Cruising On a Budget: How To Save Money On Cruises with Amanda Bauner – Episode 164

Cruising on a budget. How to save money cruising with Amanda Bauner, cruising expert and solo travel expert.
Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Learn how to save money cruising on a budget without compromising the experience, from booking at the right time to deciding where to splurge. Cruising is a popular way to travel, offering a unique experience that combines relaxation, adventure, and exploration. Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or a seasoned one, Amanda Bauner, host of the Me and the Magic Podcast, shares insider tips on how to save money on cruises without skimping out on the experience. Learn about the cheapest times to go on a cruise, the benefits of DIY planning versus working with a travel agent, and what aspects are worth splurging on. So, grab a pen and paper, take notes, and get ready to set sail for a lifetime of affordable and unforgettable cruise vacations!

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In this episode, we cover:

  • [2:59] Ocean vs. River Cruises
  • [4:50] Advice for first-time cruisers
  • [6:44] Benefits of cruise loyalty programs
  • [8:55] What’s included in your cruise fare
  • [16:22] Role of travel agents in cruise planning
  • [19:35] Best time to book a cruise
  • [30:25] Tips for saving money while cruising

Why Cruise?

From different destinations to various types of ships and even experiences on the ships, there is something for everyone on a cruise. Amanda describes cruising as an all-inclusive floating resort at sea, offering the benefits of visiting multiple ports while enjoying the amenities and activities on board. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly atmosphere, adult-only spaces, themed cruises, Disney cruises, or educational seminars, cruises provide a wide range of options to suit your travel style and interests.

Dining Options

One of the main attractions of a cruise vacation is the variety of dining options available. Most cruises offer a base fare that includes access to buffet-style dining, casual pool food courts, spa cafes, and main dining rooms for dinner each night. Guests also have the option to dine at specialty restaurants for an additional cost.

Endless Entertainment

Cruise ships offer a plethora of entertainment options. From nightly shows and performances to live music in lounges and bars, there is always something to do in the evenings. Additionally, cruise ships offer a range of fun activities such as trivia, miniature golf, shuffleboard, fitness classes, spa treatments, and tours. For example, meet characters on a Disney cruise and participate in animation classes.

Types of ocean cruises from Disney Cruises for Disney enthusiasts, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and more. Amanda Bauner is a cruise expert and solo travel expert.

Many cruise lines have apps that outline daily activities and offerings on board. You can also join Facebook groups, watch in-depth YouTube videos, or read reviews to understand what to expect.

Types of Cruises

There are two main types of cruises: ocean cruises and river cruises. What’s the difference between a river cruise vs. ocean cruise?

Ocean cruises typically involve larger ships with various amenities, activities, and entertainment options. River cruises offer a more intimate experience with smaller boats and immersive cultural experiences.

Here’s how river cruises and ocean cruises differ:

  • Boat Size: River cruises typically have smaller boats with around 100 to 250 passengers, resembling a boutique hotel. Ocean cruises have larger ships accommodating anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 passengers.
  • Flexibility: Due to their smaller size, river cruises offer more flexibility in getting on and off the boat. However, river cruises may face challenges like water levels affecting the ability to pass under bridges. Ocean cruises are more equipped to handle rough seas, storms, and hurricanes.
  • Destinations: River cruises often focus on specific regions like Europe, stopping at smaller ports and historic towns along rivers. Ocean cruises cover a wider range of destinations, including popular seaports and islands.
  • Cost: River cruises can be more expensive due to their smaller capacity and specialized experiences. On the other hand, depending on the cruise line, ship size, and itinerary, ocean cruises may offer a range of price points, from budget to luxury.

The choice between a river cruise and an ocean cruise depends on personal preferences, desired destinations, budget, and the type of experience you want.

Choosing the right cruise line

When comparing popular cruise lines such as Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Celebrity, consider their unique differences. Disney Cruise Line stands out for its exceptional entertainment, including Broadway-caliber shows and character meet-and-greets, adult-only spaces, and unique dining rotations.

Carnival Cruise Line is known for its party atmosphere and affordability, while Royal Caribbean and Norwegian offer larger ships with a wide range of onboard activities and solo traveler options. Celebrity Cruises favors upscale experiences and quality service.

Since each cruise line has its own loyalty program, dining options, entertainment offerings, and unique experiences, research and choose the one that best fits your preferences and budget.

Consider travel style and preferences

Before booking a cruise, it is important to think about what you want to get out of your cruise experience. Are you looking for a relaxing getaway where everything is planned out for you, or do you prefer a more spontaneous approach to your travels?

Do you enjoy exploring new destinations, or are you more interested in the onboard amenities and activities offered by the cruise line?

Amanda suggests asking yourself why you want to go on a cruise.

Are you interested in the cruising experience, or are you more focused on visiting a specific destination? Knowing your travel style and preferences can help you narrow your options and choose the cruise line that best suits your needs.

