Cruise Tip #7: Saving Money During the Cruise

experienced cruisers at CruiseMates to tell us the many ways they have to save money onboard the ship

What onboard costs are worthwhile?

We turned to the experienced cruisers at CruiseMates to tell us the many ways they have to save money onboard the ship during a cruise. There were so many great suggestions it would be impossible to use them all, but you can certainly pick and choose the ones most fitting your personal cruise style.

In fact, as a mostly inclusive vacation cruising is already a good value proposition; you get all of your meals, entertainment and transportation to exciting destinations included in the price of the cruise. So saving money onboard boils down understanding what things are worth buying onboard:

It is easiest to begin with items and services that are not good values:

1. The Casino Even if you enjoy playing slot machines you will probably find cruise ship casinos do not pay out as generously as Las Vegas or other gambling Mecca's. I know very few people who have won big jackpots on cruise ships. For that matter, it is generally true that even Las Vegas does not pay out like it once did. If you want to test the waters, I suggest you set a strict limit on how much you are willing to lose, and expect to lose it. If it takes you 30 minutes to lose $50 that is actually pretty good. Most cruise ship casinos I have experienced will take $50 from you in under 10 minutes, easily; on slot machines anyway.

Table games like blackjack and craps tend to pay out better, but be aware that tiny rules can work in the favor of the house. For example, if a craps table will not allow double odds, or if a blackjack table uses six decks instead of one or two, the house has an edge. The blackjack payout should be 3:2, not 6:5. Roulette is one of the worst games in a casino.

2. Photographers. Onboard photography used to be a huge money maker for the cruise lines before the invention of digital cameras. Ships used to have several photographers working the crowds every night, and they would print everything and put it on sale. Most people spent something on these pictures. These days the cost of pictures taken by ship photographers has gone up exponentially, as much as $10 for a single 8x10. It just isn't worth the price anymore, especially when you can take literally thousands of digital pictures of your own and view them on your home computer, choosing to print certain ones.

3. The Spa The Spa is a wonderful place for an indulgence; however you should know that spa prices on cruise ships are generally much higher than they are on land, unless you are talking about resort spas such as Canyon Ranch. 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 we suggest you ask for a deep tissue massage, and ask the spa manager which therapist will be best for this style of massage before you book the appointment. Watch out for gimmicks like "fat burning wraps" that they claim will take inches off your body immediately. They won't.

Another aspect of cruise ship massage sessions is the "hard sell" at the end of the session. Therapists are required to try to sell you a certain number of products; body lotions, bath salts, etc. after each session. There is no stopping this, so do not get upset. Just say, "I know you are required to ask me to buy these products but I really want to just enjoy the afterglow of my massage, so let's just say we have already done this and I will be on my way." Then thank them and leave.

4. Alcohol Most people want to have a few drinks onboard, but drinks can become expensive. Some cruise lines (Specifically Carnival Corp. brands; Carnival, Cunard, Princess, Holland America, Costa) allow each adult to bring a bottle of wine onboard. You are allowed to drink it in your stateroom. If you take it out of the stateroom, to dinner for example, you will be charged a corkage fee (to open the bottle) of as much as $25.

Many cruise lines have drink packages where you can drink as much as you want for a set amount per day. Using Celebrity cruises as an example; a soda package is $14/day while you can have all the beer, wine and cocktails you want for $44/day per person. A premium package allows you to get the better brand names for $54/day.

You can get a barroom set up in your stateroom on many cruise lines for about $80 per package. This includes a liter bottle of your favorite spirit plus mixers like tonic or soda.

Smuggling Alcohol Onboard

Do people sneak alcohol aboard the cruise ship? Yes they do! Why not, smuggling booze by boat was a great American tradition during Prohibition. It is pretty well known that even the renowned Joseph Kennedy (father of President John) was a "rum runner" in the the 1930s.

But it is against the rules and the cruise line will x-ray your luggage upon boarding and remove any bottles they see, returning them to you on the morning you depart. Obviously, people who sneak alcohol onboard find non-glass and metal-free containers that will not show up on x-ray. We do not advocate breaking the rules; we are just trying to save you the embarrassment of getting stopped during embarkation.

5. Gratuities (Service Charges) Gratuities are a part of cruising. You should pay the recommended daily amount and no more or less. Every drink and special meal you sign for will already have a service charge added to the price. You will also see a space to add 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, including your masseuse. Any gratuity you give over by signing will most likely be put into a pool and shared by all the people in that department.

6. Internet Access Most ships now have Internet access, but they mostly charge by the minute, anywhere from 30 to 75-cents per minute - although a few luxury cruise lines have moved to a "by the day" model which is really a much better deal. The only way to save money onboard is to log off.

Yes, 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.

A laptop will give you the ability to sign on only long enough to pick up new emails. 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 memory so you can shoot more pictures.

If you take a cell phone onboard never use it to access the Internet. You will have to pay a data roaming charge that generally costs about $5 per megabyte. Your cell phone must have an option to disable "data roaming" which you must use.

Here is another warning; 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 date roaming rate even if you have data roaming turned off. This happened to me once. Someone sent me a singular picture of my dog as a text message attachment. I looked at it just a few times. The picture was probably five megabytes (common with today's digital cameras) but to me it appeared as one-inch square. When I got home I had an extra charge of $485.00 added to my regular cell phone bill! The charge was noted as simply data-roaming (which I am certain I had turned off). I found out the cost of data roaming on a cruise ship is $25 per megabyte. Unbelievable.

Zero Tolerance Policy

You should know this for your own benefit, although the chances that it will affect you are very, very slim, at sea there is no police force or "law" except international maritime law - which is a vague concept because there is no international police force, investigative body or court system. In general, the "law" onboard a cruise ship is the captain of the ship. What he says goes.

If a ship's captain decides you present a problem to his cruise he can choose to put you off the ship. It is a part of the "zero tolerance policy" - for fighting, being abusive, stealing, contagiously ill, etc. that almost all cruise lines put into their cruise contracts. If you are put off of a ship you have very little recourse, and yes, I have seen it happen. You might sue the cruise line later, but good luck. To sue a cruise line you must file in the state in which they are incorporated, and their liability is limited by the same cruise contract.

Where is this "cruise contract?" It is in the fine print of your cruise ticket. You can read the whole thing online at the various cruise line web sites, and it is very interesting reading. And if you think you can fight the cruise contract - the Supreme Court of the U.S. has already ruled it is a legal and valid contract, plainly understandable in clear language and typeset. The court case was "Shute vs. Carnival Cruises."

There are other limitations in the cruise contract; the Death on the High Seas Act and the Athens Convention both limit your ability to recover financial damages in case of loss of life on the high seas. Hopefully, none of this will ever matter to you, but it is best to be forwarned.

The most important aspect of the "zero-tolerance-policy" is knowing that you are responsible for your own actions. There is security on cruise ships, but they do not have the power to "arrest" and "try a case" onboard a ship. That is why people get put off of ships, because a cruise line is not really a legal authority, it has limited rights itself. Don't expect to get a "fair warning" or a "hearing by a jury of your peers" if a captain decides to put you off of a ship. It just doesn't work that way.

Next Cruise Tip >> 8. Shore Excursions and Tours

Contents: 1. Selecting a Cruise Port 2. Related "Getting There" Costs 3. Picking Your First Cruise Ship 4. Timing Your Cruise Purchase to Save Money 5. Discounts and Other Credits 6. Cruise Ship Stateroom Selection 7. Saving Money During the Cruise 8. Shore Excursions and Tours 9. Seasickness and Health at Sea 10. Why Use a Cruise Travel Agent

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