How to Cruise for Cheap

How to Cruise for Cheap - picture of cruise ship sailing into port

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As many of you know, I love traveling the world with my family – on a budget, of course. As of today, one of the best trips we have ever been on was a Carnival cruise to the Bahamas. I took my (spoiled) husband on the cruise for his birthday, and he absolutely loved it. Obviously, the kids had a blast – and in all actuality, the Bahamas was the first country they had ever visited outside of the United States. To this day, my daughter still talks about how we visited “Pocahontas,” which makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t even bother correcting her – it’s just too cute!

Related: Carnival Sensation Review

Why Cruising Is a Good Deal for Families

Here are a few of the reasons I think cruising is such a good vacation option for families:

  • Cruises are all-inclusive. Aside from alcohol and some special coffee drinks, the cost of your meals is included in your cruise fare. For a family of four, going all-inclusive not only saves money, but also makes meal times a lot less stressful. I hate feeling like I have to pull my wallet out my entire vacation, and going all-inclusive solves that problem.
  • Entertainment is free, too. All cruises come with free, on-site entertainment – including nightly shows, game nights, and more. However, some cruise ships come with additional or unique perks as well. The particular cruise ship we were on, for example, had a large pool/hot tub area and a separate water park on the top deck.
  • You don’t have to fly international – or maybe at all. With customs and immigration to deal with, flying international – especially with kids – can be a huge pain. Fortunately, cruising can spare you that headache altogether. And depending on where you live, you may even be able to drive to a cruise port and skip the airfare altogether.

See also: 11 Easy Ways to Save Money on Flights

How to Cruise for Cheap

While cruising isn’t all that expensive to begin with, there are plenty of ways to save on both your airfare (if required) and your cruise fare. As someone who gives free credit card rewards and travel advice, I am constantly helping people earn their cruises for free – or simply save on the full sticker price. Here are my top tips:

Smuggle alcohol on board.

I have done this before, and it totally works. All you have to do is buy some opaque wine bottles, drink the wine, and rebottle your favorite booze inside. I managed this feat after I bought 30 black PVC shrink capsules off of and used my mad skillz to repackage the rum-filled bottles so they looked like new. Since you’re allowed to bring a bottle of wine on board for each adult, this is an easy way to beat the system. Is it ethical? You be the judge. 

Sign up for your favorite cruise line’s mailing list.

Since I’m frugal-cruiser, I signed up for Carnival’s weekly deals. Although I haven’t taken advantage yet (too many other places to go!), I am constantly getting really awesome cruise deals via email. If you plan to go on a cruise anyway, signing up for a mailing list is a great way to get insider tips on new sales or destinations.

Use credit card rewards.

Whether you want to pay for part of your cruise or score almost-free airfare, credit card rewards can make your dreams happen. In truth, we pay for the vast majority of our travel with points and miles, and it’s not hard to do. The particular cruise we went on left from Port Canaveral, so it was an easy (and cheap) flight to book with Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points. If you want help figuring out the logistics of your credit card plan, email me or contact me through my free travel advice page.

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  1. Your “good deal for families” line sucked me in. I have yet to do a cruise, but it is on my list. I am debating whether or not to bring the kids.

    1. I thought it was fun having the kids there. The Carnival cruise we went on did have a kid’s club where you could drop them off for a few hours. We brought them there for a few hours once or twice, and they had lots of fun!

  2. There are so many ways to sneak booze on board… I’m amazed at all the products they sell online (like empty and food safe shampoo bottles).

    Do you recommend any cruise brands in particular? Do you just use cash back rewards to cover a cruise?

    1. Yes, you can definitely use cash back to book cruises. But you can also use flexible rewards points and book cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards or the Citi Travel Portal. Those are my favorite options t least.

  3. We would love to do a cruise. I’m currently campaigning for an Alaskan cruise, but the Caribbean is more my husband’s speed, I think. Great tips! The wine bottle is much more ingenious than the old Listerine bottle!

