Brian and I went on a cruise in April to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. By this point, you all know that we were married in July, so how could this be our anniversary cruise? As you will see, many of the choices we made were financially based so we could have the time of our lives but not break the bank.
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Time of Year
When you go and how long you go for has a lot to do with how much you will pay. Our anniversary is in July, but that is peak season for vacationers. Peak season means peak prices. We chose a 5 night cruise in April at $299 a piece. In July our only option of cruises was a 7 night cruise (starting at $698 per person- prices taken from priceline.com). Being that this was our first time leaving the kids with family for an extended period of time, we opted for a 5 night.
There are options for parking other than parking at the port parking lot for $15 a day. We found a "Park by the Ports" parking lot for $5 a day. We paid a total of $30 for our use of the parking lot, the shuttle to take us and our luggage to the port, and the return trip back to our vehicle. We chose to tip the driver of the van for his services.
Keeping On-Boat Costs Down
Once you are on the boat it is easy to lose track of spending because commerce on board is done by swiping your room key, which has been electronically attached to your credit card. It is very easy to become unaware of how much you are spending if you go into "financial vacation mode." Here are some ways we did not spend extra money on our cruise.
- Drinks- Water (from the dining rooms and cafeterias NOT your room), coffee, tea, and (for breakfast) orange juice are completely free, so if you are thirsty take full advantage of these beverages. Specialty coffees, sparkling water, alcoholic beverages, slushies, and sodas are all charged much more than you would normally pay for a beverage of the boat.
- Casino- I almost laughed out loud when I saw a commercial on our room's TV for the now "easy way" to play at the casino- cash free! Just use your room key! That is one area we choose not to go in to, but once evening hits, it is a very busy place. Save your money and your regret when the final bill hits. Remember, since you are using your room key, you can easily lose track of how much you have spent.
- Your Room- Another frugal choice when cruising is your choice of stateroom. Considering that you are probably not likely to spend the majority of your time in your room, is it necessary to have a window or balcony? Interior rooms cost much less. When we wanted to sit out on a balcony, we went to the deck that had the wrap around deck, brought a book, sat back, and relaxed.
- Pack Thoroughly- Forgetting something at home can end up costing more than you bargained for. Make your list before packing and check it two or three times before leaving.
- Dining- Cruise lines offer amazing dining experiences as part of your package. From the breakfast and lunch buffets to the nightly four course dinner, you will never be hungry. However, there are usually a couple of restaurants on board your ship as well. On our cruise, for $25, you could have dinner at one of these restaurants. We heard from others that had tried these, that the food was not at all better than the dining room food. Why pay an extra $50 per couple to eat at an on board restaurant when your food has already been paid for?
- Wi-Fi- We chose to disconnect while on board. The purpose of this trip was to connect with each other- not the rest of the world. The ship did have it's own Wi-fi for a fee, but we chose not to use it. Instead, when I wanted a quick update on the kids, we found a coffee shop when we landed at Grand Cayman (the half way point of our cruise) and, for the cost of two small iced coffees, we were able to text my Aunt Elsa (who had Ian) and Facetime with my sister Faye (who had Addie).
Excursions- Depending on where you go and what type of experience you want to have, there are a wide variety of excursions (field trips that you pay for when you get off the boat at your stops) and prices to match. If you are going to spend any money, this is where I would recommend you do it. Some ports do not offer anything in themselves, and the only way to get anything out of your visit is to take an excursion.
When we stopped at Grand Cayman, we chose not to book an excursion. The only excursion that we liked was one we had already done, and we wanted to have a new experience. The prices for the other excursions did not seem worth the cost to us. We chose to wing it (not recommended by cruise lines for safety reasons). We got on a local bus for $2.50 a piece and asked to be taken to Seven Mile Beach. We were dropped off and walked along the beach (about 3 1/2 miles) back to our ship. A purchased excursion to Seven Mile Beach cost about $50 per person.
When we went to Mexico, we chose to purchase an excursion to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum (a once in a lifetime, check it off your bucket list kind of thing). It was definitely worth the price ($85 per person). The excursion itself was 8 hours long, included a round trip ferry ride, round trip bus ride, plus a 3 hour visit to the ruins.
As with anything, cruises can be either as expensive or cost effective as you choose to make them. What other type of vacation can offer you for one price your lodging, transportation, all the food you care to eat, entertainment, a break from everything, and a chance to travel the world at the same time? Just keep an eye on that room key of yours, and don't let it get carried away.