How to Take a Cruise for as Little as $30 Per Day

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 4th, 2014

Cruises can be expensive affairs. First, ships reel you in with a “cheap” room and an onboard credit but then smack you around with high-priced drinks, non-included restaurants, and dollar-a-minute Internet. A couple of years ago, I went on the Oasis of the Seas (one of the largest boats in the world) on a seven-day cruise around the Caribbean. The listed price of this cruise?

$800 USD.

That’s expensive for a week of cruising. You could go to Southeast Asia for a month on that kind of money.

Luckily, there are, in fact, ways to cruise for as little as $30 per day. It just takes a bit of skill, a lot of discipline, and a bit of sneakiness.

Note: Where did I get that price? That’s the cheapest listed price on Cruise Sheet, a website I explain below. I’ve been tracking prices for months and that is generally the consistent cheapest figure.

How to Book a Cheap Cruise


Booking a cheap cruise is actually quite easy and requires only one thing: flexibility.  See, cruise pricing is similar to tour pricing. The closer you get to the departure date, the lower the price becomes. Why? Because cruise ships don’t want to depart with half-empty boats, so they drop prices steadily until that boat is leaving port, since for them empty cabins mean less money. Cruises make the majority of their money from what people purchase on board, so they want bodies on those ships. (Plus, most of the crew earns their money from tips, so they need to keep the crew happy – and besides, who is going to think highly of a cruise that is only half full?)

You can also book early but I find last minute bookings to be the best. And since you are booking close to departure, you need to be flexible with where you are willing to go or O.K. with not booking the actual cruise even if you booked your flights.

Another tip comes Doug Parker of Cruise Radio, “When the kids are in school, the rates are the best.”  This holds true in all travel but especially cruising because it is such a family activity. Don’t travel when everyone else is traveling! If you do that or travel during the shoulder season, you can find the best rates.  Chris from Orlando Chris also reiterates my recommendation and says, “Book far in advance or last minute for the best fares.”

So where should you go to book your cruise?

Doug advises that you start with a travel agent, as they have relationships with the cruise companies and can often get better rates and last minute deals. And my experience has me agreeing. While there are many “do it yourself” options, travel agents often can find much lower prices and can act as liaison to cruise companies when something goes wrong.

If you want to go with the “do it yourself” angle, you only need to go to three sources to find cheap cruises:

Both of these websites do a detailed job of scouring the web for cruise deals. Vacations to Go is more of a travel agent/operator and thus often has better deals since they can negotiate with the cruise lines directly; keep in mind they add a lot of fees. Cruise Sheet is simply a website aggregator that crawls the web and then displays cheap last-minute fares. This is my favorite cruise site as it seems to find all the deals and makes finding a cheap cruise easy. Cruise Deals has a weekly deals newsletter worth subscribing to.

In terms of timing, don’t book early. As Doug states, “the only benefit to booking early is to secure the room you want.” If you want a specific cabin, book early. Otherwise, wait until the last minute. As I said in the beginning, cruise companies don’t want to sail empty ships and so do heavy last-minute discounting – be sure to sign up for cruise company newsletters to stay informed!

Finally, if you book a cruise and the price drops, contact the cruise or your travel agent. They will often give you the difference as an onboard credit.

As Chris from Orlando Chris states “There are so many ships now, prices are at an all time low.”  Now is a great time to go on a cruise.

Three Things to Remember


Smaller is cheaper – Smaller boats tend to be less expensive since they offer fewer amenities and attractions.

Cruise in the off season – Traveling off season (Caribbean during the hurricane season, Alaska in September) will get you markedly cheaper fares.

Take a repositioning cruise – Repositioning cruises are when cruise lines move ships from one part of the world to the next in anticipation of the upcoming season. These “cruises” are a great way to cross an ocean or sail down a continent’s coast on the cheap and can be found on any cruise booking website.

What about your flight?  Don’t book your flight with the cruise — book it separately. Check out this guide to finding a cheap flight to lower that cost.

