Cruisin' for a wallet bruisin'

Last updated 08:00 15/06/2014

CRUISING: A huge, floating hotel for holidaymakers who want to sunbathe, eat and drink, with a few tropical ports thrown in.

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Cruising: A huge, floating hotel for holidaymakers who want to sunbathe, eat and drink, with a few tropical ports thrown in.

Having just stepped off my first cruise, I can't say I'm an expert. I can, however, claim to be a penny-pinching bargain-hunter.

On paper the cruise sector stacks up, with three-night packages starting at about $500 per person, including all meals and most entertainment. But even if you're in holiday mode on-board, don't let your financial nous sink without a trace.

Book early, or late

Like airfares, locking in an early bird or last-minute deal is more an art than a science, but never settle for the first advertised brochure price.

Use a travel agent

A cruise holiday is a great example of when travel agents can be worth their weight in gold, not only for their expertise and knowledge of ships and voyages best suited to your age, interests and budget. Some also keep an eye on fares and help you claw back money if the cabin prices go down after you book.

Make a budget

The New Zealand dollar is currently very strong, which is great - as you'll likely be paying your bills in Australian or US dollars. But still write a budget and stick to it, even if it kills the carefree holiday spirit.

Cruise menu and price lists

Before you set sail, search online cruising forums to get previous or current drinks and spa menus, which can give indicative prices for that budget.

Switch off all electronic devices

Definitely take this pre-flight ritual and apply it to cruising. Not only will it get you out of work mode, you'll also avoid frighteningly high satellite internet and calling charges.

Separate shore excursions

Although booking tours from the ship may be convenient, many ports are tourist towns which can offer all the fun elements of packaged tours without the mark-ups. Research your ports ahead of time to find the best activities for the short time you have onshore.

Resist temptation

The ship will probably issue you with a swipe card linked to your credit card or a prepaid amount of cash. Opting for cash will force you to stay on budget, but if you tie it to your credit card, limit add-on purchases (not included in your fare) such as espresso coffee, cafe snacks, room service, booze, photo services and souvenirs.

Don't tip

If you're on a New Zealand or Australia-based cruise, why would you adopt American and European customs? Those 5-10 per cent "gratuities" may be automatically added to your bill, but that doesn't mean you can't ask for them to be removed.

Start with shorter cruises

If it's your first cruise, maybe a month-long circumnavigation of Australia isn't the best introduction. Try a one-way trans-Tasman cruise or a long weekend cruise to get your bearings without having to sink a huge amount of cash.

Suites to suit

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Don't bother forking out extra for a balcony suite if your cruise is in a cooler climate, during shoulder season or if you'll be using your cabin only for sleeping. If your view is ocean for most of the trip, an inside room shared with friends could be a better option.

- Sunday Star Times


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