Readers Respond: The Economy and Cruise Budgets in 2009

November 14, 2008
When problems in the economy began to unfold on our television screens and newspaper pages, we wondered whether the crisis would change the way people cruise, despite their need for rest and relaxation.

We recently asked Cruise Critic readers, in a multiple-choice online poll, to weigh in on how current financial struggles will impact their cruising habits -- and their budgets -- in 2009. What did we learn? Well, travelers are still watching their money like hawks. (More than three-quarters of respondents said the economy has affected their cruising decisions.) But, they indicated they are willing to cut back, in a variety of ways, if it means they can still take a cruise vacation, with only 13 percent saying they'd skip it entirely in 2009. It's not too late to give us your thoughts; if you haven't already, take our poll.

Here is some insight into how cruisers like you will be cutting costs, onboard and off, to ensure that they can still enjoy cruises next year:

Homeport Cruising: In this poll, 32.5 percent of 1,816 respondents said that they would sail from their closest homeport, rather than fly to another one, to save money, and some are considering driving to an airport where the airfare is cheaper. Love2vacation writes, "We may also look at driving a few hours to save money on airfare. There can be as much as $400 to $700 difference if we are willing to drive two to five hours. We consider flying and hotels part of the cruise budget."

Last-Minute Booking: For those who don't have the advantage of living close to a homeport, there are other ways to cut costs. Twenty-six percent of members said they would wait to book until the last minute, in hopes of snagging a great deal. Spanky34 posts, "We are looking at a trans-Atlantic to celebrate our 40th anniversary. Presently, it is out of our price range. We are waiting to book in hope of getting a better deal." And, many members are holding out hope that things will turn around by the time their ship sails. Many expressed that they will wait to see if economic conditions improve as their deadlines for paying cruise fare balances approach. "We will be reviewing the economy and making future decisions on booked cruises at the last possible minute," says DGF.

Spending Less Onboard/Ashore: Drastically cutting onboard spending and other extra expenses like souvenirs, eating out and activities onshore is how 22.5 percent of poll participants will aim to save some cash. Vickie_bernie says, "We still plan on cruising, but we have decided to cut down on how much we spend on vacation. Not only will onboard purchases go down, but pricey excursions will be replaced with less expensive do-it-yourself excursions."

Beyond that, 22 percent of people said that implementing cruise budgets of $1,000 or less (per person, based on double occupancy) would allow them to cruise this year, while 6.8 percent said they would sail shorter (three- to four-night) cruises. And, 6.7 percent said that only booking cruises during hurricane and shoulder seasons would enable them to continue to cruise.

The bottom line? Even though many people expressed that they have lost much of their retirement and savings funds, they are still planning to enjoy the trips they booked. Searider chimed in: "We have booked a once-in-a-lifetime cruise and will stick with it, even though we have lost plenty from our retirement funds. We figure, with the money already pouring out of there, why not actually enjoy a little of it?"

"We enjoy cruising so much that we cut back all year long, as necessary, to continue to cruise," says roysue. "I would rather skip going out to dinner and a movie and save my 10-day voyage in paradise with my husband and family."

Whatever your economic situation is, with the right approach and a bit of discipline, affordable cruising can be attainable. Stretching Cruise Dollars and The Hidden Costs of Cruising are two Cruise Critic resources that will help you to plan a cruise that fits your budget. And, with cruise fares dropping drastically as cruise lines scramble to fill ships, be sure to check out our Deals section regularly, too. Plus, our sister site, Independent Traveler, has developed a Travel Budget Calculator that calculates the costs of each part of your trip, right down to checked bag fees and parking, and gives you a look at what your trip will really cost when all is said and done.

--by Kim Kazell, Assistant Editor