For example, Virgin Voyages may be the perfect choice if you are looking for an all-adult cruise.

When booking excursions and planning activities, if you prefer a more structured itinerary, book excursions in advance. For those who enjoy spontaneity, wait until you’re onboard to make plans.

8 Tips For Planning a Cruise On a Budget

Looking for how to save money on a cruise? Look no further! Amanda Bauner shares expert tips for cruising on a budget and keeping costs low while enjoying the ultimate cruise experience.

Tired of reading? Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.

1. Consider using a travel agent

First and foremost, using a travel agent is free for travelers. This means there is no additional cost for using their services. Here’s why you should consider booking a cruise with a travel agent.

Travel agents often have access to reduced prices that may not be available to the general public, allowing you to save more money than you would on your own. Additionally, travel agents may offer perks such as onboard credits or gifts waiting in your stateroom, adding even more value to the booking experience.

One key advantage of working with a travel agent is their personalized service and expertise. Travel agents can answer all of your questions and assist with navigating the complexities of booking a cruise, including understanding cancellation policies.

Where to find a travel agent?

Amanda Bauner recommends joining Facebook groups related to the cruise line you are interested in, as travel agents often run these groups. It’s also important that the travel agent is certified and has the necessary cruise affiliations. Asking for recommendations from friends or family who have used travel agents for cruises can also be helpful.

2. Browse cruise deal websites

In addition to the benefits of using a travel agent, consider third-party cruise websites that offer competitive prices and bonuses for booking through their platform. Sites like Vacationtogo.com help compare prices and find deals. Cruisecritic.com offers honest reviews, deck plans, price trends, and the ability to book directly with onboard credit.

3. Book early for the best rates

When is the best time to book a cruise?

Book early for the best rates and availability when planning a cruise vacation. This will secure your preferred accommodations, itinerary, and amenities at a more affordable price.

4. Book Last Minute

If you’re flexible about where you’re willing to go and don’t mind your cabin type, last-minute cruise deals can also save you a lot of money. The closer it gets to the sailing date, the cheaper the cruise becomes. Cruises want to set sail at full capacity. The last thing the cruise line wants to do is leave the port with an empty ship, so they tend to slash prices to fill the ship or add extra perks like cabin upgrades.

The only downside is that the cruise you’re eyeing might sell out, or there may be limited rooms available—meaning all the luxurious rooms have already been taken.

Helpful Tip: Just because you book a cruise last minute doesn’t mean you can’t start planning your vacation ahead of time. Request time off from work during the cheapest cruise months. A few weeks before your departure, book the cruise!

5. Join cruise loyalty programs

Like airlines, cruises have robust loyalty programs offering perks like access to discounts, early bookings, and priority booking for popular excursions. By sticking to one cruise line and participating in their loyalty program, enjoy a range of exclusive benefits and stack those rewards.

6. Cruise during shoulder season

What are the cheapest months to cruise?

To save money and avoid the crowds, consider booking during shoulder seasons for certain destinations, such as Alaska (April, May, or September), Canada and New England (May), the Mediterranean (March, April, or November), Northern Europe (May and October), Australia, and New Zealand (October, November, or April).

Remember that booking during hurricane season for Caribbean cruises may be cheaper, but there is a risk of itinerary changes due to inclement weather conditions.

7. Bring Toiletries and Pack Wisely

Pack toiletries and other essentials to avoid unnecessary expenses during your cruise. Items such as toothbrushes, sunscreen, and painkillers can be marked up significantly on the ship.

8. Budget for onboard extras wisely

As we mentioned, cruising can be a fantastic way to vacation, offering many activities, entertainment, and dining options in one place. However, it’s important to budget wisely for onboard extras to ensure a stress-free and enjoyable cruise experience without overspending.

Read Next: Debt-Free Vacation Planning: 10 Ways To Vacation Without Going Into Debt

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One of the first things to consider when budgeting for onboard extras is the cost of alcoholic beverages. Many cruise lines offer drink packages ranging from basic to premium, with different price points depending on the types of drinks included. Assess your drinking habits and preferences to determine if a drink package is worth the investment.

Helpful Tip: Most cruise lines allow passengers to bring one bottle of wine onboard per person. While you’ll be charged a corking fee in dining rooms, you can drink for free in other areas of the ship. Always double-check cruise rules and drink responsibly.

Additionally, some cruise lines allow passengers to bring their alcohol on board, so keep that in mind.

The same goes for WI-FI packages. If you’re hoping to unplug, skip this expense altogether.

Specialty dining is another aspect of cruising that can add to the trip’s overall cost. While most cruise ships offer a variety of dining options included in the price of the cruise, specialty restaurants often charge an additional fee. Foodies may find it worthwhile to splurge on specialty dining experiences and wine tastings, but it’s important to factor this cost into your budget ahead of time.

