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.