    1. I would love to do an Alaskan cruise! I think that would be really fun with the kids.

  4. I’d like to do a cruise maybe it will be part of my birthday gist (alsways if finances will be in good mood)

  5. This is kind of crazy, but I’ve actually never been on a cruise! My family didn’t travel a lot when I was growing up. And I’ve mostly focused on using my Southwest points to fly places. I love your strategy for sneaking booze onboard, btw. I’d be thinking like that, too!

  6. Great tips Holly. We’ve been on several cruises and really enjoyed them. We’ve not included the kids yet – but can definitely see how it’d be good for them as well as each cruise I’ve seen usually has all sorts of stuff for kids to do. We’re thinking of maybe an all-inclusive with the kids next year but could definitely see this as an option.

    1. The kids really loved cruising. The only downside was that our cabin was pretty cramped, but we didn’t spend much time there anyway.

  7. This was a timely post for our family! My extended family is planning a cruise in 2016 or 2017 and it’s taken me a little while to get “on board” with the idea. We like to spend more than a day in a place and we don’t eat/drink enough to maximize the all-inclusive portion of the trip. Paying the same price for a 4 year old child as we will for an adult seems to be pretty pricey. But, the rest of the group is convinced so I think we’re going to try it out. Any suggestions for cruises that are more economical for a family of 4?

    1. Jen, Norwegian Cruise Line discounts its fares for the 3rd passenger (and 4th, 5th, etc) sharing a single cabin on lots of sailings. My husband and I have really enjoyed Norwegian cruises in the past, though we haven’t taken our daughter yet. We want to wait until she’s a good enough swimmer for snorkeling, which is our favorite cruise activity.

  8. We’ve never done a cruise but I love all inclusive. My kid seems hungry every two hours when we’re in a trip so that makes it easy and affordable.

  9. We went on a Carnival Cruise to celebrate our anniversary one year and loved it! My sister was doing some travel agent work at the time so she planned the entire trip, booked out flights and gave us a good discount on insurance and details on excursions we could do. I loved the all-inclusive aspect and waking up each morning to get a freshly made custom omelet 🙂 Next time we cruise, I want to take my son. We were looking into the Disney cruises but they are ridiculously priced plus my son is still scared of oversized adults dressed up in Disney character costumes, haha. So maybe we will just do Carnival again and make sure they have a kid’s club.

  10. I went on a cruise to the Bahamas as part of my senior trip. It was a blast! I’d like to go on an Alaskan cruise, but right now it’s a lot further down the list of places/things I’d like to do for a vacation.

  11. I would definitely like to do this but what age do you think is best? All I can see are the twins running right off the ship lol.

  12. I LOVE cruising! I’ve only been on one but I loved how relaxing it was.

  13. I went on a cruise a few years back without the hubby and now hes been itching for us to plan one as well. They’re so fun! And your wine bottle idea cracked me up! I’ve heard of people trying to get vodka on board in water bottles but they know to look for that now.

  14. We went on an Alaska cruise before Baby T was born. Turned out to be about $80 per person per night. Considering what are included, we thought that’s a pretty good deal.

  15. We’ve done an Alaskan cruise in the past, which was a lot of fun. We have not yet been brave enough to try a cruise with our little one, but she’s just 15 months right now so probably would not get much out of it at this age. I think once she hits preschool age or older it might be fun though. Love your tip on the wine bottles! I never would have thought of that, but that’s a great idea 🙂

  16. This is perfect! I’m planning to go on my first cruise next year and I’m just starting to try and figure out where and how to get a good deal. It’s almost overwhelming! Thanks for the tips!

  17. Cruises have never particularly appealed to us, but they do seem like an affordable way for families to see the world. We prefer charting our own course & getting off the beaten path but sometimes have paid more for the adventure. We are getting more organizing about using credit card points for travel hacking. We’ve had a lot of free plane tickets and hotel stays over the years but now with two kids we need to up our game to fly and stay for free. Thanks for your link to more tips.

  18. Yes, I love cruises! I took my first one a few months ago, to Bermuda, and it was SO nice. I went solo, and I felt safe the entire time. Cruises are great for just about everyone as long as you don’t get sea sick! I loved how everything was included and I got to explore Bermuda while I was there.

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