Thursday, May 1, 2008

Getting the Most from a Cruise Vacation

It may surprise you to consider taking a cruise as an economical way to go on vacation. But when compared to a land-based vacation, you can save a lot of money by taking advantage of the free amenities that a cruise ship has to offer. For example, relaxing on deck in the tropical sun is free as is the shipboard entertainment.

Also generally included in your cruise fare are onboard ship accommodations, ocean transportation, and of course, the food. In the case of dining, a common misconception is that a cruise is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Certainly, there is always a buffet available. However, I prefer to eat my meals in the dining room. On a cruise, the quality of food is about the same as dining in a fine restaurant. You can dine at a leisurely pace, and select from a varied menu. This is the one place where I can tell my wife that, if she doesn't like an entree that she orders, she can always try a different one. And I don't have to worry about paying the bill, which makes it a real bargain.

On the other hand, a cruise not the same as an all-inclusive resort. There are a few items that you will need to budget appropriately for. Generally not included in the cruise fare are alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, tips, and the casino. I once quipped that the Royal Caribbean ship Grandeur of the Seas has a design flaw; there was no easy way to get from my cabin to the dining room without going through the casino. That fact can be hazardous to your wealth.

The key to getting a good price on a cruise is flexibility. If you must travel at a specific time, your choices will be limited. It is wise to shop around and compare different cruise lines and dates. Sometimes, the difference of a week or two can result in large differences in price. Also, some cruise lines offer a "category guarantee". You may receive a discount if you allow the cruise line to assign you a stateroom at the time of sailing, rather than picking a cabin upfront. The last time we did that we paid for an outside cabin, but were upgraded to a nicely sized balcony stateroom for free.

If you are a stock holder in either Carnival (CCL) or Royal Caribbean (RCL) stock, you can take advantage of the shareholder benefit program that each line offers and receive a shipboard credit. Please see my recently updated post about Cruise Line Shareholder Benefits for more information.

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