Cruise Tips7 Ways to Avoid Spending a Single Penny on Board Your Cruise

7 Ways to Avoid Spending a Single Penny on Board Your Cruise

Can you spend nothing on board your cruise? (and actually survive)

This is for those who want to spend as little as possible on a cruise and avoid all those additional charges that tend to add up by the end of a vacation at sea.

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Carnival Legend in cruise port in Nassau on sunny day
You don’t have to break your budget on a cruise. Save money with these cruise tips. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

With the many up-charges cruisers face when they board a cruise ship is it really possible to avoid the extra costs and still enjoy the vacation?

Cruise lines make a significant portion of their revenue from onboard sales. Things like drinks, spa services, shore excursions, and specialty restaurants can add to an already fantastic cruise experience. However, all the extra expenses can add up quickly and exceed the cost of the cruise itself if you’re not careful.

On the one hand, I believe a cruise is a great opportunity to indulge and not worry about trying to spend as little as possible on the ship.

However, those on a tighter budget who still want a wonderful cruise vacation without having to worry about overspending will appreciate some of the tips in this article.

By the way, if you’re tired of being “nickle and dimed” by all the extras on a cruise you can always check out an all-inclusive cruise line.  Sure, it cost more, but some cruisers love the idea of paying one time and not having to worry about a single extra charge.

You can check out our list of the best 5 all-inclusive cruise lines here.

Here are seven ways to avoid spending any extra money once you’ve boarded your cruise ship.


1. Just drink water, juice, and coffee

If you’re not already an avid water drinker before the cruise, this will be a tough pill to swallow. However, by drinking water and other free beverages on board a cruise ship, you can save yourself a boatload of money.

In addition to water, there are typically a variety of included juices, as well as complimentary coffee and tea. On cruises where I want to save some money, I usually have an orange juice for breakfast and some hot coffee to get me started, then just drink water throughout the day.

Water enhancers are a great way to add some flavor to your water. I know many cruisers who bring a small bottle of MiO or another brand of flavored liquid water enhancer. These enhancers come in flavors like raspberry lemonade and sweet tea, and some energy drink makers even supply drops with added electrolytes. So, if you’re looking to spice things up, your water doesn’t have to be so boring.

Related: 10 Biggest drink package mistakes cruisers make

While a drink package will save you money over buying drinks individually it will also cost quite a bit.   For instance, a Carnival CHEERS! Beverage package costs about $60 per day plus an 18% service charge.   This equates to about $990 for two people on a 7-day cruise.

If you really must have some soda on board your ship, many cruise lines will let you bring a 12-pack of cans onto the ship upon embarkation.

Note:  A recent update from Norwegian Cruise Line now disallows bringing beverages on board.  And MSC Cruises has stated that it does not allow passengers to bring drinks of any kind on their ships, with the exception of distilled water for medical needs and baby milk.


2. Replace a paid shore excursion with self-guided tours

Shore excursion costs can add up quickly, especially on a cruise with several ports of call. If you’re on a family cruise, these costs can multiply. However, you don’t have to purchase these excursions through the cruise line, nor do you have to purchase them at all.

I always enjoy exploring a port on my own first to get a feel for it. Then, I ask a local vendor or someone who lives near the port where the best places to visit are. You can also pay a few dollars to a taxi driver and get some great tips along the way. But, if you’re looking to spend zero extra dollars, there’s nothing wrong with doing a lot of research ahead of the cruise and creating your own self-guided tour of a cruise port.

Not every cruise port is suitable for a self-guided tour, but certain popular ports offer free tours. For example, when I was on an MSC cruise in Barcelona, I found several free tours. I took a group tour of Barcelona with about 15 other tourists and was happy to give a donation to the tour guide who did an excellent job at the end.

If a port is not walkable you will want to spend some cash for a local driver to bring you closer into town.

But if you really are determined to not spend a dime you can just follow the next point.

Related: 10 most over-rated shore excursions


3. Stay on the ship

To piggyback off of the last point, any time you get off the ship—with the exception of a cruise line’s private island— everything you want to do or eat will cost money.   Even though mainstream cruise lines like Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises are not all-inclusive cruise lines, they do provide many services and edibles for free.

So, when you get off the ship and get hungry or want to enjoy an amusement those costs can add up.  If you really don’t want to spend an extra penny, just stay on the ship and enjoy all it has to offer.

The great thing about staying on a ship on a port day is that you will get to enjoy mostly empty pools and hot tubs and almost every other part of the ship will be less crowded as well.

MSC Meraviglia covered pool
Pool and hot tubs with retractable roof on MSC Meraviglia. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

There are still plenty of things to do on board during a port day.  And whether you want to play some cruise ship trivia, enjoy the waterpark, or just relax in the solarium you will find port days free of crowds.


4. Get the most out of included places to eat

I absolutely love eating at specialty restaurants on a cruise ship.  The food and service is incredible and I like avoiding the crowds.

