1. Home
  2. Cruise Styles
  3. Budget for Your Cruise
  4. How to Cruise When You're Almost Broke
Cruise ships in Grand Turk (Photo: Cruise Critic)

How to Cruise When You're Almost Broke

Let's be honest. We've all had those moments of travel envy, when everyone except us seems to be on vacation and we think, "Gee, it must be nice!" You bust your buns but still can't afford that cruise you vowed to take as part of your "travel more" New Year's resolution.

Luckily, your chances of hitting the high seas sometime soon are better than you think.

You can cruise for less than $500 per couple -- as long as you don't have your heart set on a weeklong cruise or "luxuries" such as a balcony cabin or shore excursions. After all, beggars can't be choosers. If you're low on cash and desperate for a quick getaway, follow these guidelines on how to cruise when you're totally broke.


<div align="center" style="padding-top: 15px; padding-bottom: 15px"

Beach at Grand Turk Port

Let's be honest. We've all had those moments of travel envy, when everyone except us seems to be on holiday and we think, "Gee, it must be nice!" You bust your buns but still can't afford that cruise you vowed to take as part of your "travel more" New Year's resolution.

Luckily, your chances of hitting the high seas sometime soon are better than you think.

You can cruise for less than $600 per couple -- as long as you don't have your heart set on a weeklong cruise or "luxuries" such as a balcony cabin or shore excursions. After all, beggars can't be choosers. If you're low on cash and desperate for a quick getaway, follow these guidelines on how to cruise when you're totally broke.

Learn how to hunt for deals.

If the best cruise deals were easy to find, everyone would snatch them up. Dedicate a little extra time and effort to sign up for e-newsletters and search for cruises where you'd least expect them, such as wholesalers like TravelZoo or online marketplaces like Groupon. Travel agents also make excellent resources, as they have access to exclusive deals and can even add in a bonus treat such as a bottle of bubbly or onboard credit to save you money once you're on the ship. Members of the military (active, retired or discharged) also are entitled to special rates.

Broaden your search options with these seven unusual places to book a cruise.

Sail close to home.

Cheap cruises prevail close to home, particularly in the South Pacific and New Zealand, and are accessible from local homeports. Domestic flights are obviously cheaper than international ones, and you can save even more money if you live within driving distance of a homeport and can skip flying altogether. The South Pacific is the top spot for major deals due to the large quantity of ships heading there, particularly during peak cruise season.

Learn more about driving versus flying to your cruise.

Pacific Aria under the bridge

Look at budget-friendly cruise lines.

Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Cruises Australia and Royal Caribbean are the most popular mainstream cruise lines for a reason. They offer the widest variety of affordable cruise options and dominate Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Additionally, these cruise lines' ships are loaded with free activities such as mini-golf, outdoor movies, swimming pools and surf simulators. Note: Cruise fares typically depend on a ship's sail date, age and desirability, so some ships within the same fleet will be more affordable than others.

Find out which cruise lines offer what, in this list of the 12 best "free" things to do on a cruise.

Go during peak cyclone season.

No, we're not crazy. Peak cyclone season, which runs from November to April, is one of the cheapest times of the year to cruise the South Pacific -- especially February and March when the kids are back at school. The reason: You might not get to visit the ports you initially thought you would. When a storm pops up on the radar and looks like it's heading toward a ship's path, the captain will alter the itinerary to avoid it. You never need to worry about sailing into a cyclone. On the bright side, most early-summer and mid-autumn cruises follow their planned itinerary with sunny (or at least, not stormy) weather.

Bottom line: You can save big bucks if you're content with unexpected surprises. Check out more reasons why you might want to cruise during cyclone season, a few potential downsides to be mindful of and tips if you decide to give it a whirl (no pun intended).

Will you cruise during cyclone season? We break down the reasons you should.

<div align="center" style="padding-top: 15px; padding-bottom: 15px"

Breakers Bar on Norwegian Sky

Don't bet on seven days.

It is possible to snag a good deal on a weeklong cruise, but in most cases, you'll find that short cruises (three- to five-night itineraries) are the bigger money savers. (Some have been known to drop to less than $70 per person, per night.) Bear in mind: These cruises tend to have more of a party atmosphere because they attract a younger crowd and lots of bachelor/hen’s parties and other celebratory groups. P&O Australia has taken short cruises a step further with themed short breaks such as food and wine, music and comedy cruises.

Book an inside cabin.

Inside cabins are ideal for cruisers on a tight budget. They're the lowest and most affordable category you can book, simply because they lack a view and come with bare-bones features. As with any ship, however, not all inside cabins are created equal. While some might be akin to dark closets with a bed and bathroom, others strive to make you feel a little less claustrophobic. (Some even have secret windows!) If you don't spend that much time in your cabin, you're not missing out on much.

