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9 easy ways to save money on a European cruise

07 May 2024
Jenna DeLaurentis

Dreaming of a European cruise vacation? It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.

Rhapsody of the Seas in Kotor Montenegro

Sailing along the French Riviera, Greek Isles, and Norwegian fjords sounds nice and all, but it’s easy to assume that even entertaining the idea could have your bank account screaming for help.

Cruises remain an affordable vacation choice for millions of passengers per year, as they offer a fantastic value for those onboard. Food, select beverages, entertainment, thrilling activities, and visits to exciting ports are all included in guests’ cruise fares. As another plus, passengers can customize their experience to fit any budget, whether they’re cruising in a basic interior room or multi-story suite.

The truth is that cruises to Europe are not necessarily budget breakers, and just like any cruise destination, there are countless ways to save money on a European itinerary.

Before putting your vacation dreams to the wayside, consider using these 9 helpful tips to save money on a European cruise. That perfect Instagram shot could become a reality, after all.

Sail during the shoulder season instead of the summer

Le Havre cruise port

One of the easiest ways to save money on a European cruise, by far, is to book your cruise during the shoulder season instead of during the peak summer months.

Royal Caribbean’s European cruise season runs from May to October each year, but the most popular time to book is in June, July, and August, coinciding with school holidays. Unsurprisingly, these months see the highest cruise fares, along with the highest airfare prices.

Related: The worst months to cruise to Europe

If your schedule is flexible, consider booking a European cruise in May, September, or October rather than during the summer. While this might not be possible for those traveling with kids, it will almost certainly result in significant savings.

A $1,300 flight to Athens in July might only be $800 in May. The lower price, coupled with a cheaper cruise fare, could potentially save you over a thousand dollars per person!

As another plus, you’ll usually encounter fewer crowds and more pleasant temperatures in the shoulder season, too, which could make your overall experience more enjoyable.

Choose your itinerary wisely if on a tight budget

Colosseum in Rome

Before booking a European cruise, take a close look at the ports you will visit. Each cruise port offers pros and cons, especially those in Europe, and it’s important to be aware of what to expect before booking one itinerary over another.

Western Mediterranean cruises tend to visit bigger cities, such as Rome, Barcelona, and Naples. Although this means you can visit some of Europe’s most famous and historical sites, it also means you'll be shelling out a pretty penny for shore excursions.

You can expect to spend around, or even over, $200 per person for an excursion to visit sites like the Colosseum and Vatican City in Rome. When traveling with a family, these costs will quickly add up.

Related: How to save money on cruise excursions

Positano Italy

Although these destinations are undoubtedly worth a visit, consider whether you want to rush the experience on a short port day, or if you’d like to return when you can devote more time to these remarkable destinations. Plus, you will spend a fraction of the cost to visit these tourist sites on your own compared to with a cruise excursion.

Sure, you don’t need to book shore excursions at these ports, but if you’re only visiting the destination once, it would be a shame to not see the top attractions.

Therefore, instead of trying to knock off Europe’s biggest cities in a single day, why not book an itinerary that visits less busy destinations? A cruise to Split, for instance, will drop you off directly in the town center, allowing for stress-free exploration without the need to spend extra.

Similarly, cruises to Norway offer charming towns and breathtaking landscapes within a stone’s throw of your cruise ship, meaning you won’t have to spend hundreds on shore excursions to make your port day memorable.

Research cheap and free things to do in each port

Church in Palermo Italy

On the subject of forgoing expensive excursions in favor of exploring on your own, be sure to research budget-friendly activities in your ports of call before disembarking on a port day.

All European ports offer free and low-cost things to do, from visiting immaculate cathedrals to strolling along quaint seaside promenades. Europe’s cities are far more historic than what you might be used to at home, and simply wandering the narrow streets admiring the architecture is enough to occupy many visitors!

Related: 7 ways to have a great time in port without a cruise ship shore excursion

One of the easiest ways to discover what to do in port is to make a simple Google search. If your cruise visits Palma de Mallorca, search “How to spend one day in Palma de Mallorca” on Google. This should populate a wide range of articles highlighting the city’s top attractions, restaurants, points of interest, and general advice for visitors.

If you would prefer an excursion, search for tours from independent providers rather than booking directly through the cruise line. Using websites like GetYourGuide or Viator will likely be cheaper than booking a similar excursion on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner, allowing you to further stretch your budget.

Take public transport to the cruise terminal over private transfers

Train station in London

Many cruise ports in Europe are convenient to reach by public transit, and this can be a cost-effective way to reach the cruise terminal for those on a budget.

For cruises from Southampton, for example, you can board an 80 minute train directly from London to the city, which usually costs around £20. Upon arrival at the station in Southampton, you can walk 15 minutes to the port, or hail a taxi for the short ride. Taking a taxi all the way from London can be over £120.

Related: I'm a budget cruiser. Here are 8 easy strategies I used on my recent Royal Caribbean cruise to save money

Similarly, if you're embarking in Civitavecchia, you can take the train directly from Rome to the port city in under 50 minutes, which costs about €11. Once you get to the train station, hop on the port shuttle bus for around €6. Taking a taxi from central Rome, on the other hand, will cost over €100.