How to Enjoy a Cheap Cruise


Cruises are not often all-inclusive and become increasingly less so each year.  Chris states, “the gravy is what people spend on board.” Cruise ships want you spending, since that’s where they have the best margins. However, if you are smart and disciplined, cruises don’t have to cost much more than the price of the cabin itself.  Here’s how to save money while on board:

Skip the soda – A long time ago, soda was free. Now, you have to pay around $3 USD for a tiny glass, or you can pay between $45-60 USD for a soda card that gives you unlimited soda for the duration of the cruise.  You’d have to drink a lot of soda to make that worth it. Instead, stick to the free water, iced teas, and juices on the ship. Your wallet and insulin levels will thank you.

Say no to photos – Do you really need some cheesy “professional” photos of your family? I didn’t think so. Get them done back home for less or take a digital camera and have someone take them for you on the ship.

Avoid the restaurants – On most cruise ships these days, there are specialty restaurants that you can book for an added cost. Some are à la carte, some charge a set fee. (The sushi restaurant I tried on the Oasis of the Seas was à la carte.) The food in the dining areas, the buffets, and the other shops – they are just as good and less costly. Avoid these specialty restaurants. (If you do decide to book, doing so before you board can generally save you 25%. Doug also suggests looking for dining packages as they work out cheaper, too.)

Limit your drinking – 6 dollar beers and 10 dollar mixed drinks can really add up. Enjoy fun in the sun while sober and skip spending a ridiculous amount of money on booze. I was amazed at how quickly my alcohol bill added up after just a few days of wine with dinner and a couple of piña coladas while sitting by the pool.

Bring your own supplies – Cruise companies will let you can bring one case of your own water, soda, and beer, as well as a bottle of wine onto the ship.

Bring extra booze – If you do want to drink hard liquor while on board, get Rum Runners. These handy little bags allow you to pour alcohol into them and, because there are no air bubbles, escape the x-ray machine. You need to be sneaky but if you’re smart, you can smuggle your own alcohol on board and avoid paying for high priced drinks.

Avoid the casino – This goes without saying.

Plan your own shore excursions – Cruise-run shore excursions are overpriced and crowded. Instead, do some research online and plan your own activities with local operators who will get to keep all the money. You’ll save money, support the local economy even more directly, and avoid the hordes that will clutter your photos.

Just remember that the boat will leave without you so give yourself enough time to get back. Doug Parker recommends the company Shore Excursions Group whose activities are 30% cheaper and offers a guarantee that it will get you back to the boat in time.

Clean your own clothes – Having laundry done on a ship costs crazy money. Instead of sending a bag of clothes off to be cleaned, you pay per article like in really nice hotels. Frankly, my socks aren’t worth $2 USD each. Instead, buy some Woolite and clean your own clothes in the bathtub or sink.

Skip the airport transfers – The airport transfers cruise companies offer are overpriced, and you can fit into a cab for a much cheaper rate.

Skip anything that costs money – This is obvious, but I like to cover all the bases. The spa, the shopping, the Internet, the cell phone access, etc. They all cost money. Don’t do it! Save the money for something cheaper back on dry land.

And remember if you do spend money on a cruise, by using the booking tips from the previous section, you should be able to get a free onboard credit that will cover some of your costs!

I think a cruise is a great vacation because it is a chance to get away from everything and have a place where you can just relax. The ancillary costs of cruises are what really add up and make a cruise “expensive.” But if you avoid all the additional costs and take advantage of your onboard credit, you can cruise for just the base rate of your cabin. It takes discipline to avoid that next piña colada, but you can do it. You can easily enjoy an entire cruise without spending a penny!

I like cruises. To me, it’s a good vacation. Sitting on a boat by the pool, drink in hand, without a care in the world. I eat well (all day salad buffet), sleep well, head to the gym, and relax. I don’t think of it as “travel” but more of a relaxing break.

Follow the tips above, cruise cheap, and enjoy a relaxing vacation without breaking the bank.

comments 54 Comments

Yep, can be a challenge to stick to a budget on these floating hotels. I’m sure many people blow their bank accounts on some cruises!

Love this! We have been thinking about going on an Alaska cruise because we’ve been hearing about how awesome it is. However, I didn’t really know how everything worked (such as with food and drinks). This article helped a lot!

