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The 12 Days of Cruising: 8 Ways to Save Big



If you’re like most travelers, finances are going to play a major role in how to choose a cruise that is perfect for you and your family.  For day 8 in our 12 days of cruising (Christmas!), we are giving you eight ways to save big on your cruise vacation.

1. Sail During Off-Season

Cruise fares are a lot like airline prices or hotel stays.  They ebb and flow depending on demand and especially the time of year.  A big example of this is hurricane season in the Bahamas and Caribbean.  During the months where summer turns to fall, hurricanes are the most likely.  Because of the problems that can arise when a cruise is scheduled to sail those waters during that time, prices tend to be lower.  Another factor is that this is when kids are going back to school, so families are settling back into the regular routine.  One piece of advice if you’re sailing during this time, is buy travel insurance.  Though cruise lines are very good about compensating for altered plans due to weather, it’s still better to be safe rather than sorry!

2. Book a Guaranteed Stateroom

Booking a guaranteed room basically means that you pay for a particular stateroom category, but don’t get to choose your room or know where it is until shortly before sail date.  This is because you aren’t necessarily going to end up in that category – there’s a good chance you could be upgraded. (The guaranteed part means that you are guaranteed at least that category, or above.  Never below).  Because of the fact that you’re basically taking what is left over after other cruisers choose, the price will be a little bit better.

3. BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine)

Most cruise lines will allow guests to bring at least a bottle or two of wine aboard with them at the beginning of a cruise.  If you want to drink it in your room, it’s free and your steward will be happy to bring a bucket of ice for you to chill it in.  If you want to drink it at dinner, you’ll usually be charged a corkage fee, but it’s still much more inexpensive than buying a bottle that the ship is offering.

4. Ask About Discounts

Probably the most popular discount that many lines offer is the military discount. Some lines insist on either active-duty status or evidence of a long military career, but not all.  You’ll need proof in paperwork either way, but it never hurts to ask about it when booking with your agent or through the cruise line’s website.

5. Hit the Spa While in Port

Sea days are inevitably the most popular days to get a treatment at the onboard spa because they are more carefree days than port days and people have lots of time to relax.  If you’re heading to a port that you’ve already been to, or a port where you don’t think you’ll need to spend the whole day ashore, consider taking advantage of the spa that day.  Since guests are ashore, the spa is slow and therefore there are deals to be had.  Not every treatment will be at a reduced rate, but many will.  Inquire about this near the beginning of your voyage if you’re interested.

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6. Buy Your Next Cruise While Onboard

Many guests probably know this, but it doesn’t hurt to include it here in case others don’t.  If you put down a deposit on a future cruise while onboard a current one, you’ll often get a lower base price, onboard credits, and other potential perks.  A nice feature of using this service is that you don’t usually have to choose a specific voyage.  You are just “declaring” that you intent to take a cruise with the line again in the future, put down a deposit, and can then figure out which ship and itinerary you want once you’re at home with more time to research.

7. Cut Out the Airfare

If you live even somewhat near a cruise port, it would probably be worth considering to drive to that one instead of flying to one that’s far away.  Of course, this will depend on whether you have your heart set on a specific ship or itinerary, as it’s quite limiting to only ever sail from one port.  But if it works with what you want, it’s worth doing that sometimes to save on airfare.  It’s different for everyone, but for me I’d probably drive up to 6 to 8 hours before I’d fly.  Also, you don’t always have to park at the port.  There are often off-site lots and park-and-cruise hotel packages as options.

8. Steer Clear of the Onboard Photos

Unless you’re celebrating a wedding onboard or some other major event, there probably isn’t much need to purchase any photos that the ship’s photographers take throughout the duration of your voyage.  They are extremely expensive, galleries are a mess to wade through and navigate when the photos come out and everyone flocks to them, and honestly, (will I get in trouble for saying this?) most photos from the ship’s photographers aren’t anything that special anyway.  Bring a camera and take those photos yourself!  On the deck, doing an activity, even on formal night there are lots of ways to take photos yourself, without the ship’s middleman.

Read our previous entires in the 12 Days of Cruising series:

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5 Ways to Cruise For Less



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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Money-Saving Tips for Orlando Pre- and Post-Cruise Stays



If you’re planning to combine a vacation in Orlando with a cruise leaving from Port Canaveral, there are many ways to stretch your travel dollars. Here are 10 great budget-saving travel tips help you find deals, save money, and get the most out of your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation.

1. When should I go?

Orlando has many different seasons, some of which offer more discounts than others. Value seasons generally occur after New Year’s until mid-February, the April/May shoulder season, mid-August through early October, and from after Thanksgiving through mid-December. Some of these time periods also tend to offer good cruise deals. Make sure to also consider the weather when you plan your vacation. July and August tend to be the hottest and rainiest months, November through January are the coldest months, and hurricane season in Florida generally occurs from July through mid-October.

