For one thing, when you take a cruise, you know up front the basic price for food, accommodations, on-board activities, and entertainment. In that way, it's like an all-inclusive. Still, it's going to cost you. But there are many ways to not only contain costs but also get the best price available.
CRUISE TIPS: BEFORE YOU GO
1. Look for travel deals on Twitter and visit websites that publicize last-minute savings on cruises. Ones I prefer are Travelzoo and icruise. Every week I get emails from them that notify me about special deals. Generally these consist of unsold inventory. So you may not be able to book the best cabin on the highest deck at a cut rate, but you will be able to sail on some of the best-known ships. You can also opt-in to receive news of special deals from individual cruise lines.
2. Bid for a cruise at auction. If you must sail on a specific date, this won't work for you since you won't know for a while if you've won. Otherwise, you may find a cruise at a reduced price. The only caveat then is to know in advance what the real price of the cruise is ahead of time, and not bid over that amount.
3. To get an idea of what a cruise will cost, visit Expedia or Travelocity, which has a feature that allows you to compare several cruises side-by-side. And of course you can book any cruise those sites offer directly online.
4. Take a short cruise. The very briefest are "cruises to nowhere," as short as an overnight stay. If you can afford a bit more, you can choose from many affordable four- and seven-day cruises.
5. Go in the off-season as opposed to summer, the busy season. Cruise prices can vary from week to week. Often there are bargains to be had in the weeks prior to major holidays.
6. If possible, choose a cruise that sails from a port near your home. That will save you the cost of airfare. While many ships depart from Florida in the United States, there are others that leave from ports in New York, Boston, New Orleans, California cities, and elsewhere.
7. If you can't get to the port without flying, compare prices for flights before buying from the cruise line. In many cases, cruise ships fly passengers on charter planes, which arecheaper. But if you simply need to get from, say, Chicago to Miami, you may find a less-expensive flight on Kayak, Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity, or Expedia than the cruise line offers.
8. Stay in a cabin on a lower deck. (The higher you go, the higher the price).
9. If you're really pinching pennies, choose an inside cabin rather than an outside one or one with a private veranda. That said, it's important to know the layout of your cabin before you buy. Honeymooners won't be happy with an inside cabin that has bunk beds or twin beds that can't be moved together comfortably.
10. If you find a cruise line you like, stay loyal to it. Companies give extra discounts and other perks to returning guests.
CRUISE TIPS: ON BOARD
1. Most ships open up a charge account for you once you board. That makes it easy to overspend on non-essential items.
2. Don't overdo the beverages. In general, alcoholic drinks and soda orders are added to the bill, while liquids like coffee, tea, and iced tea are free. I've been on some cruises where there's a cocktail of the day at a reduced price. If you're not picky about what you drink, take advantage of this.
3. Choose shore excursions carefully. These tend to be profit centers for ships, and you can often have the same experience or better if you arrange it yourself. For example, you don't need to go on the city tour organized by the ship if you're just as happy walking and discovering things for yourself on local transportation.
4. Set a limit for how much you can afford to spend in the casino, and don't go over it.
5. For formal cruises, don't rent a tuxedo sight unseen or from the ship's tailor. Prices will be more reasonable at home, even though you'll have to carry the gear around.
6. Avoid phone calls and Internet time on board. They cost a fortune. Wait until you get to port. Generally there are banks of phones, and every city I've been in has an Internet cafe.
If you follow these suggestions, it's more than likely you'll be able to take that cruise of a lifetime sooner than you think.