Note that, when choosing how to get to the cruise port, it’s important to calculate the amount of people in your group before deciding between a private transfer and public transport. If you’re traveling with a large group, it could be more cost effective to arrange a taxi or shuttle to the port instead.

Book your flights to Europe with points

airplane window

Stockpiling credit card points? Why not use them on a flight to Europe?

For savvy travelers, redeeming points from credit cards can be an easy way to save thousands on a flight to Europe.

Whether you have a popular credit card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or an airline-specific card, it’s easy to earn points and miles for everyday purchases throughout the year.

Depending on your origin airport, destination, and time of year you travel, you could book a round trip flight to Europe for as little as 30,000 points, although spending 50-60,000 points is more likely.

Save for a few taxes and fees on the ticket, booking your flight with points is an easy money-saving trick for a European cruise. Plus, it allows you to save your budget for other aspects of the experience, such as a pre-cruise hotel stay and shore excursions.

Forgo cruise add-ons in favor of eating and drinking in port

Aperol spritz in Palermo sicily

You might be tempted to book add-ons like specialty dining packages and drink packages for your cruise, but consider skipping these purchases when visiting Europe.

When in the Caribbean, many passengers enjoy drinking cocktail after cocktail on a sunny sea day or at one of Royal Caribbean’s private destinations. Others enjoy the elevated dining experience of specialty restaurants, allowing guests to widen their cuisine selections during the cruise.

These add-ons can surely enhance a cruise experience, but they aren’t entirely necessary when cruising to Europe. European port days are often longer than those in the Caribbean—and have fewer sea days—thus lessening the amount of time you are onboard to utilize these add-ons.

Related: Must-eat foods on a cruise to Italy

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars for use solely onboard, allocate that money toward food and drink in port. Whether tasting an authentic pasta dish in Italy, a glass of sangria in Spain, or a chocolate crepe in France, you will not only save money, but have the chance to try unique dishes and cuisines around Europe, too!

Book your cruise far in advance, or look for a last-minute deal

Norway map of cruise itinerary

Most passengers will snag the lowest prices on a Royal Caribbean cruise by booking far in advance, regardless of their cruise destination.

New European itineraries are released each fall for cruises taking place two years in the future. For example, summer 2026 itineraries would be released in the fall of 2024. By staying up to date on when Royal Caribbean releases itineraries, you can not only find the widest range of cabin options, but you’re likely to see the lowest prices.

Even if your cruise fare does lower after you book, you can always reprice your cruise until the final payment date by contacting Royal Caribbean or your travel agent directly to update your booking with the lower price.

Related: Pros and Cons of booking a cruise early vs last-minute

One way to find last-minute deals is to browse Royal Caribbean’s Going, Going, Gone rates. Each Monday, the cruise line updates this webpage with a list of last-minute deals available.

The list only updates once a week, though, so if you check the list on Saturday, it could be outdated, as other customers may have already booked the last cabins available.

Sail on an older, smaller cruise ship

Rhapsody of the Seas docked in Split Croatia

It’s tempting to book your next cruise on one of Royal Caribbean’s newest and biggest ships, such as Wonder of the Seas or Icon of the Seas. If you’re cruising within Europe, however, a smaller ship might be a better choice.

Each summer, Royal Caribbean sends several of its smallest and largest vessels to Europe, from Vision Class ships like Enchantment of the Seas to massive Oasis Class ships.

Although the biggest ships offer the most variety in entertainment, cabins, restaurants, and onboard activities, the prices usually reflect these added amenities.

Related: 12 differences between the big and small Royal Caribbean cruise ships

Pool deck on Rhapsody of the Seas

Smaller ships, on the other hand, are typically priced lower, but they still offer a comfortable stay with Royal Caribbean’s signature feel. You may not find the latest and greatest activities and production shows, but even the smallest ships offer a variety of cabins, dining choices, and pools to keep cruisers satisfied.

Plus, most European cruise itineraries tend to be port-heavy, with most 7-night itineraries offering only one or two sea days. You will likely spend far less time onboard compared to, say, a Caribbean cruise, which might make splurging on a bigger ship a waste for those on a tight budget.

Finally, consider flying into a major airport and taking a regional flight to your cruise port

Wizz Air flight embarking

Shocked by airline prices to Europe in the middle of the summer? If so, consider broadening your search.

Just because your flight leaves from Rome, Athens, or Amsterdam does not mean you need to fly into those cities for your cruise. Transportation within European cities can be extremely affordable and convenient, with budget airlines and high speed trains servicing much of the continent.

If your cruise leaves from Civitavecchia, for instance, but the flight to Rome is way out of your budget, don’t be afraid to search for flights to other cities like Milan, Venice, or even somewhere as faraway as London!

Venice Italy cityscape

You can travel between cities in Italy on high speed rail within just a few hours, or hop on a quick flight from a city like London to Rome instead.

If you choose this option, be sure to account for the cost of getting from one city to another to make sure you’re actually saving money. If the flight to London is $700 and the flight to Rome is $1,500, why not take the more adventurous route?

Of course, be sure to allocate enough time between flights in order to make it to your cruise embarkation city on time. You’ll also want to research transportation costs from one city to another before booking your flight to ensure it will actually result in savings.

9 easy ways to save money on a European cruise

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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