How To Get A Cruise For Cheap Or Even FREE!

We have been loving our cruise vacation so far. Many have asked us how to get a cruise for free, how to get a cruise for cheap, or how to go on a free Carnival cruise, and we will be talking about that today. We’re on Day 3 of our cruise, and we are loving it….

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 1, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

We have been loving our cruise vacation so far. Many have asked us how to get a cruise for free, how to get a cruise for cheap, or how to go on a free Carnival cruise, and we will be talking about that today.

We’re on Day 3 of our cruise, and we are loving it. We still have 5 full days and nights left on our cruise. We have found that a cruise is a great way to have a true “vacation.”

You just hop on a ship (ahhh don’t call it a boat – people get mad! 🙂 ), relax, eat and drink a lot, it takes you to ports, and it is just overall very relaxing. We have had a lot of fun so far just sitting on our balcony and watching the water.

Related: The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Yes, I know, we are new to cruising but we have already learned so much.

I am the type of person who researches a vacation like crazy before going on it, so you can bet that I read cruising forums and articles for many, many days until I felt like I have been cruising several times before.

Since I told friends and family that we were going on a cruise, I have had many people ask me about the costs of going on one.


There are many different types of cruises out there. There are expensive round-the-world cruises, or there are cheap ones that are a few days long. There are interior rooms and then there are also large suites that are multiple floors. It all depends on you, where you want to go, and what you care about in a stateroom. Outside of the stateroom, all guests pretty much enjoy the same exact services, so the amount of money you spend all depends on what room you want to choose.

I have seen one night cruises for $50 per person and two-night cruises for $99. I have also seen 3 and 4-day Caribbean cruises in an interior room go for $129 per person (yes, that includes food and basic drinks!), not including port fees or taxes. Depending on when you book, you may even be able to book a balcony room for just a few more dollars.

If you do one or a combination of the options below, it could be easy to get your cruise for cheap or even near FREE. Who doesn’t like free?

Here are a few quick ways to save on your next cruise vacation:

  • Book very early or book very late. Many times, cruises will give early bookers a great deal. They will sometimes match the lowest price and give you a discount if you book early and the price ends up dropping later on. Also, if you book late (like 3 weeks beforehand), they will sometimes offer great deals to fill up the remaining staterooms. This can be a great way to save money on your next cruise. If you get your ticket at a low enough price, you may even have enough rewards points to get your cruise for free.
  • Bring your own drinks. On some cruise ships, you are able to bring your own drinks. On ours, I brought two bottles of wine and a jug of water with no problem. I didn’t have to hide anything and I openly told them I had it. Royal Caribbean allows two bottles of wine per stateroom (not per person). I do not recommend sneaking drinks on. Security checked my water jug very hard and even made me open it so that they could smell it! I had to make a promise that it was water. And it was! I still don’t think they believed me, though. If you do want to try sneaking drinks on, I’ve heard great reviews about this product on Amazon.
  • Look for drink specials. Each day on our cruise, there is an alcoholic drink special.
  • Watch the extra costs. There are tons of ways to spend extra money when cruising. However, there are probably already plenty of things to enjoy on your cruise ship that don’t cost a thing.
  • Look for free events. There have been a few events already where they offer free appetizers and drinks, such as at an art auction.
  • Don’t forget to read your daily cruising guide. I have been reading ours like crazy each day already. In each one, they list the happy hours, free events and more.
  • Wait to shop until you are nearing the end of your cruise. Towards the end, things start getting cheaper and cheaper. If you want to shop, try waiting until the last day.
  • Use budget airlines to save on your airfare.

Now, if you are looking to save money on your cruise, you could try one or even ALL of the options below (yes, there are affiliate links below, but they are all safe and I use most of the options below). You may have to accrue the exact amount of points that you need, or you may be able to split up your transactions.

Use a travel rewards credit card to get a cruise for cheap or free.

I used my Southwest card to get another free flight for this cruise. There are many cruise ships that leave from Port Everglades, which is only around 5 miles from the Fort Lauderdale airport.

You can see all of my favorite travel rewards credit cards right here.

How To Cruise For Cheap Or Even FREE!
The view from our stateroom at Port Everglades! Beautiful.

Have you been on a cruise before? What about a free Carnival cruise? What do you think of them? What’s your next vacation?