Choose wisely, from our breakdown of the nine best cruise ship inside cabins … and three to avoid.

<div align="center" style="padding-top: 15px; padding-bottom: 15px"

Guy's Burger Joint on Carnival Vista

Eat only in free dining venues.

Most cruise ships feature a main dining room (sometimes multiple dining rooms), buffet and a few casual eateries -- all in which you can eat for free. Main dining rooms are a universal favourite for dinner, thanks to their rotating menus and myriad options, which typically include designated vegetarian dishes. (Other special dietary requests can be accommodated with advance notice.) The food is pretty average, as it is in the buffet, but some free alternative dining venues such as Dragon Lady and Angelo’s on P&O Australia and the excellent Dive-In burger bar on Holland America -- as well as free room service on a number of lines -- add excellent value to your cruise fare.

Who does free cruise dining best -- Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian?

Fill up on free drinks.

Free drinks are one of many ways you can save on booze at sea. Find out if your cruise line hosts a captain's cocktail party. On certain lines, servers at these celebratory soirees will make the rounds with trays of complimentary wine or Champagne. Art auctions also serve free drinks, even if you're only there to look. Additionally, a number of lines offer BOGO (buy one get one) deals and other drink specials listed in the ship's daily planner. Considering specialty cocktails average around $12, you can save a significant amount by taking advantage of these specials throughout your cruise. Be sure to check the fine print for locations and happy hour times.

Save while you sip with these 15 ways to get free (or cheaper) drinks on a cruise.

<div align="center" style="padding-top: 15px; padding-bottom: 15px"

Beach at Grand Turk Port

Hit the beach.

As if someone needed to tell you! The beach is one of many free ways to have fun in port -- and if you're in the South Pacific or New Zealand, options abound. In most cases, you can easily access a beach by foot or shuttle bus. If you have a few bucks to spare, we suggest taking a cab to another nearby beach with fewer crowds and a more authentic island vibe. Just make sure you keep an eye on the clock; sunshine and pina coladas have been known to foreshadow embarrassing cases of cruisers bolting down the pier toward their ships with minutes to spare before the gangway gets pulled inside.

Need some inspiration? We list nine free activities to do in a cruise port.

Save as a group.

Fares are generally lower for third and fourth passengers booked in the same cabin, but sometimes, cruise lines will offer deals in which third and fourth passengers sail at significantly discounted rates -- or even free. This can be a steal if you're travelling with kids or as a group who's comfortable being in the same room together. Just remember you're still responsible for port fees, which can add up to about $200 each.

What's your free cruise perk really worth? We help you decide if that shiny promo is a bang or a bust.

Find a Cruise

Popular on Cruise Critic

How To Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin: What You Need to Know
Your room on a cruise ship is called a cabin (or stateroom) and is akin to a hotel room, but typically much smaller. Choosing a cruise ship cabin can be fun and challenging at the same time, and not just a little bit frustrating on occasion. Cabins fall into different types or "categories," and some cruise lines will present as many as 20 or more categories per ship. Before you get overwhelmed, it's helpful to remember that there are essentially only four types of cabins on any cruise vessel: Inside: the smallest-sized room, with no window to the outside Outside: a room with a window or porthole (a round window) with a view to the outside, often similarly sized to an inside cabin or a bit larger; also known as oceanview Balcony: a room featuring a verandah that allows you to step outside without going up to a public deck Suite: a larger cabin, often with separate living and sleeping areas, and a wide variety of extra amenities and perks It's the permutations (size, view, location, amenities and price, for example) of the four basic cabin types that can make choosing difficult. In addition to knowing your cabin options, you need to know yourself: Do you tend to get seasick? Do you prefer to nest peaceably on your balcony rather than hanging with the crowd around the pool area? Conversely, is your idea of a stateroom simply a place to flop into bed at 1 a.m. -- no fancy notions necessary? Are there certain amenities you are willing to splurge on, or can you simply not justify paying for unnecessary perks? The answers will help guide you toward selecting the best stateroom for your money. If you're feeling overwhelmed by choice, we'll help you get started with this guide to choosing the best cruise cabins for you and your travel party.
What to Pack for a Cruise: A Beginner’s Guide
The savvy seafarer follows the packing 101 rule: Thou shalt put into one's suitcase only that which will fit neatly in the allocated storage space without hogging every available nook and cranny for thyself. Following that advice is getting easier these days because cruising has become a much more casual holiday -- even on luxury and traditional lines. Plus, with airlines charging to check bags and imposing extra fees for overweight luggage, it's economical to pack light. To do so, you need to have a good sense of what you’re going to wear on a cruise so you don't pack your entire closet. If you're wondering what to bring on your next cruise, here are our guidelines for what you'll need to pack.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas families much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.