9 Tips For A Budget-Friendly Family Cruise

Last updated on February 26th, 2024 at 08:26 pm

Looking for a fantastic family vacation that won't break the bank? Look no further than a cruise! With a little planning and a few savvy strategies, you can set sail on an unforgettable voyage while keeping your budget intact.
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While you will know the upfront cost of a cruise, the costs that you don’t plan for, or think of, can add up fast. According to Business Insider, onboard spending has increased from an average of $66 per day, per person in 2019, to more than $81 per day in 2023.  When budgeting for a cruise, is it important to factor in what cruise lines are charging for items that used to be included in the standard pricing.

The first step in avoiding surprises and an additional bill at the end of your cruise, is to plan ahead and to be aware of extra charges. Know what items are included in your fare beforehand, create a budget and stick to it. You want to look back on your cruise with fond memories, not with regret over the cost. 

Know What To Expect

The first step begins with choosing a dream cruise destination like Canada, the Caribbean or Hawaii and knowing what to expect so you can take advantage of all available opportunities to save money.

Even with extra charges, there are still ways to ensure you have a budget-friendly cruise vacation. Your budget for a family cruise doesn’t have to break the bank.

In this blog post, we’ll share some tried-and-true tips on how to save money on a cruise, ensuring a wallet-friendly and fun-filled experience for the whole family.

1.) Opt for Off-Peak Seasons, Repositioning Cruises or Last-Minute Deals

To snag the best bargains, consider booking your cruise during off-peak seasons when demand is lower. This can often result in significant savings on both fares and accommodations.

Additionally, keep an eye out for last-minute deals, as cruise lines sometimes offer discounted rates to fill empty cabins closer to departure dates.

Consider, too, the length of the cruise. Taking a four or five-day cruise yields greater savings than a week-long cruise trip.

While it all depends on how well you’ve planned to finance your cruise vacation, opting for shorter cruises is a clever way to squeeze in a quick but great getaway without overstretching your overall travel budget.

A repositioning cruise has its advantages when on a budget. A repositioning cruise is a type of cruise where a ship is moved from one region to another to accommodate seasonal changes or demand.

These cruises usually occur when a ship relocates to a different homeport or when it transitions between different cruising regions, such as from the Caribbean to Europe.

Repositioning cruises often offer lower prices compared to regular cruises as they are primarily focused on the journey rather than specific ports of call. They provide an opportunity for travelers to enjoy extended periods at sea and visit unique destinations along the way.

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2.) Research and Compare Prices

Don’t settle for the first offer you come across. Take the time to research and compare prices from different cruise lines, travel agencies, and online booking platforms.

The strong demand for cruises means that you might have to do a bit more shopping around before deciding. Booking early can get you better pricing. As a cruise fills up, rates for remaining inventory goes up, so try to book as far in advance as you can. 

It may seem counterintuitive to the above advice, but there are times when booking late can also pay off. If a cruise isn’t full, you can sometimes find last-minute deals on unsold cabins. The disadvantage is that you have to be flexible and be able to travel on short notice. This can work for retirees or those who can work onboard. Either way, this is an option worth exploring. 

Price comparison websites can be particularly helpful in finding the best deals and special promotions. Remember, a little extra effort in the planning stage can lead to substantial savings.

3.) Be Flexible With Itineraries

Flexibility can be your secret weapon for savings. Consider alternate embarkation ports, as they may offer lower prices compared to major port cities.

Similarly, be open to different itineraries and cruise durations, as shorter or less popular routes can often come with more affordable price tags.

4.) Explore Cabin Options

While having a balcony cabin or a suite might sound appealing, they typically come at a higher cost. Opting for an interior or ocean-view cabin can save you a significant amount of money without sacrificing the overall cruise experience.

cruise cabin bed bugs

Some cruise lines offer the option to guarantee a cabin type (inside, outside, balcony) without assigning a specific cabin. By selecting this option, you may receive a free or discounted upgrade upon check-in if available.

The majority of cruisers don’t spend a significant amount of time in their cabins, so choosing a less expensive cabin should not negatively impact your time onboard.

If it doesn’t matter to you that there are a lot of bells and whistles, travel on an older ship. Those ships filled with amenities tend to sell at premium prices. Older ships that don’t have as many bright lights and offerings can be a great value. 

