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How to save money on a cruise: 23 money-saving tips


Cruises remain a popular vacation choice due to their convenience and affordability. For one price, you'll be transported to different ports of call, and while onboard, you can take advantage of complimentary dining, entertainment, activities, childcare, and more. 

Whether you're trying to plan a cruise on a budget or stretch your vacation fund as far as possible, some money-saving tips can help make cruising more affordable. 

Splurging is inevitably part of traveling; however, it's crucial to be mindful of where your money goes to ensure you get the best bang for your buck. Nobody wants to feel as though they were ripped off! 

Here are 23 money-saving tips for your next cruise to make the most of your experience without breaking the bank. 

Book your cruise in advance 

Carnival Jubilee

Cruise lines typically release itineraries anywhere from 18 to 24 months in advance. Due to the influx of inventory, this is when prices are usually the lowest. As more cabins are reserved and demand for limited availability increases, the price will subsequently increase, too. 

Many cruise veterans recommend booking your cruise as far in advance as possible. Plus, some lines will allow you to reprice your fare up until final payment if you notice that it decreases. 

For example, my finacée and I booked a cruise onboard the brand-new Celebrity Ascent in November 2023. A few months later, our travel agent advised us that she saved us $200 on our fare, reducing the total amount due from $5,190 to $4,990. 

Read more: When is the best time to book a cruise?

You can also look for last-minute deals; however, they aren't guaranteed 


With the demand for cruising being higher than ever, sailings are booking up further and further in advance, meaning that if you're holding out for a last-minute deal, you might be disappointed. Of course, if you're flexible, you may find an amazing deal you cannot pass up. 

Having gambled a bit on previous Carnival cruises, I'll often scroll through my available last-minute offers on their website. It's not unusual to find sailings as low as $50 per person, before applicable taxes, fees, and gratuities. 

My current offers include a $50 6-night cruise onboard Mardi Gras to the Eastern Caribbean, as well as a $50 sailing onboard Carnival Panorama to the Mexican Riveria. Both, however, depart within one week. 


If you're interested in a Royal Caribbean cruise, you'll want to check out their "Going, Going, Gone" sale. Though still last-minute, they typically include a few sailings a bit further out, so you have more than one week to get your affairs in order. 

Skip the balcony and choose an interior stateroom

celebration interior room

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to save money on a cruise vacation, whether you're sailing on the oldest or newest ships, is to opt for an interior room. These windowless rooms are the cheapest onboard. With that, however, you sacrifice natural light and the ability to step outside onto a personal verandah. 

They come with the same standard amenities as other cabins onboard, excluding suites. You'll find a television, closet, mini-fridge, safe, vanity area with mirror, and ensuite bathroom, ensuring that you have a comfortable stay regardless of stateroom category. Plus, you'll have access to the same amenities as those staying in ocean-view and balcony cabins, including the Main Dining Room, entertainment, lido deck, etc. 

By choosing the cheaper stateroom, you can either afford to cruise more frequently or splurge on other memorable add-ons, like drink packages, shore excursions, and more. 


Additionally, you can always see if there are opportunities to bid on a cabin upgrade closer to your sailing. Though never guaranteed, upgrading usually lets passengers secure a more desirable stateroom for less than booking it outright. 

Read more: I stayed in a windowless cabin onboard Carnival Celebration

Sail during the off-season


The peak cruising season tends to coincide with the region's warmest months when the weather is most ideal. With that, however, comes an increased demand and higher prices, as well as busier ports due to more land-based tourists. 

If you're hoping to cruise to Alaska, you'll find cheaper rates in May and September instead of June, July, and August. Similarly, Caribbean cruises are less expensive in January and October compared to April, July, and late December. 

In other words, sailing during the shoulder season—either at the beginning or end of the peak cruising period—is an easy way to make your cruise vacation more affordable.

Read more: I tried the cheapest Caribbean cruise I could find

Take a shorter cruise


3- and 4-night cruises are cheaper than weeklong sailings. Though the nightly rate might be more expensive, you'll spend less overall, especially if you're considering add-ons like drink and internet packages. 

When browsing Carnival's website, a 3-night cruise aboard Carnival Conquest in May 2025 starts at $279 per person, whereas a weeklong voyage on the Carnival Magic starts at $579. A family of four could save upwards of $1,000 on the fare by choosing the shorter cruise. 

