My first cruise and how I saved a butt load of money on it

by Female Abroad

I'm booked to go on my first cruise this September (yay!) and I'm very excited. To get prepared I've done a bunch of research and I've spent a lot of time keeping an eye on the price so we can get the best value. If you've never booked a cruise before or maybe you have and you are hoping for some insider secrets then this is the article for you!

When it came time to decide on how we wanted to travel as well as where we looked at the time of year we could travel. What destinations would be good in the August/September of the following year? Europe came up as I love going to Europe in the fall but we also wanted something that was relaxing. Europe can be but with the cities being so easy to get around, there was no way that I wouldn't take us on death marches so we could see / enjoy as much as we could. That then brought up the idea of a cruise.

A cruise seemed like the perfect way to travel; unpack once and see a bunch of different ports. Well if we wanted to do a cruise and Europe then a river cruise was the way to go we decided.... until we saw the price... and the availability. Nope! Couldn't justify spending $10,000 for a week on a boat not including airfare so then we decided a Mediterranean cruise on one of the larger boats but not only were we not interested in the ports, they were either too short or had too many days at sea so we looked at a few other locations that didn't interest us either.

With our European cruise hopes dashed I started taking a look at other places around the world that we could cruise to and would be a reasonable price. The only place we could agree on is the Caribbean.

Now the problem with the Caribbean in the late summer, early fall is hurricane season. However I was in the Bahamas for two weeks in early September and found it fine (I flew out the same day a hurricane hit the island, flooding it so timing is everything!) plus that would mean low season so we would get a better deal.

I played around with prices and found that the first week of September provided the best itineraries, availability, and deal. Why you might ask, well, this is because all the kids go back to school so cruise lines want to get people on the boats. Match that with the fact that we were booking a year out and voila! a great combination for a deal. Plus we were booking about a year out so we got a really good deal and the stateroom we wanted as there was lots of space.

We found the itinerary we wanted, pretended to book it online so we knew what deals it came with as well as the cost and then gave the cruise line a call. While on the call I let the agent know that we didn't have a travel agent, were looking at deals online, and were celebrating our anniversary. What did this do? Well the agent was able to get us a free upgrade as well as some perks (bottle of champagne & chocolate covered strawberries) to be delivered to our room upon arrival, and we were signed up for their frequent cruiser program which you can only get after their first cruise (entitles you to more perks as you are a repeat guest).

Happy as we were with what we had booked, as we only put down the deposit and still had 10 months to make the final payment, the watch was on! I signed up for the cruise lines emails, followed them on multiple social media platforms, and joined a couple cruise websites as well as emails for cruise only travel agents. Then I waited...

After a couple of months and no deals, I cleared by browsing history and cookies then jumped on their website. The cost of the cruise had gone down $100 so I gave them a call. The agent said they saw the drop as well and that they could change the price to match. While saying I was excited for the savings and we would celebrate it using our free champagne, that is when the agent noted that there was no additional perks on the account like I was originally promised (and showed on our confirmation). He put me on hold and 30 minutes later came back saying the perks were added and he was able to get the cruise fair down an additional $75/person so that original $100 I thought I was going to save turned into a savings of $350! They also had a new promotion starting the next day he suggested I call back for.

The next day, he was right. Due to the level of stateroom we were staying in, it allowed us to get 2 free perks or pay $500/person and get 4 free perks. After pricing out each perk, we decided to pay $500. For $500/person, we got a premium drink package (USD 50/pp per day), US$ 150 onboard ship credit per person (US$ 300 in total, covering all of our shore excursions), gratuities (US$ 400/pp), and Wi-Fi (US$ 25/day).

Now if you were someone that was looking to save money then the 2 free perks may have worked for you but we decided that the price of the premium drink package alone made paying the additional money worth it as this package covers any drink up to US$ 12. I'm a martini and fancy tea drinker plus we like our bottles of water so I will easily hit my total. For my partner, we looked up the beer that was included in the regular drink package and he hated it so it was worth getting him the premium package so he "got the good stuff".

Anyways, back to the money.... I waited a bit longer and then Black Friday hit. I didn't see any good deals so I held out, then the Sunday before Black Monday came. I just happened to be on the website and it said that you could save up to 20% and still keep the 4 free perks for $500/pp. I called right away and had our price updated which saved us even more money.

Over the following months the cruise line kept having really great deals on the suites (book the suite save XX% or book a suite, get a free night, etc) so I kept popping on to look at the pricing. While they were great deals they were still way more than what we could justify spending so we've stuck with what we booked.

Then, hurricane Irma hit and took out 5 of the 7 islands on our itinerary. As we were getting closer to the final payment I called the cruise line just to make sure everything was okay and what they would do if one hit while we were in the area. After letting us know that they would change the port, I asked the agent to see if there were any deals going on that we might have access to. Low and behold, there was and it saved us a few hundred bucks.

Now with the final payment paid, we are locked into our contract with the cruise line. With how long this article is, you might be wondering what we ended up getting. We got:

  1. 12 night/13 day Caribbean cruise
  2. Aft facing, balcony stateroom on the suite level
  3. The 4 perks (premium drink package, Wi-Fi, US$ 300 onboard credits, and gratuities)
  4. Additional perks (bottle of champagne, chocolate strawberries)
  5. Concierge (arranges snacks in your room after shore days, makes sure your watered and taken care of)

for a grand total of CA$ 2500/person including port fees and taxes

That works out to CA$ 417 / US$ 324.56 per room (not per person) per night.

What vacation can you take that would include your entertainment, ocean front accommodation, food, alcohol, transportation, and have a concierge take care of you for that price?

Now that we have cancellation and interruption insurance we are ready for our holiday!

HINT: if you are booking a cruise that is in an area known for hurricanes, you have to book your cancellation / interruption insurance BEFORE a hurricane / tropical storm starts forming. If you buy your insurance after it has been formed, the insurance becomes null and void. You've been warned!