I’ve never been attracted to cruises, but I think if I found a great deal for one in Alaska or somewhere else cold it would be fun. I’d like to be on the sea with icebergs!

Steve

Hmm, not sure about all those saving money tips Matt! You could apply those tips to ANYTHING in the world.

“Think you can’t afford a weekend in Vegas?” Think again! Just don’t go to the casinos or the clubs and the bars and you’ll have a well cheap time! It isn’t really experiencing Vegas then is it?

What is the point of taking a cruise if you are “avoiding anything that costs” money – don’t drink alcohol, avoid the casino, avoid the spa, avoid the restaurant…the article is pretty much saying “You can take a cruise but don’t expect to have any fun unless you can do it sober laying on a chair quietly”

Now I’m not saying that to “experience” a cruise is about partying, getting drunk, eating expensive meals and spending $200 a day but I feel if you are taking a cruise and you want to have a memorable time you HAVE to be prepared to spend a little money. I’d be furious if I booked a cruise and it was full of people not doing anything just to save money. You may as well go to Thailand for a month and sit in the sun there like you suggested!

The other tips about bringing your own supplies, washing your own clothes are good tips though and I enjoyed the first part of the article about waiting to book tours/cruises late, I never would have thought of that – for some reason I always assumed the later you book the more expensive it would be but it makes sense that they would want a full cruise

Steve :)

I agree, at one point, you HAVE to be prepared to spend some money otherwise, what is the sense to be on a cruise if you can’t do nothing ?
Is’nt better then to just go on a cheap country and to moove by yourself and to walk in your country ?
Doing laundry in the room ? Is it vacation ?
Being on a cruise is to relax not to stress yourself for every $ you spend…

If you can’t afford it, don’t do it…
“Skip anything that costs money ” and yeah, just sit and look on the water.
Rock climbing ? whaaaat, don’t think of it, you’re crazy, it cost 20$… stoooop, you may enjoy a moment on this cruise, stop right now budy !

All the backpacker tips doesn’t work well for a cruise because it destroys the fun in my opinion.

Andy Green

If you really want to drink alcohol look at the drink packages. They now offer beer and alcohol in drink packages.
But these can be more expensive than your actual ticket.

alison

This is great advice for those of us who don’t drink or gamble. Some of us people do have fun just sitting in the sun, eating, reading, doing yoga and using the free amenities offered on a ship. I don’t understand why some people have to dink alcohol and gamble to have a good time. To each their own.

Drew O.

A sneaky trick to get more booze on board. You are allowed a case of water. Carefully break up the case and pull out the interior bottles. Pour out the water and fill with colorless booze (vodka?) and reseal. Put the pack back together. No one checks the bottles to see if they are sealed and even if they do, they will only look at the exterior ones. I think you gotta be an alcoholic to use this trick though…..

Sara

Not always Smaller is cheaper what you have to look its not the actual size is the type or class or whatever the company name the different kind of ships. for example in Royal in the Caribbean route if you compare the adventure of the seas Voyager class and the Jewel of the seas Radiance Class the Adventure (bigger ship) is cheaper than the Jewel (in the same route) but the Radiance has a little more luxury.

And easy than clean your own clothes in the bathtub or sink the ships always has a laundromat and for $3 use the washer and dryer.

Great advice thanks! I love taking a cruise, and would love to do it for a longer time sometimes, because the ones I’ve taken before have only been short 1 to 2 night cruises. :-)

Rob

Having never been on a cruise, this cheap price even makes me want to steer clear. I hate the touristy attractions, and being stuck on a boat with endless buffets of hamburgers, salads, pizza, meat and potatoes makes me sick. I’d rather be on my own in the street eating and exploring on my own!

Jen

Some great tips Matt. I have been thinking of a Caribbean cruise for a while now on the recommendation of a friend. I will definitely be keeping your tips in mind when it comes time to book.

Patrick Smith

We love cruises too, Matt! I was always the person that said “NO” to cruises- “I always said, “I am a back-packer, we don’t cruise!:-)”. Then a friend convinced me to just try it…..LOVED IT! for all the reasons you list. We have employed most of the tips you have listed, especially pre-cruise research for port trips. But I do agree with one comentor about enjoying the experience. Our cruise to Alaska was really enhanced with the Salmon BBQ that cost extra. We are about to embark on our first reposition cruise- we are using this 14 day cruise ($599) to get from Florida to Spain for some long term travel! We will wait for fall to book a return cruise (very exciting!!). Travelzoo is another site to find cheap cruises and Vacations To Go was our go-to site for our previous cruises.

