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7 Ways to Keep Cruise Costs Low

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By Lauren Ogilvie

Cruising can be the most bang for your buck vacation there is, as long as you’re savvy. It can also turn into one of the most expensive vacations you ever take. Finding ways to keep costs low is a fun challenge for me anytime I’m traveling. Knowing where you can save and where you should splurge will make all the difference.

1. BYOW

Bring your own wine. Most cruise lines will allow you to bring 1-2 bottles of wine per cabin. Some will even allow you to keep it with you. Others will take it and hold it for dinner in the main dining room. Either way, alcohol has a sneaky way of driving cruise costs higher, (think poolside mojitos) so why not bring some of your own!

2. Pre-Pay Gratuities

By pre-paying your gratuities before the ship sails, you won’t be surprised by the added charge on your bill at the end of your trip!

3. Be your own photographer.

You will find that the photographers onboard will be snapping your photo every time you turn around. But if you want their copy, you have to pay for it. There is no obligation to purchase any of the photos they take so why not ask someone else to take your photo for you? Bring your own camera and ask a fellow cruiser to be your photographer. Most people won’t have any problems doing that and might ask you for the same in return!

4. Skip the specialty restaurants.

While they provide a more private setting, I find that the food in the main dining room is usually very good so for me, paying the extra $35 per person isn’t always worth it (but it usually is!).

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5. Purchase the drink packages.

This one depends solely on your drinking style. If you’re addicted to Diet Coke, buying the soft drink package is probably worth it to you versus purchasing individual sodas at a premium price. The same goes for the alcoholic drink packages. If you plan on having at least 5-6 adult beverages per day, then it will probably be worth it for you to buy the package. Drinks can cost upwards of $12 sometimes!

6. Book excursions on land.

Shore excursions booked through the cruise line are more expensive than if you book through a third party company like CruisingExcursions. You can actually save a lot of money by going this route. I ended up saving $75 on my last cruise.

7. Unplug

Let yourself be completely offline for the duration of the cruise. Skip the Internet packages; you don’t need them, trust me. There is more than enough to keep you occupied, so you won’t even remember that you brought your cell phone!

You can find Lauren’s travel blog at weekendwayfarer.wordpress.com.

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Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 6: Kid’s Stuff

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Given that yesterday we focused on the various bars featured on the Carnival Horizon, it seems only fair that we dedicate a little time to those who aren’t actually old enough to enjoy them. That’s right, we’re talking about the wee ones today, and looking at what Carnival’s newest ship has to offer them. And being that “family fun” is sort of this line’s middle name, the answer is: lots of stuff.

Where To Take Your Thing 1 and Thing 2

Carnival Horizon

We’re not sure exactly why, but kids and water go together like peanut butter and jelly. And not just little kids… we’re talking about the overgrown ones, too. This ship takes the water park that was so popular on the Carnival Vista and cranks the fun up a notch by adding some of Dr. Seuss’ favorite characters. So far, Horizon is the only ship in the Carnival fleet whose water park features Dr. Seuss creations, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if that changes in the months to come.

Carnival Horizon

Here, you can choose between the Cat’s Hat slide (which is over 400 feet long) and the Fun Things slide, named after those infamous troublemakers, Thing 1 and Thing 2. While the Fun Things slide is smaller than the Cat’s Hat slide, it’s also quite a bit faster.

Back down on the deck, you’ll also find a great WaterWorks area with a splash zone featuring more ways for your kid to get wet than you even knew existed. There’s also a bucket which periodically dumps 150 gallons of water on those below for reasons some of us will never quite understand, although it undeniably delights the squealing and soaked crowds.Carnival Horizon

Of course, there is also the main pool area, which is a big draw for families. Yes, it can get crowded, and yes, you’ll see chair hogs.

Carnival Horizon

Parents should be advised that while Carnival does have “pool attendants,” they are not actually lifeguards. It is the responsibility of parents to keep an eye on their own offspring, and supervision is outright required for those under 13.

Where to Work off That Energy!

If you don’t mind dealing with the aftereffects (read: sugared-up kids), Cherry on Top is always a favorite spot to stop for candy and custom-made desserts. (We can’t get off any ship featuring this venue without at least three — or maybe five — handmade ice cream sandwiches.)

Carnival Horizon

Another great place that families are drawn to like leaves to the gutter on your roof is the SportSquare complex. And why not? If you want to do it, it’s going to be found here. There’s mini-golf, basketball, foosball, ping-pong, billiards, Twister (yes, Twister!), shuffleboard  and of course, the SkyRide (although be warned: your young ones must be at at least 54 inches tall in order to ride the highway in the sky. Don’t get them prematurely excited if, when you get on board, they aren’t going to be tall enough to enjoy it.)

Carnival Horizon

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

Now, we know this is a family vacation and you no doubt want to spend as much time as possible with your loved ones. But let’s face it: you probably wouldn’t mind ditching them for a while, too, right? (It’s okay to admit… you’re amongst friends). Well, while you’re enjoying all the adults-only activities (which we’ll cover in Part 7), there are kids clubs which will keep the tots entertained. And as with most major cruise lines, they’re broken down by age group. Camp Ocean is for kids 2-11, Circle C handles those 12-14, while teens from 15-17 hang out at Club 02.

