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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top Tips for “How Not To” Overspend on a Cruise Vacation

Kerry & Nancylee Stange - Xpertise Cruise Travel
CRUISES ARE INCLUSIVE VACATIONS, so their popularity is strong right now with consumers who are finding it tough economically on the home front.  The great perk is that food, entertainment and many activities are included in the cruise fare.  Many cruise vacationers enjoy their cruise experience so much that they can’t wait to book their next cruise.  However, it can very easy to overspend on a cruise making that next cruise further away than desired.

Still, it’s easy to overspend on any type of vacation.  Here are our “Top Tips for How Not To Overspend on a Cruise Vacation.”

DON’T OVERSHOP PRE-CRUISE: Review the onboard dress code.  Take appropriate clothing out of your closet and view it as a grouping. Eliminate items.  Stick to two basic color schemes: mix and match clothing with neutrals to create more outfits using fewer pieces – say blue slacks, green slacks and a cream top that can go with either.  Remember that scarves, jewelry, belts and accessories add a whole new look.  Try on any clothing selected.  If you must buy something new, make a list, create a budget and find sales.  Freshen your wardrobe – don’t replace the whole shebang.

PACK LIGHTLY: Most airlines now charge for checking more than one bag and some may charge for every checked bag.  Pack efficiently and lightly.  Take two or three pairs of shoes, not six or seven.  Take one daytime purse and one evening one, not one for every outfit.  Even when you’re ready to shut the suitcase, take out one or two outfits.  Airlines routinely add “overweight” charges for bags more than 50 pounds.  Check with your airline within one week before departure to know the current restrictions.  Weigh your bag on a home scale.  If it’s overweight, remove less crucial items, or shift them into a lighter bag.

TRAVEL SMARTLY: If you’re driving to the port, start early in the morning to avoid commute traffic on main routes.  Drive when temperatures are cooler to avoid having to turn on the A/C, and drive at moderate speeds.  You’ll save a bit on gas, which we all know can be an added expense these days.  If you’re flying, consider using frequent flyer miles or credit card points to save on airfare costs.

TAKE TIME TO RELAX: While a cruise is an all-inclusive package, extra charges can add up fast when enjoying spa treatments, more relaxing drinks than you would normally consume at home and extensive shore excursions.

BALANCE SHORE TRIP ACTION: Whether you are booking shore excursions from the cruise or from another firm, it’s easy to get excited and book the longest, most expensive tour in every port.  But once onboard, you might find that tiring.  Perhaps book a longer trip in your most anticipated port of call.  Balance the next day to be more relaxing with a shorter less active excursion, a self-guided walk around the port city or even to a safe local beach.  Request more information and ideas regarding your ports of call from your agent in advance of your cruise, or from the shore excursion desk while onboard.  Work with your cruise travel professional to seek out less expensive shore excursion options through other suppliers such as ShoreTrips.  Be sure to keep track of the deadlines for cancelling any pre-booked excursions or you may lose your money when attempting to cancel.

SHOP SMARTLY ASHORE: Cruise vacationers are huge spenders in foreign ports of call and they know you are coming with money to spend. If you want to shop, check prices of similar items at home so you may smartly compare. Many shops in ports of call have franchises on every island and sometimes even in the same port.  If you are interested in an expensive jewelry purchase, know what you are looking for, become educated by asking your onboard shopping expert for advice and be very careful when browsing to take note of the quality of each item.  Cruise lines have relationships with many vendors ashore where they get kick backs for purchases made.  This can lend itself to additional savings for you if planned well.  If bargaining is acceptable in any port, start low and go higher, but know that in many cultures, if you bargain, it’s assumed you will buy.  Much like buying a car, be willing to walk. You’ll be amazed at how the price can change.  Some travelers also say they take only a limited amount of cash ashore and only one credit card (or none).  That way you simply won’t have a choice about overspending.