I was never interested in cruises until I found a $99 ALL IN repositioning cruise to Panama. Three days of basically transporting yourself on a floating spa. And cheaper than any flight. I found it on VacationsToGo – great site!

Great Article! I read somewhere that cruise companies basically break even when they have an almost full boat, so they really make all of their money off of excursions, drinks and all the non-free add-ons. We took a cruise several years ago and spent almost nothing on board, went on two excursions, and honestly came out really happy with the cruising experience. If you want to just hang around and head to the beach a few times, it’s perfect. We did plan one day where we found a taxi driver to take us to a beach and we called him to pick us up a few hours later. Paid $10US instead of the cruise’s $50/person for a day at the beach. Thanks for the tips on how to save even more $$.

Nice post Matt. I totally agree that cruises are relaxing and not really traveling. You don’t get to see much of the destination which is actually why I avoid cruises. However, you made me rethink cruises as a way to actually just RELAX and not worry about what mountain to climb, what crazy beach I need to go to, and how to get to the next city. I can just chill and let the boat take care of everything. :)

So many great tips, thanks for sharing! Had written cruise ships off as overpriced, but will definitely be considering them in the future.

Shannon

I love cruising! If you like the spa, and I do, most treatments are usually MUCH cheaper during the days you are at port vs the days you are at sea. Everybody is off the ship, so they lower the prices in the spa or have good package deals to entice you to stay on board. I’ve gotten treatments close to 75% off just because I came back on the ship early, or went to the spa early and left the ship later. I think this is true for most other things on the ship too, they have better deals while they are in port.

Casey

These might be money saving tips but they are also fun killing tips. You go on a cruise to have fun. Drinks in the sun, relaxing spa treatments and entertainment. If you go on a cruise determined to not spend anything, you’re going to have a boring time. As for smuggling alcohol onboard, you can sit home and drink in your room.

ALAN HARRIS

Agreed.

The best way to save money on a cruise is not to take one.

NomadicMatt

Some people like sitting around by the pool without finding it boring. To each their own.

I have never gotten a spa treatment while on vacation and I don’t think I’m missing out (neither have I done laundry. It’s not hard to bring 7 pairs of underwear and socks…). To those who say that if you can’t afford to travel – don’t, my answer is everyone has a budget they would rather stick to. I am not going to wait until I can afford a stay at a 5-star Hotel and a flight in First Class, because it may be a while. But for some it’s the only way to travel. Does that mean I have to stay at home until I’m a millionaire?
I think everyone will take away from this post what they wish. The point is, you don’t have to break the bank to travel. And if you followed at least some of Matt’s tips you would probably find it easier to pay off your post-cruise credit card bill.

Great post here Matt, I’ve not been one to be interested in cruises but I think around some islands would be a nice way to chill out with some down time after some intense travelling. Great tips on how to beat the high price system :D

It looks like a very boring way to travel. I mean without spending any money. My advice, if you are cheapo, just do not travel.

gavin

I firmly say that if you have to budget THIS tightly, you cannot afford to go. My wife and I routinely pay over $200 per person per day for cruise fare. And the statement that smaller ships are less expensive is a totally false generalization. Seabourn ships hold a maximum of 400 people, and are priced at roughly $1000 per person per day.

Save up, and purchase the best cabin you can afford for your first cruise. Plus, find a travel agent you trust and is willing to work with you. If you are young and looking for night life, you will find Holland America a snooze fest. Likewise, if you are looking for a “sit down and read all cruise” atmosphere, Norwegian will be a little too much.

NomadicMatt

Everyone has different budgets and needs. If you are happy with your spending, more power to you. But for those with different needs, they might find this post useful.

gavin

And anything approaching $100/person per day is considered reasonable, anything less is considered lucky

Faerie

How about cruises for solo travelers?

NomadicMatt

Norwegian offers single rooms for travelers.

