A cheap cruise is our family’s favorite way to vacation. It takes a little bit of planning, but not nearly as much as a typical vacation. You pretty much sit back and relax for your entire trip after you book your cruise; find a way to get to the port; and plan out what you’re doing in your ports of call.

Cruising is a fairly frugal way for my family to vacation, though we’ve seen our fair share of people spending lavishly on cruise ships. If you're wondering how to save money and book a cheap cruise, then we've got a few tips for you. Here are six ways that my wife and I keep our costs low so that we can go on a cheap cruise at least once a year:

  1. Stick with a basic cabin.
  2. Go on a cruise during off-peak season.
  3. Bring your own soda and skip having to buy it on the ship.
  4. Either limit your alcohol consumption or budget accordingly.
  5. Avoid expensive purchases, such as jewelry and watches.
  6. Just say no to the casino.

1. A Basic Cabin

I don’t know about you, but when I go on a cruise, I don’t plan to spend all day in my cabin. Instead, we explore the ship, eat at the restaurants, enjoy the entertainment, and relax by soaking in the sun on the top decks. Really, we’re only in our room to sleep at night, occasionally take naps, or to get ready for an activity.

So why pay for a luxurious balcony or suite when we could choose a more affordable interior or ocean-view cabin instead?

We’d rather take the cheaper cabins and be able to sail twice as much, since the ritzier cabins are sometimes more than double the cost of some of the more affordable ones. For instance, we recently booked an ocean-view cabin for five days. It cost us $269 per person. A junior suite, meanwhile, costs $563 per person.

2. Off-Peak Season

Cruises are a popular family vacation. Since many of them are family-oriented, you can guess when they’ll be more expensive. That’s right — when kids are out of school.

If you book during spring break, summer vacation, or holiday weekends, you can expect to pay a lot more for the same exact cruise experience as you would have had if you went during the off season. So our family saves money by taking super-cheap cruises in the fall after kids go back to school or during the months just prior to spring break.

Cruises can be incredibly fun – and cheap, if you play your cards right. One writer shares a few tips on how to save money on a cruise.

3. BYO Soda

If you’re a big soda drinker, the prices on cruise ships may change your mind. On Carnival, for example, a glass of soda will set you back $1.95. And often, the glass won’t even hold a whole 12-oz can. But Carnival's liquor and beverage policy allows each passenger to bring on up to one 12-pack of soda. Even if you pay $4.99 for a 12-pack at the store, it will save you almost $22 for every 12 sodas that your family consumes.

4. Limited Alcohol Consumption

If the soda prices scare you, you'll be even more intimidated by the prices for alcoholic drinks. Beers start at $4.95 each, frozen beverages at $7.50, and cocktails at $8.75 each. All prices are before the mandatory 15-percent gratuity.

Of course, you could opt to purchase an “unlimited” drink package, which allows you 15 drinks per day. Everybody of legal drinking age in your cabin has to purchase the package, though. This usually costs $49.95 per person, per day. Don’t forget the 15 percent gratuity on this package, either.

If drinking is a major part of your vacation, definitely budget ahead of time for this cost. Otherwise, simply skip the drinks on your cruise and enjoy everything else the ship has to offer.

5. Avoiding Expensive Purchases

Expensive items are very popular in most cruise ships’ gift shops. They’re always advertising “special” sales and duty-free prices. After a few cruises, though, I realized that these sales are always going on, and the pricing isn’t usually anything to write home about.

Yes, if you were going to buy a fancy watch anyway, you may save a few bucks. But if you weren’t planning on spending hundreds of dollars on jewelry or a watch to begin with, the cruise ship just conned you into spending more of your hard-earned cash. If you want to keep your cruise cheap, skip the expensive gift-shop items unless you were planning a purchase before you got on the ship.

6. Skip the Casino

If you want to have a cheap cruise, avoid the slots. Gambling is a huge money-maker for cruise ships. The slots are tighter, and many card games have rules that favor the house more than usual. The decreased odds combined with the festive vacation mood often result in you losing more money than you would at a casino on land.

A Final Thought on How to Book a Cheap Cruise

Cruises are a blast — we love them. We simply skip out on some of the extras and enjoy the free stuff so that we can cruise more often. Even if you don’t want to go on another cruise, you can put your savings toward a different vacation down the road.