But cruise lines offer more included restaurants and eating options than ever.  Some cruise lines like Carnival do seem to offer more free places to eat than some other lines in the same category, by the way.  But whatever cruise line you are on make sure you do some research and find every single eatery that is included in the price.

Guy's burger joint
Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival has my favorite hamburger and it’s all included in the price of the cruise.

Then take advantage of all of them.  Get the most out of what you already paid for.  The MDR (Main Dining Room) will offer excellent quality on most cruise ships, but you can check out the menu on the cruise ship’s app ahead of time.   If that night’s menu doesn’t appeal to you check out the buffet or another included restaurant.

I’m amazed at how many times I talk to cruisers at the end of a cruise and they didn’t even realize one of the restaurants on board was complimentary.  Some restaurants have a cost for dinner but offer a free lunch as well, so it pays to do some research on your ship before you ever sail.

You don’t have to spend an extra penny on your cruise to keep from going hungry.

Related: 11 extra-charge cruise perks worth every bit of the cost


5. Do your homework during the packing process

It’s easy to forget to pack certain things during your cruise.  And anything you do forget you can probably buy on the ship or in a port.  But by being prepared during the packing process you will save yourself the trouble of having to pay a premium for things like sunscreen, bug spray, and water bottles.  (Remember, if you’re going to be drinking water during your cruise having a collapsible water bottle will come in handy).

Buying commonly forgotten items in the gift shop on board your ship is convenient but it sure isn’t cheap.

You can read my recent article on 15 things people often forget to pack for a cruise to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.


6. Save money on laundry

Doing laundry on a cruise ship can be expensive. Here are some tips to help you save money while still having clean and wrinkle-free clothes.

First, pack some wrinkle-release spray. I mentioned this item in a previous packing article, and it can save you a few dollars from having the cruise line press or iron your clothes for you. Suitcases can easily wrinkle clothing, but wrinkle-release sprays can typically smooth most of them out.

Pack wrinkle release spray on your cruise when you can't iron

After unpacking, try another trick to get wrinkles out of shirts. Lightly spray some water on the clothing, and then give it a few sharp downward snaps, like snapping a towel but with two hands in a downward motion. Doing this a couple of times and letting your clothes dry on a hanger in the shower can get rid of most wrinkles.

Some cruise lines offer an iron in the launderette that you can use for free. Just make sure you use it at a different time than right before dinner, as there will be a line then. Note that not every cruise line provides an iron. In those cases, you would have to pay anywhere from $5 to $10 to have an article of clothing pressed.

If you want to save more money, you can wash a few articles of clothing in your stateroom sink the old-fashioned way. However, packing enough clothes for each day of the cruise can help you avoid this problem altogether.

Related: Best way to book cruises to save time and money


7. Avoid cruise ship Wi-Fi fees with a good mobile plan

Wi-Fi is available on every cruise ship these days, and the download speeds you can get are very impressive.  But these Wi-Fi plans are not usually free and can really add to the budget if you have multiple devices you want connected.

By using a good cell phone plan with international data included you can at least get by until your cruise is over.  As someone who writes for Cruise Fever and cruises often it’s difficult for me to NOT buy the Wi-Fi package, but on some occasions I have simply relied on my T-mobile plan that provides unlimited data and texting when traveling internationally.

This is only useful when in port or at least close enough to a tower to get a signal, but it’s still a viable option that doesn’t cost me an extra penny.

Check with your cell phone provider to see if they either offer international data for free or at a discount.  I actually switched to my current provider just based on getting international data, as I use it all the time when traveling abroad.   Google Fi also offers plans with international data at affordable rates.

If you still want Wi-Fi but won’t need it all the time you can often buy Wi-Fi packages from companies in popular cruise ports and upload all your vacation photos then.

You can even find free Wi-Fi in some cruise ports.  Just make sure you’re using a VPN on your connection.

Related:  Wi-Fi on a cruise ship: How much does it really cost?


Final Thoughts

Remember, besides your cruise fare there are some extra expenses that you can’t get out of.  Things like port fees and taxes have to be added to that listed cruise price, causing some first-time cruisers sticker shock.

But don’t forget to include gratuities in your cost analysis as well.  While you can pay more or less than a cruise line recommends by seeing guest services, I recommend prepaying gratuities and then adding to it with cash to the individual crew members if you feel it is warranted.

Cruise photos is another area that can really add to your cruise budget.  I have purchased many photos from cruise lines over the years, but buying photos on every cruise would just be too expensive.  If you must buy a photo that one of the crew took during your cruise you can opt for a photo package which makes the prints cheaper.

However you decide to spend your money on your cruise I hope you enjoy every moment of your vacation.  These money saving tips aren’t for everyone to follow, but if they help even save you a few dollars on your cruise then I’m delighted.

What do you do to save money on a cruise?  Let us know in the comments below.

Read more:  12 things you can still get for free on a cruise

Learn the cruise secrets most people don't know and cruise like a boss. Check out Intelligent Cruiser here for a better cruise vacation. (Sponsored)

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Cruise Tips7 Ways to Avoid Spending a Single Penny on Board Your Cruise

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