Just wondering, is the 30 USD price per cabin or does it assume that there’s two persons sharing a cabin (meaning that the total is actually 60 USD per cabin)?

Nevertheless, going on a cruise has the POTENTIAL of being extremely expensive or extremely cheap, it all depends on the activities that one partakes and the supplies he/she can bring on board. The Rum Runners are probably the best invention I’ve ever known of :o

NomadicMatt

It’s $30 per person so 60 per cabin.

Interesting post, Matt.
I agree that you can always find good bargains, either by pre-paying well in advance or finding last minute cruises at reduced fares, or by checking online regularly, but when I’m onboard I just want to enjoy myself without being a skinflint. If I travel for pleasure, that’s my aim. Enjoying good food and the occasional drink is all part of it. When I think of the cruise long after I’ve disembarked I never remember how much things cost, but I do remember the experiences that I had, which to me is of greatest importance.

I’m a solo traveler and most of of the time I stay in a dorm bed in hostels. Are these fares per person or per cabin? Are there websites where people can get together to share a double room on a ship? I’ve never thought much about taking a cruise, but it seems like it might not be as bad as I thought!

NomadicMatt

Norwegian Cruises offers single rooms for solo travelers.

Now this is a great and useful post. We plan on doing the offseason cruise thing so your tips are handy. Cheers!

Maria Guerra

I was looking for an article like this! I’m planning to go on a cruise next month.

Thank you, this was helpful.

You should’ve posted that before i went on a 7 day cruise on the Allure :)
As if the 1K for the cruise itself wasn’t enough, the card on which you can charge ALL your purchases is like a fast track to BUDGET HELL. I ended up spending 1000$ extra on sodas, cocktails, restaurants….

NomadicMatt

Well, you’ll just have to go on another cruise!

Good post. I specially liked the idea of Rum Runners, what if you get caught? However, it’s up to the traveler to decide. It would make sense to avoid high charging restaurants, laundry etc. as it would do in any 5 star hotel (like using a mini-bar cost you half of your total bill). However, my personal opinion: it would make sense to save for sometime to enjoy a cruise trip at it’s fullest, you won’t do it often so, go in style and have fun!

NomadicMatt

If you get caught, they just take the alcohol from you and give it back to you when the cruise is over.

ALAN HARRIS

What this thread proves quite clearly is that backpacking and cruising don’t mix.

Washing your clothes in the bathtub, do me a favour; how many cruise ships have a bath tub rather than just a shower in standard cabins and where would you hang your clothes anyway? Over your non-existent balcony?

Bring your own water? What about the kitchen sink?

Sure don’t eat, don’t drink and don’t go near the shops; sounds like loads of fun.

In answer to some questions: all the prices you will see are per person per cabin based on two sharing. Singles usually end up paying double or certainly around 60%+ extra for the use of a standard cabin.

NCL have introduced studios but they are only 9 m.sq. (less than 100 sq.ft); how do you fit a bed, shower and toilet into that kind of space; and they are not much cheaper than single use of a standard cabin.

I am holding out for single use at the pp price for April or May and reckon they’ll sell it to me rather than leave a cabin empty.

Not sure if I agree about booking joining flights separately. Ordinarilly I would do that BUT. From Glasgow, Scotland to Miami for April/May the flight is about £770 against a £900 add on (much more than the cost of the cruise). AND booking it flight inclusive means, the cruise line pays for an overnight hotel and the outbound transfer (note return transfers are not normally included) and crucially if the flight is delayed or cancelled they HAVE to get you to the ship. If you book yourself, you’re on your own if something goes wrong. Is it worth the risk?

Hi there, we’re about to take our second trans Atlantic cruise this year, the price was,indeed, under $30/day each. That’s not including the compulsory tips which they add on later at $12/person/day ( bit of a bummer that one!). But yeah, we loved our first cruise, it’s wonderful to have the time to take a cruise as a form of transport, it sure beats flying, and it’s cheaper, or thereabouts. The best price we found was on the cruise line’s own website.

ALAN HARRIS

Alyson

The tips are optional however they are dressed up: before during or after the cruise; you DO NOT have to pay them if you don’t wish to.

