Savvy Tips for Saving Money


The cost of cruising has dropped dramatically over the last few years, and it's become affordable for almost everyone as a vacation alternative. But many of us could afford to cruise even more often if we could just cut down on all the extra onboard and on-shore costs, above and beyond the actual cruise fare. I'm going to give you some "kuki" tips on saving those all-important dollars.

A good place to star is by restricting your spouse's spending habits. Once we're in the cabin, I usually do this by tying Mrs. Kuki to a bedpost. In the past, I used to tie her to the bar that runs across the closet, but she's a nice lady and seems to deserve some comfort, so I've taken to using the bedposts.

All right, so I haven't really ever done that. But it is very easy to get caught up in spending a lot of time and money in the ship's onboard shops. You can buy everything from munchies to watches to diamond jewelry. But you really have to ask yourself if these shops, with no competition around, are really the best place to make upscale purchases.

Forgetting the expensive watches and jewelry, it's almost as easy to add digits to your onboard expenses by loading up on cruise line signature wear, t-shirts, "designer watch sales," and "gold by the inch". Those passengers "in the know" tell everyone to wait for the last day, when the cruise line needs to get rid of its merchandise because the cruise is almost over. At least, this is how Mrs. Kuki justifies a final binge.

"Now, just wait a sec," I ask Mrs. Kuki. "Doesn't this ship turn right around and leave tomorrow with an entirely new customer base for these shops?"

"Don't look at me that way, dear," she replies. "I apologize profusely for taking a reasonable approach. Can I hold those shopping bags for you?"

But if you are one of life's unfortunates who was born with that "must shop" gene, you should indeed wait until the last day or two of the cruise, because the shops onboard do indeed discount many items.

Most of the cruise lines also offer "art auctions" onboard, and I'm told these generate a considerable amount of revenue for them. While some people will swear they made excellent purchases at the auctions, I felt I had been "caught" when I found myself explaining, "This is the van Gogh I bought in the Disco.

Outside the cost of the cruise, and the possibly exorbitant bill for all the alcoholic beverages you consume, the largest extra expenses you face will likely be the cost of shore excursions. The cruise lines contract with various tour companies in all their ports. They add in their own profit margin, and then sell the tours to you. In some cases, a member of the cruise line staff will escort the tour group to help out the passengers and the tour guide.

The key, I believe, is to choose your tours carefully. In ports where you're planning a simple day at the beach and some souvenir shopping, there's normally no need to book a ship's excursion. Local transportation like taxis or buses will be available at the pier, for significant savings.

Many Caribbean ports now have fixed, posted rates for taxis from the pier to the various locations on the island. If you plan to deviate from a set route, be sure to negotiate your rate in advance, and don't pay until you are at your final destination -- or back at the ship, if that was part of your agreement.

On more exotic itineraries, or if you have particular activities in mind, you might want to book ship's excursions. However, by choosing those that rely somewhat on your independence, you can often save money. For example, when you want to visit cities like Paris or Rome, you usually have a choice. You can buy an inclusive all-day tour that comes with a lunch stop, museum admissions, etc. Or for considerably less, you can book a tour that simply transports you to the city and then back to the ship at a pre-set time. The key is researching the city, so you know in advance what you want to see and do -- and being responsible for your own time. (For instance, you don't want to find yourself taking a picture of a villa on a hillside in France as the sun sets and suddenly realize your ship sails at 4 p.m.)

Aboard the ship, your expenses can add up quickly if you don't set at least an approximate budget in advance and try to stick to it in your daily activities. Buy your friends a couple of rounds of drinks, or make an unplanned stop in the casino, and you can easily find yourself spending $100 or more.

Here's an easy money-saver that I often use: Memorize the folio number of a friend's shipboard charge card, and give that number to the bartenders when purchasing drinks. (This sometimes leads to further savings: I can't spend any money while I'm in the ship's brig, after being caught.)

Rather than taking such extreme measures, I suggest the average cruiser establish a budget, as they might at home, and try to stick fairly close to your own guidelines. You're the only ones who know how much you can afford to spend on your vacation. You want your cruise to be fun, but you don't want to come home to a debt you can't afford to pay.

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