Top 10 ways to save money on a cruising holiday

From the time you embark, all those extra budget-breaking costs kick in. But there are ways to keep your spending down.

You've bagged your bargain cruise and worked out your budget - but it's very easy to get carried away and overspend once you're on the ship. Here are 10 tips, gathered from cruising friends and experts, to help you rein in on-board spending without spoiling your fun.

Professional embarkation photos: Do you really need them? The printed photos cost about $20, so just decline the photographer's request politely and take your own. The same goes for formal nights and special dinners.

Sailaway drinks: Those colourful cocktails served in a souvenir glass are usually not free - and you pay even more for the special glass.

BYO booze: Some cruise lines let you bring a bottle of wine or bubbly on embarkation day only (check before you board), but otherwise it's not allowed - or you pay big corkage fees. However, there's no problem bringing your own soft drinks, which can save quite a few dollars when you're travelling with kids. 

Coffee and tea: If you can forgo decent coffee for a few days ("specialty" coffees usually cost the same as or more than in a city cafe), free coffee and tea are available in the buffet restaurants. Some people bring their own insulated travel mugs to fill up.

Bottled water: Bring your own refillable container and top up from the tap in your cabin. Ship's water is pure and free, whereas the bottled water served on board is expensive - and contributes to plastic waste.

Drinks packages: These can be a great buy, but only if you know you're actually going to drink as many soft or alcoholic drinks a day as they allow for. When working out your sums, take into account the automatically applied service charge when you buy drinks at the bars.

Laundry: If the ship doesn't have self-service laundrettes, laundry services can be pretty expensive. Pack clothes that you can wash in the shower and don't need ironing, or enough clothes to last the cruise. Bring a travel pack of Iron Free spray or similar, or hang wrinkled clothes in the shower.

Restaurant packages: Worth buying if you want to sample specialty restaurants (cheaper than on land). But if you're on a strict no-frills budget, the food in the main restaurants is generally pretty good.

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Shore excursions: You can save money by organising your own tours, but you need to do plenty of research before you embark - a lot depends on the ports you're visiting and the type of tour you're interested in. 

Wi-Fi: Connectivity at sea is notoriously slow and expensive. Go digital-free for the duration of your cruise, buy an internet package or catch up on emails at free zones on shore.

MEET THE CREW

NAME Niklas Peterstam, of Sweden

POSITION Captain, APT'S Caledonian Sky and Island Sky

MY JOB Four months of the year are spent as captain aboard the Caledonian Sky and Island Sky. The rest of the time, I hold a shoreside management position. 

MY TYPICAL DAY Once I have brought the ship into port in the morning, I work with the crew on safety drills and meetings, and get through the admin. After lunch I go for a walk and then it's time to focus on departure. A highlight is dinner with guests in the evening to find out about their day. 

FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT The first time I spotted a blue whale off the coast of Alaska. 

FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT Matsue, known as the "Town of Water", in Japan.

TIP FOR PASSENGERS: If you love to explore, then cruise on small expedition ships because their shallow draught enables them to access all the interesting tiny ports around the world.

TIP Many cruise lines offer soft and alcoholic drinks packages that you can buy either online before you sail or on the ship the day you embark. Depending on how much you consume, packages can save money. And once you've paid upfront, you don't have to worry about the final bill every time you hit the bar.

New Celebrity restaurant

Celebrity Cruises' new Suite Class restaurant, Luminae, is opening across the fleet in April. It is exclusively available to Suite Class guests (those staying in Sky Suites and higher) and will feature menus not available anywhere else on board. Luminae will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and each menu item will only be featured once during a two-week cruise. Dishes will feature regional and seasonal ingredients and the ship's sommelier will be on hand to offer a choice of 400 wines. See celebritycruises.com.au.

Variety Cruises

The world's biggest small-ship company, Variety Cruises, has introduced six new itineraries for 2015-16: in the Red Sea, the Greek islands, Turkey, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Archipelago and Madagascar. Variety Cruises owns and operates a fleet of 11 boutique ships and motor yachts that carry 44 to 72 guests. The ships offer flexible cruise schedules that allow plenty of time in port, and the itineraries combine well-known destinations with less travelled spots that are inaccessible to bigger vessels. Other destinations Variety Cruises visit are Cuba, the Seychelles and Costa Rica. See discovertheworldcruising.com.au.

Avalon preview deals

Here's one for early birds: Avalon Waterways has released a preview of its 2016 season of river cruises, offering dozens of its most popular itineraries with a 10 per cent early booking discount. The 2016 preview includes 30 different itineraries on the great waterways of Europe, including the Seine, Rhone, Rhine and Danube, and in Asia on the Mekong and Irrawaddy. Book between now and the publication of Avalon's main 2016 brochure in coming months. avalonwaterways.com.au.

DEALS 

OFFER OF THE WEEK 

Cruise Express' new 39-night Diamonds of Japan, a fly-stay-cruise package, includes an escorted, six-night land tour in Japan (Tokyo, Mt Fuji and more) and a 33-night voyage on Diamond Princess, to five ports in Japan and then back to Australia via China, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. Departing from Australia on August 22, 2015. Fares start at $8990. Phone 1300 764 509, see cruiseexpress.com.au.  

MORE DEALS

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES has released some "eggscellent" fares for its Easter school-holiday cruises in April. Fares start at $599 for a four-night round trip cruise to Tasmania on Carnival Legend, departing Sydney on April 16. More special Easter deals available. Phone 1300 385 625, see carnival.com.au

WORLDWIDE CRUISE CENTRES has a special triple-combo deal of a seven-night cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage on HAL's Noordam, Canadian train travel and a 10-night cruise in the Hawaiian islands on Radiance of the Seas. The 29-day trip kicks off on August 27 and the fare, which starts at $7679, includes return flights from Sydney or Brisbane and accommodation. Offer valid to March 31, see worldwidecruisecentres.com.au.

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