Royal Carribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. , is an older ship that, while a nice ship, is not fancy and grand like the fleet’s newer Icon of the Seas.If you are not looking for a floating amusement park, Brilliance will get you where you want to go and save you money too. 

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5.) Pack Wisely and Avoid Unnecessary Purchases

Bring essential items such as toiletries, sunscreen, and medications from home to avoid higher prices onboard. Avoid impulsive purchases by planning ahead and only buying items or souvenirs you genuinely need or want.

As expected, toiletries and other things that one may forget to bring on a cruise, are available at an inflated cost. Bring all your own toiletries, bandages and over the counter medicines.

Watches, jewelry, spa treatments and specialty dining are all marketed aggressively on cruise ships. If you want to save money, don’t pay much attention to these additional offerings.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money onboard to have a great time on a cruise!

6.) All-Inclusive vs. À La Carte

Evaluate the various packages available and decide whether an all-inclusive or à la carte option suits your family’s needs and budget better.

On someof the newer cruise ships, such as Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, you can pay $30 for an adult milkshake and $10 for takeout sushi. If you choose to dine at the Empire Supper Club, expect to pay $200 per person. If this dining experience is up your alley, that’s great. If you are looking to keep extra expenses down while cruising, you will come out of the numerous complimentary restaurants just as full. And your wallet will be full, too.

All-inclusive drink packages can save you money if you drink a lot, but if you’re only going to buy one or two drinks per day, just pay the per-drink charge.

The same goes for specialty dining. If you just eat in the “free” dining venues, you still have great food and selection, without spending more.

To ensure a budget-friendly cruise vacation, make sure to look out for cost-friendly packages like an unlimited soda package instead of buying beverages a-la-carte.

7.) Plan Excursions Wisely

Shore excursions can add up quickly, so it’s wise to plan them strategically. Consider researching and booking excursions directly with local operators, as they often offer more competitive prices than those arranged by the cruise line.

Local tour operators or exploring on your own can often be more cost-effective while allowing you to experience the destination authentically.

Alternatively, explore free or low-cost activities at each port of call, such as strolling through local markets or visiting public beaches. Many destinations are safe enough for you to explore on your own for little to no cost.

8.) Use Credit Card Rewards or Loyalty Programs

Check if your credit card offers rewards that can be used for cruise expenses or consider joining loyalty programs offered by cruise lines. These programs often provide discounts, onboard credits, and other perks.

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9.) Set a Budget and Track Expenses To Limit Onboard Expenses

Although many activities and amenities are included in the cruise fare, certain items such as specialty dining, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, and shore excursions often come with additional costs.

Before embarking on your cruise, establish a budget for onboard spending and stick to it. From specialty dining and spa treatments to souvenir shopping, it’s easy to get carried away. Not only is it easy to get carried away, the costs add up quickly. Using, again, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas as an example, you could drop $400 on a daybed in the infinity pool. The Crown’s Edge where you dangle off the side of the ship (something that you would normally avoid doing) can set you back $50. Those frozen drinks at $15 a pop can add up, but on excursion, renting a floating cabana for the day for $4,600 can sink your budget in a hurry.

Before embarking on your cruise, establish a budget for onboard spending and stick to it. From specialty dining and spa treatments to souvenir shopping, it’s easy to get carried away.

Keep track of your expenses and use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to monitor your spending throughout the trip. Being mindful of your budget will help you avoid unexpected financial surprises.

If you want to stay connected throughout your cruise vacation, opt for a Wifi connection package. But, if you don’t “NEED” to be connected, you will save quite a bit by going without. You can always find WiFi when you get off the ship, and while you’re on the ship, just enjoy the ship sans internet.

Final Thoughts

With a little planning, flexibility, and a dash of creativity, a budget-friendly cruise vacation can be well within reach for your family. Going for vacation packages helps you land the best value deals and mitigate high fees.

From choosing the right time to book to being strategic with your onboard expenses, these money-saving tips will help you navigate the world of cruising without emptying your wallet.

So, set sail with confidence, embark on an unforgettable adventure, and create lifelong memories—all while staying on budget. Bon voyage!

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Joy is the Co-Founder & Content Manager/Expert for and one of the founders of the site. She loves to travel, sing & bake.


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