Though the cruise industry is currently tight in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, with multiple cruise lines now forced to further suspend sailings, there is some hope for cruise holidays. Despite the CDC’s no-sail ban being put in place until July, and the ongoing pandemic, many cruise enthusiasts have come forward to show their love of the industry and say that they won’t be put off their favourite way to travel.
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In fact, a recent poll by Cruise Critic found that 92 percent of its members said the pandemic won’t stop them from taking another cruise in the future – even if it does mean waiting a little while for the dust to settle.
However, while many of us sit at home during lockdown dreaming of exploring the globe, the economic crisis has put a strain on the purse strings.
Luckily, there are some ways you can save on your next cruise holiday.
“Cruises tend to offer outstanding value when you consider that a similar land-based holiday would often cost a lot more for the same sort of accommodation, food and entertainment package available on a cruise – but there are also a number of great tips and tricks to save a few bucks when booking and while onboard,” Adam Coulter, UK managing editor of Cruise Critic told Express.co.uk.
Often, savings can be made the moment travellers book their cruise holiday with a simple bit of planning.
“It has generally been beneficial to book early,” explains Adam.
“That has often meant booking nine months to a year in advance of your travel dates.
“Cruise lines often offer booking incentives to travellers who book early – perks like cabin upgrades, complimentary beverage packages and onboard credit to use at your leisure while at sea.”
Though this could mean travellers now have a long wait until they next take to the seas, should they want to wait out the pandemic before booking their travels, forward-thinking could really reduce the overall cost of the holiday.
Should the cruise industry pick up again, another tip is to avoid peak seasons.
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“If your off-peak cruise isn’t full and the cruise line decreases fares in an effort to boost bookings, that’s a good time to ask your travel agent or cruise line representative for a free upgrade – especially if you’re not eligible for the price reduction,” Adam says.
“Many experienced cruisers often say that Shoulder Season – a time window that is not quite high season and not quite low season – is the ideal time to take a cruise.
“The key benefit of cruising in a shoulder season is that you can often enjoy similar or slightly more temperate weather from peak seasons in any particular area but without the crowds and the higher prices.
“It also usually means that most children are at back school – so you tend to get a quieter experience both onboard and ashore.”
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However, it isn’t just when you decide to book that can cut costs.
Adele Haywood is a cruise enthusiast who has been sailing since 2016. Since she first took to the seas she has been on 8 cruises with big-name operators including MSC, CMV and Fred Olsen.
When looking for ways to cut costs she found that shopping around and booking through travel agents can also be key.
“My advice would be to shop around!” she advises.
“I personally use a small cruise booking agent to find me the best price, but I do compare myself whether or not it is any cheaper, or anything included if booking directly with the company themselves.
“People think booking directly gives you the better deal, but not always! We tend to shop around on price to give ourselves the best experiences for the area we want to go to (rather than the ship we are on) knowing that overall taking into consideration drinks, excursions and gratuities then the price will go up.”
Furthermore, the type of cabin you opt for can really see the numbers creep up on your final receipt.
Adele continues: “We book, where possible an inside cabin unless there are several sea days. This is because as far as we are concerned the cabin is for sleeping, showering and getting changed.
“You can spend the majority of the day off the ship or in the lounges, and then for your meal and entertainment.
“Some people prefer having a window to look out as they worry they’ll feel claustrophobic, but even inside cabins can feel quite spacious. We’ve travelled from inside cabins to junior suites and they’ve all got their good and bad points.”
It is also important that first-time cruisers do their homework, and are aware of all of the additional extras cruise lines can charge.
Adam points out: “Booking your first cruise can be perplexing. It’s easy to be seduced by cheap cruise offers online but if this is your first voyage, it will really pay off to consult a specialist travel agent to make sure that you end up on the right ship for you.”
One of the major draws of cruise holidays is the ability to take in multiple destinations in one trip, thanks to port days.
However, what some travellers may not realise is that guided tours or on-shore excursions by the cruise line can come at an extra cost.
“If you want to save, skip the shore tour desk, and book independent shore excursions or tour guides (often for less money – or at least the same price for a smaller tour where you get more input),” Adam suggests.
However, seasoned cruiser Adele points out that there are some downsides to this, even if it does mean saving money.
“A lot of people think about excursions, some people are told not to book these directly with the cruise company and find a local tour operator instead,” she says.
“We normally book things directly with the cruise line as if we are late back on an organised excursion, the ship will wait for you (and this has happened!) but if you are using a local operator, they won’t!”
If you do want to arrange your own excursion, then be sure to take note of what time the ship is leaving.
“Look at where you are going in advance,” advises Adele.
“How far from the dock is the town? Is there a free or paid shuttle to get you into the town or can you walk it in?
“Some cities are nice just to have a stroll around on your own. But definitely look over the excursions if there is something of interest.”
There are also ways to save while onboard.
Though cruises are often all-inclusive, alcohol, speciality restaurants and some on board experiences – such as spa treatments – are not included in this offering.
“We always recommend that you purchase your alcoholic or soft drinks beverage packages before you board, if possible,” advises Adam.
“In general, it usually always pays to make this decision before you board – since many packages bought onboard can be up to 40 percent more expensive than those bought before boarding – so decide with your fellow travellers whether this is something you want to invest in before your departure date.”
However, if you are uncertain about whether these packages will be worth the cost, savvy sailor Adele has her own thrifty tips.
“If you search the internet you can generally find a price list of the drinks on your ship,” she explains. “Work out the average cost of the drinks that you consume, and how many drinks you would have to drink per day to break even.
“Are you booking excursions, or spending a lot of time off ship? Then this reduces the amount of time you can have these drinks.”
Adam continues: “In the same vein, if you want to go all out and sample the speciality fee-paying restaurants onboard a few times, book a restaurant package, if available.”
One way to slice the cost of speciality dining in half is to dine on the very first night of the cruise.
“As most passengers tend to use the main dining rooms on the first night, you usually find that onboard speciality restaurants offer some great deals for dining with them instead – such a free wine,” he adds.
Similarly, Adam suggests booking spa treatments on shore days if you want to enjoy a relaxing experience for half the price.
Aside from the costs of goods, many first-time cruisers might not be so accustomed with onboard gratuities.
“These days, most cruise lines add to your cruise bill an auto-gratuity or service fee that covers your cabin steward and dining staff,” says Adam.
“Bar bills often have a 15 or 18 percent gratuity included, as do many spa and fitness charges. Yet, more and more, the slip you have to sign indicates a space for an additional gratuity. You’re always welcome to give an extra tip for outstanding service, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to give more than the auto-gratuity if it’s not warranted.
“Uninformed travellers see the blank line on the bill and add 15 to 20 percent without thinking — and end up tipping double.”
If you do want to pay your tips separately, cruisers are allowed to remove auto-gratuities.
“Different companies have their own gratuity policies. We normally pay them, but they can work out expensively. Some split them equally between all their staff (from the engine room to captain), some only split them between your cleaner and your waiter,” explains Adele.
“Our last cruise, we removed our gratuities for the first time ever and left them a tip ourselves as it was only split between two members of staff.
“If you look into it before you go then make sure you ask on one of your first days on ship to remove the gratuities.”
Though the future of travel is uncertain for now, if you are hoping to cruise in the future now could be the time to begin much-needed research.
Whether it’s saving money when booking, or cutting costs once on deck, the major theme that runs throughout is to plan in advance.
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