If you read part one of this blog, then you're asking for part two---where I tell you how you FIND these cruises and the savvy and simple ways to keep the COSTS down. Here are my Top Ten Tips for Titanic Savings to make the $199 cruise factual and keep it from becoming fiction once you're onboard.
- Travelzoo - The first step is to subscribe to http://www.travelzoo.com/ 's "Weekly Top Twenty" and be prepared to act fast once you get notification of the $199 cruise. We've taken advantage of their deals in order to have a sweet experience in Ireland ($1199 covered two round trip tix, 5 nights at B&Bs, and a rental car) and honey time in Hawaii ($799 covered airfare for two and 5 nights on Waikiki Beach)
- Relocation Cruises - If you don't want to just sit and wait for the Top Twenty, then do your own research at http://www.google.com/ "$199 Cruises" and "Relocation Cruises." The latter cruises are special deals when a ship is being taken to a different port for a new assignment. For example, if the ship is relocating from the U.S. to Europe to be put into service for a Mediterranean Cruise--they take passengers for the 10 day journey and then you fly home. You will pay more that $199 and you'll usually pay a one-way ticket as well, but there are fabulous deals to be had.
- Just Say No - This little tip will save you an accumulation of hundreds of bucks. Closely evaluate all the "specials" offered on ship. You might as well call them "money makers" for the cruiseline. They offer art, jewelry, alcohol, and spa services as soon as you get on board. For example, you can sign up the first day for spa specials, but is it really a good deal to have a $239 stone massage for only $199? NO, it's not. Instead, I chose the $99 "Ladies Night Out" special where I got five, fifteen minute spa services (facial, massage, hair treatment, etc). Say "no" to spa extras (see below), special drinks, jewelry (it will likely be on sale for 50% the last day of the cruise), photos, etc.
- Spa Tips - Be prepared to say "no" when you go to the spa on that $99 special (or the equivalent) because they make most of their money on the products they try to sell you. It's pretty amazing, the staff starts to "sell" while they're massaging your shoulders or finishing up your beautiful hair, and while you are relaxed and vulnerable. Then they start to tell you how your hair is really in bad shape, or your muscles need a special oil, etc. They convinced me that I desperately needed $212 worth of hair treatments & body lotions or my hair would fall out and my back would stiffen up. Thank goodness I came to my sense before at the register when I saw the total in black and white. When they start this part of their job (they are required to do it), then say something like, "You know, if you don't mind, I'd like to just relax in silence a while, I need the space." They'll understand and you'll walk away the relaxing knowledge of savvy savings.
- Pass on the Soda Pass - The first day you may be offered a "soda pass" that gives you all the pop you can drink for one low price. Au Contraire! You want to drink lots of water, not soda on this cruise to get your money's worth. Water keeps you healthy from all the salt in the rich food. Plus, you might feel obligated to drink your weight in soda if you bought a pass and the end result will be an unhealthy feeling (even diet soda!). The goal isn't to leave the cruise feeling bloated and stressed, but healthy and relaxed instead!
- Pack Two Water Bottles - Each person should pack two bottles of water (we stick them in shoes in our luggage) to save big bucks. You cannot bring in cases of water, or six packs of soda--that's not allowed. On board, water sells for $2.50 to $4 per bottle and it also costs that much on shore at excursions, too. But you can bring a couple of bottles to use and refill. The tap water in your room is the SAME water source used for glasses of water in the dining room. Keep and refill your bottles to save a lot.
- Digital Pix - One of my fave nights is formal night because Bob wears his dashing Air Force Mess Dress uniform that he spent 25 years earning (and still fits in) and he upstages the Captain! The downside is that people usually ask him questions about the ship, like how fast is it going, how much time he spends on the bridge, etc. Formal night photos are a must. By all means take pix from the ship's service, you can look at them later and don't have to buy them. But be sure to have your new friends onboard take plenty of digital pix with your own camera--you'll save the cost of the formal photo and probably get better shots anyway.
- Rank and Research Shore Excursions - You could easily double or triple the bottom line total for your cruise by spending money on shore excursions. Before you sail, when you go to the cruise website to print your boarding pass, look at the shore excursions and print out the options. Or do this as soon as you get onboard. You and your sailing mate (spouse, friend, mom) should rank order the excursions, The first step is to pick the ones you like best for each port. Each person pick their top three for each port of call, giving a number of 3 to your top pick, two for the second best and 1 for your last choice. Give the same ranking for the excursion with the most time (i.e., a 5 hour island tour, etc) 3 for the most time, 2 for the second most, 1 for the least amount of time. Finally, rank the costs of each--3 for the least expensive, 2 for the next expensive and 1 for the most money. Add up all of these and the excursion with the biggest number is usually the best value.
- Excursion Extras - It's important to walk and work off some of that rich food--you'll feel better and get more for your money, time and effort. Try to walk as much as possible on excursions and avoid bus, shuttle or cab fares. Bring your own water bottles (see Tip # 6) and don't throw away the bottle when you're done. Eat breakfast on board before you go to save $$ on food. Try to postpone lunch until you're back on ship, or bring an apple or banana to tide you over (we order room service the night before a port of call and have all these delivered to our room). If the port is close to the town, you can even walk back on board (getting that coveted exercise) and eat lunch on board, then go back out again.
- It's SHOW Business - The entertainment on board is generally pretty good--but it's a hit and miss. Get your money's worth by going to the shows (and walk out if it stinks, plenty of people do that when it's not worth your time or the entertainer is offensive). Sign up for free classes (salsa, line dancing, pilates, yoga, etc) and try your hand at karaoke. Do these with your new shipmates to multiply the fun. It's all part of the cruise experience!
Ellie Kay "American's Family Financial Expert" (R)