Zen and the Art of Cheap Cruising

zen cruise stay flexible

I was sitting around talking about cruising with a couple of friends of mine.  They had stopped by to have a couple of home-made brews and to keep me updated on what was happening at the work place from which I am retired.  After we had finished gossiping about former coworkers the conversation, as it often does in my house, turned to travel.  One of my friends said that she liked cruising, but said “Boy, is it ever expensive.”  This really took me aback, because I usually spend very little while on cruises, because after all, most everything is paid for up front.  Once you board the ship, your transportation to other ports is taken care of.  All meals and your cabin are provided as well.

I found out that she and her family were spending quite a bit of money on excursions and cocktails.  A lot of people do this, and they end up spending more on these extras than they do for their cruise fare.  She had not discovered the Zen of Cheap Cruising, which is an art that comes naturally to me, because I am naturally cheap.

The Zen of Cheap Cruising comes from the inner assurance that you are going to have a great time on your cruise, no matter how much money you spend.  There are certain fixed costs that you must entail–transportation to the port and the actual cost of the cabin.  In order to maintain good karma, I always pay the suggested amount or more in gratuities.  But everything else is optional.  In fact, it becomes a game, or a Zen-like mental exercise, to have fun while spending as little extra money as possible.  Here are some guiding principles to this approach:

♦Forego ship excursions.  Rent a car, take public transportation, and walk to what you want to see and do on your port days.    Book a private guide if you must.  But don’t pay $75+ to be herded around on a big bus with your fellow passengers.

♦Don’t spend money at the ship’s bars, or order drinks in the restaurants.  Bring your cabin allotment of your favorite drink on board with you and replenish at port stops.  Our routine is to bring a bottle of wine and two glasses out on deck with us about an hour before dinner.  When we are down to the last two glasses, we sashay into the dining room with our glasses of wine and enjoy our dinner.

♦Stay out of the casino, unless you know what you are doing, or have budgeted for your losses.  That being said, I know people who get offers to cruise at very low cost because they give the ship’s casinos a good bit of action.  I unfortunately am not one of them.

♦Don’t buy anything in the shops on board.  Seriously, do you need any more jewelry?  Perhaps if you forgot your bathing suit you could make an exception.

♦Take your own photos.  Most smart phones take really good pictures nowadays.  The ships photographers really do a great job, and it is tempting to buy some pictures of your spouse standing next to a crew member dressed as a pirate. However, after you’ve bought pictures from several cruises, you realize that all the pictures look the same.

♦Use off-port parking.  If you are driving to your cruise, you usually have other options  than parking right at the port, which can be $15-$20 a day.  There will be  parking lots where you park at a fraction of that, and they will give you a shuttle ride to the ship.  Many hotels will offer a stay and cruise package where you get one night’s stay, parking for the length of your cruise, and a shuttle ride to the port.

Basically, you have the idea that you are not going to spend any money while on board.  The only charges on your credit card from the cruise will be for the gratuities.  Cruise lines absolutely HATE this philosophy!  They keep the price of cruises low, but they have to make up the money somewhere to make a profit and stay in business.  The place that they make their money is in on-board revenue.  And that is fine with me as long as I am not the one providing this revenue.  I do not feel guilty letting others subsidize my cruise, because they are on vacation and spending their own money as they see fit.

I just can’t spend money like that on cruises.  Because, you know, it’s against my religion.

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