In the past few years, going on a holiday cruise has become a very popular choice, with most cruise lines reporting big increases in profit.
There are many advantages for the traveller in taking this option. First, you unpack once, yet see a range of destinations. And, at the end of each day’s sightseeing, you know you can go back to your familiar, comfy room and dine in a range of very good restaurants, without the drama of missing a train and getting to your destination, only to find the hotel has lost your reservation and all the restaurants are shut.
It is the ultimate in easy, no-fuss travel.
Prices are also usually very good, allowing most people a chance to have a little luxury at a very reasonable cost.
But there can be some pitfalls. Most people who go on a cruise will report that, at the end of all those drinks by the pool, spa indulgences and shopping, their credit card has taken a hammering. I always avoid the cashier’s desk on check-out night, because the lines are long and the people are not very happy, as they try to figure out how they managed to spend $3000 in 10 days!
I’ve done enough cruises now to offer you my budget guide. These are easy, simple ways to avoid that credit card shock, yet still enjoy the holiday of a lifetime.
Most cruise lines charge extra for your alcohol, and let’s be fair, this is where they make a lot of their money. When booking, look for a cruise line which will allow you to take alcohol on board.
Most of the European ones permit you to have wine or beer in your room, but the local ones here sometimes don’t. This means you can stock up when onshore and have a few pre-dinner drinks, rather than purchase the pricey cocktails offered in the bar.
If you can’t take your own on board, then shop wisely. There will be happy hours, cocktail of the day, and other special offers which can keep your costs down.
Most of the bigger cruise lines now offer packages. If you’re a big drinker, then it might be worth buying one of these for anything from $70 to $100 a day, safe in the knowledge that your water, juice, wine, beer and spirits are all paid for and you can drink as much as you like. They range from juice, soda and water, to the premium all-you-can-drink from any label packages.
If you’re not such a big drinker, then they probably won’t work out for you, but I do recommend calculating the costs first.
Be wary of various pamper packages, which come at a hefty price. Instead of paying $200 for a massage, snoop around at the local towns offshore, where you can usually find an excellent Thai massage for $20 – and, just quietly, they can be much better than the softly, softly ones I’ve had on a cruise ship.
And don’t think you need to pay big bucks for a facial. On my last cruise, I simply visited the ship buffet and stocked up on olive oil from the salad bar and raw sugar from the tea and coffee station.
The oil and sugar made an excellent exfoliant for my face and body. Then the leftover olive oil went into my hair for a deep condition, while I sat on my deck in the sun and read a book, and on my face as a moisturiser.
When it comes to nails, it’s again worth snooping around offshore for a nail bar and spend much less on your manicure.
Every cruise line will offer its own tours for when you get off the ship at different ports. If you’re a first timer, then by all means take the tour and know that you will get back in time for sailing. The captain will always keep the ship waiting if one of their tours is late, but if you are travelling independently and are against the clock, then you’re stranded.
However, seasoned cruisers will spend half the money and pay one of the many taxi drivers or local tour operators to take them where they need to go. You save a lot of money and often get to see more, because you are not stuck to a stringent timetable and travelling with 50 other people!
Often you will meet other people on the dock doing the same thing, and you can go in on a fare together to save even more money.
Do keep a close eye on the time, though – and be sure you make it back to set sail.
Cruise lines charge through the roof for an internet connection and we all like to keep in touch with family or work. Wait until you are in port, then follow the staff from the cruise ship to the nearest internet café. The various waiters, sailors and cleaners have days off when you dock, and they will head straight to internet cafés to email their families, so just join the line, buy a coffee or a wine, and log on.
It’s always nice to sample the local fare at a port, and this is an essential part of travel. But while you are there, stock up at the local supermarket on bottled water – at 1/8th of the price they charge on the ship – and snacks you might want for your cabin.
Most cruise ships have libraries stocked with great books. And they also have a shelf where passengers leave ones they don’t want to take home. When you board, head straight to the library to get the best pickings from the previous cruisers. You won’t be disappointed, but do remember to leave them behind for the next lot.
New Zealanders find it very hard to get their heads around tipping, but on cruise ships it is essential. Staff work for very low wages and it is often the tips that make a big difference to their lives. If you can, get a fare that includes tips so you don’t have to worry. Then just tip a bit extra to the staff you really enjoyed, such as your favourite barman and housekeepers. If you don’t get a pre-paid fare, then ask at the concierge desk how to do it. They will give you a clear idea of what is expected.
Most cruise ships no longer offer a passenger Laundromat. Take a portable washing line and use your shampoo – or take some washing powder. For bigger items, wait until the cruise advertises a laundry special, which will be a certain price for a bag.
Not a budget tip, but worth considering…
Many of the newer ships have a lot of balcony rooms, and to upgrade is about $500. I advise you do this, as having your own balcony gives you some privacy for long afternoons, reading in the sun, and allows you to enjoy the ocean so much more. You can also enjoy romantic meals – and pretend you are the only ones on the sea.