Cruise Control – Maximise your cruise experience whilst keeping control of your budget
Taking a cruise has never been more popular and one of the many appealing aspects is that it’s all-inclusive, so your accommodation, travel, meals and entertainment are all included within your cruise package. Yet as the cruise ships have become larger and more sophisticated, the diversity of extra, billable options for guests to enjoy whilst on-board have increased almost immeasurably.
So once you step on board, expect to pay for extras that will inevitably tempt you, including speciality restaurant meals, alcoholic drinks and shore excursions: and build these expenses into your cruise holiday budget.
It makes sense to plan a little before your cruise, seeing what extra facilities and services are available on our chosen vessel and how best to make the most of your time on-board without over-spending.
Having Wi-Fi is pretty much an essential part of any trip these days – we all want to keep in touch with our loved ones, maybe even the office and also share pictures and news on social networks.
Yet to offer internet on huge ships that cruise the world’s oceans means sophisticated satellite technology and this is billed extra to your cruise card, either by the minute, or as part of a pre-paid bundle of minutes or hours. It doesn’t come cheap.
Tip: Check out the internet packages from your cruise line before your trip and see if there are any special offers when you book, or take advantage of a bundle package of internet minutes on-board. Whilst on the MSC Splendida I opted for the eight hour package that came in at around 80 euro. Eight hours may not sound much for a week, but you can log on and off as many times as your like, so it is more than enough to download emails that you can then read and respond to offline and then just reconnect to send. The same is true for loading news and app. content to smart phones and tablets – just remember to log off.
A good way to reduce or eliminate this extra cost is of course to use free Wi-Fi in a bar or restaurant whilst onshore, or visit an internet café.
One of the real pleasures of cruising is the ease with which you can reach new destinations. Yet visits ashore with a guide that speaks your language, arranged by the cruise line can be expensive – often more that booking a similar excursion direct.
Tip: Many destinations are easy to visit independently, especially if you do some research online or with guidebooks before you go. If you want to travel a little further afield when ashore, sharing a taxi or guide with fellow passengers also keeps the cost down.
But a word of warning, cruise ships don’t wait for guests. If you are not on-board by the last call, the ship will leave and you will have truly ‘missed the boat’.
So taking a cruise line tour is a guarantee that you are covered in the case of a delay, as well as having the confidence that the price is fixed, and the guide legitimate. When I docked in Naples I opted for the MSC excursion to Pompeii, as our time in port was limited and I wanted to make sure that I could see as much as possible without worrying about a taxi getting stuck in an Italian traffic jam.
Cruises offer one or more all-inclusive buffets which are typically open 24 hours a day, as well formal dining rooms that offer a choice of set menus within your package. More often than not modern cruise ships will also offer gastronomic bars, coffee shops and speciality or themed restaurants offering snacks, meals and drinks for an extra fee. On my voyage with MSC there were plenty of temptations, including specialty gourmet Italian coffees in the bars; freshly made Italian ice-cream on the pool deck; vintage wines and tapas in the ‘Enoteca’ wine bar; European fine chocolates and cakes in ‘La Piazzetta’; as well as Tex Mex dishes and premium steaks in the ‘Santa Fe’ themed restaurant.
Tip: Establish a budget for dining extras before your leave. The on-board inclusive dining rooms are usually elegant and offer a good quality of multiple course meals included in your holiday. What’s more if you really want an extravagant experience, often it can be worth booking the premium accommodation and dining packages, such as ‘The Yacht Club’ on the MSC line.
Drinking on board
Few cruises include drinks in their holidays. Some might include wine and refreshments with meals in the main dining rooms, but more often than not expect to pay for drinks. What’s more you won’t be allowed to bring drinks on-board from shore excursions. Prices for water, refreshments and alcohol are at hotel prices, so can quickly mount up.
Tip: Research the various drinks packages on offer from the cruise line. Many offer deals at the time of booking, allowing you to have unlimited drinks for a set fee. Cruise lines also offer drinks packages for purchase when you board. The deals can vary from unlimited soft drinks, to unlimited drinks with lunch and dinner in the dining room, to unlimited refreshments, alcohol drinks and cocktails throughout the day. Take a moment to really study the packages and anticipate what you might consume, as some times a few of the packages are only worthwhile if you really enjoy to drink a lot of alcohol.
With bigger cruise ships comes better facilities, from mega gyms with climbing walls, spinning sessions and yoga classes to lux spas offering a tempting range of treatments – but most cost extra.
Tip: Many packages will include access to the gym (excluding classes), and many cruise lines offer free ‘sampler’ treatments in the spa to introduce you to the services on offer. Also, each evening housekeeping will leave a Daily Programme Newsletter in your cabin listing all the activities for the following day – many of which are free and included in your package, from casino gaming lessons, to dance classes to nightly entertainment shows – so often you don’t need to pay extra.