailed shortly after noon the next day disqualifying local tours. We also considered renting a car but again were concerned about the times. The tour itself was great. We probably traveled over a hundred miles and saw thermal fields, waterfalls(!!) and Icelands rift valley where the earths crust is pulling apart. No shopping stops or misspent time. If you are going to Iceland don’t miss the Golden Triangle.

Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey – The ancient city of Ephesus, located near the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey, was one of the great cities of the Greeks and later the Romans in Asia Minor and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major attraction located some distance from the port. Again not inexpensive but a great experience (it did include a stop at a rug showroom). We might be adventurous but there was no way I was going to rent a car for half a day in Turkey and I still am not aware of any convenient public transportation.

A Wine & Tapas Tour in Palma – This one wasn’t that expensive and included nice stops at three different tapas bars and free time in a nice in-town shopping area. The drive back to the pier included brief stops at the castle overlook above town and a drive along the coast. A good answer to filling an afternoon in Mallorca.  For more information CLICK HERE.

 

This is part one of a three part series we’ve been working on. Check back or subscribe to see the whole series.

River Cruising in Europe Part Two

A Cautionary Tale Part Two

Note: See Part One Here

Low & High Water

We just got home from a European river cruise and it didn’t go as we had hoped. Sometimes the rivers experience high water conditions that prevent the long boats from passing under bridges. In our case, Europe has been suffering a long drought in the Danube and Rhine Regions, and the rivers were so low they kept the long boats from sailing in certain areas.

Our Experience

It is not my intent to single out Viking River Cruises but they are the company we cruised with this year. We were also novices to river cruising and were totally unprepared regarding a couple of areas where we experienced serious problems. We offer what has happened to us as a cautionary tale which will hopefully help others in their planning.

To start, we were very surprised at the number of longboats and cruise boats plying these European rivers. There were places where there were as many as six boats tied up three abreast at the docking area. Along one stretch of the Danube River, in the course of a mile, we passed five of these cruise boats headed in the opposite direction. Not that it affected us, but the traffic was almost unbelievable.

There are a few major companies offering river cruises and more than a dozen smaller ones. Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises are probably the two largest with the most experience. In addition to these, the list includes AmaWaterways, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Tauck World Discovery, Crystal River Cruises, Scenic Cruises and a number of newer operators. Generally they have similar policies regarding cancellation, itinerary changes and what is covered in a cruise package.

Getting the cruise you want usually requires making a selection over a year in advance so there is no way of knowing the water conditions ahead of time. Most lines reserve the right to modify the itinerary as conditions warrant. To fulfill the contract, this can include putting you on buses and in hotels instead of on boats. Once you show up to take the cruise, except in the case of a medical emergency, you are in their hands through to the end.

Air Fares

Many lines include airfare and transfers in the package price. In our case with Viking we asked if we could remove the air portion as we were considering taking a trans-Atlantic cruise back to the States. Viking’s policy without exception required us to pay for the air portion even if we weren’t going to use it.

Since this was our first river cruise we didn’t know that there were options in approaching airline ticketing. We were advised of a $100.00 per person deviation fee for Viking to schedule us into Budapest a week early. Apparently there is also a program called Air Plus which costs $50.00 and provides you a bit more flexibility with the airline reservations but can also increase the cost of the airfare.

In our case the reservations booked by Viking were terrible and nothing we would ever have arranged for ourselves. Going to Europe we were routed Florida to Frankfort with a connection to Budapest. We had an impossibly short time between flights so we missed our connection. For the return flight we were booked at 7:00 AM out of Amsterdam to Munich, connecting to a flight to Frankfort to catch our flight back to Florida adding up to a twenty-two hour travel day where a normal trip would be less than 13 hours. When we asked for changes to the schedule, we were advised that any alterations would require a change/upgrade fee of $600.00.

Added Tours

Also included in many itineraries are local tours in the cities visited. While this is normally a good feature, in our case Viking’s insistence on providing these tours ended up adding additional hours on buses getting to many of the tour sites. You could stay on the boat and choose not to participate but that meant you missed one of the places on the original itinerary. Some smaller cruise companies either don’t provide tours or charge extra and that should be a consideration when making plans.

Cabin Types

Most cabins on river boats are small and the options are usually a matter of the window size, having a French balcony or a full balcony. We had booked a French balcony cabin with Viking on this trip and if we return to Europe we will probably down grade our selection. First the cabin was so small that it was uncomfortable to use for just sitting (no chairs either) so we spent most of our onboard time in the lounge (there are also suites with sitting rooms). Additionally because when we were docked we were usually tied up to another boat. To avoid looking into another stateroom we usually kept our curtains closed. The French balcony wasn’t a valuable option.

