Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why We Are the Cheapest Cruisers on the High Seas

The hubby and I like to take cruises and usually go at least once a year. The price for cruises used to be all inclusive but these days, they seem to be in a "race to the bottom" much like airlines. They tend to charge as little as possible for the cruise itself and then offer an array of add-ons that would make an infomercial pale in comparison.
Last week, we were surprised to see mini bars have been added to the cabins, just like they have in hotel rooms. The odd thing is that alcohol (for a price of course) is available at a dozen places on the ship and you can even have room service deliver it to your cabin so I guess they are going for the impulse purchase? Other things we have noticed over the years include the addition of "premium" restaurants where you need to pay a price to eat there. Before, all food service on the ship was included in the price you pay for the cruise, but now more than half of the restaurants require an extra fee. Drinks are hustled in every possible venue (and they are super expensive), a half dozen stations on the TV in our cabin were devoted to trying to sell us something, they lean heavily on daily (for pay) bingo games and raffles and continually hawk shore excursions, the ship's stores are open 24 hours a day for your shopping pleasure, and kiosk vendors are all over the ship selling everything from bathing suits to gold to watches. Photographers are also everywhere taking your picture in the hopes you will buy them. The sauna, steam room, and indoor hot tub used to be free, now there is a "premium price" charged to enter the "spa". Even activities on the ship now often carry a price tag. Want a tour of the ship? Pay up! It's definitely getting more dreary to cruise, however a ship is the only way to easily reach many of the islands we want to visit so we continue to cruise. Here's how we do it cheaply:
  • I like an ocean view room. An inside cabin is like being inside a coffin so I found that at least with a view of the ocean or port outside my window I feel less claustrophobic. When I book, however, I choose the "obstructed view" for a lower price. I don't care if there is a lifeboat hanging outside my window as long as I can see daylight and a bit of ocean.

  • Hubby and I don't drink so that saves us a ton of money on alcohol. It is always rather amusing to see the faces of people who have been drinking excessively all week get their final bill the night before the cruise is finished--some look like they are going to faint!

  • We also rarely drink soda. Cruise ships charge a weekly fee for unlimited soda pop which can be $50 or more! What we do is buy a couple small bottles of soda when we go into port and bring it back to the ship with us.

  • I love having an internet connection but the usual shipboard cost of $100 for 250 minutes is ridiculous. What I do instead is wait to get online when we go into ports. There are always internet cafes around and they usually charge about a dollar an hour.

  • We also skip the ship stores for anything we need/have forgotten and instead purchase the items when we get into port at local stores and for much lower prices.

  • We travel with one carry on bag each. Even for our recent 12 day cruise, we were able to bring enough clothes (think layers and multi-purpose items) to last the entire cruise. This saves us the added fee of checking bags when we fly to and from our departure port.

  • I was shocked to find that the ship now charges for cappuccinos which have always been free. Hubby likes a cappuccino at least once a day so we figured out how to make our own. Coffee is free and half and half is free so I get a glass of ice, pour in half a cup of cooled coffee and fill the rest up with half and half and he ends up with a free, tasty, iced cappuccino.

  • I have always thought that the price for laundry service on the ship is ridiculous at $25 for a small bag. Instead, about mid cruise, we pack up our dirty laundry and head out into the port town in search of a laundromat where we wash our own clothes for a fraction of the ship's laundry price with the added bonus that we get to interact with the locals which has always been a great experience.

  • We also don't do tours and excursions offered by the cruise company. We have to laugh each time we see the "explore the port city" tour group from the ship. Each person has paid about $50 for the tour, but we are doing the exact same thing for free. Just get off the ship and walk into the city and explore it on your own! If there is something we want to see/do, we go just like the locals would. This may include taking a taxi or hiring a driver or paying an entrance fee but these costs are minimal in comparison to what the excursion companies charge. There are plenty of local companies that offer snorkeling gear rental, cave tours, etc, all you have to do is look or ask the locals.

  • We don't eat in the premium restaurants. The food is great in the (free) dining rooms and buffets and it is the exact same food and exact same cooks as in the premium places.

  • We get lots of information from the crew. We tend to quickly make friends with the room staff and the dining room staff so when we want to know how to do something cheaply, we ask them as they don't have much money but they still like to go shopping, get manicures, go to restaurants on shore, etc. On the last cruise, our waiter gave us lots of good info. He recommended buying food in the market then going to the kitchens behind the market where they will cook your food for next to nothing. He also recommended a place that charged $5 for manicures as opposed to the $15 nail shops in the tourist areas were charging.

  • We tend to take free transportation in ports (which means walking) to explore the towns and cities we go to. If we want to go somewhere further or just want to go somewhere and it doesn't matter where, we will hop on a city bus, just like the locals. We don't need a private motor coach or even a taxi to go most places.

  • We don't buy souvenirs. Our refrigerator is about ready to tip over with the weight of the many magnets we have collected from our travels over the years. We have found that traveling with one bag helps with this as we don't actually have room to collect stuff that we really don't need.

  • Buying photographs on the ship is also expensive. When we want photos, we go to our local Walmart and get a package of 36 photos for around $10 which is a huge savings over the cost of photos sold on the ship.

  • Finally, hubby likes his poker but their casino charges an arm and a leg for the privilege of gambling. Usually, casinos get a "rake" or fee of about a dollar or two per hand of poker but on the ship they charge a rake of 10%--the casino can make over $50 on one hand of poker! Again, ridiculous. So he simply doesn't gamble on cruise ships.

There are still lots of ways to have fun on a cruise without spending a lot of money, or, as we did on the last cruise, without spending any extra money at all. Aside from an added fee of $12 per day to tip the staff which is billed the last day of our cruise, we actually didn't spend anything extra on the last cruise. Of course, this fee is negotiable and you can adjust it up or down but we have always found that the crew is great and well deserves this money so we don't quibble about it.

What we did enjoy was free stuff which is listed in the daily newsletters like movies in the cinema, dancing each night, nightly Broadway-type shows, sitting on the deck and getting some sun, watching some great music acts, attending a couple of free educational classes, and of course going into each port stop.

Cruises can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make them. We chose to make them as cheap as possible!

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