Spa treatments and other onboard activities can also contribute to the overall cost of the cruise. While indulging in a massage or facial can be tempting, these services often have a hefty price tag. Budget-conscious travelers may consider purchasing a day pass to the spa’s amenities instead, which can provide a more affordable way to relax and unwind.

Lastly, have some extra cash for gratuities and any unexpected expenses that may arise during the trip.

In conclusion, research is key when planning a cruise vacation. When researching cruise options, consider cruise lines, destinations, and onboard amenities and activities to maximize your experience. And with that, where are you headed next?

Connect with Amanda Bauner

Amanda Bauner is an expert in solo travel, cruising, and Disney vacations and cruises. As the host of Me and the Magic Podcast, she is dedicated to inspiring others to travel solo while experiencing the magic the world has to offer. With over 15 years of cruising experience, Amanda is a trusted resource for anyone looking to get the most out of their cruise vacation.

Follow Amanda Bauner on Instagram: @meandthemagic

Read the transcript of this podcast episode.

Swell AI Transcript: ThoughtCard(164)AmandaBauner_mixdown.mp3
Danielle Desir Corbett: Hey, financial savvy travelers, welcome back to another episode of the ThoughtCard podcast. We could have gone in many different directions because today's guest is a wealth of knowledge. Amanda Bonner is stopping by to share with us how we can save big on cruises. We chat about the cheapest times to go on a cruise, DIY versus working with a travel agent. what's worth actually spending more money on, and so much more. Whether you're a first time cruiser or cruise all the time, Amanda is going to help you get the most out of every cruise vacation. Now, there's a lot of information here. So pull out a pen and paper, jot down notes in your app, or better yet, join my newsletter where I have a cheat sheet waiting for you. visit ThoughtCard.com slash newsletter to grab it. Again, that's ThoughtCard.com slash newsletter. Welcome to the ThoughtCard, a podcast about traveling money, where planning, saving and creativity leads to affording travel, building wealth and paying off debt. We are the financially savvy travelers. Amanda Bonner is the host of Me and the Magic podcast, inspiring others to travel solo while experiencing the magic the world has to offer. She also hosts group cruises like the exciting group cruise to Alaska in July 2025. Visit her website meandthemagic.com to learn more and also follow Amanda on Instagram at meandthemagic. Why cruising? Why would you recommend cruising and why is it one of the best ways that you would consider to travel?
Amanda Bauner: Well, thanks for having me first off, Danielle. Really appreciate it. I love cruising. I actually went for the first time in 2005 on a Royal Caribbean cruise, and I did not love it. It wasn't until I started going on some other cruises that I just had a whole different experience and really have fallen in love with it. I think that there's something for everyone, literally, whether it's different destinations, different types of experiences on the ships. There's all different kinds of ships, different offerings, there's different price levels, and it's like an all-inclusive floating resort at sea with the benefit of you get to go to hopefully a lot of different ports that you really enjoy.

Danielle Desir Corbett: You know, I am definitely one of those people that I've not cruised a lot because I don't necessarily like it that much. Like, I love being detached and kind of doing my own thing, but I also know the benefits and like the money-saving aspect of cruises, which of course we're going to get into. So I also want to take a step back because I know that there's ocean cruises and then there's river cruises. Have you done river cruises? What's the difference between river and ocean?

Amanda Bauner: I have only done ocean, although I just had a lot of friends that did a fantastic river cruise. It was with all the Christmas markets last December through Europe, which, I mean, sounded amazing. River cruises, first of all, the boats are much smaller. You're talking like maybe 100 to 250 people on board, and it's almost like a floating small boutique hotel in a way. And there's a lot more flexibility also in getting on and off. But what they encountered was the snow melt ended up affecting the water levels to the point that the boat could not get under some bridges. So they actually could not cruise to some ports and had to take buses to some areas, which is an interesting, different aspect than what you're going to have at sea. Now at sea, you might have hurricane. So But they're trained for that, that they know to divert around storms, hurricanes, whatever the case may be. Ocean cruises, of course, the ships tend to be larger, usually anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 passengers on board, that's not even including the crew. So you're going to have a lot more offerings on the ship just because of the nature of it being that much of what people call a mega ship.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Absolutely. So I definitely want to frame today's conversation around the first time cruiser. And I would love to hear what are some things that the first time cruiser should consider when they are thinking about cruising for the first time.

Amanda Bauner: I would start out by just asking yourself, why do you want to go on a cruise? Do you want to just experience the cruising itself? Are you wanting to go to a certain destination? If you aren't sure, that's okay too. You could look at if you want a certain type of If that matters to you, there's so many YouTube videos on all this. And of course, each cruise line has so much information, too. If you are saying one an all-adults cruise, then Virgin Voyages, that cruise line is all adults. So that's a good one to go to. If you love Disney like I do, then a Disney cruise, of course, is meant for you. And there's all different kinds of themes. They have a Marvel day, etc. They have Pixar, Star Wars. They do a lot of themes for Halloween and Christmastime. I could go on and on about Disney Cruises. If you want cost to be the factor, then, of course, Carnival Cruises is very well known, also known as the party atmosphere. But I've known people that have taken families on and had a great time. You always have to look, though, for upcharges. what's not included in that base fare. So I've gotten that feedback from people that have been on Carnival. And then the mid-levels, like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, those are two great options that they have. Usually the larger ships, a lot to offer on the ships. And I also work with a lot of people traveling solo. So they offer solo cabins. Not every cruise line does. So that's something to take into consideration too. If you're going solo, do you have to pay for double occupancy like Disney does? They don't have solo cabins. Or is there a solo supplement? And are there other discounts? Because those cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, they're offering frequent discounts a lot of times on Wi-Fi and some dining and airfare.