If you are new to my blog, I am all about finding ways to make and save more money. Here are some of my favorite sites and products that may help you out:

  • Start a blog. Blogging is how I make a living and just a few years ago I never thought it would be possible. I earn over $70,000 a month online through my blog and you can read more about this in my monthly online income reports. You can create your own blog here with my easy-to-use tutorial. You can start your blog for as low as $2.75 per month plus you get a free domain if you sign-up through my tutorial.
  • Sign up for a website like Ebates where you can earn CASH BACK for just spending like how you normally would online. The service is free too! Plus, when you sign up through my link, you also receive a free $10 gift card bonus to Macys, Walmart, Target, or Kohls!
  • Answer surveys. Survey companies I recommend include Survey JunkieSwagbucksAmerican Consumer Opinion, Pinecone Research, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
  • Save money on food. I recently joined $5 Meal Plan in order to help me eat at home more and cut my food spending. It’s only $5 a month (the first two weeks are free too) and you get meal plans sent straight to you along with the exact shopping list you need in order to create the meals. Each meal costs around $2 per person or less. This allows you to save time because you won’t have to meal plan anymore, and it will save you money as well!
  • Look for coupon codes. I search for coupon codes for everything. Today, I have two for you. I have a $20 Airbnb coupon code and a free taxi ride with Uber. Both are great services that I have personally used.
  • I highly recommend Credible for student loan refinancing. You can lower the interest rate on your student loans significantly by using Credible which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time.
  • Cut your TV bill. Cut your cable, satellite, etc. Even go as far to go without Netflix or Hulu as well. Buy a digital antenna (this is the one we have) and enjoy free TV for life.
  • Try InboxDollars. InboxDollars is an online rewards website I recommend. You can earn cash by taking surveys, playing games, shopping online, searching the web, redeeming grocery coupons, and more. Also, by signing up through my link, you will receive $5.00 for free just for signing up!
  • Find a part-time job. There are many part-time jobs that you may be able to find. You can find a job on sites such as Snagajob, Craigslist (yes, I’ve found a legitimate job through there before), Monster, and so on.

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. I haven’t been on a cruise before but they’re definitely on my list! It seems like once you’re on the ship, it’s a pretty straightforward and stress-free way to travel. I’ll have a look at those travel cards – one of those might be good later on for us.

    1. Yes, it is definitely a stress-free way to travel. It’s nice!

  2. great tips, paying late always helps, because you get the best deals

  3. Surely you have a perfect vacation Michelle! I had been on a cruise ship once because my father was a seaman before, it was truly an unforgettable moment for me! We met a lot of new friends there and the food was so good.

  4. Erica House

    I also haven’t been on a cruise, and not 100% sure I’d want to, but I suspect I’ll try it out someday. Thanks for the great tips!

    1. I think that if you like all-inclusive resorts, then you would probably like this. It’s pretty similar! I wasn’t sure if we would like it either, but it’s a really relaxing way to travel.

  5. Great tips, Michelle! I am slightly afraid of cruising. I hope you’ll write a review when you get back!

    1. Aww you shouldn’t be afraid!

  6. Wow – great advice here, Michelle!! We’ve never been on a cruise, but it sure would be fun one day.

  7. I LOVE CRUISES!!! We just went on an Alaskan one and it was incredible!!! We have also done Carnival and it was a lot of fun too.

    1. I really want to do an Alaskan cruise. Seems so pretty!

  8. Cruising sounds like a fun girls’ trip! I will have to try to convince my friends to do one 🙂

  9. I am really surprised about the 2 bottles per stateroom, that’s a nice feature. The last one I went on, there was a corkage fee, I think of $15/bottle, which still made it WAY cheaper than buying any wine on board. The only problem was it took 2 days to process it! If I had known that part, I would have brought more on board on day one, not waited until day 2 to start figuring out how it worked. (That was with Norweigan)

    1. Yes, it’s very nice! I brought my own bottle opener as well so I don’t have to pay the fee because I am just drinking it in my room 🙂

  10. Joshua @

    I have been on a cruise or two in my day lol. I love them. I’m not sure I’d sign up for one where drinks weren’t included though. Generally, when I take a cruise, everything is included in the price of the ticket. It’s cool that they let you take your own wine on the boat though!

    1. Royal Caribbean has a drink package, but it would have been $800 for the both of us. We haven’t really drank that much yet so it was a good idea for us to not buy it thankfully! 🙂

  11. Great tips Michelle! We’ve been on 3 cruises ourselves, and going on one over Christmas. Though, that one will be with the kiddos so that should be interesting. 😉 If we want to just completely relax, then it’s usually a cruise we’ll choose to go on as opposed to just going somewhere. We always take 2 bottles of wine on as well. It’s not a lot for a week, but it’s better than nothing.

    1. I was able to bring on two of the BIG bottles of wine. These are huge bottles and security told me they didn’t care haha! So these wine bottles should last the whole time.

