Saving money while cruising – a few valuable tips

Cruise vacations are a lot of fun. Just last weekend we went on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Bahamas, and we enjoyed it a lot. You pay one flat rate per person, and for that you get world class entertainment, get to visit several countries, get nice cabin accommodations on the ship, and have access to a never ending food festival 24 hours a day, including free room service. If you go with a big group, they are even more fun, as you feed off each others’ energy and fun personalities. We love cruising, and we do it as much as we can. Living in Miami, it’s very easy for us to just hop on a cruise on a great last minute deal and we are fortunate that we don’t have to fly into Miami to catch a cruise.

Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas

Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas

There is one reality with cruising. Once you get on the ship, you’re going to spend money. Cruise lines don’t make much money off the actual cruise price, as most of that goes into paying for operating expenses such as fuel, maintenance, crew wages, etc. Cruise lines make the most money out of your incidental purchases, primarily alcoholic drinks, casino gambling, photographs, and shore excursions.

When we cruise, there are a few things we do to save money. It all depends on what type of traveler you are, and your likes and dislikes. Here’s a few of the things that we do, in no particular order:

Book an inside cabin:
Yes, you don’t get a window, but that’s just fine with me. We cruise so many times, that it really isn’t a big deal. I like inside cabins because since there are no windows, it’s pitch black at any time of the day, and I do like to sleep in when I’m on vacation.

Take your own alcohol:
This one is tricky and it’s not for everyone, but we do it. Cruise lines have different alcohol policies. Carnival lets you take one bottle of wine per person, and you have to take it on your carry-on luggage. You can then open it in your room and walk into the dining room with your glass of wine, or if you want a little more convenience, you can take the bottle and open it in the dining-room, but there will be a corking fee, usually around $15. If I want to take rum, I sneak it into the ship in plastic water bottles, and I take whiskey inside an empty glass bottle of iced tea. If you’re doing this, you have to do it on your checked luggage. I put it inside a zip lock bag and pad it with plenty of clothes. The last thing you want is one of those bottles breaking inside your suitcase. That will make for a very smelly cruise. Keep in mind that in no way I’m advocating for anyone to do this. It’s against cruise lines policy, and if you’re caught they will take away your alcohol, although in many years I’ve been cruising not once have I been caught.

Stop taking so many pictures!
From the moment you get to the terminal, there will be ship photographers wanting to take your picture. They’re free to take, but they’re far from free to take home. You can take as many as you want, but you will like them all, and you will want to buy them. If it’s your first cruise, it makes for a good souvenir, but be prepared to pay as much as $19.95 for an 8×10, so next thing you know, you will ring up $50-$60 worth of pictures. Some people end up spending hundreds. I stopped taking pictures years ago, because I already know I’m not going to buy them and I don’t want the temptation. I use my own camera for everything.

If you like gambling, there isn’t much to do about that. You’re going to win and you’re going to lose some. Hopefully not much. I don’t like gambling. It just isn’t for me, and I don’t find it fun, but I do use the casino for other purposes. More on that another day.

Tips are automatically added to your room and charged to your credit card on file at the end of the cruise. Just keep in mind that every single drink purchase on the ship will already have an added 15% gratuity, so be careful not to overtip. Of course, you can always do so if you feel the staff has done an amazing job, which they do more often than not.

When on-shore, use the free food to your advantage:
Sure, while you’re on the boat you’re being fed 24/7 and it’s all free, but for the most part when you get off the boat for sightseeing or excursions, you’re on your own. So we take a handful of empty zip lock bags on the trip, and in the morning while we have breakfast on the ship, we grab a couple of sandwiches, fruits and other snacks, fill up our water bottles, and we take them with us to shore. This will save you lunch money, and also valuable time if you’re trying to cram sightseeing before getting back to the ship.

Visit the spa as soon as you get on board on Day 1:
Most ships offer some sort of spa tours on day 1 to get you familiar with their services, but they also have a free raffle on the first day at a specific time (you usually have to be present), where they give away different spa treatments and spa plans. Be sure to get everyone in your cabin sign up for the raffle separately to increase the chances of winning a free treatment.

Buy alcohol on board!
Yes, I know I’ve already given everyone tips on sneaking your own alcohol on board, but there’s a twist. If you’re looking to take liquor home to restock your bar, make sure you buy it on board. The tax and duty free savings are pretty substantial. Anything you buy on any given day will be stored for you by the crew and delivered to your cabin the night before departure. Just make sure you follow customs regulations, which limit the amount of alcohol you can bring into the U.S. while getting off the boat, and also prohibit certain products from being brought into the country, such as Cuban cigars. Obviously, with today’s TSA regulations, if you’re flying back home after the cruise and you have to check the alcohol with your luggage and pay for checked luggage, it defeats the purpose, but it just works for us since we don’t have to fly after our cruises.

There are many other ways where you can save money while on the boat itself, but these are the ones that we follow on a regular basis. Our final bill at the end of our cruise was only $78 for both of us. Not too bad for a 3-day cruise!

If you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share, by all means we’d love our readers to hear them, so please share them here.  

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8 Responses to Saving money while cruising – a few valuable tips

  1. Dany says:

    Vodka in water bottles!

    • Dany says:

      Then get free OJ during breakfast and take back to your room. Now you have free screwdrivers all day

      • travelguys says:

        Certainly! Although anything that resembles water bottles has to go on the checked luggage. If you carry them on, crew has already been trained to shake them up. Alcohol bubbles and water doesn’t, and that’s how they know, and they will take them away. Checked luggage always works for me.

  2. nick says:

    What do you the casino for if not gambling? I’m intrigued.

    • travelguys says:

      Nick, Carnival lets you fund slot machines with your sail and sign card (last time I was on Carnival) with no fees, so you can charge it to your room (and eventually your credit card). You can load up the penny machines, play a couple of pulls (you must play), then cash back out to your card and take it to the cashier and get the cash. It’s a great tool for meeting minimum spending if you’re up for it. It’s not for everyone, but it works in moderation.

  3. Patrick says:

    So your advice is to disregard cruiseline policies and bring your own spirits onboard by hiding them in the luggage on a already discounted trip and to possibly introduce an invasive parasite or bug into a foreign enviroment by bringing fresh fruit or salad on shore. AWESOME! Perhaps you can set a better example and think about cause and affect before you act to save a few dollars.

    • travelguys says:

      Patrick, thanks for your comments. On your food comments, we do check local rules before taking food off the ship. Many places do prohibit fruits and vegetables. But we have found it acceptable to bring prepackaged snacks to those. Cereals and water bottles are fine just about anywhere. Sandwiches and fruits you should check which port you are traveling to. On the alcohol, there are many references online on this, and it’s pretty widespread believe it or not. Definitely not for everyone, but in reality we don’t have unlimited funds and as such will try to save money if we can. In either case I can assure you that we still buy drinks onboard. I love beer and there’s just no way around having a cold one on board.

    • garcied says:


      Travelguy is doing an amazing job helping YOU and other how to save a buck. You should be more appreciative. If you don’t have anything nice to say keep them comments to yourself.

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