Danielle Desir Corbett: So that sounds like a checklist. So we'll make sure in the accompanying blog post to have some of these things to think about. Something that I'm hearing is travel style, which on the podcast talked about many, many times, because how you like to travel and your travel preferences will really point you in a direction of focusing on this cruise line or this offering. So can you talk a bit about how travel style will impact you as a first time cruiser?

Amanda Bauner: Yeah, absolutely. I think that if you want that experience of having it planned out, you could certainly do that. I could go online right now and find example itineraries from different cruise lines. If you want it to be completely spontaneous, you could do that too because usually for dining, you're assigned main dining room or maybe like Disney, you rotate main dining rooms. If you don't care about any of the extra stuff, you don't need to book that in advance. You can go on the ship and have a great time doing that spontaneously. There are some things to consider like port excursions. If you want to book those, you do have to look at some of that in advance and then you'll have booking windows open and that depends on the cruise line and then that's also a benefit and we'll get into probably the loyalty programs. the more you sail with a cruise line, then the higher you'll be in the loyalty program and maybe your booking window opens 15 days before the next booking window of people that it's their first time sailing. But really just ask yourself, do you care if you want to enjoy the ship? Are you going more for the destinations? Do you care if the passengers are more families with kids or adults or a mix? Do you want more of a party atmosphere? Do you want it to be something that's more learning? Because there are some that offer different educational seminars. We're going to Alaska next year and they'll have actually a national park ranger on the ship who will be on the overhead speaker giving us information as we're going through the inside passage, which I'm very excited for.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that because like for me, I love Bermuda. And I know that there's flight to Bermuda, hotel accommodation, and then of course things to do. And that adds up very quickly, which is why I lean towards cruising to Bermuda because a lot of it is all built in. So can you break down like when you are cruising, what can you typically expect? We know the accommodation built in, food. So can you just kind of rattle off a couple of things to kind of set the scene for folks who may not be aware?

Amanda Bauner: Yeah, absolutely. So like you said, the base fair is going to have a lot of food included, including, there'll be usually a place that is buffet style that will be open for all meals. There will be casual pool food court type. You might have even like a spa cafe, and then you'll have what's often called a main dining room that you would go to for dinner each night, although you don't have to. You could also do the buffet, you could do room service. Sometimes room service is included, sometimes it is extra, it depends on the cruise line. But you get all of that. You get the entertainment, which usually there's a show or at least a performer every night. You also, of course, will have some entertainment in usually the lounges and the bars if you want to frequent those in the evenings with different singers. piano players and all kinds of things. On a Disney cruise line, you'll have a bunch of characters that you can go around and meet, that's all included. Different activities, so oh my gosh, there's trivia, there'll be maybe miniature golf or shuffleboard, there'll be a fitness center. Sometimes the classes are extra, but the fitness center is included. There'll usually be a walking or running track on one of the decks. I love trivia. I love the music trivia. That is one of my favorites. I've enjoyed before touring the ship, they have what they call an art of the ship tour. And you get to learn all about why they chose the ship design and how exactly they made these selections. There's so many different ones. Sometimes there's cooking demonstrations that are included. Disney, again, has like animation classes. So there's no shortage.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that. So when it comes especially to the things to do, the activities on the ship, are you seeing that at the booking stage or is it like after you've booked, then there's a section that you can go and really like see all the offerings? What are your thoughts on that?

Amanda Bauner: You can go as deep as you want to as early as you want to, truthfully. I am a planner, so Disney calls theirs personal navigators, and now it's all on the app. But they used to hand out paper copies, right? So you, of course, the first thing you do when you book any cruises, you can go ahead and download the app and make sure that you create an account and that links your reservation and that's where you can access them, important. information. You can pretty much see the itinerary. You might not be able to see everything that is offered yet, especially the things that are free. They might show the offerings that later on you can book if you want to book some tastings. And we'll probably get into more of those things that cost extra. But you could go online and search on Facebook groups. There are Facebook groups for the cruise line for each ship. maybe even for your individual sailing. There's YouTube videos that show all of this. There are different websites that have different reviews that will go into detail on all this. Those are really great resources to just learn what all is offered because there is so much to it and so much that is offered. It could be a little overwhelming, so it's good to have these resources.