Shorter sailings tend to visit fewer ports of call, allowing you to splurge on once-in-a-lifetime tours like swimming with pigs in The Bahamas or save money by purchasing fewer budget-friendly excursions

Read more: Guide to weekend cruises: Tips for taking a 3-night cruise

Stick to the included dining options


Regardless of how big or small your ship is, you'll be able to enjoy unlimited food in the buffet, as well as indulgent three-course meals in the Main Dining Room. Depending on your vessel, you may have additional complimentary restaurants, too. Carnival ships, for instance, are known for Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina. These poolside venues are perfect when craving a juicy burger or fresh tacos. 

Each ship has specialty restaurants that offer a more intimate dining experience, albeit for an extra cost. Some can cost upwards of $100 per person, though the average tends to fall between $30 and $60 per person. 

Sticking to the included venues is a great way to keep your onboard expenses in check. Plus, by taking advantage of the complimentary food, you'll get more out of your initial cruise fare. 

Read more: Your really dumb cruise ship dining questions answered

Book third-party excursions


Though the ship is certainly a destination in and of itself, the ports of call are often a major appeal of cruising, especially if you're going somewhere scenic like Alaska. Excursions, however, aren't cheap, especially those available through the cruise line

During my recent cruise to Alaska, my father and I spent $1,026, or $513 per person, on two ship-sponsored excursions. When disembarking the ship in Juneau, we were greeted by various kiosks tended by local vendors with tours that were far less. While booking through the cruise line is more convenient, as everything from transportation to tickets is taken care of, it's much more costly. 

Whether you're hoping to go whale watching in Alaska, snorkeling in Cozumel, or on a day trip from Civitavecchia to Rome, browse third-party websites to see if there are any cheaper options before making your final selection. 

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

Don't get your hopes up at the casino


It's tempting to want to put some money in a slot machine and hope for the best. That $20 could turn into $100 in the blink of an eye, right? In reality, it's far more likely that you'll lose the majority, if not all, of what you play. 

Even if you set a budget, it's easy to fall victim to the "what if" mindset of another $20 or $30. Before you know it, you could be well over your specified gambling allowance, regretting having set foot in the casino. 

Rather than potentially waste money gambling in the casino, invest it in something with a guaranteed return, such as lifelong memories made during a shore excursion or a more spacious stateroom. 

Avoid the newest ships


The newest ships at sea have the most bells and whistles, from attractions you never thought you'd see on a floating vessel to a plethora of dining options and jaw-dropping suites. 

Sailing on brand-new ships, however, costs a pretty penny. According to Royal Caribbean's website, a 7-night cruise aboard Icon of the Seas in June 2025 starts at $2,484 per person, whereas a weeklong cruise on the slightly older Wonder of the Seas starts at $1,148. 

While it's tempting to want to be one of the first to experience a new ship, especially a new ship class, you'll save quite a bit of money by waiting a few years. It's still possible to have an amazing vacation on an older ship! 

Read more: I have been on Carnival Cruise Line’s oldest and newest ships: Here are my top 11 tips

Loyalty pays off


Not all cruise line loyalty programs are designed equally. While some promise complimentary drink vouchers and free cruises upon reaching a certain tier, others aren't as lucrative. Either way, by staying loyal to one line, you'll unlock benefits that will enhance your overall cruise experience, whether it's benefitting from priority boarding to enjoying complimentary laundry. 

Recently, I reached the Diamond tier of Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society. During my 7-night cruise to Alaska, I enjoyed four free drinks per day, including specialty cocktails, coffees, soda, beer, and wine. In the end, my father and I estimated that this saved us over $350. And while not substantial, I enjoy using the complimentary Casino Royale FreePlay, as I'm able to gamble without sustaining any major losses! 

If you have yet to choose your go-to cruise line, it pays to research each loyalty program to see which perks will benefit you and your cruising priorities. 

Bring your own snorkel gear


Snorkeling is a popular activity when sailing to The Bahamas and Caribbean. Rather than shell out money on multiple tours, consider purchasing snorkeling equipment at home. 

A snorkeling tour at Half Moon Cay, Carnival's private island, costs around $60 per person. In comparison, snorkeling equipment can be purchased on Amazon for around $30 to $40. 

