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Larry's Cruise Tips
(For Those Who Have Never Cruised Or Think They Can't Afford It)

Today I'm interviewing someone who loves cruising more than anyone I know -- and knows how to get fantastic deals! Today my guest is my husband, Larry Shrodes. Enjoy.

Deanna: Why do most people think cruises are so expensive? 

Larry: Many of us in our generation grew up seeing The Love Boat. I think it may have been thought of by some as more a dream than a reality. Perhaps people think, “Surely this has to be more than I can afford -- not realistic for me…” The reality is, many times you can cruise much cheaper than taking a traditional vacation. However note that there is a difference between a vacation and a trip. For instance, a trip is when you go visit relatives and stay with them. I don’t consider that a vacation. 

Deanna: So then, what is a true vacation, to you? 

Larry: Vacation is getting away from it all. A true vacation for me means people taking care of me rather than the other way around. It’s a break from my normal routine and responsibilities and having a true rest. 

On a cruise all of your food is cooked for you, and it's included in the price of your cruise. You can dine formally or informally each day/night. The dishes are cleaned up by someone else. Additionally, you can order room service at no charge. Your room is cleaned several times a day.  You have nothing to do but “be”. No one in the family is cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, or driving.  And if you have children, quality child care is available for free if you’d like to spend time alone as a couple. Basically, someone waits on you hand and foot and you do whatever you want to do or not do. What’s not to like? 

The first time we went on a cruise a few years ago, we realized we had just experienced our first real vacation. 

Would you say most people think a cruise is too expensive because they never truly investigated the possibilities?

Yes.  A part of taking an inexpensive cruise is being flexible with when you go. Being flexible with dates, you can find very good bargains. Plus if you live close to a port you don’t have the expense of airfare to get to a cruise. This is the case with our family. We’ve taken cruises out of Tampa, Miami, Port Canaveral, and Jacksonville – all of which are driving distance.

: In addition to the price of the actual cruise, what fees do cruisers incur?

Port fees, taxes and gratuities.

With port fees it depends on how many ports you go to. Gratuities are typically $12 per person, per day.

What drives up the price of a cruise? (In addition to the actual cruise cost)

Alcohol, gambling and excursions. It’s the three biggest ways cruise lines make their money.  Our family cruises very inexpensively because we don’t drink alcohol nor gamble. On some ports we do an excursion but on many of them we just get off the boat and sight see a bit. The cost of that is usually bus fare or a taxi. We usually try to do at least one excursion as a family.  This past time we went cave tubing in Belize. The time before that we went zip lining in Cozumel.

What advice would you have about excursions?

Larry: I recommend only going on excursions that are endorsed, announced, etc. by the cruise line you are traveling with -- for a lot of reasons.  There was one time the passengers could not get off the ship at one of our ports, due to weather and needing to use tender boats in that particular place . However, with the purchase of our excursion through the cruise line, we did not lose money on it. This might not have been the case if we purchased an excursion through someone other than the cruise line. Also, if your excursion group would get delayed on a cruise line sponsored excursion, the ship would wait for you. However on an excursion not sponsored by the cruise line, that is not the case.


Deanna: What are the benefits of an interior room?

Larry: They are the most inexpensive, so if price is a person’s most important issue this may be their best choice.

If you like taking naps during the day, there is absolutely no light in an interior room when the lights are turned out.  I like that about it.

People with interior rooms could lose track of what time it is because the room is so dark.  It’s very easy to sleep the whole day away, and some people may actually want to do that.

Some people have an issue with an enclosed space with no window, although you and I are okay with it if we get a really phenomenal deal.

What kind of room you get really is a personal preference. There are benefits in each type of room.

Deanna: An oceanview room? 

Larry: You like this room best. That’s why I typically upgrade as deals become available, although it’s nonessential to me.

We like seeing the sunset from our room. 
You like to keep the curtains open most times aside from when we're sleeping, so we do.

