How I Took a Tropical Vacation for Under $400

I’m nothing if not a frugal traveler. I’ve always thought that the best experiences are had outside of your hotel room (not that I’d mind staying in a 5 star resort, it’s just not necessary to max out your credit cards in order to have your dream vacation). The real fun is outside of your room adventuring. For me, the cheaper the better, but you don’t have to squat in a dingy room in a sketchy motel to get a good deal!

 

3-Night Cruise to Nassau

Cruises have a bad stigma, but they are definitely the answer to a good time for cheap and require very little planning. My family used to do a lot of longer cruise trips so I’ve always been familiar with them, but after posting about my experience going on a cruise with Eugen, I realized that many of you have never been on one!

I’m personally a huge cruise fan, but for all of you first timers, make sure you set your expectation before you arrive. You should take into consideration the cruise line, destination, and read LOTS of reviews ahead of time.

So here’s how we made our super cheap vacation happen:

Flight – $120

Research what is going on in Miami and make sure you take this into consideration BEFORE you book the Cruise. If there is a festival or big convention going on, the plane ticket prices are going to sky rocket. The date of your cruise will likely be cheapest when there is a big event going on in Miami, but that is when plane tickets into Miami will be the most expensive. I’ve seen them as low as $95 round trip from NYC.

Rachel’s Savings Tips:

  • Fly out of a smaller local airport like ISP on Long Island and go to Ft Lauderdale instead of Miami (it’s only a 40 min Uber from the Miami Cruise Port). On another trip, I got a flight from ISP to Ft Lauderdale for $49 with Frontier.
  • Set a Google alert and look at all of the historical charts they have to find the best prices.
  • Book 2-3 months in advance. If you do it earlier than that, the prices are usually set around one rate that is higher. If you do it later, there may be surged pricing
Making our way to the Cruise Port with a quick stop at South Beach

 

South Beach Miami

Cruise – $203

If you want to go to The Bahamas, leave from Miami, not NYC. The cruises are cheaper and there will be less “Day at Sea” time where you are trapped on the boat.

Care more about the destination than the boat? Take Carnival! Larger/less fancy cruise lines tend to be cheaper. We opted for the cheapest room, but our reservation came with a free upgrade and we were able to get a room with a King bed and a sea-view window! The most affordable rooms do not have windows at all (I think I wou

ld have gotten seasick in those so thank goodness for the upgrade!) The cruise price is all-inclusive (we’re talking rooms, room service, all-hours buffets, sit-down dinners, coffee, juice, ICE CREAM, pools, hot tubs, entertainment, etc). It’s amazing to pay up front and not have to worry about paying again once you set foot on the boat.

Rachel’s Savings Tips:

  • Know what you’re going to spend on the cruise, don’t just go on the ticket price. Drinks, some foods, wifi, some entertainment, gambling, and other activities will be extra!
  • Check the deals different cruise lines offer. If you’re planning to drink a lot, Norwegian offers some all-inclusive alcohol cruises.
  • Check what upgrades come with different cruises! Ours had on-board and on-shore credit as well as a free room upgrade that all came with the ticket price.
Some of the other (and tbh more expensive) boats at port
Our little window in our room
There are photographers all over the boat offering to snap pics for you. They are available for purchase either in print form or digital for $20 each. We told ourselves we’ve only buy one so I chose this one haha
Dinner menu for Cruise Formal night at the restaurant on the boat. The Strawberry Bisque is TO DIE FOR ❤

Excursions – $20

These can get pretty pricey. Our cruise ticket came with a $50 gift certificate to Shore Excursions so we selected a $50 per person 3 hour Snorkeling and Sailing cruise that came with a free drink (sounded like a good deal to us!) When we docked in Nassau, the company let us know that our excursion had been cancelled due to high winds (sad). We ended up getting our $50 back.

We suddenly had a full 24 hours at port with zero plans and limited cash so we had to figure out what to do. Everyone wants to got to Atlantis on Paradise Island, but they also charge exorbitant fees for access to the beach, water slides, food, etc. To save money, we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner all aboard the ship at the inclusive sit down dinners and buffets

What we ended up doing:

  • Shopping on Bay Street
  • Grabbing beers at Pirate Republic Brewing on Woodes Rodgers Walk
  • Going through the Straw Market
  • Walking to The Queen’s Staircase and Fort Fincastle
  • Looking at residential neighborhoods
  • Going to the public Junkanoo Beach
  • Sneaking onto a private beach and pool area at the British Colonial Hilton

Rachel’s Savings Tips:

  • The public beaches I saw in Nassau were pretty dirty and unpleasant. If you have the opportunity, sneak your way into a private hotel beach. We went to the British Colonial Hilton just to have a look inside (we were that bored haha). If you walk straight through the lobby and past the bar at the back of the hotel, you’ll arrive at their gorgeous private beach with free towels, chairs and umbrellas and they don’t even ask for a room number. They also have a pool, a large chess set, a bar and restaurant and lounge beds. We hung out there for a few hours before heading back to the ship. If you act like you belong, nobody will question it.
  • Eat on the ship! You already paid for that food so why double pay for more.
  • Ask how much things cost before you assume they’ll be cheap! A lot of places charge $15 – $19 per drink when there are no signs listing prices. They know tourists will pay anything for drinks.
  • Walk to your destinations, don’t taxi! It might be the New Yorker in me, but I didn’t realize everyone else was taking taxis to the Queen’s Staircase until we got there. It was a 15 minute walk through residential neighborhoods and government buildings. We got to see a more authentic side of Nassau! This is one of our favorite things to do on trips.
Bay Street , Nassau
Vendors in the Nassau Straw Market. These are all hand carved!
Gorgeous flowers and building colors on our walk to the Queen’s Staircase (this is what you get to see when you don’t take the taxis!)
Fort Fincastle
Queen’s Staircase
The private beach we snuck onto after the public one was too gross
The view from the British Colonial Hilton beach

Add Ons – $45

On a cruise, they will try to nickle and dime you for EVERYTHING. Watch what you are spending! Our cruise price included a $25 on-board credit that actually went a long way on board. Cocktails were $9 and beers were as low as $4 which was pretty crazy compared to NYC prices where it would not be shocking to see $25 for a tiny cocktail with crunchy ice and a flower.

Rachel’s Savings Tips:

  • Paying for wifi is not worth it! It is very slow and if you have certain providers, your data will honestly be faster. The wifi is really bad on Carnival ships. I would rather have not had signal than spend my time waiting for pages/ Instagram to load.
  • Don’t sign up for the drink package unless you plan on drinking 5+ cocktails a day. I did the math and that was our minimum number of daily drinks in order to get your money’s worth.
  • Check what you’re swiping for! The Sign and Sail Cards are attached to your credit card and it’s easy to swipe away without realizing what your tab is at the end of the ride. Check the app to keep an eye on your spending.

Overall, cruises are a TON of fun and are a nice, simple way to head on a tropical vacation without having to do a lot of planning. As long as you watch your spending and stay away from sneaky offerings with hidden charges, your vacation will be smooth sailing.

Have you ever been on a cruise? How was your experience?

$9 cocktails!
Gorgeous sunsets out of our little widow

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