Though the difference isn't substantial, the equipment can be used in each port of call, as well as on future vacations, meaning you'll get more for your money than you would during a single three-hour excursion or all-day equipment rental. 

Pack smart to avoid checked luggage fees


If you don't live within driving distance of your embarkation port, you'll have to rely on the airline to safely transport your luggage, which can be costly if you opt to check a lot of bags. 

Most US-based carriers charge around $30 per bag, per way, meaning a family of four could spend around $240 on checked luggage. Carry-on bags don't cost anything extra; however, due to the size limitations, you'll have to pack smart

Checking luggage is also risky, as mishaps can lead to delayed or lost luggage. If you have your suitcase in the overhead compartment on the plane, you won't have to worry about it potentially getting lost en route to your final destination. 

Packing basics

In fact, on my recent cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas, I overheard one passenger in the elevator talk about how Southwest lost her luggage, and she had to board the ship without her suitcase!

Read more: 15 Packing Tips for First-Time Cruisers (2024)

Pack your own over-the-counter medications and toiletries


Speaking of packing, you shouldn't sacrifice medications and toiletries in exchange for extra space. If you wait to buy essentials onboard, you'll pay far more than you would at your local drugstore. Plus, cruise ships tend to have limited inventory, so if you have preferred products, it's best to bring them along with you. 

Once while sailing with my dad, he realized he left his shaving cream at home. The only place to buy it onboard was the spa, meaning that if he wanted to shave while on the cruise, he would have to pay $40 for the specialty spa-grade gel. 

He usually buys shaving cream in bulk from Costco for around $15, so he debated if it was worth it or not, especially when he had some at home. In the end, he didn't want to go a full week without shaving and purchased the pricey gel from the Vitality Spa. 


This experience served as a reminder to always double-check your suitcase to ensure that all essential toiletries and medications are packed before leaving. 

Don't get a drink package


Drink packages are some of the most expensive cruise add-ons. While each cruise line prices its packages differently, you should expect to spend a minimum of $60 per person, per day. For a 7-night cruise, this means a drink package will cost at least $420 per person. 

Unless you are a heavy drinker or expect to indulge more than usual while on vacation, you're usually better off purchasing each drink individually. To break even, you typically need to consume at least 5-6 cocktails per day, with the minimum threshold for beer being a bit higher. 

Those sailing on port-intensive itineraries might not have enough time onboard to fully utilize the package, either. In these cases, it might be more advantageous to pay for each drink while on the ship, so you can indulge while ashore, too. Otherwise, you'll likely be tempted to wait until you're back onboard because it's "free." 

Read more: Are cruise drink packages worth it?

Bring your own wine onboard

Alcohol stock image

Another way to save money on alcohol is by bringing wine onboard on embarkation day. Each cruise line has its own policies regarding bringing alcohol onboard, so you should consult your respective line's website first. 

MSC Cruises, for instance, doesn't permit guests to bring any alcohol—wine or otherwise— with them, whereas Royal Caribbean allows guests over the legal drinking age to bring one bottle of wine onboard. 

If your line allows it, purchasing a bottle of wine ahead of time can be a great way to save a little money on alcohol, especially if you aren't purchasing a drink package. It's not uncommon for cheaper glasses of wine to cost around $9 to $12 each. 

Avoid the onboard sales 


From t-shirts to watches, handbags, and jewelry, cruise ships tend to host sales on various items throughout the sailing. While it's tempting to browse, window shopping can often lead to unnecessary purchases. 

Personally, I prefer to spend my money in port, rather than on the ship. From handmade ornaments and soaps to local treats and other trinkets, I find more value in purchasing items ashore. When sailing to Alaska, for instance, my ship had tons of Alaska merchandise onboard; however, very little was authentic. 

Instead, I waited until we docked in Icy Strait Point and found an ornament at a local store featuring a design crafted by an Alaskan native. Plus, it was printed on a handmade drum. 

Read more: 16 tips to not waste money on your first cruise

Use Wi-Fi in port to avoid paying for an internet package


Mainstream cruise lines do not include internet in their fares, meaning staying connected with loved ones back home will incur an extra fee. If you have a family of four all wanting internet access on their personal devices, this can be costly. Instead, wait until you're ashore to connect to Wi-Fi. 

