The Perfect Cruise Vacation – How to Spend Less For the Very Best

Who ya gonna call? –

Where do you buy your cruise tickets to get the best price? Should you buy from a traditional travel agent, an online mega-seller or direct from the cruise line? Surprisingly, when it comes to the base fare, it doesn’t make much difference. Price variation is more contingent on qualifying for a particular type of discount; promotional, seasonal, past passenger, military or last minute booking- than on where you buy your ticket. The real variables between booking channels are in the level of service provided during the process and perks offered. So read on to learn how to max the experience while making sure you are getting the best value. cruise booking

When trying to determine actual price from the advertised price, cruise fares can be almost as maddening as airline pricing. Advertised cruise prices are often misleading and unnecessarily vague. Published prices are always per person based on double occupancy. Additional people occupying the same cabin pay less…usually a lot less. Port taxes and other fees are considerable and are the same for everybody, regardless of category and whether they are the first or fifth person in the cabin. The add-on fees and taxes when combined with the base fare have been known to add 20% to 50% to the total per person, especially on shorter, already deeply discounted cruises. Always remember to ask about price inclusive of all fees and taxes- or note the fine print if you are reading a brochure. Some cruise lines include the added fees in their advertised prices, most do not. Always ask.

How to qualify for discounts –

The most common discounts are seasonal, last minute, military, geographical, past passenger, senior citizen, positioning itineraries, promotional and distressed categories.

Seasonal – Caribbean cruises are typically discounted in the fall. Alaska cruises will be cheaper at the beginning and end of the season (May, September and October). Ditto for European and Mediterranean cruises – avoid the peak months of July and August and you’ll probably snag a good deal. theprerollguys

Last Minute – Waiting to book can also lead to a great bargain, especially if you are prepared to depart on short notice, having no strong preferences on which ship or itinerary.

Military – Tell the agent that you won the Medal of Honor fighting alongside Sgt York at the Battle of Verdun and you might get an extra 5% to 10% off.

Geographical – Sometimes small discounts will be available because of where you live – say in Paris, Texas instead of Paris, Tennessee. (Don’t ask why – it is something known only to cruise line executives.)

Past Passenger – lines will frequently offer discounts and/or perks to loyal customers -depending on the number of previous cruises with that particular cruise line.

Senior Citizen – If you are over age 55, ask if an age related discount is available.

Promotional – These kind of discounts can rear their pretty little heads for any number of reasons – again, some only known by cruise lines executives.

Positioning Cruises – These are necessary but less popular itineraries needed to get the ship from one seasonal station to another – say, from Miami to Seattle for the Alaska season. These itineraries are available mostly in the spring and fall and almost always offer deep discounts. But be forewarned – these positioning cruises involve long days at sea and fewer ports. This is especially true of trans-Atlantic positioning cruises. meridianshrooms

Category Sale – Another frequent price promotion – a ship may be over-sold in one category and grossly under-sold in another; resulting in deep discounts on the latter.

How to get the most perks –

Many times it is as simple as asking! If you are working with a travel agent, have the TA quiz the cruise line reservations department about any and all available promotions and perks on the sailing(s) that interest you. A good, experienced agent will have a long laundry list of possible perks for which you might be qualified. Or, if booking direct with the cruise line, use what you have learned here about booking direct- but you will need to play the role of Grand Perk Inquisitor yourself.

People who are associated with a group of passengers traveling on the same sailing will automatically qualify for some combination of perks- such as category upgrades, on board spending credits, free photo, bottle of wine, private meetings, a free shore excursion, etc. slot gator

Tip – What most would-be cruisers don’t know is that you only need to be associated with the group on cruise passenger list – not literally. Hence, you only need to find an agency or online consolidator that has group space reserved on cruises that match your desired dates and destination- and before you know it you’re cruising in Perk City. Additionally, if the group is a theme group lead by a celebrity- you might find yourself temporarily basking in the glow and glory of one of your all time idols. Imagine the thrill of being part of the Simon Cowell School of Charm Cruise – complete with an in-the-flesh tongue lashing and public humiliation by Mr. Warm & Fuzzy himself!

Many mega-agencies will have hundreds of departures available with blocked group space into which they can slip perk hungry purchasers.

How to keep on board costs low –

Cruises were once all-inclusive – one price paid for everything. Today the cruise fare can pale in comparison to the bill you receive at the end of your cruise. There are so many extra cost options – you need to manage those activities as you go.

On board you have no need to carry cash, a credit card or even your wallet on your person – you are issued one card with a magnetic stripe that does triple duty as your room key, on board spending card and boarding pass. You can purchase anything on board with this little piece of plastic convenience in your pocket- alcohol, soft drinks, gift shop items, shore excursions, photographs, spa treatments, art work, surcharges for alternative restaurants, internet access, ship to shore phone calls- you can even buy chips for gambling in the casino.

Tip – many ships now allow real time access to your on board spending tab at any time from the closed circuit TV in your cabin- displaying a current, up-to-the-minute running total – with details for each line item. So, you can rein in spending if it appears to be getting out of hand. Plus, you can call the front desk at any time to dispute an item if you think the charge is incorrect or excessive for any reason.

Tip toe lightly through the minefield of extra costs –

Alcoholic beverages – Booze is always at extra cost with prices running about what you would expect to pay for similar service in a moderately upscale on-shore establishment.

Sodas – priced from $2 to $4 per soda depending on ship and cruise line – if you consume soda daily best bet is to buy the flat rate “unlimited sodas” option for duration of the cruise.

Wine – always at extra cost with prices running about what you would expect to pay for similar in a moderately upscale on-shore establishment – there will be some “freebies” like at the Captain’s Welcome Aboard party or a complimentary bottle if it is your anniversary.

Specialty & Alternative restaurants – most have surcharges of $15 to $40 per person per reservation – the average being about $30. In our opinion the price is well worth paying for a night or two – especially if you want to experience elegant, high-end dining at a level that could easily cost $100 or more per person in a similarly upscale shore side establishment.

Internet access – Available on most ships, you can purchase a basket of minutes for a fixed price. To economize on these dearly priced minutes, read and compose email offline – then log on just for sending and receiving.

Ship to shore phone calls – forget about it! Charges run $2 to $3 PER MINUTE! Buy the Internet access plan instead – then use Skype from your laptop. Plus, your regular cell phone will work on occasion – especially if you are departing from a US port and near land. My Sprint phone usually works just fine from the deck of the ship when within 5 or 6 miles of Miami, Ft Lauderdale or any US island like St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, etc.

Coffee bar – Although regular coffee at meals is included in the cruise fare, you are charged extra for specialty coffees such as espressos and cappuccinos – priced at about what you would expect to pay at Starbucks.

Photos/videos – They are grossly over-priced but it’s a captive audience, so they can get away with it. Even so, you might want to go ahead and buy one or two. My spouse and I always like to get a classy shot of us all dressed up in our matching pink satin bib overalls on formal night.

Shore Excursions – another huge profit center and usually way over-priced – but there’s good news; there are now highly reputable and reliable third party options that can save you a ton of money. is a good example.

Art Auctions – Usually held on days at sea to insure a captive audience, these events are intentionally set in a high trafficked public place to guarantee that innocent victims strolling by will be sucked in by the slick, silver-tongued Art Auction barker. You are cautioned to hold your hand firmly over your pocketbook when in proximity, as well as averting your eyes, humming loudly to yourself to drown out the beguiling sales pitch. It is our personal theory that these Pimped Up Picasso Pushers may be a contributing factor in the recent rash of suicides by jumping overboard. But, that’s just us.



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