This is a guest post by Darrelle Thompson of Darrelle Thompson Writing. Thanks, Darrelle!
I can’t swim.
Do I fit all of the stereotypes of a non-swimmer? In my eyes, yes! I’m a 30-year-old African-American man with a fear of water, so when my wife mentioned a cruise for our honeymoon in 2014 I immediately thought of the Titanic or being stranded out at sea on a broken cruise ship. It took 3 months of talking about it for me to agree to take a cruise to the Bahamas, and it was an amazing experience.
However, it was still expensive. We all want ways to enjoy a vacation and get the most bang for your buck, and today I’ll explain some key tips on how to enjoy a fun cruise for under $1000.
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Travel in the Off-Season
The most expensive time to book a cruise is during the summer months (June-August). You won’t find much under $1000 unless you use a third-party website, which can sometimes provide some good last-minute deals, but you can still get it cheaper in the off-season and by looking out for cruise lines offering deals! Third-party booking sites can also make it much harder to cancel or alter your booking, so just be aware.
The cheapest time to book is between September and December, the ending of hurricane season, where cruise lines normally lower their rates. I always look to book over a year in advance as well, since those new rates will be extremely higher in 6-9 months.
What to wear?! Check out Jessica’s awesome packing guide for ladies off to the Bahamas!
Research different cruise lines
Much like looking up hotel reviews before you travel, you need to do your research before picking a cruise line. The main cruise lines are Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. You need to see if there is a repeating pattern in the comments such as good or bad staff service, quality of food, excursion options, etc.
Penelope’s Tip – check out their Facebook page and the reviews there! If there seems to be a theme in a similar complaint or the company is not responding to any complaints, that’s a red flag saying maybe you should look elsewhere.
You’ve picked your cruise line – now what?
Once you have settled on a cruise line there are a few things you need to do. The first is determining how many days you want to be on the ship. For some of you, 3 days may be enough – a nice getaway weekend – but 4 days or longer cruises are where you really save your money. I looked at cruises for the month of January in 2018 with Carnival cruises and found a good deal!
I looked at cruises to the Bahamas for the month of January in 2018 with Carnival cruises and found a good deal! A 4-day cruise for $214 per person plus taxes. The total came out to $617.10 for two people. With over $350 left to spend for your trip, here are some things you can do to make it that much more enjoyable.
Penelope’s Tip – There is currently a sale on at Carnival if you book by October 31st 2016! As Darrelle mentioned, you can get a 4-day cruise from Orlando to the Bahamas (visiting Nassau and Freeport) for $617.10 for two people in an interior stateroom, $697.10 for an ocean view stateroom or $857.10 for an ocean view stateroom with a balcony. Obviously the cheapest is the interior stateroom, but you can upgrade this room for $2.50 per person per day for a room with portholes so you get a view!
If you are military personnel (from any country) there are discounts available. No other discounts (55+ and so on) appear to be available during this promo.
You can also sign up for free to be a VIFP guest and gain access to members-only discounts. This works like a reward programme – the more cruises you go on and the longer the cruise is, the more points you gain! Think of it like a mileage scheme but on water.
3-day cruises from Miami start at $209pp exc. taxes with an overnight in Nassau, 4-day from Jacksonville to Nassau and Freeport for $239pp exc. taxes, 5-day from Jacksonville to Nassau and Freeport OR Half Moon Cay and Nassau from $269pp exc. taxes.
You can also find cruises for a longer duration from Miami, Baltimore and Charleston starting at $274pp exc. taxes for 4 days, $324pp exc. taxes for 5 days or from $434pp exc. taxes for 7 days (Baltimore only).
Taking an excursion is like a vacation within a vacation, and they will definitely create memories you won’t forget (like a chicken shyly following you as you hike up a road). Depending on the type of excursion you want to take the price ranges can be anywhere from $15- over $200 per person. The cheaper price is the way to go, and there are still plenty of wonderful options to choose from.
A few of the excursions I found under $50 were:
Beach Getaway (Freeport- $39.99 per person)
Private Island Beach Day (Nassau-$49.99 per person)
Freeport Island Tour (Freeport- $35.99 per person)
The Private Island Beach Day was full of relaxing, fresh cooked food & cold beverages, and a private pool with (for me) a failed attempt learning to swim. These three options should all be put on your excursion list when planning for the time the cruise ship is docked.
For this example we will take the Freeport Island Tour for a total of $70, leaving us with $280 for the remainder of the trip.
Events on the Cruise ship
Each cruise ship will have plenty of events to keep you occupied without having to spend much money on them. There are contests, live music, clubs, musicals and activities all over the ship. One fun free event is the stand-up comedy act offered on the cruise line. The big thing to know here is to arrive early to get a good seat!
There will be a number of free contests, sweepstakes, and games that can earn you free drinks, cash, or gifts. Sign up for the Bingo, it’s only a few dollars and you can win some serious cash if you hit the big jackpot.
Penelope’s Tip – There are SO many free activities on cruise ships, check these out first before heading for any that incur additional charges! You can see cooking demonstrations, go to an art seminar, demonstrate your knowledge at the trivia nights, attend a dance class and even play mini golf – all for free!
Sales at the duty-free shop
Every cruise ship has a duty-free shop, and the prices aren’t going to set the world on fire since there are deals to be found every day. However, the biggest deal comes on the last day of the cruise, where the vendors try to sell as many items as possible. You can find clothes, jewellery, watches, and other gifts discounted to up to 80% off! We were able to buy two watches (priced at $109 each), and 2 bracelets (priced at $89 each) for $80 total. We also picked up gifts for our kids ranging from 50-75% off. This is the biggest place to see your remaining budget ($280 in this example) allow you to bring home items that would normally be out of your “spending money” price range.
Now since we have gone over some fun things to do on your trip, let me explain some of the mistakes many first time cruisers on a budget make.
This is easily the easiest way to blow through your remaining money. Now you may be thinking “If I’m on a budget I’m not going to gamble!”, but trust me the flashing lights and the seemingly easy to win games will suck your funds dry.
Stay away from the games where you have to press the button to stop on a specific dollar amount, the odds of winning the Electronic Game Machines can be up to 1 in 137 million. I made the mistake of consistently charging the games to my room ($1 a pop, 50 times on 3 different machines), and had my card stop working due to insufficient funds. Do not make the same mistake I did, simply DO NOT GAMBLE.
Food and most non-alcoholic drinks are free on a cruise, but if you want to have a beer or any other alcoholic drink it will cost you. My wife purchased a strawberry daiquiri and it was $9! We decided no more alcoholic drinks for the trip and stuck to juice and soda.
Penelope’s Tip – Don’t forget to check which dining options are included in your ticket and which cost extra. Meals in certain restaurants can cost you an extra $15 – $95pp. Why pay for food when you can get it for free?
Sometimes I think it’s obvious I’m a student.
I’ve given you the tips to enjoy an excellent cruise to the Bahamas. The DOs and DON’Ts I have provided aren’t a ‘must follow’ rulebook but CAN give you a general idea of how to have fun, without it breaking the bank.
BONUS: Getting to your departure point
Flights are not yet available to book in January 2018 – most airlines are only providing booking for flights before July 2017. However, here are some guide prices for January 2017. Usually, one to four months in advance is the best time to purchase flights as these are usually the lowest prices. Set a Google Flights alert or on your favourite booking provider so you can see when they’re going down!
According to CheapAir, 54 days before your departure is the statistically optimum time to book when flying domestically within the USA.
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Have you been on a cruise or do you hope to in the future? Feel free to leave a comment below, especially if you have any tips and tricks to share!