The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Beauty writes, "Just read on how you helped a family plan their trip on their budget. I was wondering if you can help me. I am planning on taking a cruise, and I am working on a budget of $600 for everything, including flight. I am looking for a six-day five-night cruise. I want to leave out of Baltimore or Miami. I want a room with a balcony. Can you help me?"
A cruise can be an ideal way to sit back, relax, and just let the world come to you, so I can see why you're eager to set sail. There are, however, a few things you might want to consider before climbing aboard. Flexibility is a key element in planning any vacation, and it can go a long way in sticking to a set budget. For instance, just by altering your travel times, the type of room, or even where you depart from can equal big savings in the long run. Let's see what we can find by shifting a few items around.
There are several options available to you from Baltimore and Miami, although Baltimore might be pricier. For example, I found a five-night Bermuda cruise departing from Baltimore starting at $879 per person (without taxes and fees) for a balcony room in October through Expedia (an inside cabin starts at $487). The cruise stops in King's Wharf before returning to Baltimore.
Miami, on the other hand, is a major port for many cruises, particularly those in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, so you can find a plethora of affordable deals. I priced a five-night Western Caribbean cruise in September starting at $429 per person (without taxes and fees) for a balcony room through Expedia. The cruise departs from Miami, and stops in Ochos Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands before returning to Miami. This cruise fits the bill as listed in your question, but it is a bit later in the year.
If you want to cruise sooner than September, you may want to consider staying in an inside cabin or a room with an ocean view. You'll probably spend more time out of your room than in it if you are only on the ship for a few days, and it's an easy way to save money. For instance, the same cruise costs $599 for an inside cabin for sailings in June, and only $299 for the same cabin in September.
Seasonality can make a big difference in price, and is important when trying to stick to a budget. This is where flexibility can play an integral part in your cash flow. If you can wait to travel until the off-season, then you can probably travel a bit more in style for your budget, i.e. balcony. If you can only travel during the high season, you'll probably have to make sacrifices.
If you decide to cruise from a port other than Miami, you'll have to cut costs in other ways since you'll have to factor in airfare. In your case, you can save by staying in an inside cabin, as well as traveling during the low season. For instance, I priced a five-night Bahamas cruise starting at $279 per person (without taxes and fees) for an inside cabin in October. The cruise departs from Jacksonville, and stops in Half Moon Cay and Nassau before returning to Jacksonville. I also found round-trip airfare from Miami to Jacksonville starting at $199 per person (with taxes and fees) in October.
Planning any trip is just a matter of balancing all the things you would like to include in your vacation with your budget, and sometimes you have to sacrifice a few items to get the scales to align. I leave it up to you to decide what is most important, and then simply start searching from there. For instance, if you have your heart set on a destination, be prepared to travel in low season and in a less expensive room. On the flip side, if you want to travel in luxury, then be ready to cut your time short and sail during the off season.
If this is your first cruise, be sure to do your research to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
Best of luck in the planning and booking of your trip, and may you find the price and vacation you deserve.
As for my other readers, I know some of you are die-hard cruisers. Do you have any sailing tips to offer Beauty?
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