How to spend less on a cruise than you would at home

All-inclusive cruises can be a great way to give yourself a break from spending money. Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon even met a woman renovating her house who took a cruise because it was cheaper than finding alternative accommodation.

The queen of stinge-spiration, finance educator Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon, has shared her 5 easy ways to save while you cruise the high seas. Yes, yes, we know you have to pay for the cruise - though you get 5% cashback if you buy with P&O on your Citro Card.

By Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon

Whether you are a veteran cruiser or contemplating your first sea soujourn, a holiday on a floating hotel can be great value.

But take up all the money-saving opportunities and use the hip-pocket hacks that seasoned ‘sailers’ do and – once you’ve paid for the cruise itself – you could even spend less per day on a ship than you would at home.

I just did.

What’s more, I met a lady who was doing consecutive cruises for 30 days. She didn’t care where she went – her house was getting renovated and living on a ship was easier and cheaper than an Airbnb or similar.  

Here are our – proven – 5 ways to save a fortune at sea.

Food while cruising

Part of the appeal of most cruises is that they are all-inclusive for food.

You don't need to buy the extras on a cruise, says Nicole.

But you can bet they will still try and tempt you at every turn with tantalising pay-extra possibilities, from premium options in your regular dining room to top-end, top-dollar restaurants elsewhere on the ship.

Repeat after me: You don’t need these. Most people who have been on cruises, with most cruise lines, say the included food is good enough. It can even be great – mine has been.

Extra money spent per day: $0

Shore excursions

Cruise companies offer shore excursions to allow you to see more of your destinations, but you can prep and research in advance to DIY, says Nicole.

The official, liner-offered excursions always look brilliant and are always big bucks. But, with the understanding that the ship will only wait for you if you are late back from an official excursion, you can do far better.

On my last cruise, we didn’t book a thing in advance but researched online where we wanted to go and how much it should cost us to get there. That knowledge is key when you disembark at bartering locations.

My other top tip when under your own steam is not to try and fit too much in – it just gets too stressful. Our loveliest stop last cruise was in Noumea, New Caledonia.

We simply bought a $10US hop-on, hop-off bus ticket. First, we hopped off at the supermarche and patisserie, and chose a selection of cheeses, meats, quiches, pastries and a baguette. Then we went two more stops to a gorgeous, near-deserted beach and enjoyed a beautiful, bargain lunch in paradise.

Bearing in mind that you’ve paid for food on the ship (you can’t usually take any off), do you really want to be outlaying a lot for more? Further, you can’t bring any food or drink back on board, so don’t over-order even the grocery stuff.

Do consider buying duty free alcohol or anything else when you are off the ship though – you hand it in when you get back on until you get home – as there may not be a store at your final disembarkation terminal.    

Extra money spent per day: Total average per shore day (there were three) of $50AUS.

Drinks packages

How important is alcohol to you? Weigh it up and make a simple call before you pay for the drinks package.

This is a straight-up consumption versus alternative-cost equation – and it will be your own. Be aware though that usually you pay for the packages in Australian dollars and drinks on the ship might be priced in U.S. dollars – $15US for a cocktail or more.

Also, this non-coffee drinker has heard people say the free coffee is not up to scratch, which may be a further factor to weigh.

Check carefully what is included and what’s not; it might be that you pay the excess of any drink over $15US, so if you buy a $16US drink, a $1US charge will accrue.

Be aware most liners expect all adults sharing a room to purchase the same package so they don’t try and share one.

Finally, some liners let you bring on a small amount of your own alcohol – say a bottle of wine. This might allow you to skip a night or two of the package and make your purchase only on day two or three. Scan the fine print to see.

Extra money spent per day: If you purchase a premium drinks package, you might be able to snare a pre-cruise special for about $100. Never pay full price and know that most companies, if a better sale comes up before you sail, will refund your first purchased package within 14 days.


A digital detox is great in theory, but those who want to stay in the loop need to know about the ship's wifi options.

If you don’t want a total escape at sea or if you have children and grandchildren or other reasons to stay connected, you might decide to buy the ship’s internet package. This will give you Wi-Fi (to some extent as services can be expected to be a little unstable); you will, of course, have no phone reception unless you activate and pay for international roaming in ports. Remember to read the Citro guide to securing your smartphone for travel, too.

It is usually cheapest to buy one internet package and add devices, rather than purchasing multiple packages for the people in your room.

You can also often share a package with, say, 2 devices between, perhaps, 4 of them, simply switching them in and out as each person wants… or when it’s their turn for Netflix!

Extra money spent per day: Possibly $50 versus $80 or more.

Financial incentives to book again

Cruise companies routinely try and convert your holiday glow into a future booking.

One common strategy to entice you is to offer bonus bucks to spend on your current cruise – for example, on my recent cruise, they were giving $100US to people who put down a $200AUS deposit on a new one. Note that after the exchange rate, that leaves you not-a-lot out-of-pocket!

It gets better, too: you had a whole year to choose a cruise. And your booking could then be for any cruise that had been announced, so conceivably you wouldn’t need to travel again until 2027.

But in light of the fact you’re reading this article, like me, you may not be pre-disposed to blow $100US on unnecessary items on a ship.

Instead I ‘beat the bank’, so to speak.

I went to the casino, put the lot in a pokie machine and promptly cashed it all out. A lucky gamble that paid off, albeit with some risk.

So, when I do sail again, I have $100US to put towards my discount, DIY shore excursions... thanks to the cruise company itself.

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