How to Cruise for Cheap: Top Tips and Advice

How to Cruise for Cheap: We share our top tips and advice for making the most of your budget while still enjoying all a cruise has to offer.

Top 16 Ways You Can Cruise for Cheap

We think cruising is a great way to “sea the world one port at a time”. Cruise vacations allow you to see multiple new destinations for one set fare with many inclusions. However, all the other add-ons can rack up the bill rather quickly. Fortunately though, there are several ways to cruise for cheap. In this post, we share our top tips and advice for finding affordable cruises and making the most of your budget while still enjoying all a cruise has to offer.

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Top 16 Ways You Can Cruise for Cheap

1. Cruise During Off-Peak Times

One of the best ways to save money on a cruise is to choose the right time to sail. Peak season, which typically falls during the summer months and major holidays, can be the most expensive time to cruise. However, if you are flexible with your travel dates and can cruise during the off-season or shoulder season, you can often find significant savings.

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Off-peak times or shoulder season vary depending on the destination. For example, seasonal regions like Alaska and Bermuda are cheaper during the beginning and end of the cruise season. Similarly, if you want to cruise the Med for cheap, you should avoid the summer. In Europe, the off-season is generally from November to March, while the shoulder season is from April through the end of May and September to October.

While The Bahamas and Caribbean have idyllic weather year-round, there are still times when you can cruise for cheap. While hurricane season might sound like a bad idea, it’s actually one of the best times to cruise these regions if you are flexible on itinerary.

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2. Book Early

Booking a cruise as far in advance as possible can save you money. Plus, you will get the best selection of cabins, in addition to other benefits. For most of our vacations, we tend to book 8+ months in advance. In general, we have not found the price to get any cheaper than our original booking price over time. On the rare occasion that the price does drop after you’ve booked, you can usually get a price adjustment (be sure to read the fine print when booking though).

On the other hand, some travelers swear by last minute cruise deals. If you are willing to book your cruise at the last minute, you may be able to find discounted rates as cruise lines try to fill unsold cabins. If you have flexible vacation time or live near a cruise port, this tactic is also another way to cruise for cheap.

3. Watch for Cruise Line Deals and Promotions

If you have cruised before, you probably know that cruise lines run promotions throughout the year. These deals may include BOGO 50% off, kids sail free, free perks like drink packages, and more.

If you have a cruise in mind, you should check your email and the cruise line’s website frequently for such promotions to ensure you score the best deal when booking your cruise.

If you are looking for cheap family cruises, you should definitely time your booking with a “Kids Sail Free” or a “3rd and 4th Guest Sail Free” promotion. Most cruise lines will occasionally offer such sales, with NCL’s Free at Sea being the most common.

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4. Pick the Right Ship

Yes, we admit that we love that new ship smell. However, if you are trying to cruise for cheap then you should probably avoid the newest ships with all the bells and whistles as these will usually have the highest price tags.

Within the same cruise region, you can usually find better deals on older (and smaller) ships. For instance, you can get a 7-night Caribbean cruise from Florida in July on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas starting at $1100 per person. However, the starting price on an Oasis Class ship for the same time is $600+ more per person.

When comparing these two ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, Adventure of the Seas is smaller, older, and offers fewer amenities. Still, you can certainly have that same Royal Caribbean cruise experience that you know and love with the added benefit of cruising for cheap.

If you are looking for the cheapest cruise lines, we have you covered.

5. Consider a Shorter Itinerary

This might sound like a no-brainer, but shorter cruises will usually cost less money. Cruise lines now offer several 3 and 4-day options to places like the Bahamas. These quick getaways offer plenty of sun and fun both on the ship and ashore. Most of these itineraries also visit the cruise lines’ private islands.

From Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay or Disney’s Castaway Cay for families, to a relaxing beach day at Holland America’s Half Moon Cay or MSC’s Ocean Cay, to an adult-only experience at Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini, there’s something for everyone.

Some cruise lines even have newer ships that sail these itineraries like Disney Wish or Scarlet Lady.

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6. Sail from a Nearby Port

Another obvious way to save money on a cruise is to sail from a cruise port that is close to home. Eliminating flights and a pre-cruise hotel stay can save you some serious cash. With cruise ships departing from more and more locations in the United States, it might be feasible for you to find a cruise that is within driving distance to the port.

Besides Florida, cruise ships are home-ported in many other states such as Washington, California, Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. While some of these homeports, like Boston or Seattle, are seasonal, many offer year-round cruises to the Bahamas, Caribbean, and Mexican Riviera.

If you live in the New England area like us, Boston (or New York) to Bermuda are popular summer cruises. Canada and New England cruises are popular fall choices as well. Further, MSC Meraviglia will now sail year-round from Brooklyn offering more vacation options for those looking to cruise for cheap.

7. Try a Repositioning Cruise

In cruise lingo, a repositioning cruise is a voyage that begins and ends in a different location with the purpose of moving the ship to this new location. Repositioning cruises typically occur when cruise seasons change. For instance, some ships in the Caribbean move to Europe for the summer season. Other ships reposition to Alaska for the summer season.

transatlantic cruise travels between Europe and North or South America. Obviously, the cruise ship will sail across the Atlantic Ocean. These cruises can be a repositioning cruise; though, some lines sail this route regularly like Cunard.

Whether a repositioning cruise or a transatlantic cruise, these cruises typically have fewer ports of call and are priced considerably less than traditional 7-day cruises. Thus, this is a great way to maximize your time on a ship while still cruising for cheap. These types of cruises are for those who enjoy sea days; though, they are probably not for those who are prone to seasickness.

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8. Book an Inside Cabin

While having a balcony or oceanview cabin can be a great way to enjoy the scenery, it can also be more expensive. If you are willing to sacrifice a view, choosing an inside cabin can help you cruise for cheap.

