How to cruise on a budget

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If you are planning a winter get-away, you may want to consider a river or an ocean cruise. Several years ago, my husband and I discovered the benefits of unpacking only once, great food and entertainment and the opportunity to visit multiple destinations in a relatively short period of time.

But cruises can be expensive. And depending on the cruise line and the destination, paying extra for airfare, land tours, alcoholic beverages and gratuities can really add up.

Through trial and error and chatting with other cruisers, here are some hints we have come up with that may help you to better afford that exotic winter cruise you have been dreaming of:

1. Do your research:
Whether you book early or get last minute deals, shop around online. Depending on where you want to go and when you want to get away, there are lots of bargains out there. Also ask friends for recommendations and check online ratings.

2. Don’t travel at peak times:After the Christmas rush several years ago, my husband and I took a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise from January 7-15  for $1,362.90 for the two of us, and we were upgraded twice at no cost to a suite with a balcony.

3. Get as much included as possible: Both of the European river cruises we took included all meals, wine and land tours. While we could have purchased a package with air fare included, we opted to use airline points, further reducing the overall cost.

4. Buy a cheaper cabin: Inside cabins without windows are the least expensive. Chances are with all of the activities on the ship and in port you will be spending very little time in your cabin. And again, particularly if you are a return customer, you may get upgraded. We booked an outside cabin with “an obstructed view” for our Panama cruise this winter and got bumped up to an unobstructed view for the same price.

5. Research local tours: We have always taken the tours offered by the cruise line as we know they will get us back to the ship on time and the cruise line ensures a fairly consistent product. However, particularly where there is a larger group traveling together, you may have a less expensive and much more personalized experience if you hire a local guide.

6. Stick with what you like: If you travel with one cruise line and like it, stick with them. Cruise lines all have loyalty programs and typically give discounts and on-board ship credits to regular cruisers. You will also get advance notice of sales and special deals.

7. Consider a repositioning cruise: Many cruise ships migrate either north in the summer or south for the winter. Rather than sail the ships without passengers, cruise lines discount these “repositioning” cruises to make them attractive to passengers who prefer less port-intensive cruises. These cruises are usually longer than a week and include
more “at sea” days.

8. Work as a shipboard lecturer: Shipboard talks and activities are part of the at-sea ambiance. If you have a desired area of expertise, you may be able to give lectures on-board and, in return, get all or part of your vacation paid for. If you are interested, check out the following agencies that specialize in placing speakers and workshop facilitators on cruise ships: Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing and Compass Speakers and Entertainment.

This article was originally published October 31, 2013 on savewithspp.com as 8 ways to save on a cruise vacation.

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