Set sail without breaking the bank.
Surf the Market
Prices can fluctuate widely, so request weekly fare newsletters from a site such as CruiseCritic.com. When something catches your eye, don’t stall: “Large suites and cabins designed for families, such as those with connecting doors, sell out first,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com. After you’ve made your reservation, sign up for a tracking service: Sites like CruiseFish.net and Cruiseline.com will alert you if the rate drops. Depending on how far out you are from your sailing date, you can usually cancel and rebook to take advantage of the better deal or request a price match.
Shop Around for Shore Things
You’ll likely pay a premium by signing up for shore excursions through the cruise line, says Lissa Poirot, editor in chief of FamilyVacationCritic.com. Instead, make your arrangements directly with local vendors or larger tour operators like CruiseCompete.com and ShoreTrips.com. “Be sure to research the company thoroughly and leave plenty of time to get back to the ship. They won’t wait for passengers who are delayed on independently organized tours,” says Poirot.
Pay Along the Way
Prepaid alcoholic beverage packages can be tempting—but at an average daily cost of $50 per person, not to mention the added gratuity charge of 15 percent or more, you’d have to do some pirate-level boozing to get your money’s worth. (Besides, if you do find yourself racking up a hefty bar tab, most lines will allow you to switch over to a package at any point during your voyage for a prorated amount.) On the flip side, non-alcoholic beverage packages—at around $5.50 to $10 per day—could be a no-brainer for the kids. “If it’s likely that they’ll drink three or more sodas or juices a day while onboard the ship—not including shore time—then you should consider it,” says Poirot.