Cruises can be one of the most cost-effective ways to travel — if you know how to hack the cruise industry.
Check out our 30 cruise hacks to keep your next cruise vacation on budget and on point:
1. Cruise during less-popular seasons to get the best prices.
Booking a cruise during months most people don’t travel does not mean you’ll get the best weather, but you will get the best price. Try booking during these months:
- Caribbean: Late August, September, October, and the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas
- Alaska: May or September
- Bermuda: April, May, September or October
- Europe: Late spring or early fall
- Mexico: June, July or August
Pro Tip: If your trip falls within these months, you’ll get a good price, but hurricanes are possible. Get travel insurance (that still brings your total to less than high-traffic months) to ensure a canceled cruise can be refunded or moved to a safer week.
2. Don’t pay a premium to cruise during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s.
Think you’ll be avoiding high prices and crowds on holidays? Think again.
Holiday weeks are highly popular for cruises, so prices will naturally be higher.
3. Book a “guaranteed stateroom” for the lowest price on a specific type of room.
If you book a “guaranteed stateroom” within a certain type of room, you won’t be able to choose your exact room location.
You could be placed under a nightclub, or you might get rewarded with an upgrade to a better room for your flexibility.
It’s a gamble, but it’ll be cheaper than choosing an exact room. Depending on what type of room you’re given, you could save at least $10 per night, per person.
4. Use the TV in your room to charge your electronics.
Staterooms are notoriously short on outlets — and they’re typically far from where you want them.
Bring extra chargers that can plug into USB ports and use the plugs on the back of your stateroom television to charge electronics.
Or pack a small extension cord or a travel power strip like this TESSAN portable power strip for $16.99.
5. Bring up to two bottles of wine or champagne on board.
On boarding day, you can bring up to two bottles of your own wine or champagne on board most cruise lines.
Liquor and beer will be confiscated — due to economic and security reasons.
6. Ask for more than one entree, dessert or appetizer.
When dining in one of the ship’s all-inclusive restaurants, you can order as much food as you want, so don’t be shy!
The menus may look like you can pick just one item from each course, but that’s not the case.
7. Avoid paying for text messages by downloading the ship’s app before you board.
Before you go on board, download your cruise line’s app. If you wait until you’re already on board to download it, you may be charged a WiFi fee.
Ship apps will help you do everything from make dinner and entertainment reservations to chat with your cruise mates instead of having to pay to text them at sea.
Without the app, you can be charged anywhere from $0.25 to $0.50 per text message.
8. If you need internet access, buy WiFi packages before your cruise to save 10-15%.
For example, Carnival’s pre-paid Social WiFi package is 15% off — or $4/day — when purchased in advance.
On most ships, cruise WiFi is priced per minute (often up to $0.95/minute) and is notoriously slow.
Use your purchased WiFi minutes during off-peak hours (late at night or early in the morning) to get the fastest service so your minutes aren’t used up too quickly.
Pro Tip: If your WiFi is horribly slow, don’t be afraid to ask for a refund. You can also split a package among your friends or family by accessing internet in the ship’s business center as opposed to just one device.
9. Switch your cell phone into Airplane Mode when departing the shore.
Even if you purchase a WiFi package, go ahead and switch your phone into Airplane Mode when departing.
You can still use your WiFi package, but you will avoid costly cellular charges — I’m talking hundreds of dollars.
10. Get sea sickness relief by swimming in the ship’s pool or booking a lower-level stateroom.
Instead of moving with the ship, you’ll be moving with the water, which will help balance your seasickness.
You’ll also feel better on lower levels of the ship, so if you’re prone to seasickness, book a lower level stateroom.
11. Take advantage of the free room service.
Room service is free on most major cruise lines including Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess and more.
But check your specific ship’s policy to make sure! Certain ships add automatic tips for room service.
12. Get food and beverage discounts when you dine in the ship’s specialty restaurants on your first night.
Most people eat in the main dining room on the first night of a cruise and save specialty restaurants for later in the cruise.
But these specialty restaurants tend to offer special deals like free bottles of wine on night one to entice more people to dine there.
Check your ship’s specialty restaurant the day you board to inquire about that night’s specials!
13. Pack Mio or Crystal Light packets to add free flavor to the ship’s tap water.
Tap water is free on a cruise ship — a great price in the face of often-expensive drinks — but some people complain about the taste.
Bring your own Mio or box of Crystal Light to add flavor to your water.
14. Book the beverage package before you board if you plan to drink at least five premium beverages per day.
Beverage packages, priced around $55 a day, include virtually anything you’d like to drink while on board (coconut water, specialty coffee, alcohol, etc.) and often carry a 15 drink daily maximum. You can pay more for unlimited packages on some cruise lines.
