How To Cruise On A Budget: 10 Easy Shipboard Tips

How to cruise on a budget with shipboard tips

A Balanced “Cruise On A Budget” Strategy

Hello again my budget conscious cruise friends. In our other “cruise on a budget” articles we talked about how to save money when booking a cruise, and since it’s such a big topic, we thought we’d talk about how to save once you’re BOOKED, and once you board. Some, or even all of these cruise on a budget tips may just seem like common sense, but the idea here is to get you thinking about these things before you cruise so they’re not overlooked when the shipboard fun begins.

Hunt for OBC (that’s onboard credit)

You don’t have to go it alone on your quest to save money. Talk to your travel agent. More specifically, ask your agent about onboard credit or other promotions that can offer you a little spending money onboard.

Travel agents often know about deals you and I would have trouble finding. In many cases, they can put together packages that include shipboard or “onboard” credit. It’s a great way to trim a just a little bit more off the bottom line, nail down your cruise on a budget strategy.

Scan for savings

On the topic of great resources, once you’re on the ship your ship’s daily newsletter is a terrific source of information about potential money saving opportunities. You’ll want to scan it daily for deals on specialty restaurants, spa discounts and activities.

A careful eye can often uncover hidden money saving gems like cheap or free food and wine tasting events. The ship’s newsletter is your cruise on a budget secret weapon.


This one might be painful for some, but if you’re serious about saving some cruise scratch, skip the Wifi. Cruise line Internet access is a notorious drain on the cruise budget. It’s the Dr. Evil to your cruise on a budget strategy!

If it’s not absolutely necessary, hold off until you’re in port, and look for some free WiFi. Crew members can be a great source for the inside scoop on the best free hotspots.

Be your own paparazzi

Along those lines, you can skip the ship’s photo packages as well. Once you’re aboard, the ship’s photographers will seem like your own personal paparazzi. Popping up everywhere… trying to get that perfect shot.

Kidding aside, they do a great job, and we’ve got some terrific photos from cruises. But, the photo packages can be costly, and it adds up quickly.

If you want to save money, just take your own photos. Digital media is cheap, and cameras just keep getting better and better. We typically take hundreds if not thousands of photos on a cruise.  The more we take the better the odds are that at least a few will be keepers.

Oh, and It’s not difficult to find someone willing to snap a couple of photos of you and your entourage.

Don’t buy food in port

Here’s one we personally struggle with. In port, it’s really tempting for us to find a cool restaurant, and enjoy some drinks and local cuisine. We love it, but the truth is, it’s an unnecessary expense. 

In most cases, it’s more frugal to head back to the ship’s dining room or buffet. If you’re on a port intensive cruise, eating on the ship rather than in port can really help keep costs down.

Make your port day a spa day

Speaking of port.  Port days are a great time to book spa visits and other ship activities. You’ll rarely find discounts on sea days when everyone is on the ship, and eager to book. Port days are always the best bet for spa lovers looking to cruise on a budget.

Book stuff before you cruise

By the way, you should always look into booking extras like, drink packages, and Internet packages before you sail. Cruise lines want you to reserve these things in advance, and will often offer discounts to encourage early booking.

As a general rule, drink packages and WiFi are almost always cheaper if booked n advance while restaurants and spa prices will be the same or cheaper onboard.

Pack your own beverages

We already covered adult beverages, but if you’re more of a soda drinker, then you may have another option – bring your own. Check your cruise line’s beverage policy first, but most major lines allow each person in a cabin to bring at least 12 cans of soda onboard on embarkation day.

Of course, it’s possible to take advantage of free beverages available on the ship.

You can always find some alternatives to paid drinks. Most lines offer free refreshments like coffee, tea, instant hot chocolate, tap water, lemonade, iced tea, and juices at breakfast.

Be aware that Carnival Cruise line no longer allows plastic bottles, so leave those at home. This may seem like a small thing, but those drinks can add up fast and really hammer your cruise on a budget plan.

We covered this in detail in our “saving money on cruise drinks” episode, but it may also be possible to bring your own wine. Again, check your line’s beverage policy first. 

Don’t fall for the shops

Another shipboard money saving tip is to skip the ship’s store for souvenirs. They’re likely to be cheaper in port. Along those lines, If you see something in the ship’s gift shop you just have to have, don’t rush to buy it right away.

It can sometimes pay to wait and see if the prices drops later in the cruise. Lines often reduce prices toward the end of the cruise.

Make a packing list

Create a packing list a few weeks in advance so you can give thought to items you may need. Be extra diligent when packing toiletries, phone charges, and other things that will cost you an arm and a leg if you forget that item.

If you forget something like toothpaste, conditioner, or sunscreen,  you’ll likely pay a premium in the ship’s store. If you do forget something, try to hold off until you’re in port. It’s a safe bet you’ll find a better deal off the ship in a supermarket or drug store.

The same thing goes for little consumables like batteries and SD cards. You can always find a better deal if you pick these things up before you board the ship. 

Skip the slots (Bonus Tip)

We hesitate to include this last tip because it’s definitely ripped from the pages of “no duh magazine”, but casinos at sea are not known for generous payouts. Let’s just say it’s unlikely you’ll save money hanging out in the casino. Will leave it at that. 

We hope these tips save you some money on your next cruise! Cruise travel can be an affordable way to travel, with a little planning and common sense. Stay tuned for more budget friendly tips and tricks.

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Thank you…

Thanks so much for reading along! We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and we’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to direct message us on Instagram or Facebook with your thoughts, and until next time, we’ll see you on the high seas!