Life Nomadic: Luxury Cruise Ships at Hostel Prices

When I was a kid, my breakfast cereal of choice was Kellog’s Corn Flakes. The back of the box, which I relied on for breakfast-time entertainmant, sometimes had contests to win cruises on Carnival Cruise lines. I guess advertising works, because since then I had always wanted to go on a cruise.

I had no idea how much cruises cost. I never saw prices advertised, so I assumed that they were like first class air travel – too expensive to actually consider.

As I found out many years later, cruises aren’t expensive at all. In fact, if you know what you’re doing, you can stay and eat on a luxury cruise ship for less than a hostel.The one notable downside to cruise travel is that you only visit each place for one or two days at most. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about meals, you don’t have to pack and unpack between spots, and the ship is a destination itself.

Before I became a nomad I focused on round trip cruises. Leave out of Houston, cruise around the Caribbean and Central America for a week, and end up back in Houston. Now I use cruises as transportation whenever possible, seeking out one way tickets. That means that the price of the cruise is counting against the plane ticket, meals, and lodging I would have paid otherwise.

The gold standard for a good deal in cruising is fifty dollars a day, including taxes and port charges. Except for a transatlantic on the Queen Mary II, I’ve never paid more than that. You will also have to tip $10 per day total to the waiters, maids, and cabin stewards.

The first place I look for cruise deals is the Cruise Sales on Travelzoo, particularly the exotic cruise section. Exotic is a euphemism for cruises with strange, long, and usually one way routes. This is exactly what I want, but such strange itineraries usualy don’t fit into the standard weeklong vacations that most people go on, so they get seriously discounted.

The next step, once you find the cruise you want, is to go over to Cruise Compete and put in a request. Cruise Compete is an amazing site where cruise agents fight for your business by offering private quotes. These quotes are always cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else, often times by half.

For example, I put in a request today for a 23 day cruise from China through Japan and Alaska to Vancouver. The advertised price on Travelzoo was $1149, but I got a quote for $647. That’s $28 per day, including all fees, for a room, all meals, and entertainment. This particular cruise also happens to be on Princess, which is one of the best cruise lines.

Some of the very best deals can be had during repositioning cruises. Cruise ships tend to migrate, usually across the Atlantic, every fall and spring, and offer very low prices to passengers who want to go on a long cruise with a lot of days at sea. In fact, I’m on a fourteen day from the Dominican Republic to London as you read this.

If you can get past the slightly overdone tackiness on most cruise ships, you’ll really enjoy your time on them. For the partying types there are clubs and bars all over the place, as well as half a dozen pools and hot tubs. Many newer ships have attractions like miniature golf, rock climbing, and even ice skating rinks. I like these things, but my favorite part of being on a ship is getting away from the distractions of cell phones and constant internet access, and finding some peace and quiet to get work done or stare out at the sea and do some thinking.

My next post will be ten tips on getting the most out of your cruise, so start looking for the right one now!