Cruises can, of course, be expensive. Once you throw in a drink package (my jaw dropped when I saw it was nearly $600), excursions at your destination, and so on, it can burn a rather large hole in your pocket. But there are ways you can save (without having to settle for a room without a window!). Just ask Julie Soffientini, Tom's aunt. She's been on about 20 different cruises, from huge ocean liners (like the one that took us to Bermuda in April, above, which had about 4,000 people on it, not including crew), to luxury river cruises in Europe.
In September, Julie's going on a river cruise along the canals of Venice (there will be about 100 guests on board). It's all inclusive—everything from the five-star cuisine to drinks to shore excursions to the airport transportation is included—and once she gets to Venice, she and her friends will be able to visit markets, cathedrals, and dine in local vineyards. Jealous much?! Check out her pro tips for saving you $$$ on your next cruise.
If you can, start researching cruises a year ahead of time, that way you can then book nine months or so in advance, which is what Julie urged her family to do for our cruise.
- Julie recommends following boards and forums for cruise lines you're interested in and signing up for their email newsletters. Also: The Cruise Critic boards will share when deals are available and whether there are even better deals to come.
"A cruise line may be offering a free dining package—a good deal. Of course! But, the next week they are offering free dining and free internet—a better deal. You can get advance info on the blogs."
- Julie also suggests calling the cruise line directly to ask about deals.
"You will be amazed how many unpublished 'deals' you can get by calling the cruise line. When I inquired about the river cruise to Venice, I was quoted a price that was high. I asked if there were any better prices. Their response: 'Oh, you want the amazing deals.' I had to compromise on the date—one week later—but saved $5,000. They didn't offer this until I requested it and the amazing deal did not show up on the website."
- As a member of Costco, she then called them and booked the trip through the warehouse club, saving an additional 10 percent. (Isn't she such a whiz?!)
"If the cruise company prohibits them from discounting (and some do), companies like Costco will give you large shipboard credits or free pre- or post-hotel stays. I always book cruises through Costco. Worth joining just to get the travel discounts."
What if you want to book a trip spur-of-the-moment?
- "You could also try booking at the last minute—a week or two before the cruise. Cruise lines want their ships full and will significantly discount rooms in the weeks before sailing."
Then there's this: After you've booked and put down the money, what if you come across a better deal? (Ugh!)
- Keep an eye on the cruise line's website, even after you've already paid, in case you find a better deal than what you paid for.
"If you have already paid in full and prices drop, call them and ask for an upgrade. They will usually not refund you the money but they want you to be happy, so they will 'bump up' your room. If you have not paid in full, they will give you the discount. But, only if you ask."
I love that Julie has such a great message here (that pertains to a lot of things in life). It takes simply asking (and a little time and effort) to make things happen for yourself.
Thank you so much, Julie, for contributing your wonderful tips!
I hope you all have a lovely weekend—and that you have vacation on the mind. It's so darn important to take every vacation day you can. Life is too short not to!
Photographs by Tom Schelling.