Cruising on a Budget
Cruising is enjoyable and fun for us. We love being able to sit back, be wined and dined, have our room cleaned, and wake up in new locations. It is one of our most favorite things to do. However, cruises can be quite expensive unless you know how to find the right one. We are always on a budget when we travel, and money spent towards an expensive cruise fare is money we cannot spend on experiences. So, we try to have the best of both worlds.
We do this by booking repositioning cruises. A repositioning cruises can be an extremely cheap way to travel from one continent to another all the while enjoying the relaxing environment of a cruise. Oftentimes the ports are destinations that would cost thousands of dollars in airline fees for an American to visit. Even more, by cruising rather than flying, you can extend your travel budget, maintain healthy sleep cycles and completely avoid the exhausting hustle and bustle of the airports. It has become our preferred method of traveling the world, taking four repositioning cruises in twelve months. But, they do not last long. Repositioning cruises tend to fill up quickly.
What is a repositioning cruise?
A repositioning cruise occurs when a cruise company is shifting a cruiseliner from one part of the world to another in order to take advantage of a busier tourist season and, oftentimes, offering discounted cruise fares rather than sailing empty. Many times the itineraries on these repositioning cruises have fewer ports than their busy tourist season counterparts. However, what you may lose in port destinations you make up for in rest and relaxation by spending many glorious days at sea.
An example of one such cruise can be found here. This cruise is days away and one we will personally be passengers on that cost us $63 per day per person; that includes all associated fees. There are a lot of cruise deals like this. We are constantly searching for them and use these three helpful websites:
2: Cruise Sheet
These sites really help us in finding affordable cruises. They request an email address in order to send cruise information you might be interested in, which we find helpful. They do not email often and you can input your preferred filters to further narrow the email notifications.
In 2019-2020, we will have embarked on four repositioning cruise adventures, each costing us approximately $120/day, or $60/day/person, including fees and gratuities. This is what you can expect when you target an off-peak season cruise.
Off-peak season is the key here. The cruises are discounted because this is the time of year when most people are not traveling. It helps to maintain flexibility in your travel schedule to accommodate for the cruise liner repositions.
We often see cruise liners disembarking from US ports in February – April to cater to European tourist season in the Mediterranean. Those ships often make the voyage back to US ports in the September – December months, getting ready for the Caribbean holiday tourists. But, these are not the only routes repositioning cruise liners take – they occur all over the planet.
In December 2020, we will embark on an amazingly cheap repositioning cruise to Santiago, Chile from Miami, Florida during which we will make the full Panama Canal passage (a bucket list item for us). The cruise is rare in that it is listed for $30/day (port fees and gratuities not included) and has a packed itinerary, so we will get to travel cheaply and see a lot of ports. You can see the cruise in all its glory here.
Cheap cruises like this are out there. We see them all the time and really believe they are the most affordable way to long-term travel. Usually, you can expect to pay around $60 per person per day; this is a realistic price point when including the oftentimes omitted additional port fees and forced gratuities. Keep these fees in mind when you are considering prices. We like to go through the entire process of booking the cruise on whatever website we are using, all the way through to the payment screen. Once on the payment screen you will be shown the actual price. If the price is within your budget, book it! Keep in mind that the gratuities are added after your cruise to the credit card on record and are usually around $15 per person per day. The gratuities are automatically applied to your credit card on record but you can cancel those charges once you arrive on this ship and tip in cash at your preferred amount.
The seasons that we see repositioning cruise occuring are sometimes referred to as shoulder seasons. Different parts of the world will have specific shoulder seasons, but the American and European markets are by far the largest – hence the Transatlantic repositioning cruise being the most common repositioning cruise.
To help narrow your search, below are regions with their respective shoulder season months:
A. European Shoulder season: March – April & Sept. – Nov.
B. American Shoulder season: April – May & Oct. – Nov.
C. Alaskan Shoulder season: May – June & Sept.
D. Asian Shoulder season: May – June & Sept. – Oct.
But, it is not as simple as just booking a respositioning cruise if you want to keep your travel costs low. Follow these few guidelines to ensure you are getting the most cruise for the lowest price:
Choose an inside cabin for the cheapest fare – To travel cheaply on a cruise often means to travel in a stateroom. You will have all the perks everyone else has on the ship, but will have a quaint (read: small) room. Perfect for sleeping, getting ready, and keeping your belongings in, but not for much more.
