A cruise vacation can be a wonderful, relaxing, nearly all-inclusive experience (getting all of your onboard meals, accommodations, all onboard entertainment, and transportation to various ports of call included in your cruise fare) – but unless you have booked on a luxury line (a la Seabourn, Oceania or Regent Seven Seas), do keep in mind the key word NEARLY, as each of the other lines do charge for various experiences and add-ons that are not included in your cruise fare. Today we’ll take a look at just a few of these items, and how you might save money with each one while onboard the ship.
Once onboard, you’ll find that ships today have a wide array of add-on or “plussing” that you can do to enhance your vacation experience. Whether that includes shopping, dining in specialty restaurants vs. the traditional dining rooms, enjoying alcoholic beverages, shore excursions or playing your favorite games in the casino (for those ships that have one)… saving money onboard really boils down to what YOU deem to be necessary or not to the betterment of your vacation experience.
Generally, the following categories, while nice enhancements to your fun – aren’t very good overall values onboard, and could save you a lot of money if you avoid them. However, if you absolutely cannot skip them – there are a few tips in each one that might help you at least improve the overall value for you, and reduce your personal expense.
1. Onboard Photographers
In the days before digital cameras, onboard photography was a huge money maker for the cruise lines, as they would each staff their ships with multiple roaming photographers, capturing the crowds every night, and then printing out every decent image putting it on display in their photo galleries for all to see and peruse. Many guests would then buy multiple shots to take home as souvenirs from their cruise experience. But with the advent of digital photography, not as many guests are buying the photos any more, despite the cruise lines still printing them and putting them on display. The cost of each print has risen through the years, with the average cost of an 8x10 image hovering around $10. Nevermind that guests can take very similar shots of their own with their own cameras, and then print them at home at their local drug store or big box store for around $1 each – or less, depending on the size. Guests can very easily take hundreds, if not thousands of their own photos. The packages on board aren’t worth the extra cost, in my opinion. Selecting one or two images from the onboard photographers can still make for a nice souvenir memory, without breaking the bank.
Playing a slot machine every now and again can be a fun way to spend a few dollars, but beware, onboard casinos generally do not pay out as handsomely as land-based casinos do (but then, Las Vegas doesn’t even pay out as much as it once did). While it can be said that some people in the past have succeed in winning big jackpots onboard ships, most of the time it just doesn’t happen. If you choose to partake of the gaming opportunities onboard, set a very strict limit for yourself, and do not exceed it. Determine what you are willing to lose before you ever step foot onboard, and then if and when it happens, don’t let yourself be disappointed. However, if you then decide it’s okay to exceed your pre-determined limit, you will a) be disappointed and b) start to rack up extra costs that you did not budget for in your vacation calculation, and you will be spending more than you bargained for. The best way to save money onboard a ship with a casino, is simply to not enter the casino in the first place.
Just as they are on land in table service restaurants and so many other places, gratuities and service charges are a part of cruising. You should pay the recommended daily amount and no more or less. Every single drink and specialty restaurant meal that you sign for already includes a service charge added to the price. Unless you absolutely feel that an extra tip is warranted, don’t write in an extra amount in the space that you will see for an additional tip. You have already paid the service charge, so there is no reason to pay an additional tip. If you do want to give a crewmember a special tip you should hand it to them in cash very discretely. Any gratuities that you give by signing a tab or charge slip will most likely be put into a pool and shared by all the people in that department. Even though pre-paying your gratuities is not saving money, in doing so, you are lessening the outlay that you must make while onboard ship. Since all cruise lines require full payment about 60 days prior to departure (a few are 75-90 days), your vacation is essentially paid in full months before you even leave port. Anything that you do onboard then is extra and must be paid for prior to disembarking the ship. It is easier to just pre-pay the gratuities, funding that cost with the overall cruise fare, and not having to worry about an additional outlay while onboard ship.
4. The Spa
The Spa is a wonderful place for an indulgence; however, we must recognize that cruise ships generally charge higher spa prices than many of the tony resorts and spas on land, and much higher prices than some of the newer massage franchises like Massage Envy. Expect to pay as much as $125 for a 60-minute massage, two to three times what a professional massage therapist will charge on land.
To get the most out of your spa appointment we suggest booking a morning appointment. Most masseuses onboard work all day, and they get tired. Because of their busy schedule they also do not work as hard as many land-based massage therapists. The standard massage treatment on a cruise ship is a "Swedish Massage," also known as "classic massage." You should know that Swedish is a style of massage that does not necessarily focus on deep tissue work. It involves long, flowing strokes, rubbing and kneading. But if you have a knot in your neck or under your shoulder blade what you need is deep tissue work. If you want a therapeutic massage its suggested that you ask for a deep tissue massage. A great way to save money is to schedule your massage for a day when the ship is in port, as many cruise lines discount the spa services on port days – sometimes as much as 50% vs. sea days.