Trip Insurance

Because of the high price of river cruising, in the future we will select trip insurance that allows us to cancel for any reason and pay much closer attention to river conditions weeks before the trip. It seems that an adjusted itinerary is not justification to cancel for many insurance plans including the one we used for this trip.

Information On River Conditions

For more information on river conditions see Ralph Grizzle’s information at River Cruise Advisor, a site that tracks water levels as does River Cruise Information. We will also pay for the air upgrade option (in the case of Viking that’s another $50.00 per person) and become more involved in selecting flights.

On the positive side Viking has recognized that they didn’t deliver what we were expecting and have provided some compensation for all of the problems we experienced, which makes for a slightly better ending to this story.

Travel Electronics (Update September 2018)

What We Travel With

Technology changes rapidly and services that worked well or were inexpensive yesterday may not be available or work the same way today.

Our travel electronics collection now includes a couple of small Macintosh Air laptops, an iPad, an Android tablet, two iPhones and a Blu phone, a compact digital camera and a waterproof digital camera (both Nikon).

This sounds like a lot but it all takes up about a half cubic foot of space and weighs less than 6 or 7 pounds.

Entertainment

While traveling we often find ourselves in media and internet impoverished areas but I will admit it gets better all the time*. We use two primary approaches as we travel. I download shows in my tablet mostly with Google Play or Netflix (many free) and I convert from our movie collection to MP4 and load a travel hard drive. One thing we have found essential is a small plug-in battery operated speaker. The current one is 2”x2”x1.5” and produces great sound (EWA Soundelf $10). Comes in handy when watching shows in bed in the evening on a laptop. We both have tablets and between us we carry a few dozen books in various apps (mostly Amazon and Google books [their apps] and B&N Nook). We do not use Apple Books as they are too difficult to share or use on non-Apple devices.

Computers

Most everyone these days are addicted to the internet and people find it strange when we try and prepare for long stretches not having internet. I have been in a couple of discussions with computer companies about back-up system software in case of an emergency (no longer are CD drives included). Apple once agreed and sold me a system on a thumb drive – just in case. Six months later I needed it and it would not load without being able to confirm the purchase on the internet!! Now falling back on a second device is always part of our plan. I carry a travel hard drive (about the size of a cell phone) with 2 Tb of storage and back up data only from both laptops to partitions on the drive regularly. I avoid backup schemes because they can be a problem if switching laptops.

I had bragged a year ago about a Windows, 2 in 1 laptop that I thought was perfect for travel. It could be used both as a laptop and a tablet. Well it self-destructed because the onboard memory (32 Gb) was taken over by Microsoft upgrades, ran out of room and stopped working because there wasn’t a complete operating system. I had installed a 132 Gb SD card to provide enough storage but MS wouldn’t allow their system to load to the SD card. My son is a computer engineer and programmer and has been unable to revive this device. Please avoid those minimum dive space laptops – there is no way to add a drive…

Cell Service

As mentioned in previous posts we have used Verizon as our primary cell service but we have given up after numerous international travel problems. I can’t even count the number of places we have been where service wasn’t available. The one thing we discovered was that most of the Americans that seemed to be using their cell phones when we couldn’t were T-Mobile customers. Verizon has sold us international phones that wouldn’t even work in London (actually almost everywhere and the battery would die because it never stopped searching for service). Our Verizon iPhones stopped a few years ago because there was a change in GSM services (we had to upgrade phones).

We now have two newer iPhones on T-Mobile and have three trips between now and December (two cruises and an extended Europe) and will let you know what happens. I still keep my Blu phone on OneSimCard service.

Cruising and Text Messaging

One issue we discover last April with a trans-Atlantic cruise involved texting onboard using iPhones and iMessage. Because of the cost of placing phone calls at see our preferred method of contact is texting. We have several family members that also use iPhones and texting with them completely failed. It seems that iMessage uses cellular data exclusively to send and receive messages and generally cellular service on ship is very expensive and data doesn’t work at all – so no texting.

The answer is to turn iMessage off and make sure SMS is active (also I would recommend turning MMS off as big photos and videos will get costly). This will solve most issues but there can be some problems if the person ashore is an iPhone user with iMessage turned on. If you believe this is causing a problem the other person must also turn iMessage off to exchange text with you.