Inside cabins are often the most economically priced when compared to other types of cabins, and you can still enjoy all the amenities and activities that the ship has to offer. After all, most passengers don’t spend much time in their cruise cabins anyway.

For example, when looking at Alaska cruise costs, an inside cabin on a 7-day roundtrip cruise on Princess Cruises starts at about $720 a person at double occupancy. A standard balcony cabin on the same sailing is currently over $1000 a person at double occupancy. So, an increase of 30% from the inside room rate. 

9. Or a Guaranteed Cabin

If you can’t bring yourself to book an inside stateroom, then you should consider a guaranteed cabin. This selection can easily provide a cost savings versus reserving an exact room in the same category. With a “guarantee” status, you are locked into a room of that category but will not know your exact room location until closer to the sailing date. While you will be guaranteed a room in your desired category, there is always the chance for an upgrade with this option.

A guaranteed cabin is a great way to cruise for cheap. However, if you are picky about room location, it might be a cabin that you should avoid.

Oasis of the Seas Ocean View Balcony Cabin

10. Use a Travel Agent

In all honesty, you almost never get the best deal when you book directly with the cruise line. While it is rare to find an advertised price by a travel agent that is lower than the cruise line’s website, the added value comes in other forms.

Of course, the right travel agent can provide first time cruisers with a wealth of information and insight during the decision-making process. However, even seasoned cruisers should use a travel agent if they want to cruise for cheap.

Why? They also offer PERKS! These perks are of a monetary value that is not directly tied to the actual cruise fare. They are things like onboard credit, free drink packages, free gratuities, and more.


11. Avoid the Add-Ons

While a lot is included in your cruise fare, there are often extra fees for things like specialty restaurants, spa treatments, and internet access. To cruise for cheap, consider avoiding these extra charges or finding less expensive alternatives.

Modern cruise ships offer plenty of casual and complimentary dining options as well as elegant 3-course meals in the main dining room. Instead of paying for internet access, try to disconnect during sea days and use free WiFi in ports of call (or possibly your cell service). If you want a spa treatment, book a massage in a port of call instead.

12. Bring Your Own Alcohol

To cruise for cheap, skip the drink package. Yes, we said it! While cruise drink packages can be a way to save money vs. buying drinks on the ship individually, these packages are pretty pricey lately. Instead of buying a beverage package, bring your own alcohol onboard the ship.

While we would never recommend sneaking alcohol on a cruise ship, most cruise lines do allow guests to bring at least one bottle of wine or champagne onboard with them in their carry-on luggage. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, even allow guests to bring a limited number of non-alcoholic beverages onboard.

In addition, most cruise lines offer happy hours or BOGO promotions on select days and times. Free tastings, the Captain’s Reception, and loyalty parties are other great ways to score complimentary drinks.

Further, you can typically drink in port for much cheaper than on the cruise ship.

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13. Skip Shore Excursions

While shore excursions can be a great way to explore a destination, they can also be expensive. To save money, consider exploring on your own. You could hire a local taxi, join a free walking tour, or research the port of call a bit and create you own personalized exploration.

If you would prefer an organized tour, consider booking a cheaper excursion through a local tour operator instead of through the cruise line. You can often find these tour operators online or through the port information center. There are also third party vendors like Shore Excursions Group or Viator that often sell cheaper and more personalized tour options.

If you do decide to book on your own in advance of your cruise, be sure to read the fine print regarding cancellation policies in the event that your cruise ship misses the port of call.

14. Purchase Extras Pre-Cruise

If you decide to purchase any of the above mentioned cruise add-ons, you should do so pre-cruise. Many items like drink packages, shore excursions, WiFi, or specialty dining can be purchased pre-cruise on the cruise line’s website.

Similar to booking your cruise, you will want to keep an eye out for sales and promotions on these items. You can often score deals from 10% to even 40% off certain items. If you book a package and subsequently find a cheaper rate, you can usually cancel up to a few days before your cruise and re-book at the cheaper price.

If you are looking to book a spa treatment, head to the spa on embarkation day. Along with getting a tour and learning about the services offered, you can usually get a deal by booking Day 1 of your cruise.

15. Take Advantage of Loyalty Programs

If you are a frequent cruiser, be sure to join the loyalty program offered by your favorite cruise line. These programs often offer benefits such as discounted rates and free amenities. By taking advantage of these programs, you can save money on future cruises and enjoy additional perks while on board.

For instance, Royal Caribbean gives cruisers with certain status in its Crown and Anchor Society discounts on balcony rooms on top of current promotions. Not to mention, cruisers of certain levels receive free drink coupons and discounts on photos, laundry services, and more.

So, sometimes it pays to stay loyal to a particular brand.

16. Use Rewards Points

Finally, another way you can cruise for cheap is to use credit card rewards points. Many cruise lines now have their own credit cards with which you can earn reward points. Cruise lines including Royal CaribbeanNorwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line all offer different credit card programs that let you earn points towards cruise discounts, onboard credit, and even free cruises.

We have taken advantage of these programs for a few cruises now courtesy of our cruise line credit cards.

Now that you know how to cruise for cheap, starting budgeting and planning that cruise!

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Did you find our top ways to cruise for cheap helpful? What are some of your tips for saving money on a cruise? Drop us an anchor below to share your advice with fellow cruisers.

Heidi is a physical therapist by profession, cruise enthusiast at heart, and Princess all the time! She is a self-confessed thrill seeker, obsessive planner, and over-packer. She is always looking for the latest and greatest adventures onboard and ashore, enjoys researching top things to do in ports of call, and loves dressing up for formal nights.
Heidi Bucolo
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