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CRUISE VIEWS

Keep On-Board Costs From Sailing Out of Control

October 01, 2000|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

While cruising is popular because lodging, entertainment, food and transportation are included in the basic fare, first-time passengers are sometimes surprised at how much money they spend after boarding the ship. A couple can easily rack up $1,000 during a three-, four- or seven-day cruise.

With discounting so prevalent in the cruise industry, many lines look for on-board revenue to make up the profit they lose from cutting ticket prices.

Such revenue includes profits from casinos, bars, shore excursions, beauty salon treatments, gift shop sales, photo sales, art auctions, bingo games, video games, ice cream shops, caviar and wine bars and children's nursery fees.

Outside concessionaires operate most shipboard shops, spas and casinos, sharing a percentage of their profits with the cruise line.

We can't be the only frequent cruisers who have watched shipboard prices for cocktails, wine, soft drinks and mineral water soar during the last few years, despite the ship's stock of duty-free alcohol. A glass of house wine hovers around $5, soft drinks and mineral water are $2 and up, domestic or draft beer costs about $3 and a martini is as much as $8 at trendy shipboard martini bars.

Here are a few ideas on saving money during your cruise without sacrificing enjoyment:

* Don't get carried away buying shore excursions for every port you visit. Attend the shore excursion lectures, listen carefully to what is offered, then evaluate whether you can do some of the activities on your own. A walking tour around a city is free if you use maps and brochures from the local tourist office, and a narrated bus tour of cities such as London, Dublin or Edinburgh is usually cheaper (and more colorful) with a local sightseeing bus company. Two couples can join forces and hire a taxi for a half- or full-day island tour for much less than four tickets on the ship's excursion.

* Avoid so-called port shopping lecturers, most of whom are sponsored by the shops they "recommend." (When in doubt, read the fine print on the free shopping maps distributed at the lecture, and look for a phrase pointing out that participating merchants have paid a consideration to be listed.) Sometimes the lectures resemble Home Shopping Network announcers, with frenzied promotions for obscure gemstones.

* Opt for the free beverages that are readily available--coffee, iced tea, fruit juices--instead of buying soft drinks or designer water, which cost $2 or $3 a serving. And be wary of trays of bright tropical drinks in souvenir glasses that are passed around by smiling waiters on embarkation day; you may not learn how much they cost until after you've accepted one and are presented the tab.

* If you're traveling with children or teens, set a daily spending limit on the video arcade or you'll be "quartered" to distraction while you're trying to relax. Make the same rules for casino aficionados in the family.

* Plan for any luxury beauty or spa treatments you want, and schedule them as soon as possible after boarding the ship. Don't be coerced, however gently, into signing up for additional services you hadn't thought about, no matter how tempting they sound.

* Take aboard or pick up in port your own six-pack of cola or bottles of mineral water or liquor if you enjoy a drink in your cabin while you're dressing for dinner or a nightcap at the end of an evening. Supermarket prices are lower than shipboard prices. Don't take drinks from your own supply on deck or in the public rooms however; that's a no-no.

* If your impulse shopping resistance is low, stay out of the ship's shops and, when ashore, concentrate on sightseeing instead. Otherwise you may end up with bulky shopping bags full of things that are not as irresistible as you thought when you get them home.

* Be wary of art auctions on board. To start the action, auctioneers usually serve free champagne and give away a piece of art for free or at a rock-bottom price at the first auction. After this, the bidding escalates rapidly, pulling onlookers into the sometimes expensive excitement.

* Postpone making large purchases until late in the cruise. You'll be more able to comparison shop and may even find an item you want on sale in shipboard shops near the end of the cruise.

* Don't feel you have to purchase all the photos of yourself the ship photographers put on display--that is, unless you don't want anyone else to see them.

* Use coin laundries when you can find them aboard ships or hand-wash underwear and socks rather than sending items out to the ship's high-priced laundry.

*

Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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