First published in the September issue of SKYE Magazine:
Cruising abroad luxury liners is far cheaper than people imagine. When you consider that the cruise price is typically inclusive of travel, accommodation, food and non-alcoholic beverages as well as service and high quality entertainment, there are only a handful of times that you need to dip your hand into your pocket while on board. This doesn’t, of course, stop them from enticing us to spend at every opportunity, but if you follow some of these tips, you will find a cruise-cation the very best and cost-efficient way to travel.
Dry-cleaning, inexplicably, is cheaper on board than it is in South Africa. So, rather than fret about having your finery laundered before you travel, and then worrying about it creasing, send a stash for laundry the very first moment you begin your cruise. If you like dressing up, all liners offer formal nights. While on some liners formal attire is an instruction rather than a recommendation like it is on Royal Caribbean International (RCI) you can expect to have three formal nights on a 10-day itinerary. Typically though the second night on board is a formal one which is why you must get your gear into the laundry pronto.
Although not cost efficient, many ships also give you the opportunity of hiring a formal getup so it is possible to travel simply with hand luggage if you choose to. While on board The Grandeur of the Seas, a RCI Vision-class ship, we met fellow South Africans who not only travelled simply with carry-on bags but were also frequent cruisers. After chatting to Anton Bergstrom I learned he’d worked in the cruise industry since 1991 and had travelled on more than 42 ships. “Book an inside cabin. You’ll save as much as $300 on a week’s itinerary and if you just plan to use your stateroom to sleep and change in, it makes sense. In my experience most inside rooms are very similar in size to outside ones and the primary difference is not having a window,” he says.
Anton adds: “To say it is ‘all included’ means nothing for people who haven’t cruised before. You might pay 30 Pounds to see a show in the UK and I’ve found the quality of the nightly entertainment to be equal to London or Broadway shows. Even if you only eat at the Burger King, it will still cost two of you $100 a day for food and that doesn’t include train or bus or taxi fare. For the same quality, quantity and variety of food on a ship you’d pay $800 a day which makes cruising truly amazing value.” he says.
For budgeting purposes give yourself a $150 a day when planning a cruise so a 10-day jaunt will weigh in at $1500 per person. Of course there are cheaper liners and many more costly ones but $150 a day is realistic for most five-star ships. Anton says when comparing offerings it is essential to calculate a total daily rate. “Remember that on RCI service charges and port taxes are included in the price and not all lines include these in their package”, he says suggesting that the only way to truly compare price is to add in all the excluded costs.
I like to pre-book and pay for shore excursions well in advance so that while I’m cruising I don’t have to ferret money away or arrive home to a big credit card bill. I also enjoy the process of researching and booking a trip which I find extends the excitement and pleasure of the cruise way beyond the 10 days that I’m on board.
Anton says to book a cruise one year in advance just by paying a deposit and you then have until 90-days before cruising to pay the outstanding amount. “If the price has dropped just cancel and rebook at the lower rate without penalty.”
I recommend that you sign up to the ship’s loyalty programme. Crown & Anchor, RCI’s programme is free to join and offers meaningful discounts. While on our Caribbean cruise we took advantage of the Crown & Anchor Next Cruise deal for 50% off the second person’s fee as well as an on-board credit of $175. This will go a far way to covering essentials like Wifi, Starbucks Coffee and speciality dining. If you enjoy a drink, cocktails are around $8 while a Californian Chardonnay will set you back $42.
Anton recommends dollar-based ships like RCI and Celebrity and rather than Euro-based ships like Cunard as these are better priced for South Africans. “Many cruise lines have demand-driven prices which change whereas with RCI the price you get quoted is the price you will pay – it doesn’t go up when more people book for the cruise.” he says.
Anton warns that many of the cruise lines penalise South Africans as we are not considered a primary market. He says this means that people booking from within the USA and UK get a lower rate on many other lines, RCI however, charges everyone the same. “In terms of cost you will pay less to cruise internationally (including your air arrangements) then you will pay on a cruise that markets itself to South Africa.”
I recommend you take a view about the ports you plan to visit: In the Caribbean we elected to book all our shore excursions via RCI but on a European itinerary when we were confident about being able to make our own arrangements we did so. One important thing to note: If you are booked on a ship’s excursion and you are delayed returning to the ship, the ship will wait for you which they will not do otherwise. When you consider what it will cost you to have to catch up with your ship at the next port, I don’t believe the risk is worth the imagined saving.
If you’re heading to the Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Haiti) I heartily recommend booking a snorkelling excursion in Cozumel and don’t even think of skipping swimming with the stingrays on Grand Cayman. This is a must-do wildlife experience.
We sailed out of Baltimore, USA in December and while you will need a warm coat, gloves and a beanie we totally overpacked winter clothing. The average USA inside temperature was about 23 degrees Celsius so wearing any more than a jersey indoors left us as steamy as being on the balmy beaches of Montego Bay.
Speak to the folks at Cruises International about planning a trip. I bet you’ll be as hooked as we are. www.Cruises.co.za 011-327-0327