We are always looking for tips on travel electronics and are looking into Movavi software for downloading video after another blog suggested it. Any ideas or tricks? Please let us know.

Getting To Florida Ports For That Caribbean Cruise

With Caribbean Cruising season fast approaching here is a guide to how to get to those Florida ports. Regardless if your coming by train, plane or automobile there are ways to save money making that final connection to your cruise ship.

Florida Cruises – Getting To The Port…

Florida has become one of the largest destinations in the U.S. for people taking cruises. While passengers come from all over the U.S. and even the world a large number come from the Southeast and especially Florida. The close proximity to the Florida ports offers a number of advantages to cruisers from the region but it also presents some interesting challenges. The following is as complete a rundown on how to get to your cruise ship regardless if you come by planes, trains or automobiles. Okay, maybe not trains.

Miami from the Port

Florida has four major cruise ports; The Port of Miami, Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral at Merritt Island (sometimes called the Orlando port) and Tampa. Each one has its own environment that makes getting to your cruise ship different for each port.

 

Flying In

Tampa

The port is some distance from the airport but there is generally a fixed taxi fare for the trip of about $25 (plus luggage fees and tip). There are also a number of shuttles as well but expect to pay between $15 and $20 per person for these. A cruise ship transfer at last check was over $15 per person.

Disney Cruise Shuttle

Orlando

The nearest major airport to Port Canaveral. Expect to pay over $100 for a taxi to the port which is a 47 mile trip. There are a number of shuttles that charge as little as $15 per person. Booking a transfer thru your cruise line can cost above $35 per person. At last check Disney offers a bus service from Orlando airport and hotels at Disney World to their cruises at $35 per guest.

Ft. Lauderdale

Port Everglades is only about 2 miles from the airport and while the airport taxi stand will usually quote a flat fare of $20 to the cruise ship if you go with the meter on, it should cost less and if you are going from the ship to the airport it should cost about $15 with tip (no delay exiting the port because of security). The cruise ships also offer transfers but they average $16 per person, which for two people makes a taxi the better choice.

Miami

If you are going from the Miami airport to the cruise terminal, current taxi charges are a $27 flat-rate fee. That’s not per person. So if you are traveling with a family of four, that’s just $7 per person (or $14 round-trip) — not a bad deal. Buying a transfer from your cruise line will cast around $17 per person though or $68 for four.

Rental Cars (In City)

Often people will fly into the port city a day or two early and if that is the case it is a good idea to rent a car. Depending on the city rentals can be very inexpensive and give more flexibility on how you get around. Be sure you check with the agency and make sure you can drop the car off near the port.

Miami

It is common in Miami for rental car agencies to allow a rental to be picked up at the airport and dropped off somewhere else in Miami. At between $25 and $40 a day this is a very economical way to get to the cruise port with the advantage of seeing some of Miami in the process. In the case of Avis and Budget*1 they both have drop-offs near the port with free shuttle service to your ship, which saves the cost of a short taxi ride.

Tampa

While it is possible to also pick up a rental car at the airport in Tampa and drop it in the city, there are no drop offs really near the port. When we come in to Tampa on a cruise it usually costs between $10 and $20 to get a taxi to the nearest rental car location.

Port Everglades

Ft. Lauderdale

Because the port and airport are so near each other, unless you plan on spending some time in the area before your cruise, there is little reason to rent a car. It is also worth noting that Avis and Alamo have free shuttles from their airport locations to Port Everglades and back (you must have a copy of the rental car reservation to board the shuttle though).

Orlando

It has become popular to rent a car for the one-way trips between Orlando or airport and Port Canaveral and the rental agencies have been very accommodating in recent years. A recent check showed three agencies (Avis, Budget and Alamo) offering cars between $50 and $75 per day for the one-way trip including free shuttles to the ships in Port Canaveral.

One Way Car Rentals

Even if you live within convenient driving distance to a port, sometimes port parking can become an expensive proposition. This is especially true if the cruise is longer than seven days. Except for the Orlando – Port Canaveral connection, one-way drop-off fees can make renting a car very expensive. The one notable exception to that is if you live near Orlando. Because Orlando is the number one destination in Florida the rental car companies are always trying to balance their inventories and are usually not charging drop-off fees between Orlando and major Florida cities. Renting a one-way car is our normal method of getting to and from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. We have rented cars for as little as $29 from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale. One trick is to make reservations way in advance and check the rate a few more times before the cruise.

