April 8, 2013

When to Save and When to Spend on a Cruise Vacation

In January, we went on a cruise.  It was actually one of the most expensive and longest vacations that we have taken as a family but we had an amazing time.  The girls both really liked it and can't wait to go on another cruise.  I did plenty of research before we went and actually listed every expense in an excel spreadsheet to keep us on track.  I expected to spend $3900, but we came in under budget at $3600. 

Here's how I saved some money and where I refused to skimp to save a few bucks:

Booking the cruise:
  • Balcony Room: $2130.  I checked back once a week to see if there were any sales and there actually was a better deal a few months before we left.  I called carnival and they reimbursed me $130.  Total for 7 day cruise including transportation to the Bahamas, meals, camp carnival and entertainment =  $2000.
  • We could have saved even more by not booking a balcony room, but it was something we really wanted.  It was great to watch the ocean from our balcony and have a place to read while Baby Ripples took her nap.
Transporation to and from the cruise:
  • Chose a cruise out of a port that is only 6 hours away so we didn't have to fly anywhere. 
  • Carpooled with my mom and mother-in-law, split the gas costs and tolls
Hotel Stay:
  • Since we went in January, we were worried about weather being bad for the 6 hour drive to get to the port.  I booked us a really nice hotel close to the port for $160 per room including taxes.  The hotel included free breakfast, parking for my car for the week we were gone, and shuttle service to and from the port. 
Excursions: Excursions can be ridiculously expensive, most being close to $100 per person or more, here is what we did at each port.
  • Port Canaveral: Booked a shuttle to Cocoa Beach and then Cocoa city = $60. We spent about an hour lounging around on the beach while the kids played in the sand and put their feet in the water.  Then we took the shuttle into the city to walk around the shops.  We had lunch at a little farmers market.  My husband got 2 hot dogs and a bag of chips for him and the girls and I had a great spinach feta strudel thing.  Lunch was less than $10. Total Cost: $70
  • Nassau:  We booked an excursion to go on a submarine type boat to look at fish.  The excursion took us on a 20 minute boat ride to the submarine and then we rode around looking at fish for about 40 minutes and had another 20 minute boat ride back.  Total Cost: $138
  • Freeport:  The kids didn't really want to get off the boat.  We did get off for about an hour and just walked around the little outdoor market that was at the port.  I bought my only souvenir which was a purse made out of coconut tiles.  I love it and get tons of compliments on it!  We danced in the middle of the market with the kids to  a band playing.  And then the kids kept asking to go swimming so we went back to the boat. Total Cost: $75 for souvenirs
  • Only entertainment purchase was $40 to play bingo. 
  • We didn't gamble and didn't hit the shops.
  • We did enjoy the free entertainment like going the dance club a few nights,  watching live bands, the hilarious comedy shows, and musical performances.  We went to a few of the trivia challenges and had a blast at the sail away party on the deck when we left Freeport. 
  • The kids loved camp carnival which was free until 10pm.  We did pay for them to stay for one of the late night parties but the kids fell asleep at 10:30 so it was a waste of money and we didn't bother doing it again.
Food and Beverages:
  • Most of the food is free on the cruise.  The one restaurant that cost money to go to, we chose not to try.
  • We did purchase a wine package = $131 which saved a little off of the price if we were to purchase the bottles separately.
  • We purchased other various mixed drinks throughout the cruise.
  • I bought 2 cookies at a specialty bakery.
  • They have tons of photographers all around the boat and many opportunities to get professional photos.  They are always trying to get you to book a photography session or just in the spur of the moment pool you into a really nice scene and start taking photos.  Most of the time we just kept walking and said "No Thanks".
  • We did purchase a family photo in a really cool light up frame and a photo with just my husband and I.  (I know these can be expensive but I've always regretted not purchasing a certain photo at Disney on our honeymoon and have decided that if there is a great photo on vacation, I'm going to buy it)
  • My husband and I had passport cards already but we did purchase cards for each of the girls.  It wasn't necessary but did give us some piece of mind to have them.
In Hindsight, we could have saved even more. 

Excursions:  The kids really just wanted to hang out on the boat and swim so we didn't really need to do any excursions.

Drinks: Ummmmmm....well... nope.  Couldn't save any money here :)

Camp Carnival Night Owls:  It cost us $26 for the kids to sleep right through the after hours party.

Hotel: Next time I don't think I would bother getting a hotel room the night before.

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