Seemingly everywhere you look prices are rising… and that even includes at sea.
Since the return from the pause in sailing, the mix of strong demand, passenger willingness to spend, and rising prices in general for things like fuel and food has led to increases on the ship as well.
For example, Carnival Cruise Line recently bumped up the prices for their onboard gratuities and their popular CHEERS! drink package. Norwegian Cruise Line also raised the prices of its daily gratuities, with some rooms now seeing prices of $20 per person, per day.
And all the major cruise companies have reported spikes in onboard spending by passengers compared to before the pandemic as they let loose.
But the good news is that if you are sailing on a budget, you have ways to fight back when it comes to inflating prices on cruises. These tips can help you limit what you spend on your trip despite higher costs.
Buy Packages For a Discount Ahead of Time
The price of many things — including items like drink packages and Internet — are on the rise. But, for most passengers there is a way to save. Cruise lines usually offer discounts if you pre-purchase items ahead of your cruise.
For example, Carnival recently raised the price of their drink package to $64.95 per person, per day. However, if you purchase the package ahead of time, then you’ll pay a price of $59.95 instead. (Keep in mind both prices will see an additional 18% gratuity):
Over the course of a 7-day cruise, that discount means you’ll pay $419.65 for the drink package instead of $454.65 if you wait until on the ship to buy. That’s a savings of $35.
Similar discounts are seen for other items onboard most cruise lines, whether dining, Internet, spa treatments and more.
Sail in the Off Season (Save Hundreds)
Want to save on cruise fare? That’s extremely easy to do… if you are flexible with your dates of travel.
Just like with a hotel or airfare, cruise prices vary based on time of year. Want to sail during the busy summer months? Expect to pay more money. Cruise fare is considerably cheaper when school is in session, so months like January and February see lower prices, as do September and October.
How much can you save? It’s not uncommon to pay hundreds of dollars less for the same exact cruise by taking a trip during one of the slower months versus the height of summer.
Switch to Onshore Eating and Drinking
Even before inflation hit, it often wasn’t cheap to eat or drink on the ship. While many food items are included with your fare, specialty restaurants can cost a pretty penny. Drinks like cocktails can cost upwards of $12-14 a drink before gratuity. It’s not unusual to spend $8 for a single beer.
But there is a simple way to save some cash. If your ship is in port, then head to land to eat and drink. Bars and restaurants in port cater to cruise passengers and often have food and drink discounts to entice you to stop in.
Even if they don’t have any special offerings, you’ll often find that the prices on land are less expensive than what you’ll pay for something similar on the ship.
Watch for Sales Onboard
While prices on the ship can be higher than what you might pay on land, there are often sales and discounts offered. Sometimes this can be a discount such as booking multiple specialty restaurant meals for a lower price than they would cost individually. Other times it can be drink specials or happy hours. For instance, aboard Carnival we’ve seen 50% discounts during happy hours at the bar.
The key is to check the daily planner during your cruise. Delivered to your room each night or available on the cruise line’s app, this planner details everything going on aboard the ship the following day. But it will also tell you about any specials or discounts that are available to passengers. Take advantage to save some cash.
Shorten Your Cruise Length
No one wants to take a shorter vacation, but if the price of cruising is creeping up, one way to combat the price increase is to shorten the length of your cruise.
The 7-day cruise is a classic staple in sailing, but trips vary in length. In fact, you can find an amazing amount of trips that range from 3-5 days. And because these trips are shorter, there are more sailing dates, meaning they can fit essentially any schedule.
Best of all, the overall price can be less expensive as you’re spending less time on the ship. But you should consider the value as well before you make the decision to shorten your cruise. While the overall price might be less expensive, the value as measured in the cost per day is often higher on shorter cruises.
Sail From Ports Closer to Home (Flying Is Expensive)
In watching prices regularly, we haven’t seen a big spike in the cost of your cruise fare just yet. For example, Royal Caribbean is offering a 4-night cruise from Los Angeles for as little as $159 per person (taxes and fees extra). In other words, there are still plenty of affordable trips out there.
However, we have seen a large spike in airfare. The cost of flying to ports of call seems to be up considerably compared to just a few months ago. The result is that while the cruise may be affordable, the cost of actually getting to the port can be much higher than you’re used to seeing.
The good news is that cruise lines have put more effort into sailing from more ports around the country, meaning you likely have a port within driving distance. Driving instead of flying can save a ton of money.
Do the Math on Drink Packages
Drink packages can either save you lots of money or cost you lots of money. The issue is that some specific drink package rules can lead to spending more money than you would otherwise.
For example, cruise lines typically require all adults in a cabin to purchase the package if one person does. So if a husband wants the package and the wife doesn’t drink much, it’s essentially paying double for one package.
As well, packages are bought for each day of the cruise — even those days when you’re in port and not able to use the package.
That means you’ll want to do the math behind what you’ll actually spend on drinks compared to the price of the package. To help you out, we have a drink calculator here that can help you estimate what you’ll spend compared to the cost of the package.