2. Register for promotions with individual cruise lines and join their frequent cruising clubs. Over the summer, we snagged a 5 day cruise for all 5 of us for $1,343 because we were past guests. Even our booking agent was surprised that we found that kind of deal during peak season.
3. Be flexible on your cabin and your ship. Do you REALLY need a balcony or window? Must you cruise on the biggest and newest vessel? Some of the older refurbished Carnival ships are amazing. All we did in our cabin was sleep and bathe so the confined space was not an issue.
4. Know the best times to cruise price wise. Hurricane season and the week before or after major holidays are when we generally book. January and October tend to be our best months. And, if you can swing it, Sunday departures are usually the least expensive. FYI we've never been caught in an actual hurricane. Ships may change your itinerary a bit if weather becomes an issue but I always go in with a sense of adventure and have never been disappointed.
5. Calculate the hidden fees and find some work-arounds. Parking can be as high as $20 per day. In some cases, it makes more sense to book a hotel near the port, leave your car there and use their free shuttle. Or, research ahead of time for lots that allow you to park and shuttle as well. HOWEVER, research diligently because I've heard some horror stories. Trip Advisor is helpful.
Beverages can be another challenge. Generally, tea, water, lemonade and coffee are included. Many cruises allow you to bring your own sodas. Check the fine print. Alcohol is a whole different ball game. Most ships allow one bottle of wine per carry-on bag (don't forget the corkscrew!). Several have promotions for a drink-all-day pass or discounts if you're gambling away your savings in the casino. Show up for the meet and greet cocktail parties, art shows and liquor store get-togethers.
Tips? You MUST tip. Those folks that make your cruise amazing work their rears off. I was in awe of the hours, days and months they put in non-stop. We pre-paid all of ours. It never hurts to leave a little extra at the end as well if someone has gone above and beyond.
6. Research the cheapest departure ports. In general, Miami and Fort Lauderdale rock the prices. Port Canaveral comes in a close second.
7. Consider driving instead of flying if more than two people will be cruising. Even the gas you spend plus parking may be less than flights. Since my husband is a teacher and I can work from the car, this is often our best bet. However, time is often money, so weigh the value to keep your sanity as well.