Recently, I’ve heard more and more people choosing a cruise line for travel. While I prefer the affordability and escape of a good regional trip myself — we are headed to Hot Springs, Ark., for spring break — I’m interested in the cruise experience and planning that goes behind it.
You can, of course, have a planner make arrangements for you, but how expensive are they, and what are the best tips to make the trip as affordable as possible? Here’s what I learned from the frequent cruisers I know:
Understand what’s included
Most cruises include food along with room and board as well as standard beverages like water and tea. Often, however, alcohol/specialty beverages are separate as are all excursions off the boat.
Never miss a local story.
Many people don’t realize that most ports (there are a few) aren’t directly on a beach, so you don’t simply walk off the ship onto a picturesque stopping ground. If you want to get out into town or visit a destination, you’ll have to sign up and pay for an excursion.
You’re also charged for gratuity for the aspects of your room service (cleaning services, linen turndown, etc.). You have the option to pay in advance or on the credit card you have on file, but it’s important to understand that’s not part of your original payment or reservation.
Be smart about meals
The vast majority of meals on board are covered with your reservation, including room service. However, there are sometimes higher-end restaurants on board that cost above and beyond as well as on-land restaurants that obviously are not associated with the cruise.
If you want to watch your spending, I recommend you take advantage of the meals available to you on board. You are already paying for it, so otherwise you are double paying for food and drink.
Plan your excursions wisely
It can really be hard to choose excursions if it’s your first cruise. There are culture-immersion, relaxing beach and adventure options with price ranges that run the gamut.
Some are all-day and some are only a few hours. But if you overextend your itinerary, you can end up spending a lot more on your trip.
Really think through what you want your trip to look like. If you want to relax and not run from place to place, space out your excursions and your payout. Or consider a mix of adventure and relaxation.
If a cruise is in your future, don’t hop on board until you have a financial plan in mind. Your trip will be much more relaxing and affordable if you’re not slapped with a hefty bill once you hit the final dock. Bon voyage!
Kat’s Money Corner is posted on Dollars & Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little ones, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, visit http://communityamerica.com.