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Tips on How To Keep Your Shipboard Account Lower Than The Annual Budget of Moldova

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Several weeks ago in my Blog I talked about “Things That Cost Extra”. I thought I should follow up now with some realistic tips on how you can save money on those things.

With the economy still struggling we all have to look at our budgets more carefully, and that includes our vacation budgets, even though we may be lucky enough to still be able to cruise. The last thing you want is to wake up on the last morning of your cruise and find a tally of your expenses that rivals the annual budget of Moldova.

Alcohol Consumption – You can be a cheap drunk

Know that unless you are sailing on a luxury cruise line, you’re spending money on every drink, and with it a 15% gratuity is added on. I’m not going to suggest that no one have a drink onboard, though that surely keeps the final costs under control. But even if you enjoy some alcohol onboard there are ways to reduce that final tally.

First off, most of the mass market cruise lines offer their drinks in a souvenir glass, but they charge an extra $ 2- $3. So, you have to decide how much you really need more glassware to store in a cupboard at home, and most likely never use again.

Also you have to make a decision on what you’re going to be drinking. While you’re not going to find “happy hour pricing” as low as your neighborhood bar, every day they do offer a reduced price “Drink of the Day”. Over 3-7 days the savings can add up quickly.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words… but how many $

Another high priced item on ships is the photographs they’ll take of you in hopes of selling them to you. Unfortunately the price of these does not go down near the end of the cruise. One would think since they are worthless to the photography department, there’d be a price break at the end. But for the photography departments to implement such a policy it would be a self fulfilling prophecy; everyone would wait until the last day, so they do stick to their guns on the issue.

It’s certainly appealing to most of us to have some portrait shots taken of us having a great time on our vacation, cutting back a bit on that urge, and keeping those purchases to a minimum, contributes to that lower final bill we’re all looking for.

And, of course, the ultimate saving tool in this digital age; you can have friends take those “portrait pictures” using your camera and print them when you get home.

Shore Excursions – Don’t have to be a “beach”

Excursions or tours during port visits can be quite costly. They are a great money make for the cruise lines. In the past decade the cruise lines have all moved to “allowing” you to pre-book your excursions online. They encourage passengers to book early, stating that the popular tours do sell out quickly. And in many ways I think that statement has had something to do with it becoming the truth.

But that’s a “what came first, the chicken or the egg” discussion.

What is true, is that in most ports you can book very similar excursions independently and save $$. In some cases I do recommend booking your excursions from the cruise line. My personal rule of thumb is it’s entirely dependant on what itinerary we’re sailing, and also making a judgment call on where I feel safe to venture off and arrange our own tours.

Certainly if you intent is to just head to a beach on a Caribbean Island you can usually do so quite less expensively, and with reasonable expectations of safety, on your own. However, by doing so, you have to accept the responsibility of being aware of your surroundings, and be aware of the time the ship sails away from that port.

If you’re a first time visitor to a particular port, and not that confident in your ability to handle some perhaps awkward situations, I recommend going on ship arranged excursions. However, particularly in the Caribbean, you can cut down on those costs, by finding some shipmates in some ports who also may just want to spend a day on the beach. That way you can travel in a “pack”, for some added security, but still cut back on expenses.

A simple and easy way to do this, and probably save even more money, is to book a group cruise. On group cruise, aside from saving money on the initial cost of your cruise, you’ll often find the groups organizing at least a couple of excursions for those in the group. Even if that’s not part of the group program, finding others in the group to co-op on private tours is usually a very easy task.

Spa Treatments – don’t have to rub you the wrong way

To many people there’s an enhanced sense of luxury enjoying a Spa treatment while on a ship. And those who enjoy it don’t have to deny themselves that pleasure, but there are ways to assure it fits better into your budget.

On days the ship is in port the cost of spa treatments are almost always reduced by 50%. That’s not to say you need to stay on the ship all day just go get that reduced price. If there’s a port on your itinerary you’ve visited previously, or one where you feel you’d give up part of that touring day in exchange for that luxurious deep massage, book an early day treatment, and then go off to enjoy the port, or spend the morning touring, and book an early afternoon spa date.

Be aware that Spa staff also have a habit of recommending and suggesting additional products to enhance your treatment or that you can purchase to take with you to continue the benefits. Of course, the costs add up quickly, and you may get the same results by partaking in another couple of drinks of the day.