2. Where should I stay?

There are plenty of great places to stay in Orlando for those on a budget. Vacation homes, home exchanges, bed & breakfasts, and campgrounds are other choices for cruise vacationers to explore. Larger families should consider vacation homes available through All Star Vacation Homes, or If you’re interested in bidding for hotels on Priceline, check out Timeshare rentals available through sites like can also be a good deal.

3. How do I get there?

Watch for airfare sales, shop wisely, and try to be flexible on vacation dates and departure airports. A one-hour drive can often deliver savings of several hundred dollars on an airline ticket to Orlando. Check online aggregator sites such as Kayak, Sidestep, Farecompare, and Farecast as well as, Travelzoo and Cheapflights for information on airfare deals and specials from a variety of airports. If train travel is a possibility, check Amtrak’s schedules.

4. What about meals?

When selecting places to stay and eat out in Orlando, make sure to consider accommodations with kitchen facilities and look for “Kids Eat Free” deals if you’re traveling with children. In addition, make sure to investigate dining plans available with theme park packages at Walt Disney World. The Entertainment book for Orlando ( can provide savings on meals, as well as deals on attractions and other travel expenses. Consider making lunch your big meal of the day when dining out. Lunchtime meal prices are often considerably lower than those at dinner. Many people also carry a backpack loaded with snacks and drinks when they go to the parks.

5. What are my budget-friendly options for attractions?

There are many ways to enjoy the world-class attractions in Orlando without breaking your vacation budget. One of the best ways to save money is to buy your theme park tickets in advance. Remember that at most Orlando attractions, children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge. The Go Orlando Card also provides discounts to over 50 attractions, activities and tours.

6. How do I get around?

Transportation to major Orlando attractions is sometimes offered by Orlando hotels as a free hotel or resort amenity, but check in advance to make sure. If you are staying at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Disney transportation systems provide free door-to-door access to all theme parks, water parks, Downtown Disney, and all 23 resort hotels. If you are staying at a Disney World Resort hotel, also consider using Disney’s Magical Express. For those staying on International Drive, the I-Ride Trolley is another good transportation option for getting around the area.

Characters in Flight ride at Downtown Disney.

7. Take advantage of freebies.

Entertain the kids at the Peabody Orlando hotel, where twice a day visitors can watch the March of the Peabody Ducks. Admission is free to the Harry P. Leu Gardens on every Monday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. This 50-acre botanical park features a butterfly garden and the largest camellia collection in eastern North America. Check out the Walt Disney World Insiders and sites for more information on all the freebies available in Walt Disney World.

8. Use Insider Secrets.

If you are planning a theme park visit, staying at an on-property hotel can be a big plus. For example, guests at Universal Orlando’s three hotels enjoy free Universal Express front-of-the-line access. This can be invaluable for theme park visitors, especially in peak time periods. Guests at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can take advantage of Magic Hours. Each day, one of the Walt Disney World Theme Parks opens an hour early or stays open up to three hours after normal park closing as part of the Magic Hours program. Many Walt Disney World Resort hotels also offer length-of-stay refillable drink mugs good for unlimited free refills of coffee, soda, iced tea and hot chocolate. At SeaWorld Orlando, kids can bring their own autograph book for Shamu & Crew characters to sign near the front gate. Free autographs are available from characters at the Disney parks as well.

9. Research your stay.

For those planning on visiting Walt Disney World, a free vacation planning DVD and free customized maps are available for each park so families can identify the shows, attractions and rides of most interest. Go to and click on “My Disney Vacation.” For more information on planning your Orlando pre- or post-cruise vacation, visit the theme park websites and sites such as,, and

10. Saving money by packing and shopping wisely.

Last-minute purchases of needed items can add up quickly. Make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen, Band-Aids, water bottles, rain ponchos, a backpack to take snacks and drinks to the parks, and maybe even a waterproof disposable camera or a stroller if you’re traveling with young children.

Nancy Schretter is Managing Editor of the award-winning Family Travel Network.

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Ultimate Guide to Cruise Tipping



A big part of your cruise vacation is the memories that you’ll create. And while you’re creating those memories with your friends and family, there’s a whole slew of people working their butts off to help make it the best experience it can possibly be. Some of them you’ll see and interact with, others are toiling behind the scenes. You know that daily gratuity charge that shows up on your bill? These are the people working hard to earn it.

But one of the things we’re asked all the time is: Should I be giving additional tips? That is, of course, a decision each cruiser must make for themselves. But over the years, we’ve developed personal guidelines that might help you make decisions about who – and how much – you decide to give a little something extra to.