Danielle Desir Corbett: And that's where I probably have much to learn because I would just probably show up and then I may have missed some of the like really cool and interesting activities. So which is why we're having you on the show, Amanda, to really like dish out all the things that we need to know. So you mentioned a few cruise lines. You mentioned Carnival, Norwegian, the Disney cruise lines. Do you have a favorite one and why?

Amanda Bauner: I mean, I love Disney Cruise Line. I think that the entertainment is excellent. Broadway caliber shows, you can see Beauty and the Beast are frozen at sea and it's snowing in the theater. That's pretty amazing. It's, I think, the only cruise line that does fireworks at sea, which they are biodegradable. They are not hurting the sea life. They also have a unique dining rotation. So some cruise lines, you will be assigned to one main dining room, or you can choose where to go each night, but you'll have different staff. With Disney, there are three main dining rooms, and when you eat at that first main dining room, the next night you'll rotate to another one, but each night your staff rotates with you. So they get to know you and get to know your likes, and you kind of build these relationships with them, and it's really, really lovely. They also surprisingly have a lot of adult-only spaces. They have an adults-only pool area, adults-only bars. There are some adults-only restaurants that are specialty dining, extra cost, but completely worth it, in my opinion. And then even at their private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, they have an adults-only beach. And that is all included. I know another cruise line has started charging for some adults-only areas. That's not the case at Disney. That's my favorite, although I am very excited to try Celebrity. I usually work with a travel agent. That is her favorite cruise line. And we are sailing next July to Alaska on the Celebrity edge. And I hear very, very good things about Celebrity, so I'm excited to try it.

Danielle Desir Corbett: And I love that, you know, it's funny because my husband, when he was younger, he did a Disney cruise and I've heard of Disney cruises, but I'm like a really big like Disney person and we go every year. Like, it's kind of remarkable how we're able to do this, but like, what's the difference you would say between like, Disney World where we're in Orlando and we have all those parks and like the Disney Cruise. Is it like the next level? Should we give it a try? You can convince me. You can convince me to do a Disney Cruise next year for sure.

Amanda Bauner: I actually live in the Orlando area. I'm about 15 minutes from the Magic Kingdom. I used to not live here and know what it's like to come for a week and try to pack it all in and how exhausting that is. Absolutely. The good thing about a Disney cruise is it's all right there and it's so much more chill. It's just wonderful. It's so easy to just go meet characters in between dinner and going to the show. You name it, any Disney fan, you're going to have all the trivia you can think of about any Disney topic. But there's also, like I said, so much for adults, there's a lot for kids. I mean, the kids club, they have what they call open house where adults can go tour the kids club. I wanted to play in the kids club. It was amazing. I've been on all of the Disney ships at least once. I've done seven Disney cruises now. Next year, I'm excited to try the new one, the Treasure, in February. It's just very, very special. There is a cost point with it. People will acknowledge that. It usually does cost more than other ships, but also I think you're getting really, really great service with that.

Danielle Desir Corbett: And we'll definitely touch on this because while saving money is important, right? There are times where we're spending more for higher quality. So I think that is an important conversation. We're going to touch on that before we wrap up, but let's continue going. You mentioned travel agents. So what's the difference between DIY and travel agent and especially for the first timer, which one would you recommend?

Amanda Bauner: Especially for a first timer, I would recommend using a travel agent. If you're brand new to cruising, there's just like we've already said, there's a lot to know about it. And first of all, travel agent is free for you to use. So to me, that is a no brainer. They often will have access to reduce prices that are not available to the general public. so they can look for those prices for you. Then they also often will give you a thank you. It might be an onboard credit or it might be a gift waiting for you in your stateroom. Then they'll answer all the questions that you have. They'll price out different options for you as far as different cruises and different stateroom options. They will help you find the best deal. If your fare drops, they'll try to get you to be able to get that new fare even after you've booked, which if you book directly with the cruise line or a third party site, then that's probably not going to happen.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Is there a place to find these agents? Is it as simple as a Google search? Do you recommend other places to make connections with these agents?

Amanda Bauner: If you are in a Facebook group that is about the cruise line, and those are often run by travel agents. I personally work with MEI Travel and Mouse Fan Travel. They're fantastic in all the different cruise lines. But there are so many out there. I know many wonderful people that work for all different travel agencies or their own solo agents. So I think it really is someone that is certified. I think it's There's a cruise affiliation that they have to have, and I would ask that they have that certification, then you know they've at least gone through the training, just to have that peace of mind that they know what they're talking about. But if it's someone that you trust and they're not charging you, then I think that that's good to work with them.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that. How about third-party cruise lines? I know on the flights front, we have tons of cheap flight websites. Does that exist for cruises? Is that something to consider? What are your thoughts?

