For most of us, it’s a small consolation that a Europe cruise purchased in dollars is often cheaper than a land vacation paid in euros. The cost still seems steep when you’re facing thousands of dollars in cruise fare and airfare charges, when you pick up the bill for onboard purchases, and when you ask for the check at that cute onshore bistro.
Just by reserving a cabin on a Europe sailing, you tacitly agree to spend a certain amount of money. But, you can shave some euros off your bill by making smart decisions before you book and during your trip.
Choosing a cruise
The first step to saving is smart shopping. The type of cruise you choose has a great impact on your final bill.
1. Timing is everything
The wide array of cruise lines and European itineraries available create an equally large spectrum of cruise prices. The lowest fares tend to fall during the shoulder-season months of May, October, and November, while prices skyrocket in the summertime. If your schedule is flexible, you can save money and avoid crowds by sailing during the shoulder season.
Don’t think that rule is set in stone, however. A canceled group reservation might open up cabins on a summer cruise and bring down the price for that departure date. Or, if one week in July mysteriously isn’t selling out, cruise fares are likely to drop. If you’re completely flexible on sail dates or European destinations, you could send a request to CruiseCompete asking agents to send you the best deals they have for any Europe cruise.
2. Shorter is cheaper
If you’re concerned about the total cost of your cruise, rather than the per-day rate, look for seven-night cruises and forgo the more typical 10- to 12-night sailings. You can find these shorter sailings on mainstream, premium, and luxury lines.
3. Cruise line matters
Alternately, consider a mainstream rather than a premium line for your overseas cruise. Europe itineraries tend to be jam-packed with ports-of-call, so you won’t be spending so much time on the ship. Plus, mainstream lines are beginning to send their newest ships to the Mediterranean rather than the Caribbean, so you don’t have to worry about outdated amenities or a lack of creature comforts. You will have to share the ship and ports with thousands of other cruisers, but it may be worth it to get the lowest per-day rates available. And, the perks of sailing on a smaller and more expensive ship are somewhat lessened anyway when you pull into port alongside a mega-ship.
4. Forgo the balcony cabin
Europe is one destination where you can pass up a balcony cabin in favor of a cheaper inside or outside cabin. Unlike an Alaska sailing, the cruise ship won’t be passing fabulous scenery at all hours. If you want to watch the ship pull into port, just position yourself out on the top decks early on, and if you yearn for al fresco dining, grab a table by the pool.
5. Keep airfare costs low
Don’t forget that airfare is a large part of your Europe cruise budget. Transatlantic airfares keep going up and up, so that cheap last-minute cruise deal might be a budget buster when you try to find a flight only a month in advance. To minimize flight costs, consider a round-trip cruise (leaving from and returning to the same port) over a one-way voyage. A round-trip flight is usually cheaper than two one-ways, though sometimes your cruise line might offer discounted or even free airfare with your booking.
It’s also helpful to watch [% 58406 | | airfares %] from your home airport to various European cruise ports. If you’re finding cheaper fares to Rome or Barcelona than to London or Venice, you might want to find a sailing that departs from the cheaper city.
Saving money in Europe
Your savings don’t have to end once you choose the right cruise. How you decide to spend money while on vacation can drastically affect your final bill.
6. Don’t blow your budget onboard
On any cruise, you can splurge on margaritas, spa treatments, and souvenir photos, or limit yourself to the food, drinks, and activities already included in your fare. Drawing up an [% 1621835 | | onboard spending budget %] and checking your onboard bill frequently will help you keep costs down.
7. Pay in dollars
Because of the unfavorable exchange rate, you’re typically better off paying in dollars rather than euros. Try to have as many meals as possible on the ship—they’re already paid for. Of course, you’ll want to try the local cuisine, but make sure each meal is special. Don’t splurge if you’re just going to grab a sandwich. Seek out eateries serving local fare or snack on typical treats (gelato in Italy, churros in Spain) and save your full meal for back onboard. At the very least, bring a water bottle and fill it up before you disembark.
8. Avoid the exchange rate gouge
When onshore, it’s best to get cash from ATMs and pay for larger purchases with a credit card. This will save you from the heftier [% 284490 | | exchange fees %] of cashing traveler’s checks or exchanging money at a bureau de change. You should also research typical souvenir prices in advance, so you know what to pay for your take-home purchases; and don’t forget to haggle over prices at market stalls and other appropriate venues.
9. Explore the ports on your own
It may seem counterintuitive, but you can save a lot on your [% 2306737 | | shoreside activities %]. Unlike Alaska and the Caribbean, where there often isn’t much to do right at the ports, many European ports are within walking distance to the city center’s shops, restaurants, and attractions. Skip the organized day trips and enjoy strolling through historic streets, taking in the sights.
10. Find your own transportation
If you need to travel farther afield, most European cities have great public transportation, and you can take a train or bus to your destination. Or, if you’re traveling in a group, rent a car for the day to explore the countryside. Just remember to get an international driving permit before you leave home, and that you’ll pay extra for a car with an automatic transmission. These do-it-yourself options will often cost less than the cruise line’s shore excursions and give you more freedom to dictate your daily experiences.
It’s hard to find a Europe cruise with a cheaper per-day rate than a Caribbean cruise, but don’t let that stop you from exploring all your money-saving options. The smarter you spend, the more you’ll enjoy your trip—and the more money you’ll have left over for the next getaway.