Port Canaveral

Buses Etcetera

Back in the day buses were good, inexpensive transportation between cities and there still is a number of options for economical fares. MegaBus offers a one-way ticket from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale for $26. The problem with them as with most bus service is that you have to get to their terminal and to your destination at the other end. This can be a major additional expense impacting the economy of bus transportation. We should also note that some people live in communities with active travel groups that normally arrange charter buses as part of a cruise package

Parking Near the Ports

Most parking structures inside the various ports are owned and operated by the ports and, on average, are fifty percent higher than private services near the port. Over the years there have been some interesting fights between these venues. Mostly it has been the ports trying to make it difficult for the private lots to compete and survive. Generally private enterprise finds a way.

Port Canaveral

Parking at the port garage inside the port is currently $17 per day and they charge for each portion of a day (that means full fare for the day you arrive and the day you leave). There are at least four dedicated private lots with shuttles near the port that average under $10 a day based on 24 hour days. There are also companies that contract with some local hotels for parking spaces and provide van service to and from the port.

Miami

Parking at the Port of Miami currently is $20 per 24 hour day with a daytime rate of $7. Because the port is located right in the heart of downtown Miami it is difficult to find reasonable rates nearby. There are a number of companies offering reduced rates but it would be recommended that you investigate where these lots are and how much security they provide.

Ft. Lauderdale

Parking inside Port Everglades currently is $15 per day but offers a location right next to the ships. Because the port is located near the airport there is a great deal of parking available in the area. There are official remote lots associated with the airport with shuttle service to the terminals as well as more than a few private lots not far away. Again it would be recommended that you investigate where these lots are and how much security they provide before reserving.

Notes & Links:

*1 Avis at Port of Miami with Shuttle to Cruise Ships. Address: 99 Southeast 2nd Street, (Cruise Ship Passengers Only), Miami, FL,33131. Phone: (1) 305-379-1317. Hours of Operation: Sun 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM; Mon – Fri 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM; Sat 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Miami Budget location with a free shuttle to the port. Since this option is becoming very popular and there are a number of ships sailing, especially on weekends, dropping off cars can become very congested at these locations. Patience is a virtue…                                                    89 SE 2nd St, Miami, Florida.

A Parking option at Port Canaveral

Shuttle from MCO to Canaveral 

Alamo Port Canaveral 

Ways to Save Money on Booking a Cruise

Getting the best deal on booking a cruise is a process very much like getting the best fare on a flight. Like all businesses, cruise lines want to get the most for every cabin and, like the airlines at the moment of departure, anything unsold has no future value. Economists call these items non-fungible, meaning they cannot be exchanged in the future. We’ve booked more than fifty cruises over the years and have discovered a few truths in this process. We have also discovered a few tricks that help us save money and reduce the outlay of deposit amounts.

Start By Researching Fares in the Market You’re Interested In

Like the cost of everything, cruise prices vary based on market conditions. Prices vary by the cruise line, the itinerary, the time of year and the cruise’s popularity.

Just like hotels and restaurants, cruise lines are generally priced by their expected level of service and their intended clientele. Carnival, an economy line, is structured to appeal to a younger group looking to party. Royal Caribbean, a mid-range price point, focuses on young families while Celebrity, a higher priced choice, focuses on an older demographic with higher expectations in service. Taking a quick look at a number of similar cruises will quickly give you an idea how this pricing element works.

An owners suite on RCL

Some itineraries are more popular than others and pricing reflects this difference. Alaska can be more expensive than the Caribbean and trans-Atlantic cruises are usually much less expensive than European cruises.

Finally, the time of year has a huge effect on pricing. The easiest example is Caribbean cruise prices in August compared with October. While summer is usually off-season in the Caribbean it is also school break time. By October the kids are back in school and demand has dropped accordingly and so have the fares.

Look at Add-On Expenses You’re Likely to Use

In addition to the cabin rate, you should also consider onboard expenses you are likely to incur. Included services vary by cruise lines and frequent cruiser status. In addition, most cruise lines are now offering onboard packages that can include laundry, internet, sodas, fancy coffees and bar drinks. Another major onboard expense is booking tours.

Make sure you understand what things are included in a cruise and if not what they are likely to cost you specifically. For example, some cruises include drinks while others may cost $500.00 or more for a drink package. Making this price comparison may actually justify the expense of an upgrade.

