How to Pick the Perfect Cruise for You (& Save Money Doing So) -Tips for the First Time Cruiser

Cruises are one of my favorite ways to travel. Not only are cruises a great value and a perfect way to explore multiple countries at once, but there’s also literally something for everyone on a cruise. & For my foodies, there’s unlimited 24 hour food (of course that’s my favorite part). I mean, who doesn’t want to eat their meals, and have their morning coffee, with the beautiful deep blue sea as your view. Going on your first cruise? Here’s a few tips to ensure smooth sailing 😉

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What is my cruise budget?

Cruises come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Some cruises are as low as $300 per person for the entire cruise while others can be around $1,000 per person, per day, crazy right!?

The prices will vary based on the destination and time of year. The same cabin on the same ship will cost way more during peak season in mid summer, so off season is when you’ll find the cheapest cruises. Also, interior cabins, sometimes with a porthole or without, are hundreds of dollars less than those with a balcony.

I’ve seen cruises for less than $200 on discount sites, so I recommend joining the email list of your local, or favorite cruise line along with discount websites like Living Social because they often send emails when cruise lines have sales or discounts on cruises.

When picking your cruise, or preparing for it if you have already booked one, the cruise does not have to cost more than the cabin and the gratuities, but there will be tons of tourist traps onboard.

Here’s how to save money onboard during your cruise:

Skip the sodas & limit alcoholic drinks onboard– Juice, iced teas, coffee, and water are all free onboard. (fyi: the passionfruit guava juice is the best ever. I think I go on cruises just so I can drink the juice. Make sure you drink lots of it.) But, sodas beer, liquor etc are pretty expensive. Depending on the cruise line sodas are about $4 per glass no free refills either, but you can buy a soda package for about $50-$60 per person that allows you to get unlimited sodas for the entire cruise. But, you’d have to drink tons of sodas to make it worth it. If you think the soda package is high, the alcoholic drinks are around $10 to $15 each & the package is around $55 PER DAY for the duration of your cruise. So, for a 3-day cruise that’s already an extra $165. Limit your drinking and save the money.

Depending on the cruise line you are allowed to bring your own cans of sodas. It has to be a can though. Some cruise lines also allow you to bring one bottle of unopened wine/champagne. It varies by cruise line so make sure to contact them prior to sailing so you know the specifics and what their policy is for bringing sodas and alcohol on the cruise ship.

Plan your own shore excursions– This is a big money saver. You get the same thing for way less. Excursions are expensive because the cruise line knows a lot of new cruisers think the only way to do the excursion is with the cruise line & they take advantage of that. In St. Maarten we wanted to jet ski so instead of paying $175 to set it up with the cruise line, we waited until we got to the island and met a local operator who gave us jet skis, beach chairs, & umbrellas for $60 total. So, I advise against booking your shore excursions with the cruise and just waiting until you get to the island because there will be lots of them at the port with way cheaper prices than the cruise line offered.

Take your own photos– The photographers will be all over the ship. They catch you before you go onboard, they walk around during dinner with pirates, and they’re always snapping away. But those pictures come with a price tag, so to avoid the extra cost have someone take a picture of your group for you.

Don’t buy the wifi– Unlimited wifi access is around $25 per day onboard, so at 3 days that’s already $75. When you’re on vaca you should be disconnected from wifi and connected to those you’re with. But, if you really need wifi while you’re gone you can purchase strong unlimited wifi for $9 per day here  (literally a third of the price the cruise line will charge you). I highly recommend the second option. You can use it on up to 5 devices, so for 9$ per day you and your entire cabin can be connected to wifi for less than the price of what the cruise line would charge. Plus, unlike the wifi on the cruise, this wifi works while your off the boat exploring. Click here to get it!

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Where am I willing to sail from & where do I want to sail to?

Depending on the cruise line and destinations you are looking for, you may have to travel a little bit because not every cruise line goes to every destination. Look at cruise ports near you and determine if you want to visit any of the destinations that are available from there. You may have to travel a little ways to be able to go to certain destinations.