Another aspect of cruise ship massage sessions is the hard sell at the end of the session for additional products and services such as lotions, bath salts, and more. There is no stopping this, so there’s not need to be upset by it. Simply be polite and let them know that you understand it is their job to offer these products and services, but let them know that you won’t be purchasing them… you’ll just be enjoying the afterglow of your massage, and then be on your way. Then thank them and leave. Also be sure to watch out for available services such as “fat burning wraps” that claim to take off inches from your body immediately, at very high prices. They don’t work, and you’ll be burning the money in your pocket faster than the wraps claim they can take fat off your body.
5. Beverages – Both Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic
While onboard ship, many people enjoy partaking of a few drinks, and the cruise lines certainly do make it easy with multiple bars and lounges scattered about, and wandering servers carrying trays of beverages just waiting to be purchased. Add in the “drink of the day” that the ships offer, and wham, the availability is very prevalent. But be warned…drinks onboard ship can be very expensive, and your bar bill can add up very quickly if you are not careful.
Some cruise lines do allow you to bring your own alcohol onboard – but you must know the rules in order to be successful with this. For example, Royal Caribbean will allow you to bring one bottle of wine or other alcohol onboard to be consumed in your room. Disney Cruise Line will also allow you to bring it onboard to be consumed in your room. As will the ships owned by the Carnival Corporation – Carnival, Cunard, Princess, Holland America & Costa). Each line will have a corkage fee if you take the bottle in to the dining room for dinner. No lines allow you to consume alcohol that you bring onboard in public spaces (other than the dining room).
Many cruise lines offer drink packages where you can drink as much as you want for a set amount per day. Some of these packages are for alcoholic beverages, while others are for non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks. Each line is different in what they offer, but if you consume multiple beverages in a day at a la carte pricing, you will very likely save money by going with the offered package. With the exception of the luxury lines, Disney Cruise Line is the only one to provide soft drinks included in the cruise fare.
Be advised that it is not wise to attempt to skirt the rules regarding bringing prohibited beverages onboard ship. Luggage is x-rayed prior to embarkation, and the cruise lines will remove any contraband beverages that they find, holding it in the ship’s storage, until disembarkation when you will receive it back again.
6. Internet Access
Internet access is by far the newest money maker for the cruise lines, as more and more people who go on vacation, are unable to completely disconnect from their lives at home. From the vast array of electronic goodies that people use, and all of the demands from home, remaining connected is very important to a large number of travelers. And the cruise lines know it, and charge handsomely for the luxury or remaining connected – often as much as 75-cents per minute of connectivity. Truly the only way to save money onboard is to simply log off. However, if you cannot do so, here are a few tips regarding onboard electronics & connecting to the internet:
- iPads…you can use your iPad on a cruise ship, but keep in mind you do not want to stay logged onto your account while typing up an email. iPads are generally designed to be used only while connected to the Internet, using your webmail instead of an email program, for example. The same is true of workstations in a cruise ship's Internet center.
- Laptops… these will give you the ability to sign on only long enough to pick up new email messages. You can then compose your replies offline and then sign on again long enough to send them. Laptops also give you a place to offload your digital camera pictures in memory so you can shoot more pictures.
- Cell phones… if you take a cell phone onboard never use it to access the Internet. You will have to pay a data roaming charge that will generally cost about $5 per megabyte. Your cell phone should have an option to disable "data roaming" which you must use. The best thing to do with your cell phone, is to turn it off once you set sail and don’t turn it back on again until you return to your home port. Once you leave port, even before getting to international waters, you will be roaming, and international roaming is very expensive with the various cell providers. If you must have cell phone access while onboard – it would be cheaper to invest in an international cell phone, and simply keep it for all trips that take you to international destinations than to use your regular cell phone.
- Texting… here is another warning regarding text messages. Even with data roaming turned off be very careful of incoming text messages. If someone sends you a picture by text message and you open it, you will be charged the data roaming rate even if you have data roaming turned off; the cost of data roaming on a cruise ship is $25 per megabyte or higher.
Be sure to check with your individual cell phone provider regarding their charges and policies before setting sail. Ask them specifically about the charges for the countries that your itinerary will be visiting, and what the charges are for roaming services. Then you can make an informed decision and better understand what your costs will be when you return home once more.