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Cruising on a Budget (& Printable Cruise Budget Planner)

Cruising on a Budget (& Printable Cruise Budget Planner)

By no means would I call myself frugal (I wish I was, though!), but I do take our budget very, very seriously. And one of the main reasons we don’t take all the trips we want to take is because we are trying so hard to save our money right now. So with a budget in mind, I want to share with you my favorite tips for cruising on a budget – and be sure to grab my free printable Cruise Budget Planner at the bottom of this post! 

Budget Cruising Tips


Going new places is one of my very favorite things. I love to see new places! Every time I go somewhere new, I marvel at how different the world is – but also how same we all are. If I could afford it, we’d be traveling all the time. But you know what else I love?

Money, and making the most of it. 

I’m excited to partner with Carnival Cruiselines on this cruising series. All opinions and experiences are my own.

Printable Cruise Budget Planner

Cruise Budget Planner

Printable Cruise Budget Planner & Cruise Budget Tips

The most important thing you can do, if saving money is important, is to budget out your trip. It’s okay to spend money! You just need to know how much you have to spend, and then decide how you’ll be spending it. 

First of all…if possible, plan your cruise during the off season.

You can save a ton of money just by booking during a less popular time to travel. I’m talking a huge savings here, like hundreds of dollars per person. You can choose your cruise and see a comparison of prices based on dates on the Carnival website.

Book your excursions onboard the ship.

But wait! There’s a caveat with this one. If you wait to book your excursions until you’re onboard, you can save a lot of money (I believe many excursions were available for 20% off if you booked onboard). BUT. If you wait to book, your excursion could be full and you might miss out. If you have a few excursions you’re interested in and don’t feel especially tied to one, this is a great way to save some money. If you are reallllly set on one excursion in particular, book in advance.

Here’s an article I wrote about our excursion to Tulum (this includes a printable excursion planner to help you decide on an excursion and then plan for it).

Skip the excursions altogether.

You aren’t required to go on any excursions. We chose one (The Ancient City of Tulum). In Jamaica, Carnival offered a bus “tour” that stopped at four different stops and toured part of the island. On a last-minute whim, we signed up for this.

Cruise Budget Planner

We actually really didn’t like it. The “tour” essentially took us to four different shopping centers. While I liked getting to see some of the island, I would definitely not do this again. Next time, I’d pick a destination and arrange my own transportation.

Cruise Budget Planner

But a note about that, too – if you’re not back when the boat leaves, and you’re not on a Carnival-sanctioned excursion, you could be left behind. If you’re on an excursion that you chose through Carnival, they’ll wait – and this totally happened! One of the buses for one of the excursions was delayed for a couple of hours due to a mudslide. The ship waited for the bus, but if I had taken my own ride to that same destination and not been able to make it back, I would have been out of luck.

In Grand Cayman, we paid $10 each for a round-trip bus ride to Seven Mile Beach, which was close to the port. For $40 total, we spent hours at the beach – this was a highlight of our whole trip!

Cruise Budget Planner

Cruise Budget Planner

Cruise Budget Planner

Stay onboard.

Okay, so I would never recommend staying on the ship when you’re in an exciting and beautiful new country, BUT! If you have kids, and find your shore time is cut short, days at port are a great time to really enjoy the ship. It won’t be crowded, which means the pools and waterslides are wide open. That goes for fun activities like the sky course and mini golf, too.

Cruise Budget Planner

Cruise Budget Planner

Six years ago, we were on a cruise with the kids (Jack was 3, Claire was 8 months). We went onshore (Cabo San Lucas) for a couple of hours but two cranky kids drove us back to the ship earlier than we’d hoped. It was actually amazing. The kids got full run of the splash pad, and this was all they needed to be happy (which meant we were happy, too).


Cruise Budget Planner

And if you’re hankering for a massage or some other spa service, they’re usually discounted on port days. 

Bring your own wine.

There’s a limit to how much wine you can bring onboard (I think a bottle per person, and no, kids don’t count!). That Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s is a lot cheaper than buying it onboard.

Cruise Budget Planner

We bought wine onboard too, though, and I don’t mean to imply that it’s over-priced. We bought a bottle our first night at dinner, and I drank it for several days (the hold onto it for you in the kitchen). This is an option you’ll have, and it is a lot cheaper than buying a glass (or two) every night. 

You can also look into the alcohol packages available on your ship. If you’ll be drinking more than 2-3 drinks a day, this is probably worth buying.

Skip the paid dining options.

I will say that the steakhouse and the Italian restaurant onboard the Carnival Breeze were exceptional, and highlights of our trip. But you can save money by eating the smorgasboard of foods that are already included in your fare. One thing to pay attention to – on the Breeze, there was a really incredible BBQ restaurant. It was free on certain days, but paid on other days. Be sure to check out the boat’s schedule so you can enjoy these options on the free days!

Be realistic about your expenses.

This is probably the number one thing I can recommend. It’s easy to pretend like you’re going to be budget-conscious and save a bunch of money, but the reality is, you need to really know where every penny is going. And that means you need to be super realistic about all the expenses you’ll have, from tipping (the crew, of course, but also the bellmen at the ports handling your luggage and the cab driver taking you to the terminal!) to evening childcare (if your kid go to the kids’ club at night) to purchasing souvenirs at the different ports of call.

Write it all down, y’all. From your cruise fares to your tipping costs to your excursions and every little expense in-between. Use this planner to help you lay out your expenses so you won’t have any big surprises!

You can take a photo tour of the beautiful Carnival Breeze here.

And you can download your own Cruise Countdown Paper Chain here!

I think you might like the posts below – click on the pictures to read them.

Carnival Breeze Pictures


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Where did you get your spiral book that you have in the picture of the cruise budget expense planner sheet? I would love to get one for myself.

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