DON’T GO ASHORE HUNGRY: Eat breakfast or lunch before you depart the ship on any shore trip.  Buying drinks, snacks and meals ashore can add up quickly.  If you’re booking two half-day tours – one in the morning, and another in the afternoon – return to the ship for lunch.  If you do dine ashore, read menus and check pricing before sitting down, as well as compare several restaurants. Be sure to bring bottled water from the ship with you when traveling ashore. Water sanitation regulations differ in other countries to that of what your body may be accustomed to, so be careful when dining ashore to avoid tap water including a glass of ice water in restaurants to avoid that chance of becoming ill during your cruise vacation.

BUY DRINK PACKAGES: If your family enjoys wine with dinner or the kids live on soda at home, ask the cruise line immediately upon boarding what the options are for wine, beer and soda packages.

SAVE ON SPA TREATMENTS: If you’re a spa enthusiast, take the spa tour upon arrival, and find out what’s offered.  For sure, book immediately if you desire a specific treatment on a certain day, as the best times may book up fast.  Ask about first-day specials and in port packages which can provide additional savings or provide several treatments at a discounted package price.

TEMPER BUYING:  Avoid buying on the first or second day. Remember, you’re going to be touring ashore and you might want a souvenir from a tropical island.  Many cruise lines have shopping specials on specific days.  Ask any of the shopping clerks for information about these days towards the beginning of your cruise. Then, if you want the cruise lines T-Shirt or other branded items, by all means buy. 
Give yourself time to see what’s available ashore.  Also remember when a ship sign says ”duty free”, it may be a great deal, but depending on the amount you spend, you could still have to pay U.S. customs duty when returning home. 

The U.S. customs duty-free exemption, also called the personal exemption, is the total value of merchandise you may bring back to the United States without having to pay duty. You may bring back more than your exemption, but you will have to pay duty on it. In most cases, the personal exemption is $800 per person, but there are some exceptions to this rule. We encourage you to visit the US Custom's and Border Protection website before departing on your cruise to clearly understand current regulations.

Family members who live in the same home and return together to the United States may combine their personal exemptions. This is called a joint declaration. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Smith travel overseas and Mrs. Smith brings home a $1,000 piece of glassware, and Mr. Smith buys $600 worth of clothing, they can combine their individual $800 exemptions on a joint declaration and not have to pay duty.

HAVE A SEPARATE CASINO BUDGET: If you enjoy gambling, enjoy casino playing while onboard, but keep your wallet intact by creating a separate casino budget in advance, say $25, $75 or several hundred dollars. Once the casino budget is gone, it’s gone.  Another tip is to only visit the casino an hour or less before another planned activity –say dinner or a show.  This will make it easier to leave the casino or walk at the appropriate time, avoiding the tendency to keep playing.

WATCH INTERNET USE: If you plan to use the ships Internet Café or Wi-Fi during your cruise, definitely buy a package of minutes to get a discounted rate.  It’s more economical than paying as you go. SAVINGS TIP: Ask your server’s or members of the ship’s staff where they go while ashore in various ports of call that to access the internet.  They will gladly provide you with the location of a local internet café at more affordable rates that they use to stay in contact with their families back home.

CHECK THE BILL: During your cruise, you can access your spending account from your stateroom on many ships or you can request a copy of your current spending onboard from the purser’s desk.  Check the bill carefully, because mistakes do happen.  Talk with the purser’s office about any discrepancies and resolve them quickly rather being surprised on the day before disembarkation. This will help you to avoid dealing with lines of people addressing all of their pre-disembarkation issues on the final day of your cruise.

BOOK YOUR NEXT CRUISE ONBOARD: Many cruise lines offer special perks including discounted deposits and onboard spending credits for future cruises when booking your next cruise while onboard.  Take advantage of this!  Some cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises offer programs allowing you to place a small deposit of only $100pp to take advantage of these benefits without having to decide on a particular ship, itinerary or date of sailing. Future cruise sales representatives onboard are knowledgeable and can assist you in planning your next cruise vacation and they work directly with your cruise travel agent who will manage your future cruise reservation plans with you when you return home. 

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