Our balcony room

Deanna: A balcony room?

Larry: A balcony room is typically a bit smaller inside due to having the balcony, but I do like it if I can get it for a great price. I enjoy ordering room service for breakfast and having it on the balcony, or being out on our private balcony for sunset.

On our private balcony during one of our cruises.

Deanna: How do you personally find the best deals on a cruise?

Larry: The time of year is really important. There are usually really good deals the two weeks after Thanksgiving and also in late February.

I search through Cruises Only. I believe they have the best search engine. I also look on the Carnival and Royal Caribbean websites and I sign up to get their email alerts. Also on Facebook there’s a group  I'm a part of that often shares specials and sales. They are called, "Carnival Cruisers Past, Present and Future." 

I also recommend what is known as the “Early Saver.” This is where you book a cruise 3 months on a 5 day cruise and 6 months out on a 7 day or longer cruise. You pay the deposit and watch the cruise the entire time until you go and if the price goes down, they credit you. However, it's important to note -- you do have to notice that the price went down and tell them. They do not contact you -- you contact them. With one cruise, I got back almost $300 because the price went down.

If you don’t care about going on cruises with spring breakers you can get some great deals. Everyone isn’t comfortable with doing that, but it’s an option.

The bottom line is that if you make it a priority to research deals,  you'll find one.  

Costa Maya

Deanna: What do you look for in a cruise now that you have been on many of them? 

Larry: Price. I’m always watching the internet for bargains.  And, itinerary. What’s most important to me is to go to ports we haven’t visited yet. So for me, I look for deals to new places.

Deanna: Do you have to eat at the table with strangers on a cruise, or can you request to exclusively dine with whoever you are cruising with? 

Larry: On Royal Caribbean and Carnival you can sign up for "My Time Dining" which means you will be able to have dinner at whatever time you like, with the people you are traveling with. However, you may have a short wait for a table. Otherwise, you select to be seated nightly with early seating or late seating -- immediately get your table when you come in -- but will also dine with those not in your group. Our family always does My Time Dining and has our own table, and the maximum we have waited is 15 minutes. You have to declare ahead of time when you book the cruise whether you will do My Time Dining or otherwise.  We really like the flexibility of My Time Dining and the ability to have our own table.

Deanna: What are some practical tips you have received to have the best time on a cruise? 

  • Have a good packing list. Know what to take for where you’re going.
  • Research everything you possibly can about the cruise, online.
  • Ask people who have been on a lot of cruises for advice. I get a lot of tips from the Facebook group I'm a part of.
  • If you’re going with a group, go with like-minded people who enjoy doing the same things. We've had a lot of people say to us, "Hey, we should go on a cruise together!" Some of those individuals might not enjoy what we personally enjoy doing on cruises, which would cause tension -- so we haven't pursued it. 
  • Establish the expectations beforehand with the people you go with. Will you just have dinner together at day’s end? Or will more be expected of those you go with? It’s important to establish this up front so it’s a positive experience for all.  
  • Go with people who are comfortable with going at the same pace, or respecting the pace of others. Some people want to go and relax with little or no plans made in advance for the day or week. Others want to schedule out every moment in advance and participate in every activity possible. There's going to be tension if you don't make this clear. I highly recommend talking about this even if it's just you and your spouse going. For instance, you and I are different in this regard. I enjoy more activities, and you want to rest more. It's important to understand and respect the other person's needs.
  •  Take a medicine kit with you so you don’t have to buy the items at a much greater expense on board if you need them. We take a homemade kit with everything from Tylenol to aloe vera to Pepto to bandaids. Although it’s never excessive, we usually have to get into the kit at least one time during the cruise and it saves us from having to buy anything first aid related. 
Deanna: Thanks for all of your advice today, babe. I encourage anyone who may have other questions for Larry to put them in the comment thread and he’ll answer them.

 All photos: Deanna Shrodes


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