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Money-Saving tips for your next cruise

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Don't let cruise's hidden expenses sink your vacation budget

By AMY CRANE, Bankrate

When it comes to taking a cruise, your spending doesn't end when you've booked the trip.

Lots of cruise-related expenses have the potential to bust your budget, from the flight to your embarkation point to drinks on the ship. If you're not careful, add-on expenses can exceed the cost of your cruise.

“The trend is for some cruise lines to offer relatively low prices to get people on the ship and then hit them with cash fees for little expenses here and there that after a week can really add up,” said Eileen Entin, owner of Diamond Cruise and Travel in Hightstown, N.J.

Here are some money-saving steps to consider:

• Most cruises offer a complete package including airfare to and from your home city. While such a package offers the convenience of not having to book your own flight or worry about how to get from the airport to the cruise ship, that convenience comes at a cost.

“Cruise lines buy their airfare packages in bulk from the airlines a year in advance, so the price you get through the cruise line doesn't vary throughout the year like normal airline pricing does,” said Evan Eggers, president of 02Cruise.com . “Sometimes the prices are lower than the open market, but for someone keeping a good eye on airfares and checking the discount sites, it will generally be higher.”

If you book your own flight, leave a big cushion between when your flight arrives in your port city and when the cruise embarks so you can get to the ship.

• The days when cruise ships sailed only from Florida and California are long over, Entin said.

Flights to less well-known ports may be cheaper, especially during the holiday season.

• Check up on shore excursions. Many travelers look forward to exotic ports of call on a cruise and generally turn to the shore excursions sponsored by the cruise companies. But by doing some homework before you leave, you can book your own shore excursions for less.

• Many travelers spend lots of time shopping at ports of call. “My No. 1 piece of advice for shopping is to know the cost of what you want before you leave home,” Eggers says. “If it's a deal, go ahead and buy it, but otherwise you may be able to get it for the same price at home.”

• Savvy travelers who pack well can save a lot of money on last-minute purchases. Take coordinating layers of clothes, because while many destinations are quite warm during the day, it can get cool in the evenings, and air-conditioned areas on the ship may be quite cool.

• Alcohol and casinos are two major cruise line profit centers, and many passengers get carried away with both. Be aware how potentially expensive both activities can be.

• Shipboard photographers will snap your photo when you board and frequently throughout the voyage. Usually you have to buy a package of photos, rather than just one, so the cost can add up. Consider taking your own pictures.

• Tipping is an expense that can really add up. Passengers are expected to tip both their cabin attendant and assistant cabin attendant and regular waiter and assistant waiter daily. Recommended rates vary according to the cruise line, but $3.50 a day is generally expected for the cabin attendant and $2.50 a day for the waiter.

• Using the Internet or phone on board a ship can be incredibly expensive, so save your calls or e-mails for when you're in port.

• Charging all your extra expenses to your shipboard account is convenient, but when you don't stay on top of your bill, you can get a major shock when it comes time to pay. Some cruise lines offer you the chance to look at your bill on your cabin television so you can keep closer tabs on it. You also can go to the purser and request to see how much you're spending.

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