Save Money on a Cruise — On Board and In Port

Cruises can be a great way to see several destinations on a single trip. But extra fees and add-on charges can quickly take them from affordable adventures to break-the-bank blowouts.

We shared our favorite ways for saving money on a cruise — both on board the ship and in the ports of call — with The Daily Refresh (ABC television). Click to watch the video, then get links to all the resources so you can enjoy your next cruise and save money while you’re at it.

While the average cost for a seven-day cruise is around $1,500 USD per person, there are cruises for every budget. That includes the world’s most expensive cruise, which costs $1.3 million per couple for 123 nights docking on all seven continents!

Cruise sales are now back to prepandemic levels with 31.5 million people scheduled to sail by the end of 2023. Many sailings are already fully booked for 2024, so if you’re looking to cruise in the next 12 to 18 months, now is the time to book. Alternatively, if your schedule and desired destinations are flexible, you can wait until right before you’d like to cruise and hope for some last-minute “fill the ship” deals on sailings that still have open cabins.

Once you’ve booked your trip, here are more ways to save money on board and in port.

We always avoid buying shore excursions through the cruise line. It’s easier than you think to plan your own activities, and this is the best way to save big.

  • Do your research before you arrive in port to learn what’s worth seeing and doingTripAdvisor and Nomad Mania are great resources for this, and you can use Google Maps to plan your own tours on foot or using public transportation.
  • Find what you like. Are you looking for shopping? History? Art and culture? Activities like snorkeling or horseback riding? Wine tasting or cooking classes? Check out Viator, Get Your Guide, and Airbnb Experiences to book tours and activities led by locals.
  • Plan to get off the boat as soon as the port opens, and give yourself a cushion of an hour or two at the end of the day so you can make it back on board in plenty of time. Google Maps is helpful for this, too, since it shows you how long it takes to get from wherever you are back to the harbor on foot, by taxi, or via public transportation.

When it comes to food and drink on a cruise, you can be frugal or you can break the bank. It’s easy to slip into “vacation mode” and rack up the calories and the bar and restaurant tabs.

  • Carefully consider drink packages. Wine deals are sometimes worth it, but do the math for all-you-can-drink cocktails based on your personal level of consumption. Cruise lines typically require every guest in a cabin to have his or her own plan, so you can’t just buy one and share.
  • Never pay for bottled water on the ship or in port. Taps are potable on cruise ships, so bring your own water bottle from home and refill it in your room. You can take it ashore with you each day and pour out any left over before you reboard, since you can’t bring beverages back on the ship.
  • Look for opportunities for freebies and discounts. Search the daily schedule for activities that include food or drink. A $5 ticket to the champagne art auction is worth it for a couple of glasses … as long as you don’t bid on any prints. Check out the ship’s drink of the day, too, which is typically four or five dollars less than other cocktails.
  • Don’t overspend when you’re eating in port. The harbor area where your ship will dock is usually surrounded by some of the most expensive restaurants you’ll find at ports of call. If you’re wanting to sample a special regional dish or other local cuisine, do your research online and get away from the ship so you won’t be overcharged. Or save even more money by eating the food you’ve already paid for on the boat.
  • Look for drink specials in port. You can often find local beers for as little as $2 apiece and inexpensive wine by the glass or carafe. Cocktails featuring local spirits can also be much cheaper in port than they are at the ship’s bar.

While it should perhaps go without saying, the best way to save money on a cruise is not to spend it unnecessarily. Avoid the overpriced on-board boutiques with generic souvenirs. If you want a memento from your trip, buy something from a local artist or small business at a port of call. Avoid paying for fitness classes by using the free gym equipment or taking a breezy stroll around the ship’s deck. Take advantage of all the complimentary activities, delicious food, and fun things you’ve already paid for when you booked your ticket.

Above all else, relax and enjoy yourself. That’s what cruises are for!

And remember, cruises aren’t just for the Caribbean. We’ve enjoyed adventures at sea all over the world, and these are some of our favorites:

Up next for us is a cruise through the islands of Japan with visits to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore. Watch for it this fall on The Daily Refresh!