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Bruising for the Cruise Industry: How the Cruise Industry is Affected By Covid-19, Part VII: Stimulus and More for Your Buck
With the next level of stimulus coming out in the next few months, rumored to have a $4,000 per person tax credit for travel, entertainment or dining out, there is a massive interest in people traveling as soon as things open back up. As you have seen throughout this series, cruises are one of your safest options for travel. When you look at how to build the perfect cruise vacation, there are some elements that you want to think about.
Stay Within Your Budget
One of the biggest mistakes that cruisers make when they plan their first cruise is not staying within a reasonable budget. All too often we watch the “bikini girls” on the travel channel or the wealth channel spend tens of thousands of dollars for a one-week vacation. If you can afford that, then good for you. But most of us want to keep some of our money in our savings. This is where a well planned trip can come in handy.
First, you’ll need to know your budget. Unless you know how much money you can spend, then you do not know whether you are within that range. Set a number and stick to it. For couples, you generally will be looking at about $600 on the low end (plus flight). For singles, you’ll want to double that. Families (i.e. family of 4) can find a good four-day cruise for about $500 per person if they look for “kids sail free” sailings. These lower-end prices would be for an interior cabin for a relatively common trip.
For those who want to up their game, you can look at more exotic destinations or longer cruises. A middle of the road cruise is about 7 days and there are a wide variety of choices. Interior rooms will run you about $100-$200 a day (after taxes). As you increase your level of room, the cost goes up. A good rule of thumb to follow is to expect about $120 per day for an ocean view or interior window room on an older ship, up to $250 per day for the same room on a newer ship. If you want a balcony, add about $300 per person to the total cost of your trip. Suites will generally cost you about twice what an external room will cost you.
As you build your budget, make sure to look at the shore excursions, spa packages and specialty dinners you want to include. If you plan these with your travel agent, then you are almost guaranteed to reserve a spot. Shore excursions run from about $30 (for a snorkeling package) to thousands of dollars (to rent a boat for a day). What you do depends on what you want to do. Spa Packages can be inexpensive or very expensive as they tend to be a little higher than land-based prices. Just remember: they will try to up-sell you while you are relaxing. Specialty dinners usually run between $30.00 to $60.00 (without the wine) but you can find some as inexpensive as $7.99.
The final element that I always remind people to look into when they are budgeting is the tips. Skipping your tip is a major taboo for cruisers. Cruise line employees do an amazing job and count on your tips to make money. If you do the math, you are basically tipping 6 people $2 per day (per person in your cabin). For all the work they do, a $2 tip is not really that much. If you went to a dinner and spent $100, then it would not be unusual for you to tip $20-$25 for excellent service. On a cruise, for a four or five star meal, you should tip $6. Likewise, at a nice hotel, you would likely tip $5 per interaction with the bellhop, the concierge or the housekeeping. A cruise is is less than half! Budget in the tip about $50 per person for a 4-day cruise; for a 7-day cruise, it is less than $100.
Make an Event out of It
When you are planning your cruise, avoid rushing to the port and rushing home, a common rookie mistake. If you start your trip off in a rush, if you are angry or having a bad experience, it could ‘infect’ the entire cruise and ruin your day. If you have the option, make an event out of getting there. This can start your trip off as a pleasure rather than a pain and help you start off on the right foot.
Choosing Not to Spend Extra Days
First of all, it’s not a problem if you do not have the money to extend your stay by 2-3 days. Most people splurge on the cruise because that is the focal point of the trip. There is no shame in that. Some helpful pointers to make sure you have the best trip are:
- Make sure you book an early flight! You do not want to risk a delay or baggage mistake costing you your cruise.
- Schedule transport to the cruise before you leave! Nothing is worse than sailing the same week as a major conference or event occurs, resulting in you not being able to get a taxi to the ship. While the ship transports are expensive (sometimes as expensive as $75 per person), they are a very safe option. Uber and Lyft are also good and you can always keep the taxi as a backup. Regardless of how good the public transportation system is, avoid it. One mistake there can ruin your trip.