Amanda Bauner: It does exist. And of course, there are so many out there. So there's a couple more reputable ones. There's vacations2go.com. And there's cruisedirect.com. That's probably the most popular site. Now that one is just cruise prices. Some other ones will also include like airfare, hotel, but cruisedirect.com will offer you a bonus if you book through the site. So it makes it really easy. Also, if you want to search for, say, a Caribbean seven night cruise, it makes it easy for you to look at the different cruise lines. side-by-side and compare that way. It also offers a price guarantee. If you find a lower price somewhere else online, it will match it. But just make sure that before you book, you understand the terms and conditions, read the fine print, and understand the cancellation policy.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Very important across the board for travel, right? That's very, very important. You mentioned this in passing, you mentioned this in passing where you talked about loyalty. I'd love to hear about like what is Cruise Loyalty Programs and does it make sense to kind of stick to one or should we have no loyalty? Should we just go with whoever is giving us the best offer?

Amanda Bauner: I mean, if I had all the money in the world, I would have no loyalty. I would do them all. I would try them all. There's benefit definitely to loyalty. If you find one that you really like, the loyalty program makes a lot of sense because you do get benefits moving forward. You'll get discounts. You'll have your booking windows open earlier so that you can grab things that might go quickly, like the beverage tastings, or some people love to get the private cabanas at the private island, or there's all these different things that you can have access to, popular excursions, things like that. So you also get usually some kind of gifts, like Disney will have silver as the first round or loyalty, you know, that's two to five sailings, and you'll get usually some kind of nice bag and a few other things. And then that goes up from there. So I think all that does make it worth it. I would also suggest to that, when you are on board that you see if there is a discount if you book a future cruise, because like Disney, for example, and other ones, they'll give you 10% off the next cruise, if you are on board, and it's so easy on they make it ridiculously easy on the app. You just tap it, there's $250, boom, gone, and you've booked a placeholder that you can use within the next two years. And then if you decide it doesn't work out, and I've had this happen, I've done it, I cancel it, no problem. I get my money back.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that. That's another gem, another helpful tip right there. So booking while you're still on the cruise, which makes sense, right? Like they have a captive audience, you're enjoying your time, like let's just get that credit card number in there, right? Like that makes a lot of sense there. So I have a couple of logistics, nitty-gritty questions. When is the best time to book a cruise? Meaning, credit card in hand, we're getting ready to swipe. Does that exist in cruising? What should we know?

Amanda Bauner: It does exist, but before I go into times of year, I first want to say, it's really important to get the best prices to book early. Because the earlier that you book, the better the rates are going to be. Because as the ship fills up, the demand goes up. And so when the inventory goes down, the rates go up. So I would make sure that you check when you're putting down a deposit, okay, what's the cancel by date, which is usually right before the final payment. For instance, we have an Alaska cruise next July that we booked this January. And right now the summer 2025 itinerary is just have come out for a lot of cruise lines. If you're thinking of cruising next fall, then you could contact a travel agent now and say, I'm interested in this, let me know as soon as those come out to get the really great rates. But for time of year, It depends on where you're going. Alaska, it's going to be that shoulder season when the weather maybe is not summer. So it's April, May or September. Canada, New England will be May when a lot of kids are still in school and it's not yet summer, not quite as warm. Mediterranean would be like March, April, November. Northern Europe is going to be May or October, and then Australia and New Zealand is going to be October, November, and April. But keep in mind also, there's a little bit of risk, like I mentioned for Caribbean and Bahamas, you're going to encounter hurricane season, that's going to be cheaper. I've never had an issue with it. I've had some friends that I've had various issues with changes of itinerary, but they still had a great time and they were safe, and that's what it's about.

Danielle Desir Corbett: My mom is a really big cruiser and she loves solo cruises as well. And I know you do as well. And she typically likes to book last minute, like fall cruises. So do you have any experience with like those last minute alongside the book early as well? Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Amanda Bauner: I wish I had experience with that and I would love to. One good thing about living in Florida is I've got multiple ports to choose from. So I'm always keeping an eye on that and it hasn't worked out for my schedule yet. But often for residents of that state where there are ports, there will be some really great last minute deals. There sometimes will also be some discounts closer to the cruise date for military and maybe some other categories. So it's always worth looking into to see what you can find because the ships, of course, their goal is to sail full, right? So they will offer some really good last minute rates. And then not everything might be available to you. Like if you want to do specialty dining, it might be all booked up, but you're still going to have everything included in that base fare and you're still going to have an amazing time.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Can you explain the difference? Ports are ports like the airports, like when you're actually comparing and you know, you're trying to figure out what you're going to do. Do you look at this port versus that port when you're comparing prices? How does that work for you?