Casino Gambling – don’t expect to win a “ship load”

It’s very unlikely that you’re going to walk into a casino on a ship and win everything you’ve spent on your cruise. In fact, the odds are that you’re going to loose. So, if you are going to go into the casinos, look at it as entertainment. Enjoy the fun of loosing (if you can).

If you’re not really a gambler, like Mrs. Kuki, most ships casinos have at least one bank of 1 cent slot machines. You’re not going to pay for your cruise on them if you happen to win, but you can generally have an hours worth of entertainment for ten or so dollars.

Normally, during the mornings or early afternoons on sea days the casino staff offer gaming lessons. You can use these sessions to play some of the casino games without putting any of your money at risk. And as a bonus, you learn the game, and improve your chances a bit, in the event at a later date you feel you’d like to lose some more money.

Sundry Shopping – or OOOPS I forgot my toothpaste, razor, …

Once you get on the ship, and while unpacking find you’ve accidentally left your toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving razor, or some other incidental, the natural reaction is to head to the sundries ship onboard to buy those items. The ships charge dearly for those items, and you mostly buy miniature versions of same.

Before going to make that purchase, go to the Guest Relations desk. All of the ships carry small “sundry packages” at Guest Relations to assist those who’s luggage is delayed or lost getting to the ship. If you speak nicely and exercise a little charm you can often get one of these “sundry packages” free, and they’ll certainly be enough to last you until the first port of call, where you can purchase them much cheaper in a local pharmacy.

I’ve opened the door on money saving tips slightly here. With your help we can cover all the tips I haven’t yet thought of.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –


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Comment from Tim Butler
Time February 17, 2010 at 5:03 am

As far as messages go….most beaches in the Caribbean have locals who give very nice messages right on the beach for 1/3 of what the ships charge.

I wont get into BYOB here as this is against most cruise line rules but most lines do allow a bottle of wine to each person.

A rental car or taxi can save you big on shore excursions. The nice thing about doing your own shore excursion is that you are not herded like cattle from place to place, you have time to really see and enjoy.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time February 18, 2010 at 8:37 am

To me the Spa is the biggest luxury. There are now spa treatments that cost as much as $279 even on Carnival. That’s a lot of money for a little rubbing.

One thing is to tell the masseuse where you want them to concentrate. Another thing you should know is that cruise ships generally offer “Swedish Massage” WHICH IS NOT DEEP TISSUE. If you really want them to work out a kink ask for the strongest, best deep tissue masseuse they have and tell them what you want.

We have done features on how to get the most out of your spa treatment.

Do not go for fat-melting wraps and other gimmicks, and do not buy the after session products they recommend. It actually ruins your massage buzz when they go into that sales pitch, so just say “no thanks” and go about getting dressed.

For drinks – do a little research. Carnival pours a decent glass of wine (using a small carafe glass to measure the amount), but other lines barely give you two fingers. Some beers are twice as strong as others. If getting a little alcohol stress relief is your goal, buy a stronger beer. Royal Caribbean has an excellent house beer.

Stay away from foo-foo drinks. They usually have far more sugar and juice than alcohol.

Shore tours – yes, do investigate what you can do on your own, but be careful not to go to isolated places. Remember the Antigua 8, they were stuck having to rely on the same taxi driver to get them home.

I do believe you can hire a driver and save money – but I also suggest you take the shore excursion booklet with you to show this driver (minus the cost). That way they know where you want to go. Try to get at least four people to go, six is better.

Comment from rciaddict
Time February 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm

As a frequent cruiser on RCI, I try to take advantage of the C&A parties to get a loading dose on my evening imbibing, as well as art auctions and the Captain’s Gala. I also try to pick up a few nippers or local beer in port, typically inspectors turn a blind eye to this when you are boarding the ship.

Comment from kuki
Time February 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm

There’s also those “bucket o beer specials, where there’s usually one bottle free included.

And you don’t have to drink all the beers right there and then. You can save em and take them back to your cabin to consume later.

Comment from Marc
Time February 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Kuki, all good points. Another item that saved us money on our last RCCL cruise was to buy a wine package. We didn’t even need to finish off a bottle each night; they kept it in the dining room for us. The savings were very substantial versus choosing a single bottle each night.

Comment from Sarah Forth
Time March 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Great tips on avoiding all those extra on-board charges. We have found arranging independent shore excursions enables you to create a more memorable and less crowded experience. We also always implement the bottle of wine allowance, which can really keep your costs under control. I also like to buy a cappuccino card at the beginning of the cruise.

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