Without a beverage package, alcoholic beverages average $9-$10 per drink, and non-alcoholic beverages cost $5 on average.
But if you want to stick to free drip coffee, water, lemonade and ice tea — skip spending $55 on the beverage package.
Pro Tip: Look to save $5 per person, per day by purchasing your beverage packages before boarding.
15. Save up to $7 per beverage when you wait until happy hour.
Ships often offer happy hour specials like $3 beer or $4 wine between 4-6 p.m. and after 10 p.m., but it’ll be up to you to scout them out.
The deals aren’t typically heavily advertised, so look for tabletop signage or in the ship’s daily newsletter.
Pro Tip: Ask the happy hour bartender if you can purchase a few bottles of unopened beer or wine to take to your stateroom for later.
16. Pre-pay gratuity if your ship doesn’t offer auto-tipping for onboard purchases.
Many ships automatically add 15-18% gratuity to everything you buy on the ship, so in that case, don’t feel pressure to add additional tips when you’re handed individual receipts.
But if your ship doesn’t offer auto-tipping, we recommend pre-paying gratuity so the last-minute bill doesn’t interfere with your post-vacation mojo!
17. Never order wine by the glass — order by the bottle instead.
If you order wine by the bottle and only have one glass with dinner, your waiter will happily re-cork the bottle and you can take it back to your stateroom for another night.
18. Get upgrades and freebies when you book through a travel agent.
Travel agents often have access to free room upgrades and freebies like bottles of wine or bathrobes.
Cruise reservation lines or websites might not offer the same deals.
19. Get spa discounts on port days.
The spas will be more empty on port days, so if you’re willing to skip a day off the ship, you’re likely to score a spa service discount instead.
20. Get free self-service laundry machines and detergent on Holland America and Cunard.
Hate packing back a bag of dirty clothes?
Do your own laundry for free on certain cruise lines like Holland America and Cunard.
Of course, you could fill a laundry bag and have it sent to be washed, but cruise lines regularly charge $20 per bag.
21. Get cheap souvenirs on the last day of your cruise.
There’s never a time we don’t love a good sale, and aboard a cruise ship is no exception!
Shops will mark down apparel or jewelry on the last day of your cruise, especially if it’s at the end of a long cruise season.
22. Get up to $300 off your next cruise when you book at the end of your trip.
Cruise lines obviously want repeat cruisers, so look for heavily marked down cruises at the end of your cruise.
Folks aboard the ship will be happy to help you book your next trip.
23. Book your cruise through Costco if you’re an Executive Member to get 2% back.
Costco’s Executive Members get 2% back on their purchases, including cruises booked through Costco.
Look for freebies, upgrades or deals on beverage packages during your Costco booking process.
24. Take your own bags on and off the ship to avoid having to tip a steward $1-$2 per bag.
Just like you’re expected to tip a hotel doorman for taking your bags to your hotel room, you’re supposed to tip a ship steward for taking your bags on or off the ship.
Avoid the $1-$2 tips by lugging your own bags on or off the ship.
25. Get free forgotten toiletries at the customer service desk.
Forgot your toothbrush? Before heading to a store, ask the customer service desk if they have complimentary travel items for forgetful passengers.
26. Attend on-ship events to score free swag or alcohol bottles.
Foregoing time at the pool for a 30-minute discussion on port shopping doesn’t sound worth it.
But ships often entice passengers to join informative events or trivia nights by offering attendees free bottles of alcohol or swag bags, which may make it worth your time!
27. Skip cruise-line sponsored excursions and book excursions through ShoreFox instead.
ShoreFox is a great site to get excursions that are safe, highly rated and way cheaper than the activities the cruise lines offer.
28. Expect high costs on private islands or beaches.
Since the cruise lines own their own oasis, they can set the prices of everything there. There’s no negotiating like there is at most ports.
Cruise lines set the prices for souvenirs, activities, food and drinks — so they’re just as expensive as they are on the ship.
29. Check the daily cruise itinerary for free appetizers or champagne.
You’ll often see free food or alcoholic beverages offered for attending art auctions or a “set sail welcome reception” on certain cruise lines.
If you can keep from buying art, jewelry or other wares at the event, it’s a great way to get some freebies!
30. Sign up for cruise rewards to earn free onboard credit, champagne or cruises.
Frequent cruisers are often rewarded with chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne bottles, onboard credit and more.
For example, once you reach the highest tier on Norwegian Cruise Line (700+ points), you can cash them in for a free seven-day cruise.
You can start earning cruise points from most cruise lines on your very first night!