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

One of our very favorite kid-friendly onboard entertainment options is the fun-for-all-ages Hasbro: The Game Show. We recently watched three kids trounce three adults in a game of Connect Four (played on a ginormous backdrop with different colored basketballs serving as the chips usually used in the game). Get there early, make some noise and maybe you’ll get picked to go up on stage and have some fun.

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Something To Do Around Every Corner

Carnival Horizon

Feel like taking in a movie? You’ve got options, including the (for fee) IMAX theater or the (free) Dive-In movies shown most nights by the pool. Keep an eye on the Fun Times newsletter (or the Carnival Hub app, which we can’t recommend enough that you download either before leaving home or once you’ve boarded) to find out where the Fun Squad will be hosting events like the Gotcha! game or the Jenga-like Carnival Tower.

In fact, the Fun Times can really be your best friend. We like to bring a few highlighters — a different color for each member of our traveling party — and then, each night, mark the events we want to make sure to hit tomorrow. This is a really fun activity for the kids, as it makes it feel like they have a say in planning at least part of their vacation.

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How To Find Cheap Flights For Cruising

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If you’re a cruise addict, sooner or later you’re probably going to wind up looking for cheap flights. Sure, there are those who only cruise out of their homeport, but unless you happen to live in Florida — out of which approximately a gazillion ships a year set sail — you’re likely to eventually want to do something other than the limited number of ships and itineraries available from the port closest to your home. Or maybe you find a great deal on a one-way voyage and will need to fly to either the departure or arrival port.

American Airlines

The problem? Over the years, airlines have become very savvy as to what ships are coming into which ports. And while they have no way of knowing exactly how many of those embarking or disembarking passengers are going to be hopping on a plane, you can bet they’ve got a basic idea. They know which seasons are busiest for the cruise industry, and which are slower. They know when the cruise lines will be able to demand top dollar and when bargain hunters will be seeking great deals… and they, like hotels in the vicinity of a popular port, set their prices accordingly.

But if you’re a cruise addict, you also know that there are always ways to find a good bargain or, at the very least, save some money on that premium-priced ticket. Here are some of the ways I’ve managed to land a cheap pre- or post-cruise flight over the years.

1. Use a Flight Consolidator 

It’s amazing to me how few people take advantage of — or are even aware of — flight consolidators. These are basically brokers who buy seats in bulk from various airlines, then resell them, often to travel agents who specialize in discount international travel. There are some public flight consolidators, but most of the best deals available can be arranged through a travel agent.

For years, I didn’t even think about using a consolidator because I’d heard horror stories about them. But in 2013, when looking to cruise out of Barcelona, I decided to bite the bullet and give a consolidator a try. By doing so, I saved over $1,000 and realized that sometimes, you have to experience something for yourself as opposed to listening to what other people have to say.

Some of the consolidators have negotiated fares that are often as much as 50% off of the published fare. For example, I have a cruise booked this spring which sails out of Barcelona. Wanting to save some money, I began looking at my options when it came to flying to the port of departure. The first place I looked was American Airlines (because I have their credit card and get double points). As the screenshot below shows, their flight was going for over $3,000.

Through my travel agent, I looked at rates from a consolidator named Centrav. Guess what? I was able to get basically the same flight for $438. (Plus, there was an additional discount if you paid cash for the ticket!) If you’re following closely, or even not-so-closely, you’ll realize that’s a savings of over $2,500 on just this single ticket!

Of course, as with any time you buy a ticket — no matter who you purchase it through — you need to make sure you’re aware of all the conditions and restrictions. For example, when purchasing through a consolidator, you might not be eligible for credit card bonus points. But given how much you can save, that might not be a big issue.

2. Consider Alternate Airports

Often, there’s more than one option of airports within a reasonable distance from the port. For example, if sailing out of New York City, you can fly into LaGuardia, JFK, or even Newark.  And if you’re sailing out of Miami, it might be cheaper to fly into Fort Lauderdale – or vice versa. Of course, you also have to factor in how you’ll be getting from the airport to the port. Will you need to rent a car? Are there shuttles or some other form of transportation readily available, and at what cost? Heck, do you have a friend who wouldn’t mind playing chauffeur? Depending on the port and the airline, some cruises might offer transfers for a nominal fee.

3. Google Flights

This handy Google feature basically allows you to enter information on when and where you want to travel, then compiles a list of the best rates available. Better still, it gives you the ability to track prices and receive an email when the prices drop.

While I’m a big fan of Google Flights, it’s important to note that they do not list prices on Southwest flights. They do list what flights Southwest has available and information on those flights, but not pricing information.

4. Book During Off-Peak Travel Times

Look, I know it’s very tempting to linger on disembarkation day. You want to have one last breakfast or maybe wander around snapping a few final pictures of the ship. But if you’re willing and able to get off the ship early (especially if you have priority disembarkation), it increases your chances of getting a cheaper flight. Earlier flights are almost always cheaper than those later in the day.

