This is part 3 in a series of 21 tips on saving money I learned on a recent Carnival Cruise to Cozumel, Mahogany Bay Honduras, and Belize. In this article we look at how to save money on food and drinks, communication, shopping, and handling money. In part 1, we looked saving money on booking your cruise and getting to the port. In part 2, we looked at shore excursions both in general and specific to Cozumel, Mahogany Bay, and Belize.
Food and drinks
Food and drink is the best opportunity to save money on this cruise. While some people spent hundreds of dollars, my wife and I managed to spend $0, and believe me, we didn’t suffer one bit when it came to having plenty to eat.
Tip 14: Go easy on the drinks
Drinks are really expensive on the ship, often costing over $10. Some people’s idea of a vacation includes lots of drinking though, so you will see people with drinks in their hands no matter where you go on the ship. I am sorry to say that drinks don’t seem to be any cheaper in ports.
Carnival does offer a drinking pass for about $300 for a 7 day cruise, but even that doesn’t include all the drinks they offer on the ship. Luckily for me, I am not a big drinker so it didn’t bother me at all to go a week without drinking. I’ll let you decide whether you think $300 for a week’s worth of drinks is a good deal for you or not. If you can either go without, or limit yourself to just a few you can save big here.
I was once told that emptying out a bottle of mouthwash and filling it with vodka and green food coloring was one way to get reasonably priced alcohol onto the ship. This sounds illegal though, so I can neither confirm or deny whether this might work.
As far as pop (what we Midwesterners call soda) goes it’s not quite as expensive. At about $2.50 a glass though, its not a great deal either. Carnival allows each person to bring up to 12 bottles or cans of pop on board with them for those that can’t go without. I saw many people carrying cases of pop onto the ship along with their luggage, but it just seemed like too much trouble to me. If you can stand going a week without pop, there is all the free water, tea, and lemonade you can drink 24 hours per day on the ship.
Tip 15: Don’t pay extra for food on the ship
Although you can choose to pay for food if you want to on the ship, I don’t really know why you would want to. There is a dining room, a buffet, a burger/hot dog bar, a deli, an Indian food buffet, burrito bar, multiple ice cream dispensers, and a pizza stand that are all completely free.
If that’s not enough for you there is also a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant available for an extra fee. I have no idea why you would pay this extra fee since there is so much other great food available for free. The Italian restaurant also has a free pasta bar open at lunch time.
Tip 16: Choose the flexible dining option
When you book your cruise you will have three choices when it comes to the evening meal in the dining room. Carnival makes you choose between an early dining time slot, a late dining time slot, or a flexible option called “anytime dining”.
I strongly recommend anytime dining for the flexibility. There is a daily schedule of shows and fun activities throughout the ship that you might want to see. If you are locked into either the early or late time slot you may have to face the decision of either skipping the evening dining room meal or missing your show. Sure you could always just eat at one of the other many free restaurants on the ship, but choosing anytime dining means you have more options.
While some people love cruises for the specific reason that they know their cell phones won’t work all week, other people can’t stand the idea of being unconnected.
Tip 17: Using Republic Wireless
As any regular ABC reader already knows, I recommend anybody that cares about saving money use Republic Wireless as their cell phone provider. The great thing about RW besides the huge amounts of money you save is that your phone will work anywhere you have wifi.
On the boat wifi is available, but it isn’t a great deal. Wifi costs $.75 per minute, or slightly less if you buy time in larger blocks. Even though that isn’t a great deal, I guess it is good to know it is available. For those without smart phones, public computers are available on the ship for the same price.
Because wifi on the ship was kind of expensive I was counting on being able to find wifi at the ports and being able to check email and phone messages there. As it turns out though, finding wifi in Central America isn’t nearly as easy as it is in the US. Although most of the restaurants had wifi, it wasn’t available for free anywhere that I could find. Wifi at restaurants was only available to people who made a purchase. I just went ahead and left the phone off for the week, which was pretty relaxing.
One more thing about RW. They allow users to change your plan up to twice per month. Since I knew cell signal wasn’t available anyway, I changed my wife and I’s plans from the $25/ month calls/texts, and data plan to the $5/ month wifi only plan. Changing to the wifi only plan for the week saved about $15 and it took about 60 seconds from the RW app.
During the cruise you will be told repeatedly about all the great deals you can find. But is it true? Here are my thoughts
Tip 18: Don’t expect to find any good deals
I took a look at prices both on the ship and in ports, and didn’t think there were any deals worth getting excited about. The ship sells stuff like fancy perfumes and jewelry, but the prices are nothing special. You might expect to find better deals in ports, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. You might be able to find decent prices on stuff like small wood carvings and other local art work, but not on anything you really need.
Tip 19: Don’t pay full price for anything on the ship
If you do feel compelled to buy something while at sea, please don’t pay full price for it. Everything goes on sale sooner or later during the week, so just pick out what you want then wait for the price to go down.
The sale that the most people were excited about was on the last day at sea, but I didn’t see any prices that made me want to buy anything.
Tip 20: Money
Even though you are going to be in foreign countries, you will probably find you don’t really need to mess around with foreign currency. In the port areas, all the local stores and merchants want to make it as easy as possible for American tourists to buy from them so they happily accept American dollars, while all the stores and restaurants of any size that I saw accepted credit cards. If you are going to go out on your own a little more off the beaten path and find that you need foreign currency, then I recommend getting it out of an ATM since you normally get the best exchange rate that way.
When it comes to credit cards, you will want to call your credit card issuer to let you know when you will be out of the country. If you don’t, then your credit card company is likely to think any purchases you make outside of the US are thieves pretending to be you, and shut down your card. Alerting your credit card company to expect foreign transactions is as easy as calling the number on the back of your card.
Not a Tip: $100 in free on board credit for Carnival stockholders
If you own stock in Carnival cruise lines, you are eligible to receive as much as $250 in on board credit, although $100 is more in line on what you will get for the average cruise. To do this, you need to own 100 shares of Carnival stock. At the time of this article’s writing, that stock cost over $40/share, so 100 shares would be well over $4,000. Do you really want to invest $4,000 just so you can save $100. No, me neither, sounds like too much trouble to me.
However, a much more practical shareholder benefit is available for owners of 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway to save 8% on their insurance.
I have tried to make this guide to sailing as complete as possible, but I can’t cover everything that everybody wants to do. I highly recommend doing additional reading on the places you will be going to. Here are some of the places I did research at to figure out what I wanted to do.
Tip 21: Other places to check out
Tripadvisor.com – Tripadvisor has user generated reviews not only of cruise destinations, but everywhere you would want to go to. Check out their list of places to visit whenever you go on a trip.
Cruisecritic.com– Cruisecritic has user generated reviews similar to trip advisor, but specializes in cruises. Check out reviews of ships, ports, excursions, and even individual cabins here.
Moneymanifesto.com and budgetinginthefunstuff.com– I was lucky because my bloggin’ buddies Lance from moneymanifesto.com and Crystal from budgetinginthefunstuff.com had both been on the same cruise I was going on so they were able to answer all my questions before I left. If you’re not lucky enough to know Lance or Crystal personally like I do, you can still read their review of the cruise go get another point of view from mine.
21 Tips for saving money on a Carnival cruise part 1-Bookings and transportation to the port.
21 Tips for saving money on a Carnival cruise part 2 – Excursions and what to do in Isla Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel