Like all-inclusive resorts, Caribbean cruises offer many components of a vacation for a single nightly rate. Once you settle on an itinerary and choose your cabin type, you'll get your lodging, daily and nightly entertainment, and three meals a day plus snacks (and drinks like water, coffee, and tea) for one price. If you choose a budget cruise line or a cruise line with lower rates for kids, your cruise itself may even be downright cheap.
Of course, that doesn't mean cruises are devoid of extras and upcharges. Far from it. In addition to your cruise fare, you'll have to pay government-mandated taxes and fees, for example. And if you want an upgraded trip, you can choose from a selection of add-ons including alcoholic drink packages, internet packages, onboard laundry services, dining at specialty restaurants, and more. (See also: How to Get a Cruise Cabin Upgrade for Free)
In addition to luxuries you can pay for on the ship, cruises also come with the option of booking excursions for your days at port. For a per-person rate, you can partake in any number of pastimes, from snorkeling and diving to historic city or nature tours. While shore excursions can make your cruise activities more diverse, they tend to be expensive. A single snorkeling tour can easily add upward of $100 per person, and remember, that's on top of what you've already paid for your cruise. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Cruises)
If your goal is keeping costs down, it helps to choose a cruise itinerary where you'll find ample affordable or free things to do. Here are five Caribbean ports of call to consider as you map out your affordable vacation plans. (See also: Are All-Inclusive Vacations and Cruises Worth the Money?)
If your cruise takes you to Curacao, you won't have to look hard for ways to spend an affordable day in the island's capital of Willemstad. Within walking distance of the cruise port, you'll find the famous city center with its brightly-colored Dutch Caribbean architecture; the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, which swings open with much fanfare when ships come into port; and Willemstad's floating market, which features fresh fish and local produce along with locally made wares.
Just a 15-minute taxi ride away, you'll also find the Curacao Sea Aquarium, an affordable place to take the kids for an up-close look at local sea life. Ticket prices for adults are $21, kids ages five-12 are $11, and kids four and under are free. For the price of entry, you'll see local tropical fish and coral, sea lions, rays, turtles, and even sharks.
Mambo Beach Boulevard is another affordable and fun place to spend your cruise day in Curacao. Here, you can shop local stores or visit a gorgeous protected beach for an entry fee of $3. Beach chair rentals also cost only $3, and you can order food from many local vendors in the area or bring your own. (See also: 10 Secrets to Saving Money on Your Next Cruise)
2. Nassau, Bahamas
While Nassau in the Bahamas is known for its famous hotel and water park, Atlantis Paradise Island Resort, you don't have to pay the $161 per adult (or $99 per kid) they charge to spend a day in their water park.
The port of Nassau offers several inexpensive ways to spend the day. It all starts with a free beach you can walk to directly from the cruise port. If you disembark your ship and walk to the right for 20 minutes, you'll wind up on Junkanoo Beach, a local favorite with gorgeous, clear water, powder white sand, chairs for rent, and food and drink stands.
If you don't mind traveling, you can also catch a taxi or Nassau's #10 bus to nearby Cable Beach for a day of fun in the sun. Again, chairs are here for rent and you can bring a picnic or buy street food from local vendors.
Nassau also offers its share of affordable excursions, including a city scavenger hunt that starts at $22, a land and sea tour that starts at $56 per adult, and an island highlights tour starting at $30. (See also: Are Cruise Line Rewards Programs Worth It?)
While Aruba is not typically considered a cheap travel destination, it can be an affordable option for cruise passengers who have only a day to spend. This is partially because all beaches in Aruba are public and within a short taxi ride of the cruise terminal. And beyond cheap beach days, Aruba does offer some cruise excursions that are more affordable than those on many other islands.
To save money on a relaxing beach day in Aruba, pack a picnic lunch from the ship and head to gorgeous Palm Beach or Arashi Beach, both of which are less than 20 minutes away. You can rent a chair or bring your own umbrella, plus pick up food and drinks from vendors if you don't bring your own.
If you're up for some snorkeling or boating, you may find that water excursions in Aruba cost less than one would think. You can book a catamaran snorkeling adventure for around $42 per adult, for example. You can also book a snorkeling cruise to the SS Antilla (a sunken ship) and several reefs, including lunch, for $63 per adult and $31 for kids 12 and under. (See also: Caribbean Island Vacations Anyone Can Afford)
4. San Juan, Puerto Rico
While San Juan and greater Puerto Rico saw plenty of destruction during hurricanes Irma and Maria, the island nation is already on the mend. Fortunately, most cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, continue to include San Juan on their itineraries as the city rebuilds and opens more amenities back up for cruisers.
San Juan is a great stop for budget-minded cruise passengers, mostly because of the beauty and history you'll find freely on display. You can tour historic Old San Juan, which was founded in 1521 by Ponce de Leon. Marvel at the brightly-colored 16th and 17th century houses, as well as local sites like Christopher Columbus Square and the Governor's Mansion. You can also visit the city's two famous forts, Fort El Morro and Fort San Cristobal, for a small entry fee of $5. Kids 15 and under are free.
5. Grand Cayman
Since all beaches in Grand Cayman are public, this cruise port can be an affordable place to stop, despite the island's pricey reputation. Within just 15 minutes by taxi, you can arrive at either the world famous Seven Mile Beach or Smith's Cove, a public enclave known for its amazing snorkeling.
On Seven Mile Beach, the Governor's Beach section offers ample parking and access to some of the clearest waters in the world. The area called Public Beach (though, as we said, they are all public) on Seven Mile Beach offers more amenities than Governor's Beach, with a child's play area, restrooms, showers, and even floating trampolines and other water toys during high season.
Grand Cayman's most popular shore excursion, a trip to swim with stingrays at Stingray City, is also more affordable than you might expect. For around $40 per person ages five and up (kids four and under are free), you'll be picked up from the cruise port and whisked away to Stingray City to wade in waist-high waters with stingrays. Once in the water, you can pet the majestic creatures and get your picture taken holding one.
By Holly Johnson, WiseBread.com
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more
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