As cruise holidays become more popular, the price you’ll pay to take to the high seas is falling, which is great news for both new and repeat ocean travellers. Not only that but there’s now a huge array of offers, upgrades and freebies you can take advantage of to make your holiday even more affordable and fulfilling — with all the major cruise lines offering a range of deals designed to get more people onboard.
If you’re new to the world of cruising, navigating the discounts and offers available can be tricky. Naturally, cruise lines aren’t always forthcoming about their special offers and freebies, so a little legwork is required to get every penny you can out of the price of your dream cruise.
In this guide, we provide useful hints and tips on how to make your money go further when booking a cruise, whether that’s by claiming free onboard drinks vouchers or signing up to a loyalty programme. Enlisting the help of experienced cruise experts and bloggers, we’ve covered a huge range of the freebies, upgrades and reductions you can snap up at sea – helping you save money every step of the way.
So, without further ado, here we present the ultimate guide to cruise offers, upgrades and freebies.
Food and Drink
For many cruise-goers, food and drink are among the main highlights of a holiday at sea. With a massive choice of delicious dishes and satisfying beverages to choose from, you’ll be reluctant to stray far from the bars and restaurants during your time aboard. This does mean that you can expect to shell out a lot over the course of your cruise, however, though there are a few ways to shave pounds and pence from your final food and drink bill.
For instance, Gretta Schifano of Mums Do Travel has a great tip to help you save on drinks. She says: “Before setting off on a cruise, check the prices of drinks onboard, and see what you’re allowed to take with you. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on cruise ships can be expensive, but you may be able to take some drinks with you when you board, which will save you money.”
Cruise lines are crafty when it comes to tempting you into speciality restaurants, offering delicious menus that can sound appealing after a couple of days in the buffet hall. Be warned, though, that eating out in these restaurants can really increase the cost of your trip, unless of course you follow this advice from Marcus Adams, aka Sparkx:
“One benefit of cruising is the sheer amount of choice onboard, particularly when it comes to dining. In addition to the main restaurants onboard, lines now tend to offer for-fee specialty restaurants. Ordinarily, if you were to try these the bill could add up very quickly – but more and more lines are now offering dining packages where you pay a fixed fee towards a group of restaurants, which can result in around 30% cost savings. Another option is to try out specialty restaurants during lunch times, where prices can much lower for exactly the same experience.”
When it comes to indulging in liquid refreshment on a cruise, there are ways to save on the bar bill. Sue Bryant, Cruise Editor at the Sunday Times, offers this advice for those planning a couple of at-sea sessions:
“Drinks packages can be good value, although you’ll need to do the maths to make sure you’ll actually drink enough to justify upgrading to all-inclusive, which a lot of cruise lines offer now. Some offer wine packages, or fizzy drink packages, or deals on drinks that cost a bit less than the ‘premium’ brands, so you might get Prosecco instead of champagne, for example. There’s always a cocktail of the day, too, often at a promotional price.”
For those absolutely determined to keep their purse strings tight during their cruise, there are ways to get your hands on free food and drink — as Gary Bembridge of Tips for Travellers demonstrates:
“Go to the cocktail parties. This will be the only time most cruise lines will be serving free drinks and canapés. Depending on the line and how often you have travelled with them, you could be invited to a few.”
Save On Shore Excursions
Disembarking the ship to explore far-flung foreign cultures is part and parcel of a truly memorable cruise break, though such day trips and excursions can quickly add up — especially if you plan to do more than two or three over the course of a 7-night sailing. But before you abandon your plans to visit the Acropolis of Athens or the Great Barrier Reef, there is another way to make the most of any available shore time.
Tara Cain, author of The Sticky Fingers Blog, believes that venturing out on your own is not only the best way to take in the local culture, but can shave hundreds from your shore days costs. She says: “Another money saving tip during port days is to go solo when you’re on shore. Do your research before you arrive and go native! Jump in a taxi and sightsee on your own. There are plenty of tips and advice from those who have tried it before if you search online.”
Gretta Schifano agrees, saying: “When you get to a port during your cruise, don’t feel obliged to pay for the official cruise excursions. You can book an independent excursion, hire a car or explore on foot or by public transport, all of which are probably much cheaper than the excursions which are laid on for passengers by the cruise lines.”
Where to Find Onboard Deals and Discounts
The deals and discounts don’t stop when you’re onboard. Indeed, if you know where to look you can make great savings on everything from food and drink to jewellery, perfume, gifts and even your next cruise. Where can I find these deals and reductions? We hear you ask. Our panel of experts can tell you more.
Most cruise lines deliver a daily newsletter to guests, and alongside essential information like the weather forecast and the day’s entertainment programme, but these reminders also contain deals and discounts that could save you money.
Jamie Edwards of Explore With Ed can testify to the great deals on offer in cruise ship newsletters. He says: “It’s worth keeping an eye on the cruise ships newsletter that’s delivered to your cabin each night on most cruise ships. Inside you’ll discover upcoming offers on spa treatments, packages and speciality restaurants, along with the ‘drink of the day’ offered at a reduced price.”