Amanda Bauner: I'm glad you asked that. There's the port that you sail out of. It may be the same port that you return or you might do a one-way cruise that actually ends in a different port. That's important to consider. Sometimes those cruises that are sometimes called repositioning cruises that are one-way, those are cheaper also. Then there are the ports that are included in the itinerary that if it's Caribbean, you might be going to St. Thomas, and U.S. Virgin Islands and Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Bahamas, that kind of thing. One thing when you're sailing out of ports is to consider how you're going to get there. And each port charges a tax for each person. And so if I'm going solo, I only have to pay for one person. Obviously, if you're doing family of four, you have to pay for four people. So It's good to look at those port taxes. I have a friend who lives in Long Island, and it was actually cheaper for her and her family afford to fly down and sail out of Port Canaveral, stay in a hotel the night before the cruise than to cruise out of New York City, because the New York City port tax was so much more than Port Canaveral. It's good to look at that. And then just to consider how you're going to get to the port, because where I am, I could drive to a lot of different ports in Florida. But now there's the Brightline train also in Florida that can go between Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Just today, I did a cost comparison. Is it cheaper for me to drive and park my car at the port or to get to the Orlando airport, take the Brightline to Fort Lauderdale and take Ubers in here? And it actually is going to be cheaper if I drive. not a whole lot, but enough that that's probably what I'll end up doing. So it's good to look at that. And then the other ports that you're stopping at, that's not something you really have to worry about cost-wise, unless you want to do an excursion. You can always just get off on your own. And that's a way to save money. And it's very safe to do that. A lot of people will be doing that because these ports, these towns are typically used to these big ships coming in, so they're prepared for it. But if you do an excursion, then you could either book it with the cruise line. Sometimes it's less expensive to book third party. Just have to remember that there is a benefit to booking with the cruise line because say that it's delayed, if you're not booked with the cruise line, they don't know where you are and the ship will not wait for you. I literally saw someone that they were so, so late. They packed up their room, put their luggage on the gangway, were pulling it up when they came up in a golf cart. So you don't want to mess with that. So always be back to the ship on time.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Oh my goodness. Maybe even early. I know for me, I just have anxiety. I would really be like, we need to make sure. No ifs, ands, or buts. We're back on that ship. I just want to circle back to the port charges. Is the port charges a separate charge or is it all built into whatever you're paying for the cruise?

Amanda Bauner: It is built into your base fare. So you'll have the cost of the stateroom and the port fee will all be part of that base fare. And then some things that might not be included that we'll end up adding on later will be travel insurance. I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance. Now some credit cards will have travel insurance. So it's important to look at that too. And then usually you're going to be tipping. your waitstaff, the person who's taking care of your stateroom, that kind of thing. And then some cruise lines have where you can automatically just add that on to what you're already paying. And then if you're on the ship and you want to give them less, then you have to go to customer service. Or if you want to give them more, they give you envelopes that you can actually give more cash if you want.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Okay. Perfect. Perfect. That is very clear. I'd love for us to talk about the saving money portion. Like what are the areas where besides like ports, besides maybe DIY versus agents, we covered a lot of those areas. But like when you're actually on the ship, what are those areas where it's like, hmm, if you were a little more savvy, you could have saved here. What are your thoughts?

Amanda Bauner: Oh gosh, they're a good amount actually. Like I mentioned, the dining, usually it's very, very good what's included. You don't need to do the specialty dining. Now, if you're a foodie and you want to, then I know we'll probably talk about some extras, but you actually get, you will not go hungry. You get a lot of food that is included. Sometimes some basic Wi-Fi will be included, sometimes that is extra. Usually, non-alcoholic drinks are included. It depends though exactly what. Disney does include sodas in their drink stations, but other cruise lines charge for sodas, so you have to understand that. other ways to save money, make sure that you're going to pack toiletries so you don't have to buy them on the ship and that's going to be a big markup. There's just all different kinds of ways that you can just take advantage of everything that there is. All the entertainment, all the activities, everything that is free, just take full advantage of it. If you do that, you will not have time to sleep. There's so much to do. It's a win-win.

Danielle Desir Corbett: Yes. I love that. I love that. When I was cruising, I wasn't old enough to drink alcohol. So walk us through that package. Is there an additional charge for alcohol? Do you just bring your credit card with you on the ship or can you pre-package? Can you pre-buy things? How does that work for alcoholic beverages typically?

Amanda Bauner: Yeah. Again, it depends somewhat on the cruise line. A lot of cruise lines offer a drink package and they'll even offer different levels of drink packages. So like Celebrity, they'll have a classic and a premium drink package. And the classic is if it's $10 and under. If it's above $10, then you can choose to pay the difference or you can upgrade to the premium. So it's kind of like How big of a drinker are you? You know, how important is that? And do a little bit of a cost comparison with how many nights that you're going to be on there. A lot of ships also will have what they call drink of the day. It'll be something, if it's especially Southern cruise, it'll be something fun like Bahama Mama or something like that. They'll have a souvenir glass or even a souvenir beer mug, and then you can get that refilled at a discounted price throughout the cruise. Usually, they're not having you bring your dirty glass. They'll give you a chip and they'll give you a clean mug from the bartender each time, and then you get to take that home. You also, for some cruise lines, can bring on alcohol. For instance, Disney, you can bring on two bottles of wine or champagne or a six-pack per adult. Then when you're in the ports too, you can bring those on in the individual ports. I have many people that do that and they don't even purchase that much on board because that's just what they drink. You can also take your own, say, bottle of wine to dinner, now sometimes there'll be a corking fee. So you got to take that into account too.