- Plan to arrive about lunchtime. If you go with a cruise ship planned flight and bus arrangement (the common one they offer), you will get there right after the “welcome lunch” buffet ends. This will end up costing extra because you will then need a meal before dinner, outside the cruise. Make sure that your agent works with you to set up a flight that gets you into town on time so you can arrive at the ship about noon.
- “Late flight disembarkation” day: There can be a major temptation to schedule a noon flight on the day you get back. Ignore that temptation! Unless you pay for expedited departure (or are in a suite), you will likely not get off the boat until around 9 AM. By the time you clear customs, the clock will have rolled around to 10 or 11 AM.
This leaves you only one hour to get to the airport and get on the plane while you compete with thousands of other people doing the exact same thing. If you schedule a flight after 3 PM, you can have breakfast, relax in the lounge, go through customs after the crowd and get to the airport in time to have a late lunch. It is much more relaxing and will end your trip on a good note.
Spending Extra Days
If you have the luxury of extending your trip, then this may be something you may want to consider. The port city is often one of the least lauded gems of the whole cruise. If you arrive the day before and leave the day after, you will likely add about $100 per person to the trip for the hotel and about $75 for food per couple. Always look for a hotel with a free breakfast to save a little cash. Check with your travel agent about the fun things to do with a night on the town or simply rest in the hotel to get ready for your trip.
Arriving a day early will allow you to get up, have a good breakfast and get to the port during the “Golden Hour.” This is the hour after the rush has passed through but before 2 PM when late comers mob the gates. Generally speaking, this time frame occurs one half to one hour after the boarding begins. This will give you time to enjoy boarding and you’ll avoid long lines. You can also use the morning to get last-minute supplies (most cruises allow you to bring two bottles of wine) that you may need for your trip.
The wisdom of staying an extra day is magnified on the final day of the trip. As noted above, rushing to get to the airport can ruin your memories of a good trip. Staying in town just one extra night allows you some spectacular private views from the deck as people are getting off, time to eat breakfast, and just time to relax. You have nothing that you have to do other than check back into your hotel, why rush things. Spend the evening exploring the port city or even organizing your pictures on social media.
As you are planning to get the most bang for your buck, make sure that you get receipts for everything that you do. If the stimulus package passes, and it looks like there is a good chance that it will, then you will want to have vaild receipts so you can claim your tax credit. Simplification of your trip can help you simplify your paperwork.
I cannot stress this enough: plan your trip through a travel agent! I use Weekend Wanderers. However, you can use any agent you like. If you book through an agent, you can book your cruise, your flights, your excursions, your specialty meals, your amenities and any hotels where you will stay before or after the flights. Good agents will also be able to book your events in town. This allows you to get everything on one receipt! If you know you are going to be doing a lot of drinking, get a drink package through your agent so you do not have to keep the slips during your trip.
Anything that you do on your trip should fall under the vacation idea, and if you are booking with a domestic travel agent then the receipt will issues from an American business. Do not make the mistake of using a big travel site or booking the trip yourself as some airlines and cruises are not American companies. Since the language of the new law is not out yet, we do not know exactly what the the stimulus credit will require. However, supporting a local American travel agent will ensure your best chance at getting the tax credit.
Bang for Your Buck
Whether you spend all of the tax credit or just part of the tax credit on your cruise, you are stretching your dollar further than almost any other kind of travel. Where else can you get all your food, entertainment, room, and your enrichment for under $200 per day? Cruises provide an option that allows you to “choose your luxury” while you are traveling and support the local economy.
If you are using your tax credit and/or the possible the second round of stimulus on your vacation, make sure to use it for what it was intended. Use a local agent! That way some of the money stays in your community. If you find one you like, use a cruise line that sails from a domestic port. This will allow any taxes on the cruise to go to an American city. You can have an amazing time and be conscientious about the economy.