We have always booked a Guaranteed Stateroom in hopes we would receive a complimentary upgrade. This has yet to materialize, but we will continue to give it a shot. When selecting a guaranteed stateroom, you are not selecting a certain room. Rather, you are allowing the cruise line to pick your room for you. The hope is they will sell out of all the staterooms and will be forced to upgrade your room to a balcony at no additional charge. Fingers crossed!
We do not spend much time in the room, so we do not necessarily care where we are placed. We like to find a spot on the ship where we can hole up and read a good book, do some blogging, or cross-stitching. An added benefit of being in a stateroom is there are no windows, which means we get quality sleep.
* Room Tip: Bring a magnet or piece of duct tape to put over the door viewer so it is not shining light from the hallway directly in your eye.
See the shows – We like to attend all the complimentary shows and presentations the cruise line schedules – we are suckers for these sorts of things. We have noticed that repositioning cruises tend to be heavy on the entertainment side, offering much more than the 7-day long cruises we have been on. This is how they make up for the lack of ports and keep everyone entertained on the many sea days.
Book your cruise 12-16 months in advance or 1-2 months before departure – We prefer to book them far in advance. If you have read any of our other posts then you know we are planners. Booking early also allows us to ensure we have any travel documentation we may need, review the relevant visa requirements, and budget our finances.
When booking last minute you can often find the cheapest fare, cheaper than 12-16 months in advance. You have to be bold and have guts here because the undesired price hike can also happen. We just shoot for a $60 per night per person and if it meets this threshold, we book it. We would rather not stress it and know our next leg of the travels.
We have recently booked a short notice (two months in advance) December cruise out of Miami that will take us through the Panama Canal and into South America (See Here). The fare was low ($30/night/person) but it has large port fees due to a packed itinerary that looks spectacular. It cost us $157/day, or $78/day/person (this amount has the automatic gratuity fee included). We point this out to show that the list price is not the price you want to use in your budget; include all the fees.
We like to use Cruise Sheet to find our cruise. You can elect for an automated email notification if certain criteria are met within your parameters which makes cruise hunting much easier. Once we find the cruise, we typically use Priceline to book everything because we can earn a 10% cashback rebate from TopCashBack or Swagbucks. We also like to utilize credit cards to further reduce our cruise fare which we explain in How to Take Advantage of Credit Cards for Long-Term Travel.
For more information on how we finance our travels visit: Financial Planning for Long-Term Travel.
Skip the drink package deal – We have found it would be almost impossible for us to consume enough alcohol to make the drink package worth it. Plus, if you are planning to do long-term travel you will need to take a serious look at your health. For us, the cruise is a fantastic way to travel. It makes the long distances so enjoyable to traverse. The cruise is not a time we let loose and make it rain. We save that for times when we are with family and friends. But we have found a few ways that we can have an affordable drink on board:
1. Share a Fosters beer – this is the largest beer behind the bar that is offered at the best price, $9.00 on our November 2019 cruise. We are not picky. We are just looking for that beer taste and Fosters is our go to on a cruise. It fills up two glasses which allows Ashley and I to enjoy a beer together.
2. Attend the Art Auction – it can be painful to sit through but you are treated to complimentary champagne. If you are lucky the server may allow you to have two. We always ask for another and have yet to be denied.
3. Meet the Ship’s Captain – an event that usually occurs within the first few days of the cruise and another opportunity for a complimentary champagne.
4. Most cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine per room. Restrictions are placed on higher content alcohol but wine is allowed to be brought into your room.
5. Check out the cruise ship’s happy hour. You can usually find $3-$4 drinks during the defined happy hours. Take notice of the different happy hours as many of the bars onboard are on a unique rotating schedule.
6. If you are on a Royal Caribbean cruise then you will likely see an offer for Free Liquor Tasting and Sale, Royal Shops. There generally is not a large crowd at this event and it’s a good way to catch a few different shots of the liquors that are offered at the cruise bars. If you are like us then you are going there simply to get our alcohol fix. The cruise staff are really generous with offering many shots and are happy to engage you in conversation. These conversations are where we learn the scoop on the different countries we plan to visit.