Danielle Desir Corbett: So what I'm hearing is that, yes, if you would like, cruising can be an all-inclusive option, but you can also bring extra cash to elevate your experience and have as much fun as you want. Is that a fair assessment? That's very fair, yeah. I love that. I love that. Would you say like bring a couple hundred dollars? Like if you are more of like, you know, I want to have a great time. Money is an object. Would you still say bring a couple hundred dollars for tips, other incidentals and activities? Like what are your thoughts in terms of like how much extra range?

Amanda Bauner: Yeah, I would budget for, and again, it depends on what's important to you, right? And you'll have an onboard account. So first, it's important to make sure you're linking the right credit card to that onboard account. Try to maximize, I love reading the points guy. So try to maximize what that credit card is so that you're earning as many travel points as you can. Disney, like if you use the Disney Visa for some merchandise and spa, you get discounts. So that's good to know those types of things. But for foodies, I think it's absolutely worth it to do the specialty dining and it could be anywhere from $45 to if you do alcohol pairings with it, well over $200. So that could be some money right there. The spa, I love the spas on the shifts. They are amazing. Now, other people might not care about getting treatments, but usually the spas have more of like a common area that they have different names. You'll have the steam rooms and saunas and these heated tile loungers that are excellent. You can often buy a day pass for those and that might be $25, $30 or you can buy a length of cruise pass. But if you want just a taste, that day pass is great as opposed to paying for a full treatment. A lot of ships have casinos. Disney has bingo, that's their gambling. You could do it that way. I mentioned the beverage tastings, that would be something you book ahead of time. You're not paying for it ahead of time, but then if you book anything you book ahead of time, whether it's an excursion or beverage tasting, something like that, it will automatically go on your onboard account, so you won't have to have cash on hand for that.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love it. You know, I am convinced I'm going to start looking at the Disney cruises because, you know, I want to try something different. I'll go. I'll do my Disney trip and a Disney cruise. So I absolutely love this conversation. I think my biggest takeaway was do your research, whether you enjoy digging into articles or or watch YouTube to maximize your experience. Right. I think that's to me the big takeaway. And it might not take a lot of time to do that, but you really want to see, okay, how can I have an incredible experience on the ship? And then also when I get to destination and vice versa. So I love that.

Amanda Bauner: Yeah, absolutely. There's so many different websites out there and there's even so many theme cruises. Would you believe there is a Hallmark Channel Christmas theme cruise that sold out in 12 hours? Wow. It's amazing. You name it, whether it's certain type of music, activities, lifestyle, it's all out there. And the group cruises can also be really rewarding. because often they get discounts that individuals don't get. Those often are really great to do. But cruisecritic.com is another great resource because they often have really honest reviews about the ships and different cruise lines. You can see the deck plans on there, and you can also usually see photos or videos of some of the staterooms. They also have 90-day price trends for sailings, and they also have where you can directly book on Cruise Critic and then get an onboard credit. And then of course, YouTube. I mean, if I'm in stateroom 6109 on the Norwegian Joy, I could probably find a YouTube video of what that stateroom looks like. It's just insane when I was on YouTube. So I definitely recommend looking on YouTube.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that you made it so easy. And I also think that you demystified a lot of things where it's like, how does this work? Like, should I do this? Should I do that? So, Amanda, this was absolutely a pleasure. I know you plan your own group cruise trip. So let us know what you have coming down the pike.

Amanda Bauner: We have a wonderful community on Facebook, Me and the Magic Community, and then we do annual trips. This year, we're actually doing an adventures by Disney trip to Southern California and Disneyland in September. We still have spots available for that. It's going to be very, very special. I'm so excited about it all, but especially we get to go to places that aren't open to the public like Jim Henson Studios. I'm going to be an emotional mess, but it's going to be great. And then next year, we are doing a group cruise, and we did one this past November. But next July is to Alaska out of Seattle. So it's a seven night Alaska cruise on the Celebrity Edge. So if you go to meandthemagic.com, the events page, you can find info on both of those events. And then we have local monthly meetups also in the Orlando area.

Danielle Desir Corbett: I love that all of the links mentioned are going to be available in the episode description and show notes. If you are into cruising, definitely make sure you're plugged in and tune in to Amanda's podcast and check out all of the upcoming activities and trips that you have planned. So I appreciate Amanda. Thank you so much for coming. And it was, again, so great to learn from you and connect again.

Amanda Bauner: It was so fun. I love talking about this. Thanks so much.

Listen to these episodes next

Creating a Pre-Trip Financial Checklist – Episode 108

How To Start a Travel Fund (And Why You Need One) – Episode 2

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