Look at this screenshot showing the difference between a 10 a.m. flight and one leaving just an hour later.

But of course, this comes with a huge caveat: You absolutely, positively have to leave yourself enough time to get off the ship, get through customs (if necessary), and to the airport. Another option is to consider leaving late in the day or in the early evening. Again, because most people want to fly out in the late morning and early afternoon, those are the flights which will wind up costing you the most money. It’s the law of supply and demand in action!

If you find a great price in the evening but don’t relish the idea of spending the idea hanging out at the airport, you can often purchase daytime access to a hotel room at a discount. There are several sites through which you can book this type of thing.

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Read More: 7 Tricks to Booking Cheap Flights

The app I turn to most often is DayUse.com. Enter the city in which you’re going to be spending the afternoon and the date. The app then generates a list of available hotels and tells you how much it will cost you to spend a certain number of hours there. For example, a room might be available from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. for $99. And depending on your budget, isn’t it worth spending $100 not to sit in the airport all day?

5. Bundle Your Airfare and Cruise For A Better Rate

Cruise lines have bulk buying power when it comes to airfare. The savings can be hit or miss, but it’s worth doing a little research to see if it works out in your favor. One major bonus of booking your flight through the cruise line: It guarantees that you will get to the ship if you’re delayed by weather or a mechanical reason.

6. Low-Cost Carriers

Say what you will about low-cost airlines, but they offer affordable pricing in most cities. Sometimes it will be a smaller airport outside of the major city, but if you can save a few hundred dollars — and when traveling with a family, those ticket prices add up! — it could be worth it. Keep in mind that low-cost carriers like Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier often charge extra fees for carry-on luggage and come with absolutely no perks.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an economical way to get from point A to point B, it might be worth at least seeing what kind of rates you can get. Just make sure, as always, you know all the conditions and restrictions attached to the airfare so there are no surprises when you get to the airport.

7. Use an Airline Credit Card

A couple years ago I signed up for the American Airlines Advantage Citi Card. As a sign-up bonus, they gave me 50,000 airline miles. If you book your reward travel far enough in advance you can get a round-trip domestic ticket for 25,000 miles (plus $11 taxes). Which means my sign-up bonus was basically worth two free trips. Now of course, every credit card’s offers, point-plans, and redemption structures are going to be different so, like with everything else we’ve talked about here, it’s important to know what you’re signing up for.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey… who regularly preaches about the evil of credit cards. However, if you pay it off every month and make it work for you, I don’t see anything wrong with that. My card has a $95 annual fee, although others have no fee at all.

How do you save money on your cruise airfare? 

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5 Ways to Cruise For Less

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Savvy cruisers are always looking for the best deals to save some money on their next vacation. There are plenty of hacks out there for saving money on your next cruise vacation, and here are 5 extra ways to cruise for less.

1. Bunk up with friends.

cruise stateroom

If you’re cruising with friends and don’t mind bunking up, cruise lines regularly offer sales where the 3rd and 4th guests in a cabin can sail along for dirt cheap. Sometimes the fares for the 3rd and 4th cruisers in a cabin are only $10 each, or perhaps even free! While this usually sells well to families booking with kids, it also works in favor of friends cruising together who can simply split the difference and enjoy the savings.

2. Group Bookings = Discounted Rates

Group bookings always get discounted rates that are lower than what you’ll see advertised. Group bookings consist of a minimum of 16 cruisers, based on 2 people to each stateroom. Plus, a big perk to a group booking is that one of the 16 cruisers can cruise with a free base fare (port taxes and fees still apply). Or, the group could always decide to split up those savings.

As a bonus, group bookings usually come with low deposits such as $25. And, if you use a travel agent (which you absolutely should, especially for a group booking), they often know of select sailings when group bookings apply for a group of 10 rather than 16.

3. Book with an onboard credit sale.

Cruise lines regularly have sales that offer onboard credit bonuses. The amount of credit can vary depending on things like the length of your sailing or the type of stateroom you choose to book, but cruise lines will offer anywhere from $50 to $500 in onboard credit. Just keep in mind that the credit is per stateroom, not per person.

4. Use credit card points.

If you are loyal to a cruise line, you could earn your own cruise credit just by applying for the rewards credit card through the cruise line. For example, I cruise Carnival often, so I have a Carnival World Mastercard through Barclays Bank. I charge almost all of my expenses to the card and then pay it off each month, treating it like a debit card. Each quarter I earn on average about $100 in cruise reward points. I can then apply these toward my cruise fare, use them to purchase excursions, pre-purchase onboard credit for myself or things like a drink package, spa package, etc. They say “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” but if you handle your credit card responsibly, you can earn “free money” in rewards.

5. Use a travel agent.

You should always use a travel agent, but just in case you need more reason to do so, travel agents can score you extra deals on your cruise. Agents receive advanced notice and agent-only specials that aren’t advertised to the public. Plus, they can offer onboard credits and incentives that also aren’t available when you book a cruise yourself.

How do you save money on your upcoming cruise?

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