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Top Tips for Clients: How Not to Overspend on a Cruise

September 1, 2008 By: Susan Young Travel Agent

Cruises are inclusive vacations, so their popularity is strong right now with consumers who are finding it tough economically on the home front. The great perk is that food, entertainment and many activities are included in the cruise fare.

Still, it’s easy to overspend on any type of vacation. Here are our “Top Tips for Holding Down Incidental Spending on a Cruise Vacation.” Just tear out, reproduce and hand to your customers before they sail!

Don’t Over-Shop Pre-Cruise: Review the onboard dress code. Take appropriate clothing out of your closet and view as a grouping. Eliminate items. Stick to two basic color schemes; mix and match clothing with neutrals to create more outfits using fewer pieces—say blue slacks, light green slacks and a cream top that can go with either.  Remember that scarves, jewelry, belts and accessories add a whole new look. Try on any clothing selected. If you must buy something new, make a list, create a budget and find sales. Freshen your wardrobe, don’t replace the whole shebang.

Pack Lightly:  Most airlines now charge for checking more than one bag and some may charge for every checked bag. Pack efficiently and lightly. Take two or three pairs of shoes, not six or seven. Take one daytime purse and one evening one, not one for every outfit. Even when you’re ready to shut the suitcase, take out one or two outfits. Airlines routinely add "overweight" charges for bags more than 50 pounds. Check with your airline. Know the restrictions. Weigh your bag on a home scale; if it's overweight, remove less crucial items.

Travel Smartly: If driving to the port, start early in the morning—say by 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.—to avoid traffic and drive when temperatures are cooler. You’ll save a bit on gas as it won’t evaporate as quickly. Drive at 55 mph versus 70 mph to save on gas. If you’re flying, consider frequent traveler miles to save on air costs.

Take Time to Relax:  While a cruise is an inclusive product, extra charges add up fast if you enjoy spa treatments or extensive shore trips, for example. Step back from the “do it all mentality.” Relax, soak up the sunshine, enjoy a jog or read a good book.

Balance Shore Trip Action: Whether you are booking shore trips from the cruise line or another firm, it’s easy to get excited and book the longest most extensive tour in every port. But once onboard, you might find that tiring. Perhaps book a longer trip in your most anticipated port of call. Then balance that the next day with a shorter shore trip or even a self-guided walk around a port city or to a safe, local beach; ask the shore trip office or your agent for ideas. And keep track of cruise line deadlines for cancelling any pre-booked tours or you’ll lose your money.

Shop Smartly Ashore: Cruisers are huge spenders in foreign ports of call. If you want to shop, check prices of similar items at home so you may smartly compare. If bargaining is acceptable at a particular port, start low and go higher; but if you bargain, in many cultures it's assumed you will buy. Some travelers also say they take only a limited amount of cash ashore and only one credit card (or none). That way you simply won’t have a choice about overspending.

Don’t go ashore hungry: Eat breakfast or lunch before you depart on any shore trip. Buying drinks, snacks and meals ashore can add up.  If you’re booking two half-day tours—one in the morning, another in the afternoon—return to the ship for lunch. If you do dine ashore, read menus and check pricing before sitting down, as well as compare several restaurants. Ask what the service charge is and whether that's separate from the gratuity. Fees can increase the tab.

Buy Drink Packages: If your family likes wine with dinner or the kids live on sodas at home, ask the line immediately upon boarding what the options are for wine, beer and soda packages. Many lines offer these, and they help avoid sticker shock at the end of your cruise. .
Save on Spa Treatments: If you’re a spa enthusiast, take the spa tour upon arrival, and find out what’s offered. For sure, book immediately if you must have a particular treatment on a certain day, as the best times may book up fast. But ask about first-day specials and packages, which provide several treatments at a discounted package price.

Temper Onboard Buying: Don’t let buying stuff onboard turn into an "emotional decision" based on the “I deserve it” mentality. Avoid buying on the first or second day. Remember, you’re going to be touring ashore and you might want a souvenir from a tropical island. Then, at the end of the cruise, if you want the line’s tee-shirt, by all means buy. But give yourself time to see what’s available ashore. Also remember when a shop sign says “duty free” it may be a great deal, but you could still have to pay U.S. Customs duty when returning home.

Have a Separate Casino Budget: Enjoy casino play but keep your wallet intact by creating a separate casino budget, say $25 or $75 or several hundred dollars. But never mix these casino funds with your regular vacation cash. Once the casino pot is gone, it’s gone. Another tip is to only visit the casino an hour or less before another activity—say dinner. You’ll walk at the appropriate time, avoiding the tendency to keep playing.

Watch Internet Use: If you plan to use the ship's Internet cafe or Wi-Fi on multiple days throughout the cruise, definitely buy a package of minutes; it’s more economical than paying as you go. Still, Internet use onboard can be pricey. Have an international cell phone? If so, ask if the ship has cell service, as it might be more economical to receive data that way. Before cruising, check with your cell phone provider about options and pricing.

Check the Bill: During the cruise, you’ll receive a copy of your estimated cruise bill. Check it carefully as mistakes do happen. Talk to the purser’s office about any discrepancies on the day before disembarkation. If you go the day of disembarkation, show up extremely early to avoid lines. Pay attention to the deadline time for any bill disputes.

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