In the last post, where I wrote about how much I like working from cruise ships, I mentioned that I could share my method for booking really cheap cruises. I'm going to do that here, and share some other relevant cruise tips.
Getting Cheap Cruises
First, start at Cruise Sheet. There used to be a site called Cruise Hot Sheet that had similar information, but it stopped working, so I built Cruise Sheet.
The best cruises to look for are repositioning cruises. They are the most interesting, have the most sea days, and tend to be very inexpensive. In the fall there are a lot of repositioning cruises from Europe to the US, and in the spring those same ships reposition back to Europe.
The key metric is the cost per day. Unless it's an incredibly great cruise that goes somewhere you're dying to go, I would never pay more than $50 per day. Really, you should be looking for cruises under $40 per day, or even under $30 if you don't care about the itinerary.
The best time to book is 1-3 months before the cruise. If you find a great deal before then you can go ahead and book it, but if all you care about is getting a good deal on a good ship going to or from Europe, I'd wait until 60 or fewer days out. Pretty much every season there are a couple transatlantics that drop below $30.
The cruise line isn't all that important. Holland America is my favorite, but all of them are roughly equally suited to remote working. Shop for price and location first (you have to click the Orbitz/CruiseDirect links to see the full itinerary, though I will some day integrate that into Cruise Sheet when I have more time).
Once you have a few cruises that you like, click through to Cruise Compete and request bids. When you do that, put something like, "Looking for lowest CPD, including OBC" in the message box. Cruise Compete will then allow many different cruise agents to bid on your request. CPD and OBC are terms for Cost Per Day and On Board Credit. Including them in your request lets the agent know that you know what you're doing.
Norwegian doesn't allow Cruise Compete, so you have to book through someone else. It's worth shopping around, but Orbitz is often $10-20 below everyone else for some reason.
Many cruise lines limit the agents' ability to discount, so to circumvent that restriction, agents will offer you On Board Credit, which is just cash that they put in your onboard spending account. You will use this on internet and tips, but if you have any left over, you can convert it to cash at the casino.
Except on very rare occasions, booking a room for yourself is the same price as booking a room for two. In other words, you'll pay double the advertised price if you cruise alone. All of the prices listed everywhere, including Cruise Sheet, are assuming double occupancy. However, adding a third or fourth person is occasionally VERY cheap, maybe free or $99 plus taxes. When you add a third or fourth person you sometimes get a slightly bigger room.
You will also have to pay taxes. I'm trying to figure out a good way to show taxes on Cruise Sheet, but the data is not readily available. They vary a lot, but will add 10-50% to the cost of the cruise. I think it depends on which ports you're going to.
You should also expect to pay tips, which are roughly $11 per day. You don't tip anyone other than bartenders while you're on the cruise, so this covers all of the waitstaff, cabin stewards, etc.
Luckily there is one good trick to lower the price of the cruise even more. Almost every line will give you onboard credit if you own 100 shares of their stock. The process is very easy-- just buy the stock, fax or email them the confirmation, and you'll have the money waiting for you when you get on the ship. The two times I've done this, they gave me no confirmation at all that it was successful, but it worked.
The perfect storm occurs when you can find a cruise that doesn't require double occupancy and allows a single person to have a cabin to themselves at the advertised price. This is amazing because then you can get the full shareholder discount instead of splitting it with your roommate. I once booked a 14 day cruise for $399, and got $250 off for being a shareholder.
Other Random Cruise Tips
Never buy the cruise line's shore excursions. You can almost always get the exact same thing for around half price by talking to the touts outside the ship. I never do that, either, though. It's much cheaper (and more fun) to just arrange stuff like motorcycle rentals, scuba gear rentals, etc. through the internet.
A good source for finding things to do is the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. I haven't been disappointed yet. Just randomly walking around a new place is a decent use of a day, too.
The menus in the dining room make it seem like you can only order one thing per section (appetizer, soup, salad, main, dessert). You can actually order unlimited things per section. Back in my more gluttonous days, a friend and I ate 37 plates between the two of us.
The boat will leave without you if you are late.
You don't have to get on the first stop. If you just show up on a later stop, they will let you in. So if you found a great deal but timing or location were an issue, you could still make it work (but would be paying more per day).
The shows are generally terrible, but watch for one-night guest acts. I saw an amazing juggler once, and a couple good magicians.
