I recently had the opportunity to take a week-long vacation with two of my best friends from college. After some deliberation, we settled on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. It was my third time cruising and ended up being the best time yet (aside from a minor inconvenience). Here are 5 money lessons I learned from a fantastic week on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.
1. In Costco we trust – I like to comparison shop whenever purchasing anything of value. Vacations definitely fall into that category. I had a good experience with cruisecompete.com in the past so I went back to get a quote this time as well. We got an offer that seemed reasonable. But before we booked, we checked with Costco’s online vacation desk just to see – not only did Costco offer a lower rate than the quote we received from cruisecompete.com, they tossed in a ton of extras including free soda package, cupcakes, ice cream, specialty dining experience, lunch/dinner at Johnny Rockets, Rice Krispy treats and $355 onboard credit! A total of ~$600 worth of extras! On a somewhat related note, did you know that Costco is the nation’s 2nd largest car seller?
2. Beware of “in-app purchases” – “In-app purchases” are made popular by freemium games where you can download a video game for free, but then pay for individual in-game items. The most recent blockbuster game that comes to mind is Pokémon Go (See 5 Lessons Medicine Should Learn from Pokémon Go). From shore excursions to entire private beaches (e.g. Labadee, Haiti) where you pay to play, the cruise lines have gotten quite good at selling you these extras. I’m not saying you should skimp on experiences, just do some research so you know you aren’t being taken to the cleaners.
3. When you use plastic, you spend more – The reason why financial guru Dave Ramsey hates credit cards is this: you end up spending more with plastic. Unfortunately, Disney isn’t the only company that caught onto that trend. The cruise lines are all now on a "cashless" system where you pay for all your onboard purchases using a charge card (E.g. Royal Caribbean's SeaPass). The charge card in turn is linked to a credit card you provide to the cruise line and all charges are settled at the end of your cruise. Again, have a good time, but be aware of how much you're paying for that Caipirinha.
4. If you go international, Go T-mobile - One of the pain points of traveling internationally has always been insanely high international roaming fees. You want to stay in touch with family and friends back home but you also don't want to pay an arm and a leg for that privilege. Here's the great thing about T-Mobile, their Simple Global feature gives you unlimited data (2G speed), texting and $0.20/min calls in 140+ countries and destinations around the globe. In our case, all of our 3 ports of call (St. Marteen, Puerto Rico, and Haiti) were covered. I have also used their service previously in Iceland and China. If you travel internationally, this is a huge plus.
5. Keep track of your wallet AT ALL TIMES - The "minor inconvenience" I mentioned above refers to the fact that I returned from my cruise 1 wallet short. Not sure if I lost it or someone stole it, but the end result is the same - hours of waiting at the DMV and days of waiting for replacement credit/debit cards to arrive. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake. Each stateroom has a safe - use it for your valuables.
Overall, cruising is a great way to vacation. I highly recommend it if you haven't done it before. Just be aware of the above points and you will have a great time!