With the winter blahs setting in, it is tempting to dream of an escape to somewhere warm and tropical. A cruise is the ultimate winter getaway, and although this experience seems out of reach it isn’t always impossible thanks to frequent sales.

There are many ways to enjoy a cruise on a budget! And once the trip is booked, that savings can continue during the actual cruise. Just follow these guidelines for smooth and budget-friendly sailing:

Understand all-inclusive costs

Many cruises are all inclusive, meaning the price includes meals and a limited number of activities. If a deal seems way too good to be true, chances are it is not inclusive and you will need to shell out extra cash for meals and shows. Always read the fine print or talk to customer service so you know exactly what is included in the cost of your boarding ticket.

Insure the trip

An unexpected storm or hurricane can drastically impact the quality of a trip. Insurance of some sort is often a smart move and is recommended for a vacation like a cruise. No need to panic: Your personal life/home/auto insurance agent can help with this, and combined with the insurance you already have, it is likely you’ll pay a very minimal fee for this additional coverage.

Be excursion savvy

Packages may or may not include off-shore excursions. But remember, many things the cruise line offers can be done independently, such as a simple trip to the beach and a visit to a shopping district. For more complex excursions, consider going through the cruise line. But before making a final decision be sure to see what discounts may be available.

Take the trickiness out of tipping

It’s not required, but most cruise lines make it easier to tip by automatically adding it to your shipboard account each day. Instead, ask to tip in cash. This makes it easier to track how much is spent on tips each day and also helps ensure the tip amounts are appropriate. Determine how much money will be spent on tipping prior to the cruise, and set that money aside when the trip begins to stay on budget.

Budget on-board spending

Casinos, clubs, bingo night and more: It’s easy to nickel-and-dime your way right out of a budget during a cruise. Simply making a budget and sticking to it works wonders. Set a daily spending amount for the cruise. Once it is gone for the day, stop the spending. No more gambling/bingo/shopping until tomorrow.

Be your own photographer

Cruise lines have photographers all over the place to capture all those moments. It might be tempting to buy into this, but the prints can be quite pricey! Skip the ship photos and take your own shots instead.

Skip the soda packages

Many cruise lines offer a wristband that gives users unlimited soda during the trip. These can run as high as $60 for the week. That’s $240 in soda for a family of four! Can you live without a soda for a week at that price? I can!

Bring your own incidentals

Some hotels offer free replacements when a guest forgets to bring a toothbrush or other toiletry item. This is not the case on a cruise, and basic drugstore essentials like a toothbrush or pain reliever will be pricey on board a ship. Be sure to pack items like sunscreen, oral hygiene and personal care items.

Be prepared to unplug

Using a cell phone or Internet on the ship comes with extra fees and usage charges. If there is an emergency, you will have a room phone. Otherwise, be prepared to unplug! You are there to relax, so put the phone and laptop away, and forget about incurring all of those extra technology fees!

Always question the cost

Cruise ships like to keep a running account in order for passengers to charge purchases throughout the week. Anytime you are asked to attend a function (a wine tasting, a show, etc) ask about the cost and don’t assume it is covered in the overall cost of the cruise. At the same time, document any extra activities so when the bill arrives you can double check charges.

Additional tips:

  • Know the cruise line: Get the most for the money by choosing a company that fits your interests (fitness, Broadway-style entertainment, gourmet meals, etc.).
  • Book your own flights rather than going through the cruise line in order to search for deals using various travel sites.
  • Know when to go: May, September, January and February are the slowest times for cruise ships and the best time to find deals. Book early to save even more money.