How we went on a cruise

This is a continuation of a series on how to afford and plan for large trips. See here for the full list.

We did very little for our first anniversary, so we wanted our second anniversary to be big. Jordan had always wanted to see Mayan ruins, so we found a 6-night Carnival cruise ship that took us through the western Caribbean.

To save up money for the trip, I worked about 24 hours a week at a hotel as a front desk agent. It was the job I had over the summer and would’ve quit in August when school began again. I decided to keep it around to make this cruise trip possible. I worked as a tutor and as a graduate assistant at FSU, which was how I made the money that we lived on every month. That money went with Jordan’s paychecks that we saved or spent as needed. My hotel paychecks were put into a different account so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend it, and sat until we were ready to buy the trip. I will tell you: this was rough. I worked a good 45-50 hours a week on top of classes and homework. I’m not sure I would do that over.

But, I made roughly $330 every two weeks from that job, and I worked from late August to Thanksgiving 2013 and was able to cover the costs of the entire cruise, including gas to get to Miami and back and the motel we stayed in the night before.

Because we were very specific on where we wanted to go, there weren’t many price options for us. If you’re much more open to destinations you will have a better chance of finding deals. But we were focused on the stops rather than the cruise ship itself, so it all comes down to priorities.

We booked through USAA, our bank. Members of USAA have great access to discounted cruise rates and shore excursions. Because we had signed up for this membership through our bank, we got an equivalent of $75 off our cruise booking and 10% off some of our shore excursions. We felt confident in our shore excursions choice because they were booked through a company affiliated with our bank, so they were reputable. Also, they weren’t through the cruise line, which meant they were much cheaper.  Once on the excursions, the tour guides knew that they had to perform better than the cruise-sponsored companies to compete for business, which meant we had great service and it was worth all the money we spent.

On the cruise ship we stayed to the meals and drinks included in our package. It’s important to read the fine print, just to make sure you’re not spending money unawares! Jordan ordered two frozen lemonade that the bartender got wrong, and we ended up paying $21 for those drinks. Later, we purchased some coke while we were on one of our excursions in Mexico. We got the local price, just $1.50 for a 2-liter, and carried it on the ship with us. If we purchased the same amount on the ship or at the port, it would have easily been $7.

All in all, we ended up being very pleased with our destinations but not the cruise ship experience, but that’s because neither of us are big drinkers or gamblers, nor did we come with a large group to hang out with.

What we learned:

  • Don’t book excursions through the cruise line
  • Search around for decent discounts
  • If you like cruising, sign up for loyalty points. Those are significant
  • Don’t buy any goods/food on the ship or in port
  • Be aware of what’s included and not included

What other tips and ideas do you have for a cruise vacation?

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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