Well, after our week away, I am here to share a few tips of how to keep from going broke and still enjoy a little paradise away from home.
Going on a cruise can range from manageable all the way to a year's salary worth of debt. Either way, it involves some saving up and research. I am going to base the prices below on a 4 night cruise (this seemed the perfect amount of time to me, by the way) because that is the cruise we went on. These will also be based on double occupancy. Also, some tips are particular to the Bahamas and these are all based on the Royal Caribbean cruise line. There are lots of other lines out there, this one seemed to fit what we were looking for the best.
1) Book in the OFF-season. A cruise that would cost $299/person during the busy season, you can book for $129/person during the off season. That is a savings of $170 per person! Now, before you think that $260 is great and head off to book your cruise, there is always port fees, taxes and a fuel surcharge.
So, that $129/person cruise, would come to $407.30 total. Still, for 4 nights, that is only $100/night. This includes all your food and is about the price you would pay for a decent hotel. But, that is not it. There are still lots of hidden costs to cruising...
2) Don't eat every dinner in the dining room. You have the choice to eat in the formal dining room, the cafeteria (buffet style) or other restaurants on board. When you choose to eat in the dining room, all your food is still free. But, there is a catch. You still have to leave a hefty tip. For 2 people, you are recommended to leave $12.50 tip every time you eat in the dining room. After comparing the food on board, the dining room was just not worth that extra money to us. We did eat there on the formal night. You can't get all dressed up and head to the cafeteria, but that was it for us. Our ship also had a Johnny Rockets on board. You had to pay a $4 cover charge per person. But, after that, you had all you can eat Johnny Rockets food. It was our favorite meal on board and we were lucky enough to be handed a "free cover charge" coupon from another guest on the ship.
3) Drink the included beverages. Soda and alcohol cost extra. You can have water, tea, lemonade, juice or coffee for free. If you are a big soda drinker, you can buy an unlimited soda cup for $24. The cost of 1 soda is $2. So, if you drink 3 or more sodas a day, it would be worth it. We only ordered 3 the whole week, so it wasn't worth it to us. Also, it was amazing to watch how much money is spent on alcohol while on board. We figured out that a lot of people probably paid more in alcohol than they did for their cruise. If you are looking for some cheap alcohol, wait until the boat is in port and buy some at a local shop. Cory got a couple things for about 1/2 the price as in the states. They will hold it for you on board until the last night of your cruise though.
4) Get cash ahead of time. This is one I meant to do and forgot. After we boarded, I realized we had never stopped at the bank on the way there. Well, here is one more tip for you. If you need cash while at sea, get it from the casino, NOT the ATM. The casino charges a 3% charge. So, if you need $100, you are charged for $103. This is way better than paying the $3.50 ATM fee from the ship AND your bank. Obviously, if you getting out more than $250, the ATM is the way to go.
5) Bring your own snorkel gear. When we went to Coco Cay, the charge is $30/person to rent snorkel gear. If you have your own, they only charge $6 for a life vest. We bought some from a discount sports store for $30. So, it was the same charge, but we left with the equipment to use again one day (or sell on ebay).
6) Barter, barter, barter. If you plan on buying anything at the local straw market, bring your best bartering skills. This is where my husband checked out. I loved it. You just have to know that EVERYONE is having a sale today and that you NEVER pay the asking price. There are also about 200 vendors and you most of them are selling the exact same thing. So, if you widdle down a price at one, check out another and see if you can get it any better there. You can usually get the price down to 50-60% of what the asking price is (especially if you start to walk away). If you make friends and buy in bulk, you can do even better.
7) Check out the frommers guide. I read several great tips here. They also had a typed up walking tour that you normally pay someone to show you.
8) Wait until the last night to buy anything on board. If you do plan to buy any jewelry, clothes, etc..., wait until the last night. They bring everything up to the top deck and give good deals. They are trying to get rid of stuff, so they cut the cost by 50% or offer free bracelet with necklace purchase (that's what I got).
9) If you can, book at the last minute. Sometimes, you can wait until a couple days before a cruise leaves and find those cheap prices for better rooms and better ships. If you have the flexibility, this is the way to do it.
Other hidden costs to remember...
If you drive yourself to the cruise and have to park you car in their garage, it is $12/day. So, there is another $60. If you can find a nice friend or family member to drive you, even better.
You are supposed to tip your stateroom attendant $3.50/day per person. That's a total of $28.
If you get any help with your luggage when you unload and load your car, you should tip about $1/suitcase.
So, there you have it. If you want, it is possible to get a 4 night cruise for 2 people for around $550 (all tips and parking included). This includes all your food and people waiting on you hand and foot. For what it was, it was worth the money to us. I am sure we will do this again in the future sometime. If you have any other great tips, I would love to hear them.