Onboard Shopping and Freebies
Keen to make the most of affordable, duty-free shopping during your time at sea? Before you splash the cash, Emrys Thakkar of Cruise Hive offers this essential advice:
“Getting a good deal onboard the cruise ship can help you save money and make it stretch even further. While there are many ways to save money, the onboard tax and duty-free shops are centre stage when using your money on the ship and getting a good deal.
“You might notice that the shops will have different sales each day of the cruise. Take note: the items you see on sale or on the tables outside the shops will only be available for that time. Staff will often put the stock away after that day and you’ll never see it again.
“Another way to save during the voyage is to head to the shops on the last day (the day before disembarking). Staff will often bring out the very best discounts that guests can take full advantage of. All kinds of merchandise will be available at a low price, along with many items never seen before during the cruise. To avoid long lines on the last day, try going at lunch or dinner time.
“Freebies are a big thing in the onboard shops and are a great way to entice guests to purchase. You’ll be surprised at the amount of ‘Gift with Purchase’ items are available! From luxury watches to liquor, the staff are always willing to throw in a freebie to make that sale.
“Depending on the cruise line there are a lot more ways to get freebies and great deals onboard the vessel. Try to keep a close eye on activities each day. Just by attending, passengers can get a free gift, special discount, free drinks and a lot more.”
Port Days and Embarkation Day Deals
When your ship makes port and your fellow travellers head ashore, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of a great range of discounts, offers and reductions on everything from spa treatments to food and drink. Cruise lines are keen to entice guests to stay aboard and spend, so will introduce a range of offers when the ship is due to dock — so you can indulge whilst enjoying a little peace and quiet.
Tara Cain of The Sticky Fingers Blog has experienced first-hand the wonderful deals and discounts available during port days, and offers this advice: “If you really want to splash out and treat yourself to a spa treatment while you’re onboard your cruise ship, book them during port days when many of the ship’s passengers will be disembarking. There will often be offers during these quieter times, so check the daily newsletter or ask at the spa for details of offers.”
The same goes for embarkation day, too. Cruise lines know that most guests will simply want to explore the ship when they first arrive onboard, and so offer great discounts on onboard services to get you through the door. Emma Gray of Emma’s Travel Tales offers this advice for taking advantage of embarkation day deals:
“Embarkation day offers can be a fantastic way of saving a bit of money. Usually, on embarkation day cruise lines will offer introductory offers on things like spa treatments, speciality dining and drinks packages. Wander around the ship once you’ve arrived and you’ll be sure to see staff members offering some great deals.”
Loyalty Schemes and Discounts
If you plan on returning to the same cruise line for a second, third or even fourth ocean voyage, we’d recommend signing up to the line’s loyalty programme. All the major cruise lines offer points-based loyalty schemes, and if you collect enough points you’ll be entitled to special perks, rewards and benefits – including free drinks packages, money-off vouchers, cabin upgrades and even free nights aboard.
Staying loyal to one cruise line can make a huge difference to how much you spend on your annual cruise, as Gary Bembridge explains: “The best way to get things for free is by being loyal to one cruise line. As you work your way through the loyalty program levels, you will increase your chances of being upgraded, getting free Wi-Fi, and discounts on onboard spend. A number of lines even give free cruises when you achieve certain levels. This is the only ‘real’ way to get free things when it comes to cruising.”
Emma Gray agrees, noting that many cruise lines offer cabin upgrades as part of their loyalty rewards scheme. She says: “There are so many ways to help save a little cash on your cruise adventures. You’ll save some money by booking with the same cruise line each time you sail, as they offer loyalty discounts or perks. Booking with the same cruise company will also give you the chance of getting a free upgrade, if available. Cruise lines always offer upgrades to their loyal customers first and who wouldn’t want to be upgraded to a better stateroom free of charge?!”
Booking Onboard — A Good Idea?
So, you’ve been on your first cruise and can’t wait to book your second — but when’s the best time to book? Most cruise lines give you the option to book your next cruise whilst you’re still travelling the oceans, but does this option really offer the best value for money?
Jamie Edwards thinks so, listing bonus onboard credit as one of the main benefits of booking your next cruise during your current sailing. And Sue Bryant agrees, offering this advice for those considering booking their next cruise onboard:
“Booking your next cruise onboard can be a big money-saver, too. Look out for incentives such as cabin upgrades, free all-inclusive offers, reduced or no single supplements if you’re sailing solo, or decent loyalty discounts. Remember, cruise lines love early bookers. You won’t be able to haggle about the price but you may be able to negotiate a couple of perks if you’re prepared to commit on the spot.”
But you don’t have to book onboard to make a saving, and sometimes this might not be the best option for you, particularly if you’re keen on travelling with another cruise line. Emma Gray of Emma’s Travel Tales believes that cruisers should be wary of booking onboard, saying:
“You’ll usually see some ‘special offers’ for booking your next cruise holiday onboard. Whilst sometimes these really are fantastic offers, other times they appear good but are actually the same – or more expensive – than you could find elsewhere. Don’t be pressured into booking straight away and, if possible, do a quick internet search to see if you could get better elsewhere – or speak to your favourite travel agent.”
Now that you’re armed with a few useful hints and tips on how to save money on your next cruise, it’s time to get your next getaway booked. Check out our fantastic range of affordable cruise deals, helping you set sail on your dream holiday for less.