7. There is sometimes a Welcome Reception where the cruise offers a free glass of Champagne. Similar to the Captain’s Greeting but typically held in the Jewelry Store. We really like this one and do our best to attend each time. Our last cruise we went back for seconds and were not denied. I suppose we could have stuck around for a third but after the liquor tasting and glass of Champagne, we had our fill. Actually, we took the second glass of Champagne back to our room with the plan to have it with dinner. Ashley had a little motion sickness, so they just sat in the room loosing their bubbles and zest. Next time.
8. Preloaded SeaPass Deals – Sometimes you will have pre-loaded offer on your SeaPass Card. This seems to vary from ship to ship as we have only received this type of deal one time. One of the pre-loaded offers we received was “Buy any wine, beer or soda by the glass and get a second (of equal or lesser value) FREE.” This is a good way to fill your thirst on a budget. The cost of beers run from $7-$10, where wine prices vary significantly. Most cocktails will run you upwards of $12 per glass. Ashley loves the Let’s get Fizzical.
Disconnect completely – We have never purchased an internet package. Rather, we opt to pick one day at sea where we do all our internet work and pay for single day access. We have just never found it so necessary to be able to be connect all the time. Still, we have our share of responsibilities back home. The way we approach this is by giving a friend/family member a credit card and letting them know that we trust their judgement in the event a disaster happens. So far, no disasters.
It is nice to disconnect on the ship though. When we were first embarking on our traveling adventures we needed the time on the first ship to really relax, decompress and settle into long-term travel. It was so helpful. Even so, having the option of buying the internet on a daily basis is most conducive to our budget.
However, if you are interested in having internet for the duration of your while maintaining a low budget focus, you also have the option of joining a group like Cruise Critic to score a cheaper internet alternative. The website offers ship and route reviews, and brings passengers together online. We have seen passengers grouping together and splitting an Internet Package deal. The package allows up to four devices to be connected. Each group member will be able to use one device while paying a fraction of the internet package. It could mean paying ~$9.00/day for the duration of your cruise; a good deal for internet while cruising. We are trying this method on our disembarking cruise next week and will write about our experience! One last mention on this topic: most cruise ports will have cafes that have free WiFi so here is another option for free internet while cruising.
Dine only at the complimentary restaurant options – We usually do not see the need to pay for any additional food options. Since we are on a budget and trying to travel long-term in the most affordable way, we rarely pay for the specialty restaurants on the cruise ship. It just does not make sense when the four-course complimentary dining hall options are great quality. It seems to be the same food from the same kitchen prepared in the same way.
If specality dining is your type of thing and you have the budget to stretch, choosing a specialty dinner is a legitimate way to spend a special evening. We have tried this twice in the past on shorter cruises. We had fun and enjoyed each other’s company, but find the quality of food is not much different than the main dining hall’s offering that is already included in the fare. Even so, we have on many occasions chatted with folks who find this dining option their preference. To each their own.
One of our most favorite times of the day is breakfast in the Main Dining Hall. This is a much different speed than at the buffet breakfast and a fantastic way to engage people in conversation. Many of the long cruises we take are full of retired people, usually much older than us. Therefore, we sometimes stick to ourselves rather than being extroverted and chatting people up. This breakfast is a fun time that we get to know our cruise mates while being jacked up on a little caffeine. We always chose open seating for the breakfast, allowing the host to sit us at whatever table they like. We like this because it gives us an easy way to meet many different people.
It’s a similar set up to the evening Main Dining option. You are offered a menu and are free to pick as many courses as you like. You also have the option of grabbing a plate and hitting the buffet. We usually choose from the menu but the food is basically the same. We just like the speed that the food comes out, giving us the opportunity to strike up conversation and learn about the people we are cruising with. If sitting with other people isn’t your thing than you can opt for a table to fit your party.
How to get FREE cash on your cruise – If you booked a cruise with free onboard credits then there is a fun trick to effectively pull that money out and put it in your pocket. All you have to do is visit the casino, load the amount of onboard credits you have on your SeaPass card by interesting your card into a slot machine. Once you have the money loaded on the card simply cash out the card. The slot machine will print a receipt with the amount of money you loaded on the card. Take that receipt to the cash window. Boom! You have FREE money in your hand. Then go use it at the Blackjack table or while you are at port. It’s a shame to leave money loaded on your card but it has happened to us.
Hopefully, this was helpful to your trip planning. We would love to hear your feedback, your experiences with repositioning cruises and any tips you may have.
Let us know your questions, thoughts, and personal experiences on cruises in the comment section below.