The dining room is much much better than the buffet, though the difference is usually not as great at breakfast. Some people never go to the dining room, and I don't understand it.
There is a crazy schedule on the last day which will probably dictate that you need to leave at 7am or something crazy. This is not mandatory. I always leave at the tail end of the last period, and am usually the last one off the ship. This is a good way to skip the crowds and get a couple extra hours of sleep.
On the westbound repositioning cruises, particularly transatlantics, you get a lot of twenty-five hour days. It's magical.
For people who don't care about cruises: I'm going to stop writing about them now.
For people who think I'm making tons of money promoting Cruise Sheet: I haven't made any money yet.
Photo is from Lanzarote, Canary Islands.
Great post! I've never considered taking one until your cruise posts. Do you usually end up selling the 100 shares of stock after the cruise?
Another tip, although not directly related to the cruise itself, is Mexican dental work. Cozumel for example has 2 dentists at the Puerta Maya Port. One inside the port itself the other right across the street. They can do lots of procedures in a one day visit..and CHEEEEEP! ie: Extraction $35. Root canal $150-$200. I have had all my dental work done in this manner for the last 8 years. It will pay for the cruise. I've even done a back to back cruise where a 2 trip visit was needed. They can do a root canal/ crown in one day if you make an appt.
Price list for one of them: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/52863257/Prices%20ADC%202013.xls
Carnival used travel vouchers where they would match $100 on a cruise. These could be bought on many of the ships. I used to buy them 5 at a time, but lately the rules have changed and you have to book the cruise while on board to get the $100 match. This greatly reduces your last minute flexibility, but, still another perk to look into. Carnival has also put the Stock holder perk on a sliding scale 50/100/250 dollars depending on the length of cruise. Still we always use it. It pays dividends as well. We started with 100 shares and now have 117 after reinvesting the dividends into stock. These perks apply in some degree or another to any cruise lines owned by Carnival.
On these inexpensive cruises will any of the cruise lines, give you a roommate if you don't want to pay the single supplement? I would think there wouldn't even be enough people so that you'd get a single room without paying for it.
Great Post as Well...So glad I found your site. I am always looking for more info on how to save money on cruises from my home port of Tampa. As a retired senior I can go anywhere at any time. I recently saw that they offer cruises from tampa other than the western carribean which I have been on numerous times. Any tips on how to get on these ships and cruises for less money?
I offer additional OBC for cruises and specialize in Norwegian - some of their ships have studios specifically for solo cruises, very cool! If you need to book with a travel agent, please let me give you a bid!
Thanks for this awesome post.
I'll most likely be travelling by myself, how do I know if I get the cabin to myself or not? Do I need to contact them directly to find out?
I tried using your new crusiesheet site. The one issue I had with it is that for Caribbean cruises, all the cruise start and end in the same port, yet the stops along the way can be very different. It would be a nice addition if your app listed the stops. As it stands now I have to click away from the page to figure out where the cruise is actually going.
I love San Francisco so much that every time I return here from a trip, I resolve to stay for a while and enjoy the city. That never happens. Next week I'm going to Tahoe, then Vegas the following weekend, and then to Austin for SXSW the week after that. Cabo or Hawaii follows in early March, but in late April comes the most exciting upcoming trip: a sixteen day cruise to Rome.
Cruises are full of old people. As best I can tell, that's because young people haven't figured out how awesome and cheap they can be. In fact, I can easily say that of all the travel I've done, cruises probably represent the best bang for the buck.
Before I tell you how to get them cheap, let me tell you why cruises, especially long duration one-way cruises are amazing.
One of my favorite aspects of cruises is that they can take you to places you may not otherwise visit. For example, the cruise my friends and I are taking stops in the Azores, Seville (Spain), Valencia (Spain), Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and Rome. Without cruising, I probably would never make it to the Azores, and those southern Spanish cities are unlikely as well. They're just too remote and too expensive to come up at the top of my list when choosing a trip.
So, I record my time tracking by hand, and later I sum it up and divide it out by hand.
It takes me about an hour a week. I regularly get the suggestion that I should get it into a spreadsheet or an application to cut that time down.
By doing it by hand, relatively slowly, I'm forced to turn the implications over in my mind of the numbers.
For instance, I slept 8.2 hours on average over the last 13 days.