Despite what you may have heard, cruises are not all-inclusive. Sure, for the price of your cruise, you’ll get all your meals, a cabin, and non-stop entertainment. Just the same, I’ve read a number of cruise reviews by first-time cruisers who are turned off by frequent onboard sales pitches for everything from spa treatments to a scoop of designer ice cream. Let’s face it. This is where cruise lines make their money. With all the extra fees for specialty restaurants, photos, slot machines, art auctions, bingo, alcohol, soda, lattes and shore excursions, what is a cruiser to do? If you are watching your budget, I have three little words for you: “Just…Say…No.”
However, let’s be realistic. You’re on vacation, after all, and we all need to splurge every now and then. To avoid sticker shock when you get your bill at the end of the cruise, here are some ways to reign in that onboard spending:
- Don’t pre-book spa appointments.
It’s convenient to book in advance, but you’ll save money by waiting until you board, when daily discounted treatments are often advertised, especially treatments scheduled for port days.
- Bring a refillable water bottle on your cruise or BYOB.
Instead of carting a carton of bottled water on board, bring a re-usable water bottle, and refill it in your stateroom or at the water station (being mindful to pour from a cup and not directly from the fountain). You will save both money and the environment.
Did you know you can bring your own wine or champagne? No, you can’t bring a week’s worth nor can you bring beer or hard liquor. But most cruise lines allow one bottle of wine and one bottle of champagne per person to be brought on board at embarkation.
- Buy a soda card.
An all-you-can drink soda card will save you money – but only if you’re a soda guzzler. Better yet, take along travel-size packs of Crystal light and add flavor and variety to your refillable water bottle.
- Skip the ship excursion – take a cab.
Shore excursions are big wallet busters. In some cases, a ship excursion simply doesn’t make sense. Research alternative, less expensive ways to tour, whether by foot, by taxi, or a local guide.
- Resist the lure of bells, whistles and flashing dollar signs.
Hear that whooshing sound? No it’s not your stateroom toilet. It’s the sound of your hard earned money being flushed away. Resist the urge! Gamble with care. If you want to resist the temptation altogether, choose a Disney Cruise or one of several European river cruise lines. You won’t find a casino on either one.
- Skip the ship photo ops.
The ship’s photographer will be lurking around every corner. Simply smile and say no. If there are no photos of you, you won’t be tempted to buy any. An exception would be if your travel agent gave you a free photo as part of your cruise package. In that case, smile and twist yourself into that unnaturally ridiculous pose for the guy behind the camera, and get yourself a formal portrait.
- Say “no” to that souvenir glass with the “drink of the day”.
It’s usually cheap plastic and not worth the extra five bucks. Ask for a regular glass instead.
You’re on vacation. Your boss and your Facebook friends don’t need to know where you are. Unless you have loyalty points that come with free Internet, logging on is going to cost you. Even then, the connection will be so painfully slow, that you’ll become extremely frustrated, possibly leading to flinging your device overboard.
- Turn off your phone.
See #8. Save the phone for emergency use only. If you do turn it on, be sure to turn off data roaming or you’ll be clobbered with a huge bill from your cell phone provider.
10. Drink the free champagne, but leave the artwork at the auction.
Trust me. That masterpiece will arrive at your door weeks later, and you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking. It was the champagne that made you do it.
Finally, to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of your cruise, check your account balance daily. On many cruise ships, you can turn on the TV in your cabin and see exactly what you’ve spent. If not, you can go to Guest Services and ask. You may still get nickel & dimed, but at least you’ll know whether you can afford another scoop of that gourmet ice cream.