Travel tips

If traveling fewer than three floors, take the stairs. It’s much faster

Who wants to take the stairs on vacation? That sounds like work! Well, the stairs can often be much faster. Realize that with thousands of people on a cruise ship, the elevators can get overwhelmed, making stops on every deck going both up and down. That means it can take a while for the elevator to reach your floor. Instead, if you are only going up or down a few decks it’s definitely easier and faster to just hoof it with the stairs. Plus you get to work off a few of those extra “cruise calories” from eating so much.

Casino payouts are worse than many casinos on land

Expect to hit it big in the casino? It’s going to take a little more luck than usual. Yes, there are stories of people hitting it big, but there are a lot more stories of people losing their cash. In our experience, cruise ships don’t offer great payouts. For example, low-limit blackjack tables will often pay 6-to-5, instead of the usual 3-to-2 you’ll find in many land-based casinos.

Show up later to boarding to get on the ship fastest

If you show up to board right when the boarding window opens, you can expect to do a lot of waiting. There is always a mad rush to board the ship right as it opens, which leads to long lines. (Following the health crisis, cruise lines are putting a bigger emphasis on having arrival windows to keep crowds smaller.) What most people don’t realize is that showing up later actually lets you board faster. Get to the port about an hour before the boarding window closes and you’ll find no lines. It usually only takes about 10-15 minutes to get checked-in and board, all without having to fight huge crowds.

Book extras like drink packages online ahead of time for huge discounts

Want to save a bundle? If you know that you’ll be booking something extra like an Internet package or a drink package, then do it online ahead of time. To entice passengers to book these deals early, the cruise lines offer special discounts. We’ve seen drink packages for buy one, get one 50% off. That’s a big savings over what you’ll spend if you wait to buy until you get on the ship.

Pay off your cruise as slow as possible

You’ll always put down a deposit when you first book your cruise, but some people opt to pay off the entire cruise at once. Sure, it’s a nice feeling knowing that your cruise is bought and paid for, but it also puts you at risk if there is a price drop. You likely know that cruise lines adjust fares, similar to airlines. When you put down a deposit, you can call the cruise line if you see a price drop and ask them to honor the lower price. Not having paid for the entire trip already gives you some leverage as you can potentially cancel and re-book at the lower price. If you’ve already paid for the entire trip, you lose some of that leverage. Don’t worry, though. Even if this happens, still give the cruise line a call and ask for the lower price. You might get money back for the difference as onboard credit.

Want to sail cheap? Cruise when the kids are in school

They should call it the “law of cheap cruising”. If you want to save a ton, be flexible with your dates and sail when school is in session. When school is in, families with kids — a huge demographic in cruising — can’t easily take their trips. That means the cruise lines are looking to fill rooms and will offer up cheap fares to entice people to sail. In fact, it’s not surprising to find fares that double during holiday breaks when families can take their trips.

Want cheap souvenirs? Wait until there is a deal at the gift shop

Don’t head out to the gift shop onboard the first day of the cruise to buy some souvenirs. Check by each day, and only stop when they are offering decent sale (which they seem to do toward the end of the cruise). The cruise lines will offer all sorts of different incentives each day to lure passengers to spend some cash. Wait until you find a sale that you like before deciding to buy.

Beaches are free ways to enjoy the day

If you don’t want to spend money on shore excursions, that’s understandable. A free way to enjoy the port cities and save some money is to head to the beach. Every port will have some exclusive beach clubs with hammocks and drink service, but they usually charge an entry fee. Instead, do some research (or ask a taxi) on where the free beaches are. You might have to deal with more people, but nothing beats having a day on a world-class beach without having to spend a dime.

Walking a couple of blocks in port can save a lot of cash on taxis

Ports are the lifeblood for the tourism industry in the places you’ll visit. You’ll get off the ship and be hounded for taxi rides and souvenirs. Don’t give in if you want to save. If you want to get a deal, then simply walk a couple of blocks into the city. There will still be plenty of taxis and shops around, but they won’t be charging near as much. Cozumel, however, has set taxi prices.

Yes, some people get offered random upgrades to their cabin

Ever heard of the “upgrade fairy”? Many cruise passengers get random calls from the cruise lines offering upgrades from lower-grade rooms to higher-quality accommodations for super cheap. For example, upgrading from an interior room to a balcony room for just $200. It’s a way for the cruise line to make a little more money and for passengers to get a much better room. How do you get a visit from the upgrade fairy? So far it appears random, but you will definitely have more luck if you are booked on a cruise where there is less demand (such as off-season cruises where rooms are harder to fill).