The Daily Gratuity Charge

First things first: Let’s take a look at that daily gratuity charge and how it’s typically broken down. For our purposes, we’re going to use Carnival Cruise Line, which charges $12.95 per person, per day for its non-suite categories. Here’s how they break that down by department:

  • Housekeeping Team: $4.05
  • Dining Team: $6.40
  • Alternative Services: $2.50

That final category leaves many wondering what the heck it is. But simply put, “Alternative Services” includes members of the kitchen and hotel staff who are not part of the housekeeping or dining teams. It’s important to note that on most lines, you will still wind up paying an additional gratuity in venues such as bars, specialty restaurants, and the spa.

photo NCL

Now… let’s address the elephant in the room. We all know that there are people who remove the daily gratuity charge from their accounts. It’s something we’ve never done and can’t really imagine doing… and here’s why. The two reasons people most often cite for having the gratuities removed are that they received subpar service or that they prefer to give individual tips. We have no doubt that during any given cruise, a passenger might have a room steward who wasn’t as attentive as they should be or a waiter who screwed up orders. But removing gratuities is like punishing the barrel of fruit because it contained a bad apple or two.

READ MORE: The Big Lie About Cruise Tipping

As for the whole “I prefer to give individual tips” thing, we applaud that… but ask that people keep in mind the daily gratuities charge is designed to also compensate people who you never actually interact with, let alone have an opportunity to tip. That’s why, on top of the daily gratuities, we always wind up slipping a little somethin’ extra to our favorite bartenders, a particularly attentive waiter and — absolutely always — our room attendant.

Other People You Should Consider Tipping

One of the stops we always make before boarding a ship is the bank. We also make sure to get lots of small bills in order to deal with discretionary tipping. Who else might you consider tipping? If you’re like us, you start handing out dollar bills before you’ve even arrived at the ship.

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  • If you take a cab, shuttle bus, or Uber/Lyft to the pier, you’ll likely want to thank your driver. The standard is 15 percent or so… but make sure to throw in a little extra if they help with your baggage.
  • The first people you’ll come into contact with at the pier are the baggage handlers. Most people give them at least $1 per bag. We’ve been known to go higher just to make sure the luggage gods show a little extra love to our suitcases! After all, is there any worse way to start off your trip than finding out that your belongings went missing?

During The Cruise

Bar Service: Depending on the cruise line, drink and bottle service will have an automated gratuity added of 15 to 18 percent. If you’ve ordered a drink package, the final cost likely came with the gratuity added. So you could easily go the week without tipping any of the bartending staff. But if there’s one place we always grease the wheels, it’s here… especially if there’s a particular bar you know you’re going to be hitting somewhat regularly. Trust us… there may be 5,000 people on that ship, but the bartenders will remember the ones who treated them kindly, and you’ll be glad you did when the bar is packed.

Spa: Often, spa services come with an automatically-added gratuity so, as always, be sure to check in advance to see if this is true. If not, the 15-20 percent standard applies here, too. A friend actually offers half the tip at the beginning of their massage, and says, “Skip the sales pitches, and I’ll double that.”

Specialty Dining: On most cruise lines, the gratuity is included when you dine in a specialty restaurant. Carnival Cruise Line’s fee in the steakhouse, for example, includes the gratuity. And when you buy a dining package on Norwegian Cruise Line, the final cost includes gratuity. That said, if you have a great experience and want to show a little love to the wait staff, it won’t go unappreciated.

In The Port

Tour Operators: It is customary to extend a gratuity to a tour guide and excursion operator based on the experience. Some will pretty aggressively pursue a tip while others won’t mention it at all.

Dining or Drink Ashore: This is another situation where it’s important to know what was and wasn’t covered in the cost of your dining. Many restaurants and bars automatically add the gratuity into the total cost. Some add the gratuity, yet still leave an extra line for an additional tip, which can confuse some folks. Once you’ve determined whether or not the tip was included, proceed accordingly. Also, if you grab a drink at the bar before sitting down to your meal — and have the cost of the drink applied to your check — consider tipping the bartender separately, even if you aren’t paying him directly for the drinks.

After The Cruise

Photo: PortMiami Twitter

Baggage Porters: You can request a porter to collect your bags and take them to the car or curb. (One advantage to doing this: They sometimes have a separate customs lane or access to a faster line than the rest.) Definitely show these hard-working folks some love, and by love, we mean cash.

Final Thoughts

You know what we’re going to say here: At the end of the day, tipping is as personal as it is subjective. We all have that relative who could receive white-glove treatment from everyone onboard and will still remove the gratuities. We all know people who rationalize having the gratuities removed because they “tip individuals” when we all know they (often) do no such thing. But we also know plenty of people who tip often and generously. What we’ve offered here are simply thoughts and guidelines and, hopefully, some useful information.

Perhaps the best tipping advice we can offer is the time-tested Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do onto you.

Especially if they spend the week bringing you cocktails by the pool.

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