How to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Cruise Buck

Posted Aug 12th 2010 03:29 PMUpdated Aug 12th 2010 03:48 PM



Holland America Line Stateroom

Knowledge is definitely power, especially when you're shopping for a cruise vacation. While others are paying list price for a cruise, you can either save hundreds of dollars or get valuable extras if you know where the opportunities lie. And if you're in the know, you can bring your children along without paying, get Concierge Club privileges free, fly without paying airfare, get stateroom upgrades worth hundreds and enjoy free perks from wine to ice cream.

Some of the specials are specific to a particular cruise line; others are available across the industry. Read on to see where the bargains are.

Plan according to party size
Among the first are accommodations like Norwegian Cruise Line's studio staterooms for single travelers on the new Norwegian Epic. They run hundreds of dollars cheaper than a standard stateroom, which is a revolution, considering single cruisers normally pay fares on most ships that can run to 200% of the per person rate for two. Epic's studios are perfectly comfortable, with standard beds, flat screen TVs, closets, bathrooms, etc., at 100 square feet; solo guests also have exclusive access to an attractive adjoining private lounge with coffee, snacks and a bar, where they can relax or mingle. Both seagoing and river cruise lines also periodically suspend the single supplement, sometimes offering additional perks like reduced airfare.

For families, several cruise lines will allow children to sail free in the stateroom with two adults from time to time as special offers; MSC Cruises, with a fleet of 11, invites children under 12 to sail free on all itineraries in Europe, the Caribbean and Canada/New England, all the time.

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Carnival Corporation's Italian line, Costa Cruises, which first created the spa stateroom, still has a unique setup, even with the other cruise lines following with their own versions. Spa staterooms on Costa come in various categories, including inside staterooms and suites, for 20 percent above the normal fare.

For this, guests not only get spa amenities in the staterooms and proximity to the 23,000 square foot spa with access to the giant Thalassotherapy Pool, treatments, classes and a tea ceremony, but they can eat any of their meals in the private gourmet spa dining room, which is anything but ascetic. The elegant cuisine attracts passengers outside the spa staterooms, too, but they pay an average of 25 euros (or $32.11 at an exchange of $1.28 per euro) a meal. Eating even half of the 21 meals available there on a seven-day cruise would cost 250 euros ($321.12) and could more than cover the additional cost of the stateroom. These staterooms offer the "ship within the ship" experience, much like staying on the concierge floor of a fine hotel.

Let them entertain you
Extras in entertainment can also be counted against the cruise fare; NCL's new Epic has a variety of free name entertainment that would normally rise to over $100 a person, like Blue Man Group and Legends, and all seats are free; you just sign up for the performances you want to attend. Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas has exclusive licensing for the eight-time Tony Award-winning "Hairspray" as well as a new partnership with Dreamworks. NCL has built an extensive partnership with Nickelodeon that incorporates free shows and character encounters.

Not only do children on Disney cruises see the company's most recent releases -- the smaller numbers when compared to theme parks make for a very personal experience with the characters, who often address young passengers by name.

Theme cruises, too, offer great value, from free movie screenings with the stars on board to demonstrations and conversations with celebrity chefs. One extra which is so little known that cruisers run to e-mail home from the ship, is the baseball greats series on MSC, with the likes of Bob Feller, Clarence Jones and Stan Bahnsen on MSC Poesia in the Caribbean for five cruises this winter. Passengers interact freely with the baseball greats in Q&A sessions, pitching, hitting and base-running clinics and casual chat after the sessions, all without charge. One excited fan on a recent cruise could hardly get his fingers to work on his Blackberry as he texted home, "I just was talking to Earl Weaver! Earl Weaver!"

Lessons at sea
A number of experiences are surprisingly cheaper at sea, from teeth whitening to instruction in building websites. And budding musical stars can create a professionally mastered and edited vocal CD on Costa's ship of music, Costa Pacifica, in a very sophisticated studio for only 35 euros ($44.93), a fraction of the cost of a similar land-based session.

Be in the know
And then there are staterooms that have extra features. Carnival's Category 9 wraparound balconies are so prized that passengers have registered anger on the Internet when they were upgraded to suites. The view from the back of the ships is spectacular.

On Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships, stateroom 6305 is also known as the Moo Room or, more formally, the Ben & Jerry Sweet. These are promenade-view staterooms where the view is partially obstructed by the rear ends of the Ben & Jerry's cows above the ice cream parlor. They come with all the free Ben & Jerry's you can eat and, on Freedom of the Seas, Concierge Club privileges.

In some cases, Holland America Line's Lanai Staterooms are priced very close to an outside rate, and they have sliding doors out to the Verandah Deck. They are available on the Veendam and Rotterdam, and will be added to Maasdam early next year; the Statendam and Ryndam will get them in about a year.

Across the cruise lines, early booking rates are huge for extra value; very often you can go up a level from what you'd pay later, from inside to outside stateroom or outside to balcony. Can't plan that far ahead? When a particular sailing or set of sailings looks underbooked, the cruise lines offer substantial discounts for new bookings. This is one of the areas where good travel agents can really help, since they are informed daily about such offers and their deadlines, and can get in touch with a client when there's a match.

