The Ins and Outs of Cruising on a Dime Part 1

When we went on our first cruise 9 years ago, I was overwhelmed with trying to learn all about cruising before we actually went. I wanted to make sure I was getting the best deal as well as knowing all those little tips that experienced cruisers knew.

Tips on how to plan a cruise and cruise inexpensively

The other year, one of my faithful blog readers, Susan, suggested I share about cruising to help others plan and have a wonderful cruising vacation so here is that post finally! We have only sailed with one cruise line, Royal Caribbean, so keep in mind as I share here that I am referring to them. I am sure experience varies with other cruise lines but we have been happy with them so we haven't bothered to go elsewhere.

Many people assume going on a cruise is expensive but actually it's not! If timed right & researched, it can be a very inexpensive vacation. The cheapest time of year to sail is after Thanksgiving till before Christmas. We also have the ability to sail from the East coast so we can just drive to the port and avoid flying anywhere which also is a huge money-saver.

If you have the flexibility to book a last minute cruise, that is another way to get an inexpensive vacation. Many people book their cruise when reservation opens up 1-2 years in advance. They have to pay in full about 2 months prior to sailaway. If the ship isn't full by the time everyone else pays, the cruiseline often deeply discounts the cruise in an effort to fill the ship. For fun, I occasionally check last-minute cruises and have seen some ridiculously low prices (less than $200 for a week or more!)

Another way to find an affordable cruise is to go on a repositioning cruise. What that is is a cruise that starts in one port and ends in another one, usually because they are moving the ship to a different home port. Because of the starting and ending in a different place causes a little extra work for the cruiser, cruise lines really drop the price of the cruise (and often times these are really long cruises!)

There are many different kind of rooms on a ship, from owners suites that have your own butler and are quite huge with several rooms down to small interior rooms the size of a walk in closet! As you can imagine, the type of room you book is what your cruise cost is based on. Since we are rarely in our room (& because we need 2 connecting rooms), we have always booked interior rooms. The first 2 people in the room are one price then if you have a 3rd & 4th passenger in that same room, their cost is half of what the first 2 people are. Royal Caribbean sometimes offers discounts to military & emergency personal (I am an EMT which falls under that category).

With Royal Caribbean, once you book your cruise, if you happen to see a price drop and notify them, you will then get that same price. The key to this is checking your cruise daily to catch the price drop as most times the lowered price might only be for a day. You can do this up until final payment is due. We have saved a lot of money over our last several cruises by finding the price drop. This is why having an easy to reach travel agent is important as those price drops don't last long. And because I love traveling so much as well as helping others plan trips, I also became a travel consultant!

So now you have booked your cruise, what's next?? I start researching our ports of call to find out what we want to do when we make our stop. The cruise ship offers their own excursions you can book but these are often very expensive compared to making your own arrangements. The downside to making your own arrangements is if you are late returning to the ship, they will sail away without you whereas if you book a ship tour, they will hold the ship for you. Honestly, I've always booked my own excursions and haven't had a problem. I make sure I am using reputable companies that many other cruisers use.

My favorite website for researching my cruise and ports of call is Cruise Critic. They have articles as well as forums that cover all the different cruise lines, ships, ports of call, etc. In fact, you can even find what's called a "roll call" to talk to others who will be on the same cruise as you! We've made great friends with others we have sailed with and have even sailed more than once together with many of them.

To keep myself organized, I use a notebook and using 1 sheet of paper per port of call, I write the place we are visiting at the top and the hours that we will be there. From there I write down what we plan to do while we are there including any phone numbers of the tour company if we are using one. If we are just taking a taxi or walking to do our own thing, I will write down ideas of things to see or do that I have found online. Sometimes I have even been able to find a map to print out of the town we are in so it makes getting around on our own easier.

Stop back later for part 2 of this series!

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