Many local establishments offer Wi-Fi for paying customers, whether it's a Starbucks or a local restaurant. While you're enjoying your time in port, you can take advantage of the free internet access to check on things back home, rather than shell out upwards of $140 or more for Wi-Fi on the ship. 

Note that if you don't put your phone in airplane mode before sailing away, you'll return home to a large roaming bill. 

Read more: Do cruise ships have WiFi?

Prepay gratuities


Before you finalize your booking, you'll be asked if you want to prepay gratuities. Though this might seem like an extra expense, you won't have to worry about paying it off until final payment. Moreover, you are grandfathered into the current rate, which could save you move if the cruise line decides to raise the price of gratuities before your sailing. 

Gratuities are tips divided amongst the hardworking crew members who work to make your vacation memorable, including cabin stewards, dining and culinary services staff, the guest services team, and others who work behind the scenes.

Guests who elect to pay their gratuities on the ship will receive a daily charge to their onboard account to be settled at the end of the sailing. 

Read more: Tipping on a cruise ship: Guide and what to do

Don't wait to reserve your shore excursions and other add-ons


Typically, cruise lines offer pre-cruise discounts on add-ons like drink packages, Wi-Fi, and more. The extent of the discounts, however, varies. Carnival, for instance, offers a set 10% discount on their CHEERS! Package before sailing, so long as it's purchased by 11:59pm the day before embarkation via the online planner and 9:00pm EST through the call center. 

Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, prices their add-ons dynamically, meaning that the cost fluctuates based on the sail date, itinerary, ship, and more. Plus, they offer discounts of various extents. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday tend to see some of the best sales; however, they can pop up sporadically throughout the year, too. 

When planning my Greek Isles cruise onboard Celebrity Ascent, my fiancée and I scored two excursions for $476.96 each around Black Friday. Had we booked outside this promotion, our excursion in Naples, "Taste of Sorrento and Pompeii," would have cost around $260 per person, or $520. 

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

It's usually cheaper to eat a specialty restaurants for lunch


Whether you're a frequent cruiser or simply looking to elevate your first cruise with the ship's specialty dining experience, you'll usually save money by dining at the extra-cost restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. 

When my father and I sailed onboard Quantum of the Seas, we paid for two dinners and one lunch, totaling $137.42 each, rather than purchasing a 3-night specialty dining package.

The cheapest of the three meals was our lunch at Jamie's Italian, which cost just $20 before gratuities. Had we chosen to dine at Chops Grille, Royal Caribbean's specialty steakhouse, for lunch, we would have paid roughly $30 per person. In comparison, our dinner at Chops was $54.99 per person. 

Those who want to try a couple of specialty restaurants may benefit from a specialty dining package


If, however, you are someone who prioritizes intimate dining and higher-quality ingredients that accompany dining in a specialty restaurant, you may save money by purchasing a dining package. 

For instance, a 3-night specialty dining package costs $170 per person on my upcoming Celebrity Ascent cruise. With the Fine Cut Steakhouse and Eden costing $60 and $80 per person, respectively, we figured this was a good deal, as we could also dine at the Rooftop Garden Grill, which is currently advertised at $41 per person, and end up spending less money than we would if we purchased all meals individually. 

Moreover, we can upgrade one of our dining experiences for an additional charge. When purchased individually, Le Voyage costs around $120 on the Cruise Planner. With the dining package, however, we'd only have to pay a $20 upcharge. 

Book your next cruise onboard 

NextCruise office

Having so much fun that you want to begin the countdown for your next cruise before your current one ends? Head to your ship's future cruise desk. 

While the perks vary from cruise line to cruise line, the future cruise desk offers enticing benefits to encourage passengers to book their next adventure before their current one concludes, such as extra onboard credit, discounted disposits, or other special offers. 

Read more: Guide to Disney Cruise onboard booking discount

Do not eat any meals in port


Eating a hearty breakfast before disembarking and waiting until you're back onboard for dinner will ensure that you don't spend any money in port on food. 

Though experiencing a culture through its cuisine is a wonderful way to travel, it is important to be mindful of your budget. Sometimes, exploring the port of call on an excursion and sacrificing a post-tour meal ashore is the smartest financial decision to help you get the most out of your vacation budget. 

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