Be sure to sign up for the loyalty program on any cruise line whenever you sail and to make sure all subsequent cruises are recorded. It's free, and perks vary from special cocktail parties to stateroom upgrades.

Ready to book? Check out our cruise deals.

Filed Under: Cruise, Tips & Tricks, Budget

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And don't forget about the possibility of getting sick as a dog from norovirus...that makes for a fun vacation. Then there's always the possibility of being a crime victim either on the ship or when you get off the ship at port. Nothing like bobbing up and down in the ocean after being thrown overboard by some psycho.

September 25 2010 at 4:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am an experienced cruiser...been on 15 cruises. I have cruised only with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. I prefer to book only through Royal Caribbean on the telephone. After that, I watch the web site every other day for possible sales or temporary price reductions. If you see any, call RCCL and they will give you the credit. (travel agents will not look out for you after you book if price is reduced they are simply too busy...count on yourself only) If you do book with a web site or a travel agent, make sure you price around and check out the cruise line web site first to compare. There are times agents say they are giving a "deal" when you can obtain same deal with the cruise line. Also, if you book with a travel agent, make sure it is a reputable one and not an agency that might go bankrupt.

September 24 2010 at 10:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have cruised over 10 times on Carnival, Royal Carribean, Costa and Norwegian Cruise Line. I have always used a travel agent. The same agent every time. An agent gets to know you and your likes/dislikes. They will automatically call you when a great deal comes along. Last year we were able to take two cruises because she called us and lhad a one day only special for the second cruise. We took advantage of this and had a wonderful time. Info about shore excursions, we went on an island excursion and our bus broke down, not once, but twice. The tour co. sent another bus to get us back to the ship, but we were 45 min. late. THEY HELD THE SHIP BECAUSE THEY KNEW A TOUR HAD NOT RETURNED. If we had gone on our own, wewould have had to get a hotel room, and air transportation to the next port of call. This wouldv'e been extremely expensive and a major inconvience. Our plane tickets were changed at the last min. and my travel agent was on the phone with us immediately so everything went smoothly. TRY THAT WITH ON-LINE AGENCIES.

September 24 2010 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been on four cruises that were with a group that had booked the ENTIRE ship for the whole cruise, thereby offering a good price per room. The last cruise I went on was booked through a cruises only travel agent, who got us four balcony rooms for the four couples traveling together, also at a great rate. The one "upscale" cruise I took was on Holland America to Alaska, and was booked through a travel agent. We got a fair price on the trip, fair not great. However, the experience was worth the price. The article is dead on about actual costs during the cruise. You pay dearly for shore excursions and drinks. I like the Norwegian Cruise Line concept of "Freestyle" dining, eating where and when you like, though certain restaurants have a charge of ten or twenty dollars per person.
If you are careful, the per day price of a cruise is a relative bargain. However you have to take into account the cost of getting to whatever port the ship is leaving from. Also, cruise lines love repeat business If you can book another cruise during your vacation the lines will usually give you a break on the second cruise.

September 24 2010 at 9:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You will get quotes from several agencies. You can book through one of those agents or use that information to get a better price from your trusty travel agent

September 24 2010 at 8:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

DEFINATELY book with a local travel agent! They represnt you!

August 27 2010 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Red Sam Rackham

I've always found that making travel arrangements thru AAA is the best way to go.

August 27 2010 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
God only knows

Cruise in "off season." That's number one.

You get the best bang for your buck.

Join all the cruise lines loyalty clubs like Royal's "Crown & Anchor" to get extra perks and discounts.

If you can afford to buy stock in the cruise line you like to sail with the most. I believe 100 shares or Royal Carib's stock gets you extra perks as well.

If you like to travel with friends and want to splurge on better accomodations (suite) then have all 4 stay together (3d & 4th stay in the room for way less than the first 2) then split the bill 4 ways. Lots of suites have 2 separate bedrooms.

If you want do shore excursions on your own and save, BUT remember the SHIP ALWAYS waits if a SHIP SPONSORED shore excursion is late getting back, not so if you are on your own.

You can also get the cruise lines credit card and accumulate points on purchases for later cruise discounts, just remember to pay that bill in full each month to avoid those finance charges eating into your points profit.

August 27 2010 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mr Bretz

I think the ariticle has it wrong about Holland America Lanai staterooms. I was just on the Rotterdam and they open onto the promenade deck. That means if you go out on your chairs, people can be walking right by you all the time. So it is not private but still an upgrade from an ocean view room on the same level. I also think it was about 20% more expensive than an ocean view room on the same deck but I am sure that varies.

August 23 2010 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Aol actually didn't tell you that much. With MSC, yes kids are free, but they are included in the price. Travel agents are a better way to go because major internet sites will not help if you are in a bind. On my site at I have an article where expedia made a huge mistake and they didn't help until they were pressured with 100's of emails by friends on facebook. There are a lot of perks, much better than what is listed, but you do have to be in the know, or just ask. I agree with Kel and Anna 100%. Prices did go up from last year on many ships, but not all.

August 16 2010 at 4:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply