This week reader Penny Glaser tells us how her family saves money on cruises
What vacation is your family planning this summer?
My husband and I took our first cruise for our honeymoon in 1990, not knowing what to expect. We took the cruise line’s offered shore excursions in every port and spent our entire vacation opening our wallets and following the throngs.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were anxious to sail again but figured there had to be ways to save money and make the experience even more enjoyable.
Now, two kids and fifteen cruises later, I’ve learned several valuable lessons on how to get the most fun for the least money. I’ve shared my tips with friends, family and colleagues. Here are some of my best suggestions:
I have found Cruise Compete to consistently provide the lowest fares. It works like this: you research the cruise offerings on the cruise line’s website or brochures and decide on the cruise you’re interested in. Then, sign onto www.cruisecompete.com, set up a free account and provide the required information. Within 24 hours (usually within three hours), you will receive an e-mail alerting you to quotes from various agencies.
One of the biggest expenses involved in family cruising is excursions. The cruise lines’ prices reflect substantial markups and can add significantly to the bottom line. It is not unusual to see prices of over $50.00 per person for “city tours” which involve little more than a two-hour bus ride narrated by a heavily-accented guide. Children’s prices, when discounted at all, only apply to kids under the age of twelve and usually reflect savings of less than $20.00 off of the adult price.
Next, go on-line and read about the cruise line’s offerings and check their prices. Now, comes the hard part. If you speak the local language and are comfortable doing so, venture out on your own. In Kauai, we rented a car and followed the cruise line’s bus to Waimea Canyon. We saved over $100.00 over the cruise line’s rates. In Bermuda, we rode the local buses and ferries and saved money wile tailoring our day to the sites that most interested our family.
On a recent cruise to Mexico, we elected to swim with the dolphins in Puerto Vallarta. The cruise line wanted $149.00 per person for my husband, teenage son and me and slightly less for my four-year-old daughter for a three-hour tour. I went online and booked the same excursion including a day at the local water-park for $258.00 total for all four of us and that included lunch! Even after adding the $20.00 cab fare each way, I still realized a savings of almost $300.00!
Another option would be to reserve a group excursion in advance with a company such as shoretrips (www.shoretrips.com). These are the same operators used by the cruise line but by booking with them directly, you save the middleman’s markup. You get the same tour at a fraction of the price.
Some special tips about cruising with kids: bring a stroller even for preschool-aged children. You don’t want to lug around a forty-pound child in the summer heat while simultaneously trying to balance a daypack. Buy the kids soda cards on the ship or bring cans of soda with you. Take your own photographs. Sitting for those formal portraits sounds enticing until you’re asked to fork over $25.00 for one unframed picture.
If you visit the spa for overpriced treatments, resist the temptation to buy the “recommended” products, even if they’re discounted. I found one such product for sale at Ulta for 25% less than the duty-free cruise price! Better yet, get your facial and manicure at home before leaving for your cruise. You’ll save money and precious vacation time. Bon voyage.