Check out this guide to help you find the Cheapest Flight Possible

How many days do I want to be at sea?

My favorite part about cruising, other than the food, is getting off the boat and exploring the land or relaxing on the beach. So, consecutive days at sea are not my thing. What’s a day at sea? It’s when you spend the entire day on the boat in between ports. So, when you’re deciding on a cruise that’s good for you make sure you take note of the days at sea.

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What is my cruise personality?

All cruises are not created equal. Every cruise line has its own personality. Disney cruises are catered more towards children and families, so if you and bae are hoping for a romantic, quiet getaway that’s probably not the one you want to choose. While Carnival is known for being a fun cruise, Regent Seven Seas is a little more luxurious. So, while many of these ships operate on similar routes they are still pretty different so be sure to do a little research so you know what to expect on your cruise.

Do I just walk on to the cruise ship on embarkation day?

You know how you have to arrive at the airport a few hours before your scheduled flight departure time? Well, cruising is similar to that. You definitely want to arrive a couple hours before your scheduled sailing time. Before entering the port your bags are labeled and marked with your informations so they can be delivered to your cabin (which is nice because you don’t have to worry about carrying bags with you, plus since your bags are being curb checked and taken care of you can head straight to the food once you finish the embarkation process). Afterwards, you walk into the huge terminal at the cruise port where you will go through security and then complete the check in process where you must present your boarding pass, picture ID, citizenship documents, and completed Health Questionnaire. Most cruise lines require you to be on board no later than 60 mins before sailing time or you will not be able to cruise. So make sure you’re early. (Since it isn’t uncommon for airlines to experience delays, some cruisers like to arrive a day early to ensure they make it in time for the cruise and to avoid delays. If you arrive a day early and are in need of a place to stay here’s $40 off Airbnb!)

Quick tip: The biggest question I get when I am travel planning cruises for my clients is “Do I have to have a passport for a cruise?” I have good news. The good news is, (if you’re a U.S. citizen) if you are leaving from and returning to U.S. lands you do not need a passport for a cruise. A birth certificate & government issued I.D. is fine.

P.S. Fortunately, most cruise line websites, and internet cruise search engines allow you to be really specific with your search. You can filter your cruise search by length of cruise, month, and location.

Counting down the days until my next cruise this fall. Have you been on a cruise before?

As always, I am a travel planner, so if you need help planning and booking your next cruise send me an mail or contact me here!

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Hi! I'm Diam, a 24 year old Ohio native who lives in Florida and is obsessed with all things travel! I've explored 30 states, 10 countries and many many islands all while knocking big adventures off of my bucket list! I hope to inspire you to start searching for travel deals (theres tons) & remember, you don't have to be rich to travel!

15 thoughts on “How to Pick the Perfect Cruise for You (& Save Money Doing So) -Tips for the First Time Cruiser

  1. Just what I needed !!! Great tips! I completely agree about choosing your excursions once you get on land, so much cheaper! But good to know some names of the cruise lines for more romantic trips #anniversary trip < 3

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips. Wish I read this before my first cruise because we were kind of lost after the check in process. Didnt know what to do when we got on the boat. Apparently, it go eat and drink (both of which were included in our cruise.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That is still an impressive amount! I’ve been on hundreds of ferries (between the UK and Ireland, and France…) but never one of those massive massive cruise ships.

        They are so huge, do you feel the sea rolling?


  3. I love, love, love cruises! I can’t wait to take another one I love how almost everything is thought out ahead of time for you and you get to see the islands and the seas at a leisurely pace. The food is excellent! Love your tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My wife and I just hit our anniversary, and it seems like going on a cruise just the two of use would be the perfect way to celebrate. I appreciated the tips you shared, now I know which cruise line to look for and how early to get there. I’m also going to bring anti-nausea medicine as well, that seems like a good precaution as neither of us have been on a cruise before.

    Liked by 1 person

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