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How We Cruise on a Budget

At first a cruise may not seem like the most budget friendly way to take a vacation as a family, but there are ways to keep costs down. Cruising on a budget takes planning but it's totally doable!

We are very lucky because we live within driving distance to several ports, which saves us quite a lot in the way of airfare or overnight stays just getting to the cruise ship.

Because we can drive just a few hours and be at a port, we look at these vacations as a very easy way to take a family vacation. Honestly, we'd rather take our kids on an epic road trip across the U.S. or to Europe but a cruise ends up being a very frugal vacation choice for our family.

We don't care about going on the fanciest ships with all the greatest amenities. I'm sure they are amazing, but because we have a limited vacation fund we need to make the dollars go as far as we can.  Vacations are a way to spend time together as a family and we don't get sucked into the “gotta haves” when it comes to vacation plans. And for us, that means going more places more often.

We could absolutely take a Disney Cruise and would LOVE to! However, we would rather take two or three frugal cruises for about the same cost of a Disney Cruise because that means we get MORE vacations....like when we took our children to Europe for two weeks!

Cruise ships in port

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7 Tips for Planning a Cruise on a Budget

How to Save Money Before you Cruise

1. Book interior or ocean view rooms.

This is probably the number one way to cruise on a budget.

While I do prefer to have an ocean view, we've booked interior rooms and have been completely content. When we are in the room (rarely when cruising with the kids) it's only to sleep or change clothes!

We did book a balcony room one time, but because the kids spent the entire cruise in the pool we didn't really get to enjoy the balcony as much as I would have liked! So for us, at this point, we won't use our cruise budget on a balcony room!

We will possibly splurge on a balcony in the future when the kids are older or if my husband and I take a couples-only cruise.

You can find really great deals on balcony rooms on some ships -- you just have to be flexible on your dates. Most holidays and school break dates are not the best time to find deals on balcony rooms.

2. Don’t buy things JUST for the cruise.

I promise you DO NOT NEED that new dress for formal dinner night.

It's true...some people get very dressed up, and if I had a really nice cocktail dress I probably would bring mine to wear for that dinner night. I do not own a cocktail dress, and I'm not going to buy one simply for one night on a cruise. It's simply not how I spend my cruise budget! Not everyone is dressed in formal attire. The dining staff doesn't want to see you in flip-flops and jean shorts, but a nice pair of pants and a top or even a simple cotton dress will do the trick.

You truly don’t need to buy “cruise attire” because everything you currently wear for summer will be perfectly fine!

Don't Spend Your Cruise Money on Beverages

3. Do not purchase any additional drink packages.

We don't drink sodas in general so the kids don't expect it. Plus it's just an extra added expense that is simply not necessary for us.

As far as alcoholic beverages, we generally don’t drink very much anyway, especially when we're on vacation with the kids. So purchasing an alcoholic drink package makes little sense for our family. (See our tip below for bringing wine.)

Discuss this budget item with your family members BEFORE you set sail.  Setting the expectations ahead of time will help!

4. Bring your own wine on the cruise ship.

Typically on cruises, each adult is allowed to bring aboard one bottle of wine. So depending on your wine preference, being able to take two bottles of wine on the ship can be a huge savings.

If you travel with other adults who do not drink, be sure to ask if you can pack a bottle of wine in their suitcase as well.

On our last cruise, we were able to take two additional bottles of wine because my mom and her husband do not drink. So my husband and I had more than enough wine for the entire cruise!

We asked for wine glasses from one of the many bars on the way back to our room to get ready for dinner. Before we headed to the dining room we filled our glass up.

To. The. Rim.

We walked down to the dining room with our glasses of wine and enjoyed it during dinner!

If you take your bottle of wine to the dining room they charge a corkage fee and then it really doesn’t save you any money. So grab a glass, fill it up, and carry it with you to dinner!

Bonus tip: bring screw top wine so you don't have to bother bringing a corkscrew!

Activities at Cruise Ports

5. Bring our own snorkels.

Purchasing a snorkel and mask set for $20 to $25 ahead of time saves us significant money because our children can use their snorkeling mask set for many months, if not years, after. If you don’t take your own, be prepared to rent sets for $15-$30 on the beaches. We’d rather spend the same amount of money once and pack our own so we can get more use out of the snorkel sets and have more cash for activities.

6. Go to free beaches at the cruise ports you are stopping in.

You don't HAVE to book an excursion.

I know many people cruise specifically for excursions. But, if you are like my family and our vacation budget is very limited you may not be able to add an excursion to your cruise budget.

Find a local beach to go to instead! 

Sometimes there is a free beach within walking distance. Other times you may have to take a cab. However, the round trip cab fare ends up being significantly cheaper compared to purchasing an excursion.

We have booked excursions, but those usually end up being gifts from grandparents (the most perfect birthday or holiday gifts!).

As our kids are getting older, we’ve started having the discussion with them that if they want to begin booking excursions they will have to participate in earning money to help pay for them.

7. Don’t book spa treatments.

Don’t get me wrong.

There's nothing I would love more than to get a massage while on vacation.

But at the end of the day, we have a limited budget and we have to make it stretch as far as we can.

Just because you take a cruise it doesn't mean you have to take advantage of everything offered.    Spa treatments on a cruise ship are pricey!

Beach on a cruise vacation

In Conclusion...

We don’t look at our cruise vacations as an over-the-top experience.

We go to relax, have fun, spend time together, and possibly get a little sun.

Just because there are SO many add-on activities and options doesn’t mean we HAVE to participate. Setting the expectations at home with our family before we even leave for our vacation helps. We let the kids know there will be so many things that will be tempting but that we simply do not have it in the budget for all of them.  It's either cruise frugally or not at all for us.

Give yourself permission to be satisfied with whatever experiences you can afford and enjoy the time spent with your family.  You don’t have to experience every single add on to make your cruise amazing. Just being there will be enough!

• Read a book.  
• Play cards.
• Nap by the pool.
• Have a conversation.

Enjoy your family.

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