  12. TB at Blue Collar Workman

    My wife and I take a free cruise every year. It’s not through credit card deals or whatever. We just sign up every year for a timeshare class. It’s a day-long class where they teach you about timeshares and then of course, spend most of the day convincing you that it’s worth your money and it’s really a good idea. It’s not. It’s just not. My wife and I stubbornly keep our ears closed when they’re talking, and we keep saying “no” when they one-on-one try to convince us. And then we get our free cruise. it’s one torturous day a year, but we get a free week-long cruise for going!

    1. Wow that is nice! Good job! 🙂

    2. Renee

      How do you find a time share cruise class? I am wanting to do a one way between anchorage and Vancouver, BC, June 2016, or visa versa. Have friends in both places. Am a single retired woman.

  13. I’m a baby when it comes to cruises, but my wife has been on a ton, so I know I’ll be going eventually. At least now I can save some money. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Welcome! You should go, it’s been a lot of fun so far.

  14. I’ve never been on a cruise, but it is something that I want to do.

  15. Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans

    Glad to hear y’all are enjoying your trip!

    1. Thank you! We’re loving it so far 🙂 We ziplined on the ship today and it was fun!

  16. We have been on two cruises. The first was a Mediterranean cruise. The other was to Bermuda. We booked the trip to Bermuda about 2 weeks before we went. We got a super deal with lots of extras. Make sure to look for perks like onboard credits and prepaid tips (the tips on most cruises are about $12 per day per person). Also look for new ships. The Bermuda cruise was the first voyage on a new ship and the company really wanted to sell out the boat. We got a great deal on our balcony room.

    1. A mediterranean cruise sounds amazing! We are currently on the Allure of the Seas, which is the newest and largest ship in the world right now. It’s nice!

  17. Melissa

    I have never been on a cruise before, but I’d really like to do one. I think I’ll be like you, too – researching everything like crazy, so much so that my family thinks I’ve already been on the cruise! Thanks for the info about free events and drink specials on the ship – I didn’t know they did that!

    1. Yes, there are so many free things on the ship! There are also a lot of free raffles, we signed up for 2 or 3 tonight already haha 🙂

  18. I didn’t know if I would like cruising either at first. We really like it though! It’s a great way to just truly relax since everything is close. I think it would be a great way to vacation if you have kids too – there is everything here for kids!

  19. Heading out on a cruise at the end of the month. Great tips about the drinks! Will keep them in mind.

    1. Have fun! Where are you going?

  20. Where are you going on your cruise? Down south or across the ocean?

    1. We are on a Caribbean cruise that started in Fort Lauderdale and it went to Labadee (a private island owned by Royal Caribbean), Jamaica, and Mexico.

      1. I’m going on something super similar, but it’s a 7 day cruise! So very excited.
        Ps- get off the internet!

        1. Ours is a 7 night/8 day cruise, so we are probably doing the same thing! haha!

          And I know, I still need to work though! 🙂

  21. Some great info here as me and my wife are considering a cruise sometime soon. Though she tends to get seasick but we’ll find a way around that hopefully! I like the idea of using the Barclay bonus for it that will take care of the majority of the price. I already got it but my wife hasn’t so that’ll be the next step.

    1. Have you two been on a cruise before? We were a little afraid of getting seasick, but we honestly can’t even feel anything. It doesn’t feel like we are on a ship at all! We were very surprised.

      1. We have never been on a cruise before so you’re right it may be just fine. In any case when we do go we’ll be packing plenty of Dramamine!

        1. Yes, that’s not a bad idea. I think cruise ships are so big these days that waves don’t really affect them.

  22. Hi Michelle!

    I haven’t been on a commercial cruise but a cruise in Egypt as part of visiting the Egyptians pyramid. Going from Cairo to Luxor. It had about 100 people on board and was lovely. I was ill for the first two days because of the hot Egyptian heat (I’m British you see), but they were great and really looked after me.

    My next vacation is to Thailand and Indonesia.I’ll be there for a month. I’m sure that it’ll be quite a lot of fun LOL!

    1. Thailand and Indonesia sound great. Have fun! 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot. ‘Will do. 🙂

  23. Tanya

    Can cruises be paid for with cash, and it can still be free, or cheap!?

    1. I don’t know if they can be paid for with cash, but possibly debit. The way to get them for free would be to use credit card rewards for them.

  24. I’ve never been on a cruise but it’s something I’d consider. I know they cruise right out of NYC, so it would be an easy commute to the ship. Only problem being, it takes several days to “cruise” to the actual destinations and then several days to come back. Are there plenty of things to do on the boat during travel days? I know the destination days you can get off the boat and do tours.