The problem, Alan, is that if you opt out of the tips your cabin steward isn’t getting paid. Same with the bar and the spa.

NomadicMatt

That’s how they make their money. Don’t be cheap.

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the great post. This is perfect timing for me, as I may have to leave North America this summer and will be heading to Europe. It looks like a cruise *might* work out the same as, or even cheaper than a flight…which is pretty awesome.

I can travel cheap, and would certainly be washing my own clothes and only drinking water. (what’s with all the negativity in these comments? Sheesh). However, I will have to eat at some point. I assume you can’t bring food on with you? How possible is it to eat really cheap while on the cruise?

If possible, I would just take on a huge box of oatmeal and supplement with fruit and veg where possible.

What I don’t want is to book a cheap cruise then end up spending a fortune on the basics. If this is the case, it will be cheaper to fly. Obviously there’s added value in the cruise, but for me, it will essentially be an affordable way of traveling to Europe from North America.

Thanks for all your great content.

Kiya

Elizabeth the food is typically free on cruise whips. What we are referring to here are the speciality restaurants that are usually extra and you have to pay to eat at like some type of fancy steakhouse, seafood, Italian eatery oustide of the normal restaurants aboard the ship which are already included in the price of the cruise. You are also allowed to bring your own food/snacks if you wish though.

NomadicMatt

Food is free on cruises! It’s included in the price of the ticket! I ate very well on my cruise!

CruiseSheet is the bomb, but it should be noted that if you’re traveling by yourself, the single supplement surcharge usually kicks up the price 2x. Also, cabin prices can fluctuate significantly from day to day. I’ve even seen them fall by as much as $300 overnight! (And back up the next day, alas.)

For more savings, it might be worth checking out Royal Caribbean’s shareholder benefit. Basically, if you own 100 shares of RCL stock, you can get up to $250 of onboard credit per trip on RCL, Celebrity, or Azamara — more than enough to pay for gratuities on a longer cruise. This apparently can’t be combined with other offers, but most other offers for cheap cruises aren’t really in this range from what I’ve seen. (Also, some people have said that this doesn’t apply to travel agent promotions. Who knows!)

cargo13

If traveling solo, you can avoid the single supplement on a cruise by booking with singlescruise.com. Their group on board the cruise or land tour will orient on mingling events for the singles/solo travelers.

Great post Matt! Wish I would have found this a couple of weeks ago! I just returned from the sister ship of the Oasis —- the Allure of the Seas with the Western Caribbean cruise. I was able to get inside suites for $1800 for two. But I did save a bundle on booze! I found someone on ebay selling new Nexus bottles.

Brenda

Matt, we used almost all your advise in this article and saved a ton of money. Only a few differences were, we bought good boxed wine and took it out of the box and folded them it our cloths, then when we would stop at ports we bought more wine and put it in our travel water container then walked right on the ship with no questions. We also booked 3 months in advance and when the prices drop, I called the RC and they dropped my price too. I ended up paying $600 pp for 16 day from New Orleans to Barcelona. Our tab at the end was less then $100, and that was for sushi mostly.

We also spent 80 days in Paris and there again we saved thousand of dollars with your 101 free things to do in Paris. We went to 20 free concerts, included the France Independence day celebration. 500,000 people including us at the free concert and firework show. AMAZING. We rode bikes almost everywhere and we eat and drank mostly at our wonderful apartment or picnicked at any of the wonderful parks, along the rivers and anywhere that we could set and watch life go bye. Basically we lived like the French.

Things we did different is we danced quite a bit in different place in town( we are ballroom dancer ) And we Geocached. A great way to get around town and search for treasures. Most of the time the caches are located in a place with a great view or something interesting to learn about.

Thanks for all the great advice, we are so glad we came across your books and blog. We look forward to all we can learn from you.

NomadicMatt

That is really great to hear! I’m glad you could save so much and travel for so long! Thanks for writing!

– One sushi lover to the next!

Thanks Matt! This post is very helpful for me. I’ve never traveled on a cruise before but I make a plan to start my 1st trip next Feb 2015. Hope I can find a cheap cruise deal.

Again, thanks and have a nice day,

Hanh Doan.

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