Now's the Cheapest Time to Cruise, and Other Money-Saving Cruising Tips

Now's the Cheapest Time to Cruise, and Other Money-Saving Cruising TipsNow's the Cheapest Time to Cruise, and Other Money-Saving Cruising TipsBy Tracy Saelinger


1. FALL AND EARLY JANUARY ARE THE CHEAPEST TIMES TO CRUISE

September to mid-December and the first two weeks of January are generally the least expensive, says Paul Motter, editor of CruiseMates.com and a former cruise ship staff member. Last-minute deals pop up throughout the year, but cruise pricing is a lot like airline and hotel pricing-it's based on demand, so if you see a bargain, grab it. And don't forget to check out cruises from smaller local ports like Baltimore and Seattle, as they can be less expensive to get to than, say, Miami. Photo by Corbis.


2. USE A TRAVEL AGENT

Travel agents book about 80% of cruises; the cruise lines pay their commission. They can get you perks like free transfers from the airport, says Motter. Also, ask your travel agent for a lower-deck room. These are less pricey (and more stable in case of rough seas).


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3. PACK LIGHTLY

Ship quarters can be tight, says John Heald, senior cruise director for Carnival Cruise Lines. On his ships, you can have a big bag of laundry done with same-day service for $15, he says, or use the lower-cost self-serve machines. And formal nights are optional on most lines, so don't pack fancy duds if you don't want to. Motter suggests maximizing space in rooms by bringing a shoe organizer to hang on the door to store sunscreen and cosmetics. "It sounds like a little thing, but it's so helpful!"



4. ROOM SERVICE IS FREE!

Unlike in a hotel, room service food on a ship is free, as are meals in the main dining room or buffet area. Beware, though: The food and drinks in the specialty restaurants as well as sodas and alcoholic drinks in the buffet area will cost you (iced tea and plain coffee are free). That tropical drink they offer you as you board may even be as high as $12. "That's one of their oldest tricks," Motter says.


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5. BOOK A SPA DEAL WHILE THE SHIP IS IN PORT

Keep your eyes peeled for specials happening while the ship is docked-particularly at the spas, which often have huge discounts available when most guests are ashore, Heald says. Also look out for the ship's daily newsletter, which lists events and bargains of the day.


6. GO WITH A MEGA-SHIP FOR THE KIDS

Bigger ships have more for kids to do, such as water parks, age-specific drop-off programs, parades and character breakfasts, says Ken Rush, who is the cruise director for Royal Caribbean International. Some lines even offer a "kids sail free" deal, and Royal Caribbean and Carnival sometimes have special rates if a third or fourth passenger is in your party, even on their ritzy mega-ships.


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7. PLAN YOUR LAND EXCURSIONS CAREFULLY

You can save about 30% by booking activities through local tour groups that will meet you at the ship, Motter says. Find tour companies on sites like ShoreTrips.com and Viator.com, or hail a taxi and head to easy spots like the beach. But watch the clock: If you're late, unlike with a ship-sponsored tour, there's no guarantee the ship will wait.


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