Decide What You Want in a Cabin

Picking a cabin category isn’t as straight forward as you would think. Most people assume that an inside cabin is the choice for saving money and, often it is, but not always. More and more the cruise lines are offering free add-ons as a sales promotion. These can include prepaid gratuities, drink packages and onboard credits. Sometimes incentives include one and at times all three. Often, inside cabins do not qualify for these free add-ons and that can have a big impact on the overall cost of the cruise.

At the time we make a reservation, this is a major consideration. When these promotions are being offered, an ocean view or veranda cabin can be less expensive than an inside cabin. There have also been cruises where an inside cabin costs more to book. We believe this happens when we book early and the cruise ship is trying to keep these cabins in reserve.

When we select a cruise we often let the itinerary dictate which cabin we want. Long ago we decided that we have no problem with inside cabins. On most cruises we actually spend very little time in our cabin so upgrading means little. On one cruise we were upgraded to an owner’s suite and while spacious and beautiful, it really seemed a waste of space and certainly would not be worth it to us if we had to pay full price. On a trans-Atlantic, an inside cabin is fine with us but, in Alaska, getting a veranda cabin usually is a must. Often it is all about the view.

Food, food,and more food

Book Early

Many times the best prices are available when a cruise is first announced. After the initial listing the cruise company can discover the cruise is getting a good response and the simple rule of supply and demand allows them to increase fares. Also, unlike airline tickets, the cruise line may allow you to take advantage of price reductions right up to the final payment date which is generally 90 days prior to sailing. That policy usually includes reduced fares, upgrading the cabin or taking advantage of free add-ons.

There are also situations where the opposite strategy can produce big savings. That is last minute booking, usually only a few days or weeks before sailing. Faced with empty cabins and no revenue, many cruise lines will offer super last-minute discounts. This is partly because the cabin fare is only part of the potential revenue from a passenger. Casinos, drink sales and tour fees add up to big money. We generally do not use this option in our planning but will take advantage of last minute cruises if the price is too good to pass up.

Always Book Onboard

The likelihood of a passenger returning to the same cruise line is actually very high and with frequent cruiser programs the likelihood is even greater. Most ships have a future booking office onboard and to get you to commit they offer additional incentives. These may include greatly reduced deposits and special add-ons. Since you can take advantage of price changes or switch cruises up to 90 days before the cruise and also get your deposit refunded if you cancel, this is a great opportunity*.

Watch and Take Advantage of Incentives

Even after you have confirmed a reservation and put down a deposit you can take advantage of special incentives. If you are a member of a buying group (Groupon, AAA, AARP), or an online travel service (Expedia, PriceLine) that sends you emails of special offers, get in the habit of reviewing these on a regular basis. If you see a good offer, see if you can add it to your reservation. Most times these offers are not exclusive regardless of what the agency says.

After You Book Keep Watching the Fares

As likely as fares are to go up, price reductions also happen but you can’t take advantage of them if you don’t know about them. Get in the habit of checking the prices on cruises you have already booked looking for opportunities to save or upgrade.

Work with a Good Travel Agent

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but travel agents are actually free (at least to you) when booking a cruise. We strongly recommend getting to know a good travel agent and getting in the habit of booking everything through them. They actually will appreciate the business and most consider it their job to help you manage saving money. They are also much more effective at dealing with the cruise lines when getting fares reduced or adding on incentives. Your way to contact the cruise line is to call an inside agent but the travel agent has a marketing representative that they routinely deal with and have less difficulty negotiating changes.

Also, if your agent is affiliated with one of the growing super agencies, they can offer you specials provided by their agency in addition to the cruise line. Often their agency has booked a popular cruise as a group package and they can add you to the group and get you an additional discount or onboard credit. At times they also offer their own promotional specials like a free tour or an additional onboard credit.

The best way to connect with a good agent is to ask friends or fellow travelers for their recommendation and ask questions about their experience.

In closing, we have an observation about advertised offers. We get emails from a number of travel agencies and they are constantly screaming about their exclusive special deals from this or that cruise line. Usually they are not exclusive deals and often they are cleverly misrepresenting a price structure. “Cruises from $499.00 with a $700.00 onboard credit” sound familiar? It may be true that an inside cabin can be booked for $499.00 but it is not eligible for any onboard credit; the $700.00 credit is only for suites. We have rarely found a unique offer but often these are a clue that there are price reductions happening.


*Unfortunately, in the last year, a number of cruise companies have started adopting a policy of non-refundable deposits and this changes the process some. Currently, Celebrity is offering lower fares for non-refundable deposits so this is going to cause some rethinking of how we address some booking in the future.