Cruises are a popular vacation choice among couples, families, and even singles. They offer the chance to visit multiple places and take advantage of focused time for fun as you sail. But be careful—it’s easy to end up spending far more than your travel budget on a cruise. Fortunately, these nine expert tips make it easy to find an affordable cruise option that everyone will love.

Consider the Cost of Flights and Lodging

The price of the cruise itself isn’t the only consideration. If you don’t live near the departure port, you’ll have to pay for airfare and lodging before and after the cruise. Factor in timing and locations for cheap flights when you make your cruise decision.

Know What’s Included

All cruises include your room, meals, and basic entertainment and activities. Everything else is dependent upon the cruise line and the particular packages available. Make sure to read all of the details before you book. You might find that the more inclusive deals are the best price. Cruise lines sometimes increase prices on items once you set sail, so do some research to see what the policy has been in the past.

Set Your Priorities

Room, size, and location? Drinks? Activities? There are many opportunities to spend money when booking a cruise, while onboard, and in port during excursions. Knowing your family’s priorities will help you allocate your allotted budget. If you don’t plan to spend much time in your room, opt for a “guaranteed inside” cabin. If the cruise overbooks, you could get a possible free upgrade to an outside cabin while paying for the cheapest possible room. If drinks are a priority, price out the drink packages to see whether you’d come out ahead.  

Don’t Overlook Excursions

If you’re planning to enjoy the ports along your route, include those excursions in your budget. Souvenirs and activities will cost extra, so plan your adventures ahead of time to avoid getting caught with surprise fees. Because food is included in all cruises, try to minimize eating off the ship—you’ll be paying “twice” for that meal! Time your excursions so that breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be on board.

Look Out for Deals

Follow cruise travel agents on social media or through email and wait for them to promote deals. They’re often willing to drop prices even further if they need to unload the rooms quickly. Generally, using a travel agent won’t cost you anything—the cruise lines pay their commission. One deal to look for: kids sail free. These promotions often mean sailing when kids are in school, but it might be worth a week off to grab the best price.

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Pay Attention to Timing

Different promotions happen at different times, so if you have six months to a year before you need to book, it pays to track the promotions. You’ll have the most purchasing options when the itinerary first opens, up to two years in advance. Promotions often last only 24-76 hours, so when you find what you want, book it! Most cruises require passengers to pay their remaining balance about 12 weeks before departure. So, if you don’t want to plan years in advance, rooms open up around this time at discounted rates as people fail to pay.

Understand Tipping Rules

Different cruise lines have different rules about tipping. Some are included, some have a daily minimum, etc. Many cruises offer a lower tipping rate if you prepay for gratuities, so ask about this option when booking. Make sure you know how to include tips in your budget so that you don’t get caught by surprise at the end!

Plan Ahead of Time for Onboard Spending

Everything from specialty dining, spa services, and casinos are tempting on board. Most cruise lines give you a cruise card for purchases onboard; everything gets charged to your room, so it’s easy to lose track of just how much you’re spending! Set up the card as a cash account, and only add what your budget allows. Decide how much you’ll spend prior to departure, and remind yourself that you can have a wonderful time by sticking to your goals!

Be Flexible Where You Can

Different cruise lines offer different packages and deals throughout the year. Smaller lines may have more customizable packages, while more prominent lines might sail to more destinations. If you can, don’t go into cruise shopping with an exact plan in mind. Leave yourself open to being flexible to take advantage of opportunities. Research cruise lines ahead of time to ensure you know which ones are on your “definitely not” list, understand your time constraints, and see where the deals take you!

With these tips in mind, you’ll be on your way to paradise in no time!