Before the cruise...
- Book your hotel in advance, but periodically check rates. Earlier this week I checked rates at the hotel we are staying in tonight. This is unusual, but the rate was actually lower than when I booked it. I promptly canceled and re-booked. I'm saving $13 this way. Our accommodations? We're staying at a Best Western. Not the Hilton, but not the Motel 6, either. The rate? $38.69 + tax. Even better, I received a free $50 gift card for staying two nights in May. Since the gift card expires in August, it has to be used right away, so this really is a free room.
- Reserve your car with an off-airport provider. Airport taxes are ridiculous ($10 per day isn't unusual). You don't pay those if a shuttle picks you up and takes you to the car rental place. I always do this when I go somewhere. Usually the rate is less, too. It gets better. Just like with the hotel, I checked rates to see what they were today. I thought I was getting a deal at $26 for a day; yesterday I found one for...drum roll please... $12!
- Don't book your excursions with the cruise line. Book them direct. Or, don't book them at all! The general rule is the cruise line marks up the excursions it offers by 30-40%. We are waiting to see whether anything appeals to us once we get to our ports. Maybe we'll just take a stroll through town, or head to a free beach.
- How much time are you planning to be in your room? For me, the room is the place where I crash when I'm exhausted. I booked the absolute cheapest room. What made it less expensive than all the other rooms? It's an inside cabin (no balcony, no windows) and we have bunk beds instead of one larger bed or two beds side by side. I don't remember exactly how much I saved versus the next level up, but I'm thinking it was about $50.
- Watch your budget. My goal is to spend less than $225 over the next week. The cruise was $775, so this would make it a $1,000 vacation. I know, I know... $1,000 is a lot to spend and still refer to oneself as "frugal". My philosophy has always been to spend money for experiences, not for material things. I still want to be smart about it, which is why I booked the cheapest cabin on the ship, one of the cheapest hotels in Tampa, and the absolute lowest priced car rental available.