Surprising Money-Saving Secrets Cruise Lines Don’t Tell You

A cruise ship vacation can be both luxurious and convenient: The fine dining and exciting entertainment are all rolled up in one package, for one price. But know that in reality, you have options for saving money while still having the time of your life.

Cruise lines might not always spell it out in black and white, yet there are plenty of unwritten rules to keep costs down. Read on for some valuable money-saving tips for your cruise vacation.

1. Get free Wi-Fi in port

Man using smartphone

If you can manage, wait to use Wi-Fi when you’re in port. | iStock.com/DamDesignnu

  • Daily cost of Wi-Fi aboard ship: $25 or more

Even though paying the cruise line for Wi-Fi access is cheaper than your carrier’s roaming fees, you’ll still end up paying a pretty penny. Some cruise lines charge $25 per day for Wi-Fi or more. This could add on hundreds of dollars to your vacation bill.

Rather than running up a huge Wi-Fi bill, take advantage of free Wi-Fi available when the ship is at port. At some ports, Wi-Fi is free at a welcome center or nearby McDonald’s and Starbucks. Crew members will likely be able to tell you all of these spots if you ask.

Next: Be pampered for less.

2. Use the ship’s the spa while in port

Woman doing facial treatment in spa

Use the spa when it’s cheap. | iStock.com/macniak

  • Cost savings: $50 and up

Spa services while on a cruise are not cheap. If pampering at the ship’s spa is a must-do, save money by scheduling your appointment when the ship is in port.

You’ll typically save $50 or more than if you visited the spa while at sea. And if you want a taste of pampering that’s a bit lower key (i.e. less expensive), ask about getting a pass to the spa pools and relaxation areas.

Next: Save on shore excursions.

3. Book third-party shore excursions

Use third-parties to book activities like scuba diving. | Guam Visitors Bureau

  • Potential savings: $100s or more

Many cruisers spend much time deciding whether and how to book a shore excursion. It actually depends a lot on what port your ship stops in. Some are located right near beaches and attractions that can be visited on your own; others aren’t near much of anything and necessitate booking an excursion.

If you choose to pay for a shore excursion, know that there are often reliable and more affordable companies outside of the ones the cruise provides or endorses. Read reviews, ask questions, and make sure any company you go with will get you back to the ship on time. Otherwise, you may be left behind by your cruise!

Next: A clever way to get around ATM fees

4. Use the slot machine as an ATM

Believe it or not, slot machines are a good workaround for the ships ATMs. | Abdullah Pope/AFP/Getty Images

  • Savings: $5 per withdrawal

The ATM machines on cruise ships typically charge you around $5 to withdraw money. But there is a way around this. Simply go to a slot machine at the ship’s casino, insert your cabin card, and deposit the amount you wish to withdraw.

Once the money is loaded to your card, hit “cash out” and take the ticket to the cashier to get your money. The cruise will charge your onboard account and you won’t be charged the $5 fee.

Next: How to get free souvenirs

5. Get free merchandise

Souvenir blade weapons on store shelves

On-board activities often come with free or cheap souvenirs. | sergeyryzhov/Getty Images

  • Value: $10 and up

Lectures are a part of the cruise experience, and cruisers may choose to gather for talks on various topics — including shopping. If you attend the shopping lecture, be sure to sit near the front of the theater. Lecturers and staff members will often toss things out to the crowd, and they usually don’t throw them very far. This could be a way to score free t-shirts, bamboo necklaces, and more.

Next: Get free stuff from the Bible

6. Check your Bible for coupons

man holds a bible

Some people leave unused coupons behind in Bibles. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

  • Value: Price of a drink

Even if you’re not in a spiritual mood, check out the Bible that’s in your cruise’s desk drawer. Cruise Critic reported some people have left unused coupons in the Bible for the next cruiser, such as complimentary coffee or drink tickets.

Some people reported leaving coupons in other common places in the room like in the safe with the door cracked. So, be sure to look around your room for some easy money-saving opportunities.

Next: When booking online is cheaper

7. Buy the all-inclusive drink package

glasses and shots with different colored cocktails

If you’re planning on drinking, buy a drink package. | Tsuguliev/Getty Images

  • Savings of buying online vs. onboard: $30 (for 5-day cruise)

If you plan to enjoy alcoholic drinks on the cruise, the all-inclusive package may be your best bet, cost-wise. Make sure to research how to get the best deal.

For instance, a Carnival Cruise all-inclusive drink package ran $57.44 per day with tip if purchased online. However, the same package ran $63.19 per day when purchased onboard. This translates to $30 in savings per person for a five-day cruise.

Next: The duty-free discount doesn’t always add up.

