Cruise lines are known for nickel-and-diming passengers once they’re onboard—although in reality it’s more like $5 here for gelato and $10 there for a piña colada—so savvy cruisers are always looking for ways to cut down on expenses. One way is to think ahead and pack smartly. Here are 10 things to bring that will save you money on your next cruise.
Different cruise lines have different policies when it comes to free non-alcoholic beverages onboard. Some—mostly the luxury lines—offer unlimited beverages (including wine, beer, and spirits), while others, such as Disney, offer all-you-can-drink dispensed soft drinks. But if you’re cruising on Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America, Windstar, MSC, or Costa, you’ll pay for anything other than the juices, iced tea, lemonade, and water served via dispensers in the buffet restaurants (and water at all restaurants). To quench your thirst for free when at the pool or taking a shore excursion, pack a thermal bottle—metal ones keep drinks cold for hours when ice is added—and fill up on whatever’s complimentary.
Extra Sunscreen and a Hat
You think that one tube or bottle of sunscreen is going to suffice, but it never does. And then you end up running out just two or three days into your cruise and have to pay an inflated price in the onboard shop or ashore, where merchants know they’ve got you. Bring twice as much as you think you’ll need and consider investing in SPF-rated swim shirts for your kids. And always make sure everyone packs a hat.
First-time Disney cruisers may be surprised to learn that each adult age 21 or older can carry on two bottles of wine or champagne or a six pack of beer at embarkation. There’s no corkage fee; you can enjoy them in your cabin, on your balcony, or even pour the drinks into glasses and take them around the ship. Cunard, Holland America, Princess, and Carnival allow each passenger 21 and older to bring one bottle of wine or champagne aboard (Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Windstar allow two, Oceania three) for in-cabin consumption; Norwegian allows unlimited bottles at embarkation but subjects each bottle to a $15 corkage fee. Azamara and Crystal—both of which offer complimentary wine, beer, and standard spirits in their bars and restaurants—let you bring alcohol onboard throughout the cruise for in-cabin consumption. Most other cruise lines will let you bring alcohol onboard after port calls, but will take the bottles and store them until your departure. Check your cruise line’s policy for specifics.
Advance Reservations for Independent Shore Excursions
Cruise lines make money on everything they offer to passengers—including shore excursions. The price you’ll pay for an excursion booked via the ship is likely to be much more expensive than if you booked a similar one independently. Take a look at the ship excursions offered in each port, note the prices and all-ashore and all-aboard times, and then comparison shop online for the best deals you can find.
Some ships have self-service laundry rooms. On Azamara, Cunard, Crystal, Holland America, Seabourn, Regent, and Viking they’re free as is the detergent; Carnival, Disney, Princess, and Oceania charge $2 to $3.25 per washer and dryer load, plus additional for detergent. And if you’re cruising on Celebrity, Costa, MSC, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, or Windstar (which don’t offer self-service laundry) definitely bring along detergent and you can rinse and drip dry your favorite items in your cabin to avoid the hefty fees of the ship’s laundry service.
Ask your bank to order euros, pesos, yen, or whatever currency you’ll need in your destination before you leave home. You’ll save on foreign transaction fees at ATMs and avoid the stingy exchange rates offered aboard most ships.
A Wifi Plan Booked During a Promotion
Chances are you’re going to want to stay connected with friends and family back home while at sea—if only to post your favorite photos to social media. But cruise ship wifi is expensive (although included on luxury lines such as Viking, Regent, Crystal, Oceania, and Silversea). Watch for free onboard wifi promotions by cruise lines and book then.
Cruising the Caribbean and love to snorkel? If you have your own gear, bring it along and you can save by not having to rent it on the cruise lines’ private islands.
A Photo of the Ugly Painting You Bought on Your Last Cruise
It seemed like a good idea: You received an invitation to a cocktail reception in the ship’s art gallery, arrived and were handed a glass of Champagne (that was refilled again and again), as the charming curator extolled the investment potential of a series of inordinately vibrant and blandly ordinary paintings. The bubbles went to your head and you ended up spending way too much for a painting you sort of liked—until you got home and thought, “How could I?” Keep a photo of it on your phone as a reminder of how much those glasses of “free” champagne actually cost you.
A Camera (or Phone) That Takes Great Photos
You’ve done great with your onboard expenses—until you stop by the photo kiosks on your last night just to see how all those snaps that the ship’s photographers have been taking turned out. And $100 or $200 later, you’re packing a bunch of 8 x 10 photos into your bag that you’ll likely never look at again until you move and discover them in the bottom of a storage bin. If a staff photographer snaps you during the cruise, just ask a fellow passenger to take the same image on your phone or camera and it won’t cost you a thing.