Cruising on a budget

Guide to finding a cruise for less.

Set sail for less

Cruises can be a good all-inclusive holiday option, and if you plan ahead you can make the most of your money.

Top tips for finding cheap cruises

  • Take a cruise that embarks and debarks in Australia to save money on airfares.
  • If you're not fussed about having the latest amenities, consider older cruise ships, which tend to have cheaper rates.
  • Look for last-minute deals, sometimes called 'Pack and Go' or 'Drop and Go' rates, directly on cruise company websites. Heavily discounted fares are available for cruises as long as three months in advance from companies including P&O Cruises and Carnival Cruises. Last-minute deals are also available from travel agents such as Flight Centre and WebJet.
  • If you don't want to gamble on getting a last-minute cruise, try to book well in advance to take advantage of cruise-liners' early bird discounts.
  • Sign up for cruise companies' email newsletters and check regularly on their sites for deals.
  • Consider a repositioning cruise, in which a ship moves to a new location for seasonal reasons. These one-way cruises are sometimes offered at a discount.
  • While the weather may not be ideal, you can save money by travelling during the shoulder or low season. In Alaska that's May, early June, late August or September. In the Caribbean, you'll find cheaper fares in late summer and autumn (although you may run into hurricanes). In the Bahamas, that's between late April and early November. In Mexico that's June through November, and in the Mediterranean in winter. More on low seasons in our guide to top cruise destinations.
  • Inside cabins tend to be cheaper that those on the outside of the ship or with balconies.

How to plan and stick to a budget on a cruise

While cruises seem like a cheaper, all-inclusive holiday option, there are plenty of extras that can blow your budget if you're not careful.

The advertised cost of a cruise is your base fare, which covers accommodation, meals, and some activities and entertainment. Special restaurants or cafes, alcoholic and soft drinks, special desserts, laundry, excursions, spa therapies and gratuities will generally cost extra. Plus, ships tend to charge extras to your cabin rather than taking your cash, and studies have shown we tend to overspend when using credit cards and their ilk rather than cash, so be especially hawkish if money is tight.

To ensure you stick to your budget, figure out how much you're willing to spend onboard per day before setting sail.

Top tips to save money onboard

  • If your ship has one, use the self-service laundry rather than the ship's laundry service.
  • Check which restaurants are included in your base fare and stick to them.
  • Rather than booking excursions through the cruise company, consider using a local operator for day trips.
  • If they're not included in your fare, bring your own sports equipment such as snorkels and tennis rackets to avoid paying rental fees.
  • Bring any medication you're likely to need with you to avoid paying the cruise-ship pharmacy markup.
  • Pick up mementos and souvenirs at ports of call rather than in the ship's shop.
  • Avoid ship casinos.
  • Catch up on emails at ports of call (look for cafes with free Wi-Fi) to avoid paying the exorbitant fees for onboard internet.
  • Bring some cash with you or use ATMs at ports of call, as the onboard ATM is likely to charge high fees.
  • If you're likely to drink a lot while you're on-board, consider a drinks package, or look out for daily drinks specials and happy hours.
  • Avoid special activities that cost extra.

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