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Saving Money During the Cruise

| 03.06.12

The experienced CruiseMates cruisers tell us how to save money on shipboard charges during a cruise.


We turned to the experienced CruiseMates cruisers to tell us how to save money onboard the ship during a cruise. There were so many great suggestions it would be impossible to use them all, but we think you can certainly pick and choose the ones most fitting your personal cruise style.

In fact, as a mostly inclusive vacation, cruising is already a very good value proposition; you get all of your meals, entertainment and transportation to ports of call included in the price of the cruise. So, to simplify matters let's just say saving money onboard boils down understanding what things are worth buying onboard:

It is easiest to begin with items and services that are not good values:

1. The Casino Even if you enjoy playing slot machines you will probably find that cruise ship casinos do not pay out as generously as Las Vegas or other gambling destinations. For that matter, it is generally true that even Las Vegas does not pay out like it once did. However, I have heard that some people have won big jackpots on cruise ships, so if you want to test the waters, I suggest you set a strict limit on how much you are willing to lose, and don't be disappointed if that happens. If it takes you 30 minutes to lose $50 that is actually pretty good in any casino these days. Most cruise ship casinos I have experienced will take $50 from you in under 10 minutes, easily; on slot machines anyway. But table games like blackjack and craps tend to pay out better, but be aware that tiny rules can work in the favor of the house. For example, if a craps table will not allow double odds, or if a blackjack table uses six decks instead of one or two, the house has an edge. If you happen to get dealt a blackjack the payout should be 3:2, not 6:5. And in any casino, roulette is one of the worst games you can play.

2. Photographers

Shipboard photography used to be a huge money maker for the cruise lines before the advent of digital cameras. Ships used to have several photographers working the crowds every night, and they would print every decent shot and put it on display for sale. Most people spent something to buy some souvenir pictures. But these days the cost of pictures taken by ship photographers has gone up exponentially, as much as $10 for a single 8x10. It just isn't worth the price anymore, especially when you can take literally thousands of digital pictures of your own and view them on your home computer, choosing to print only very specific ones for less than $1.00 apiece.

3. The Spa

The Spa is a wonderful place for an indulgence; however, you should know that spa prices on cruise ships are generally much higher than they are at some of the newer massage franchises like Massage Envy, and about the same price as tony resort spas such as Canyon Ranch. Expect to pay as much as $125 for a 60-minute massage, two to three times what a professional massage therapist will charge on land.

To get the most out of your spa appointment we suggest booking a morning appointment. Most masseuses onboard work all day, and they get tired. Because of their busy schedule they also do not work as hard as many land-based massage therapists. The standard massage treatment on a cruise ship is a "Swedish Massage," also known as "classic massage." You should know that Swedish is a style of massage that does not necessarily focus on deep tissue work. It involves long, flowing strokes, rubbing and kneading. But if you have a knot in your neck or under your shoulder blade what you need is deep tissue work.

If you want a therapeutic massage we suggest you ask for a deep tissue massage, and ask the spa manager which therapist will be best for this style before you book the appointment. Watch out for gimmicks like "fat burning wraps" that they claim will take inches off your body immediately. They won't.

Another aspect of cruise ship massage sessions is the "hard sell" at the end of the session. Therapists are required to try to sell you a certain number of products; body lotions, bath salts, etc. after each session. There is no stopping this, so do not get upset. Just say, "I know you are required to ask me to buy these products, but I really want to just enjoy the afterglow of my massage. So let's just say we have already done this, and I will be on my way." Then thank them and leave.

4. Alcohol Most people want to have a few drinks onboard, but drinks can become expensive. Some cruise lines (Specifically Carnival Corp. brands; Carnival, Cunard, Princess, Holland America, Costa) allow each adult to bring a bottle of wine onboard. You are allowed to drink it in your stateroom. If you take it out of the stateroom, to dinner for example, you will be charged a corkage fee (to open the bottle) of as much as $25. Many cruise lines have drink packages where you can drink as much as you want for a set amount per day. Using Celebrity cruises as an example; a soda package is $14/day while you can have all the beer, wine and cocktails you want for $44/day per person. A premium package allows you to get the better brand names for $54/day. You can get a barroom set up in your stateroom on many cruise lines for about $80 per package. This includes a liter bottle of your favorite spirit plus mixers like tonic or soda.

Do people sneak alcohol aboard the cruise ship? Yes they do, and the cruise line will x-ray your luggage upon boarding and remove any bottles they see, returning them to you on the morning you depart. Obviously, people who sneak alcohol onboard find non-glass and metal-free containers that will not show up on x-ray. We do not advocate breaking the rules; we want to save you the embarrassment of becoming targeted during your embarkation.

5. Gratuities

Service charges are a part of cruising. You should pay the recommended daily amount and no more or less. Every drink and special meal you sign for will already have a service charge added to the price. You will also see a space to add an additional tip. You have already paid the service charge, so there is no reason to pay an additional tip. If you do want to give a crewmember a special tip you should hand it to them in cash very discretely, including your masseuse. Any gratuity you give over by signing a tab will most likely be put into a pool and shared by all the people in that department.

6. Internet Access

Most ships now have Internet access, but they mostly charge anywhere from 30 to 75-cents per minute - although a few luxury cruise lines have moved to a "by the day" model which is really a much better deal. The only way to save money onboard is to log off.

Yes, you can use your iPad on a cruise ship, but keep in mind you do not want to stay logged onto your account while typing up an email. iPads are generally designed to be used only while connected to the Internet, using your webmail instead of an email program, for example. The same is true of workstations in a cruise ship's Internet center.

A laptop will give you the ability to sign on only long enough to pick up new email messages. You can then compose your replies offline and then sign on again long enough to send them. Laptops also give you a place to offload your digital camera pictures in memory so you can shoot more pictures.

If you take a cell phone onboard never use it to access the Internet. You will have to pay a data roaming charge that will generally cost about $5 per megabyte. Your cell phone should have an option to disable "data roaming" which you must use.

Here is another warning; even with data roaming turned off be very careful of incoming text messages. If someone sends you a picture by text message and you open it, you will be charged the data roaming rate even if you have data roaming turned off. This happened to me once. Someone sent me a singular picture of my dog as a text message attachment. I looked at it just a few times. The picture was probably five megabytes (common with today's digital cameras), but to me it appeared as a one-inch square. When I got home I had an extra charge of $485 added to my regular cell phone bill. The charge was noted as simply data-roaming (which I am certain I had turned off). I found out the cost of data roaming on a cruise ship is $25 per megabyte. Unbelievable.

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