Save Or Splurge Part 2
Points To Ponder When Booking A Cruise

by Ming Tappin

A beverage package is worth the splurge if you consume at least 6-8 drinks a day.

Cruise line excursions offer a guided experience in a secure group environment - visiting a Mayan temple in Belize.

Self made excursions are cheaper but involve research - tackling Olympia on my own. 

DIYers save but need to be prepared for everything - like our flat tire in Barbados!

Let's carry on with our topic of spending or economizing on various aspects of a cruise vacation.

To Booze or not to Booze?
Cruise lines over the years have implemented beverage programs to win over the all-inclusive crowd. But with an average cost of USD 50-60 per day, is it worth the splurge?

When I first started cruising 25 years ago, drinks onboard were quite inexpensive as alcohol was at dutyfeee prices. So it wasn't a big deal to have to pay for drinks. Those days are long gone. Today a drink onboard will cost you the same as one ashore, plus a mandatory 15-18% gratuity. With an average of $10 for a glass of wine, $6 for a beer and $8 for a cocktail, one's bar bill can add up quickly. 

Taking advantage of the drink package is great if you plan to consume 6-8 alcoholic drinks per day, every day, or a combination of alcohol, soft drinks and specialty coffees. If not, you're better off paying as you go. Most ships have daily happy hour and drinks of the day at reduced rates. But for those who aren't counting the pennies and would like the peace of mind that all drinks are included, a package would be of great value. Just watch out for limits - some packages cap the number of drinks per day, and the cost of each drink. Ensure you read the fine print and recommend the right package.

Sightseeing Sensibility
Excursions offered through the ship used to be the only option to explore ports. As a first time cruiser, I took advantage of many cruise line excursions. But tour prices have also gone through the roof. I remember paying USD 30 for a city tour and $50 for snorkelling. Nowadays, the average excursion cost is USD 100, more if it includes a meal or is of longer duration. On a typical 7 day itinerary, a couple could easily be booking 3-4 tours each, costing upwards of $1,000. Is it worth the spend?

Yes if your clients are first timers, not well-travelled and need the hand-holding each step of the way. And yes if the destination is difficult to get around on their own - due to language issues, lack of infrastructure or general security concerns. Another benefit of booking with the cruise lines is the reputable and vetted suppliers they use, and the ability to resolve any service issues should they arise. In short, cruise line excursions offer peace of mind and stressless planning.

But, today there are also alternatives to the ships' excursions. Third-party operators offer tours of equal if not superior quality, with the same guarantee of timely return to the ship. They operate smaller groups and charge less than the cruise line. Some also offer specialized tours - such as a kayak excursion we took to Mendenhall Glacier while in Juneau, something not available through the cruise line. Many also work with travel agents and pay commission. Just be sure to check their reputation, cancellation policy, terms and conditions.

DIYers who don't want to be herded in groups, following other people's schedules or be restricted to a set itinerary can certainly save on excursions by exploring on their own. This can range from renting a car, hiring a local guide, or taking a taxi or public transit. This is the route we typically take. While in the port of Katakolon, we took a train to Olympia for less than €10, while the ship's tour was USD 89. However we had to walk from the ship to the train station, and from the station to the site, and we did not have the commentary and insight of a tour guide. I had to do a lot of research on my own - which also begs the question: is the client willing to do all that work? Are they street-savvy, can they manage on their own, will they miss the ship? There is always a trade-off on the savings - so it's up to what the client is willing and able to do.

Your professional service includes advice and recommendations on these important aspects to supplement your client's cruise experience. Help your clients make informed decisions to ensure smooth sailing every time!

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 37 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of

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