8. Buy your souvenirs online

Disney Magic cruise in Venice Italy

If you aren’t feeling impulsive, order your souvenirs online. | David Roark/Disney via Getty Images

When you’re island-hopping and on shore excursions, it’s tempting to pick up souvenirs, jewelry, and so on. But remember you can save money by purchasing these items online.

Do some research and shop around before plunking down cash on impulse items that catch your eye. Also remember duty-free stores may offer money savings, but when you enter the U.S. you’ll get taxed 3% on purchases beyond your $800 exemption.

Next: How to score spa freebies

9. Score spa freebies and discounts

Young woman lying on massage table and waiting for massage

Hit the spa before you unpack. | iStock.com/MangoStar_Studio

  • Savings: $30 and up

There are ways to unwind at the spa without stressing out your wallet. We already talked about appointments being cheaper at times when the ship is in port. Another time you may score a cheaper appointment is on the cruise’s first day. Most people are so busy getting unpacked that the spa sits empty. Check to see if you can get a discount — and a relaxing start to your vacation.

More spa tips: Attend the seminars. Yes, they’re trying to sell you something, but you’ll usually get a spa freebie or discount for attending. One cruiser reported getting $30 off a relaxing facial. In addition, take the spa tour so you can enter the raffles for things like free workout sessions, seaweed wraps, and massages.

Next: Don’t double tip on accident.

10. Know the gratuity policy

Sad man looking at his wallet

Check for a gratuity fee before tipping cash. | SIphotography/iStock/Gety Images

  • Potential savings: Typically 15-20%

It’s important to read the fine print: Is your cruise line automatically charging you a daily tip fee? Some will tack that on in the price of your meal and drinks. On top of that, many even charge a flat gratuity fee to each room per day.

Keep an eye on this and if you want to provide an additional tip for excellent service, certainly no one will stop you. Either way, familiarize yourself with what the ship’s practice is up front.

Next: More ways to save on liquor

11. Buy wine by the bottle

If you’re going to have a few glasses of wine, just buy the bottle. | LightFieldStudios/iStock/ Getty Images Plus

  • Savings: $3.75 and up per bottle

If you don’t have the all-inclusive drink packages and are ordering wine, it’s cheaper to buy by the bottle than the glass (just like when on dry land). A particular glass of Cabernet Sauvignon costs $6.25 on Carnival, while the whole bottle (which typically holds five glasses) costs $27.50. But you’d pay $31.25 for the same amount of wine if you ordered five individual glasses.

In addition, most cruise lines allow you to bring one bottle of wine onboard per adult. Cruise Maven provided a comprehensive list of each major cruise line’s exact policy, but be sure to check when you book your cruise as policies change.

Next: Should you upgrade your room?

12. An upgraded room may not be worth it

MSC Musica cruise ship approaching the port in Kotor

That upgraded room may not be worth it. | Makinwa/iStock/Getty Images

  • Potential savings: $100s to $1,000s

Room prices on cruises may vary a great deal; think long and hard before you choose to book that deluxe room. What are the chances you’ll be much non-sleeping time in the room?

The price difference between standard and deluxe rooms can be ginormous. One four-night Disney cruise to the Bahamas, for instance, offered a standard interior room for $1,669 and a concierge level room for $6,984!

Next: Are professional photos worth the money?

13. Take your own photos

woman holding a camera

Capture your own vacation memories. | iStock/Getty Images

  • Savings: Around $20 per 8×10 photo

You may feel like a celebrity followed by paparazzi on your cruise. From the moment you board until the moment you disembark, photographers will be ready and willing at every turn to snap your pic. And they’ll likely do a good job of it. But the question is, do you want to pay the high prices?

If you’re watching your dollars, you can say no to any and all professional photos (but be sure to take lots of your own). Or you can pick and choose which events you’d like documented professionally.

Next: All-you-can-eat entrées

14. Order multiple entrées

Three entrepreneurs dining at Mexican restaurant

Eat as much as you want. | Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images

  • Cost: Free

Many people enjoy the food on cruises and eat more than they normally would at home. You can indeed order a second (or third or fourth) entrée at no charge if you so desire. If you’re craving both the chicken and the fish, go for it. In the main dining room (and other restaurants), you can order as much as you want without being charged extra, Cruzely reports.

Next: Be waited on for free.

15. Use room service

Burger with meat and French fries

If room service is free, why would you not use it? | iStock.com/Lisovskaya

  • Cost: Usually free

Think you’ll be charged a lot for room service? Think again. On most cruise lines, it’s absolutely free. This may come in handy for breakfast if you stayed out too late last night or your kids are slow to get ready in the morning. (There may be a charge for room service when ordered at odd hours.) Note that Royal Caribbean started charging $7.95 for room service in 2017.

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