Cruising tips – saving $ and travel light

One of the common whines I hear from people is how the cruise itself is a small part of the cost and the big expense is the onboard account.  The cruise lines are out to get you to spend more money on pretty much everything.  It is possible to leave the ship having charged little or nothing to your cruise account.

Below are some tips I have found to minimise spending onboard, general cruise tips and how to travel light for a cruise holiday.

Before you cruise

  • If you are a solo traveller with P&O, start with booking an inside cabin (the cheapest you can get – you will unfortunately still need to pay for 2 people).  Then on their website, upgrade if desired, to an ocean view or veranda cabin.  They only charge an upgrade per person, so you pay the upgrade at a single rate instead of 2 people.
  • Check your cruise lines drink policy – some allow limited alcohol to be taken onboard while others such as P&O only allow loosely packed canned soft drinks.  Consider taking advantage of this as it will be a lot cheaper to visit a supermarket or bottle shop prior and in port and carry them on, than to purchase the cruise line’s drinks package onboard.
  • Pack a reusable water bottle. The ship’s tap water is drinkable (although it doesn’t taste great) and usually there is a water filter to fill up.  Bottled water onboard is ridiculously expensive and not to mention more plastic in the environment!
  • If you are a coffee drinker and turn your nose up at the Nescafe (or similar) which is included, consider bringing a coffee plunger (aka french press) and coffee with you.  By the time you have purchased a handful of fancy coffees at the cafe, it would have covered the cost of the plunger and coffee.  On a longer cruise, restock your coffee stash when you go ashore – Kona in Hawaii, Java in Indonesia, Aldi, Coles … you get the idea.

Shore excursions

  • Research the ports of call and decide what you would like to do.  Then work out how exactly you are going to do it.  Some ports you can simply walk to points of interest.  Some places you may need to get a taxi or public transport.  In some locations you can also organise an independent tour, check the cancellation policy for booking ahead independently – if you don’t dock due to weather you may lose your money.  These options however will likely be less expensive than the shore excursions via the ship.
  • In some places, it’s better to book excursions with the ship as they will wait for you if you have a delay.  A good example of where we have taken the exorbitant shore excursion is going to Borobudur which is around 2 hours in terrible traffic from the port.  Going with the ship organised excursion, they supplied a police escort and an extra bus in case of a breakdown.
  • On my recent solo cruise with P&O (which you can read more about here), one of the stops was Moreton Island which has exceptional snorkeling.  One of the shore excursions arranged by the ship was a guided tour of the wrecks.  They took you on a boat to the wrecks and loaned you snorkeling gear.  I saved $70 by bringing my own mask and snorkel and simply walked the 1.5km along the gorgeous beach to the wrecks.  I checked the cost of buying snorkeling kit (including fins) at the resort shop, it was $70.  With advanced planning you can get a full set including fins from Kmart for $25 or less.  Mask and snorkel only are likely less expensive and I have often seen fins at op shops for virtually nothing.
  • Speaking of snorkeling at Moreton Island,  for safety if you are snorkeling independently make sure you swim in front of the lifeguard stand.  I also read its safest to swim about 30 minutes before to 30 mins after the tide changes so you aren’t fighting a current.

Travelling light

  • It goes without saying to check the forecast for your various ports of call, but if you are travelling to a warm climate you likely can easily do it with a carry on backpack.  I’ve done 2 week holidays – cruises and otherwise with a bag weighing 5-7kg.  Advantages are that you don’t have to wait for your luggage to arrive to your cabin and at the end of the cruise you can simply walk off without waiting. Make sure you wear your heaviest items.   I realise this is harder to do in more temperate climates, but then you are also likely to sweat less too, so can take less clothing if you are happy to wear repeatedly.
  • Take old throw away clothing.  Consider taking old t-shirts, undies, socks etc – I visit my local op shops $1 rack and purchase t-shirts.  Then I can throw away or redonate the unwanted items either during or at the end of my cruise after disembarkation.  On my recent P&O cruise, in Moolooaba I took a couple of t-shirts to the local op shop to donate.    This also means less laundry on arriving home and saves space for any purchases.
  • Do your laundry (undies and socks) when you are in the shower.  I haven’t been on a cruise yet that doesn’t have a washing line in the shower.  Use the shampoo or soap to quickly wash your socks and undies.  I typically take 3 sets of each – one set I’m  wearing, one drying and one dried.
  • Back to snorkeling – please do be sunsmart and consider an old slim fitting t-shirt or rash vest when swimming/snorkelling for sun protection.  Also if snorkeling make sure you put sunscreen on the backs of your legs!  Melanoma is not a souvenir you want to take home.
  • Bring ends of tubes of toothpaste and mostly used toiletries such as deodorant as they take up less space and weight in your bag.  You can ditch them if needed to make space.  Remember for international flights even mostly used items need to be smaller than 100ml/gm
  • For inexpensive souvenirs, check the local supermarket in ports of call for regional items such as coffee, chocolate, snacks etc. On our transatlantic cruise we bought local chocolates from the supermarket in each port – great memories to be had each evening munching on our goodies.  However remember to consider your countries bio-security policy and if in doubt declare it.
  • Ditch the physical books and use your libraries free Overdrive service to read books on your smart phone. This is a great service that you are already paying for as part of your rates.  If you don’t like electronic books and prefer the old fashion type, most ships have a swap-a-book service.  If you have a book(s) at the end you don’t wish to take home, consider donating them to the crew library – reception usually will take them for the crew library.


  • Tipping is the exception to saving money.  If you are on a cruise line where tipping is expected (tipping is not usually required on Australian based cruises), the crew rely on it, so don’t be a tightarse.  The crew worked hard so you can enjoy your holiday, often working 8 months away from home at a time without a day off.   The cruise line will let you know if you are expected to tip.  If you aren’t sure what to tip, this handy tip calculator might be useful.

Being a responsible tourist

  • Under no circumstances throw items off the ship to beggars!  While this might seem like commonsense, for many on our October Princess Cruise to Indonesia they seemed to think this was a good idea to throw items off the ship to locals begging from small canoes.  This not only encourages begging but it’s incredibly dangerous for the local people engaging in this activity.  If you wish to give to the locals, do so by purchasing something from them or donating to a reputable charity in the area.


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