Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cruising on budget

On my previous post about our story of cruising with little kids, I promised to write a separate post for tips and tricks for cruising on budget. I mentioned how we took the cheapest cabin available in the ship. The price also covers all meals and access to most facilities like pools, gym, theater, library, etc. Of course, you'd have to pay extra for spa and its services like massage. The good news is, kids don't pay until their 18th birthday, and they get their own beds in the parents' cabin.

So if you're not crazy about private balcony or windows with sea-view, take the cheapest inside cabin for your family and spend most of your time on the outdoor deck. You'd literally just sleep and shower in the cabin. Apart from the main price of the cruise, these are our tips to keep your experience low budget:

Research well to avoid taking their official shuttle

Most cruise ports are located a little far from the city center or the old historic port of the town. Because of that, most ships offer their official shuttle to get you to the city. Their prices are usually pretty high, so research well whether you can find another way before deciding to take their shuttle. In Marseilles we took Costa's official shuttle for €11 per person round-trip, only to find out later that Marseilles cruise port has a free shuttle for cruise passengers. In Ibiza we took public bus for €4 per person round-trip, much cheaper than Costa's shuttle for €12.

Avoid falling for the water scam package

Before the departure, if you have an online booking or account, the cruise company will send you e-mails, to remind you to pre-book beverage packages. One of the packages was the water package, which was offered at around €30 for 13 liters of still bottled water. I had to dig into lots of forums to make a decision whether it's necessary to take the package. The answer is NO, it's a scam! During meal times, cold drinkable water and ice cubes are available from the dispensers, and you can drink unlimited. In case you're really thirsty in the cabin, the minibar isn't that expensive. We took a one-liter bottle for €3 from the minibar. If you like, you might take the alcohol packages though. Although my husband prefers paying by a glass in the bar (€5 a pint), or buying in the shops in the city and take 'em back to the ship. Contrary to most beliefs, they're not strict at all about taking beverages from outside to the ship.

Unless you want to be extra convenient, don't take their excursions offers

Plan your own excursions. Find itineraries online, research what you want to see, buy a map and take public transport. Don't let the cruise company rob you by organizing a city tour at €50 per person. Or if you're like us, just walk with no plan and let destiny brings you to places.

Read the daily journal thoroughly

To maximize your experience of living in the ship, read the journal delivered to your cabin every night. The journal lists all of the events and activities for the next day, so you can plan your day well. It also lets you know the breakfast, lunch and dinner options, so you can plan what kind of meal you want. There are free seminars, dance classes, music programs and shows in which you can participate. Don't miss the competitions and quizzes which win you prizes like free spa treatments!

Pack for different outfits

They don't give guidance for clothes to pack prior to sailing, but we needed different kinds of outfits throughout the journey. Make sure you have formal/gala outfit if you plan to choose the formal sitting dinners. Formal outfit is also necessary for the cocktail party with the Captain (usually held on the last night of the cruise). Other than that, you can be casual in the ship, but they organize different events like "La Notte Bianca" in which all of us was expected to wear white for one night and there was an open show of ice carving on the deck. Don't forget warm clothes, even if you're sailing during summer like we did, it gets quite windy and chilly in the evening on the open deck.

Bring basic medicines, and mind sea-sickness

On-board doctor visits are expensive. You can check the detailed prices on the daily journal, but I'll tell you here one single visit would cost €136 and that doesn't include the medicines. Unless it's an emergency, avoid it. Bring your regular medicines for the whole family. Our toddler got a fever during our trip but I had her rectal paracetamol with me. I also packed probiotics, rehydration salt, painkillers, rash cream, sun screen and insect repellent. None of us had problem with sea-sickness, but if your kids (or yourself) had had car-sickness before, anticipate that they might also have sea-sickness, so bring their usual medicines.

Last but not least, basic safety

One thing: do not miss the emergency drill. Some might think it's just a waste of time, but no. Big no. You need to participate on the emergency drill. Usually it's organized on the departure day, but it was also organized on the second day for those who missed the first drill. You need to know where your meeting point is in the event of emergency (the ship is huge, there'd be several of meeting points, know yours!). You need to know where your life vest is, and how to properly put it on. You need to know where your emergency stairways and where your lifeboat would be. For those cruising with kids, don't repeat our mistake, put on their bracelet with their names and cabin number on it, in case you lose them on board.

Have en enjoyable cruise, safe winds and following seas!

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