    1. We’ve actually enjoyed the cruising days a lot. On our ship, there are a TON of things to do. We have a balcony room and have been spending a lot of time on our balcony. On our ship, there are also like 20 restaurants, a track, a gym, 2 “surfing pools where you can surf or boogie board, 2 rock climbing walls, a zip line, shopping, a carousel, multiple pools and hot tubs, and more!

  25. Mariez @ Financial Debauchery

    I have lots of friends who are working on a cruise ship and I saw their pictures travelling around the world! I hope someday, I would have a chance to experience on a cruise ship too! Enjoy Michelle!

  26. I have never been on a cruise yet!! In 3 years it will be my husbands and I’s 10th anniversary and are planning on taking one. I’m sure these tips will come in handy then 🙂

    1. Yes, you should go!

  27. Julie Wood

    I am dying to go on a Cruise! It sounds like so much fun. I did not know that I could bring my own drinks on board. That sounds great. And the tips on saving money on drinks sounds great. I did not know that I could get a good deal on a Cruise. Thanks for the tips. I hope you are having a blast!

    1. Thanks! I would check with each specific cruiseline before you bring drinks just in case.

  28. I hope you have/had a blast! I love cruising, but we’re definitely loyal to Royal Caribbean, they treat us so well. Our October vacation is actually going to be a cruise that we got a killer deal on!

    1. Awesome! Where is your cruise taking you?

    2. cam

      where are u going and what is your killer deal

  29. Brenda

    Thanks for sharing with us…I will be sailing on my 11th cruise in October and as you can see I LOVE IT! I have sailed on Princess & Carnival and both of those lines allow the 2 bottles of wine as well. I have never heard of alcohol being included in the cruise fare orice…have heard of purchasing the drink package but thats it.We have smuggled alcohol on all of our cruises and have had some confiscated and othere times not. Look forward to hearing more from you.

    1. Wow 11 cruises? Awesome!

  30. Kohaku

    Oh, cruises are indeed very fun! Although the last time I was on one was when I was quite young. But I still remember so much of it! Realized on that vacation that rred heads do burn easily! Being able to swim and run around was the best. I do remember the two drinks limit due to it also being my parents vacation. Although I have a vague memory of the ocean, so it would be nice to go again!

  31. Diana Corlett

    One of the top ten on my bucket list is taking a cruise. Don’t know just where yet, but having read this article I now know something useful about “how”. My next vacation will be land-locked, within Canada, but perhaps the next or the one after that will be ‘sailing the briny sea’!

  32. Catherine R.

    I’ve been on about 10 cruises and I absolutely love them. In my opinion they are the best way to travel especially if you are with a group of people of different ages. There is so much to do on cruise ships that a person of any age could be as busy as they want to be or if you would rather just relax that’s possible too. I love that all your meals and entertainment are included so you don’t have to worry about budgeting for these.

  33. Karen Bainbridge

    I have never been on a cruise ship but have dreamt of doing it the closest I’ve been is a hovercraft and canoe!
    I would love to go up the inside passage from Vancouver to Glacier Bay, it would be glorious to sail along, wouldn’t that be fun.

  34. Karen Bainbridge

    I think that when I go on a cruise I will use Royal Caribbean as you make it sound like a good choice of cruise-line. If I were to win I would travel on any reputable cruise-line and I assume that the ones in your contests are in fact reputable ones! I plan on visiting the west coast as it is one of the ideas to do before I get too old to enjoy myself, maybe a cruise around the world? or Europe plus who could forget the Caribbean! 🙂 Thank you for all the exciting information in your blogs! 🙂

  35. Nice post you have here, Michelle.

    I really like your tips especially about free cruise using your card. It is very helpful.
    I enjoy cruise trips a lot. I can certainly indulge myself into cruising more with your tips.



  36. nicole dziedzic

    Awesome tips here, some I didn’t even think about and know, I have never even been on a cruise, would be so nice to go with the hubby one day. What a experience that would be.

  37. Cheryl

    Royal Caribbean has changed their policies regarding bringing drinks on board. We were on a cruise with them in February 2015 and many people were very angry because they brought bottled water and wine and then found out that they weren’t allowed to bring it aboard.

    1. Steven

      All cruise lines changed it to no bottled water cuz too many people were putting vodka and alcohol in their bottled water instead of water and it takes up too much time for them to check out the water

  38. Christine

    I know this is an older post but it came through on Pinterest today. I used to be a big fan of cruising – have gone 4 times. You’ve done a great job of highlighting the money-saving aspect on this post. That used to be one of prime motivators in cruising – and it’s FUN. But the last couple times we went, I started to get a sense that our fun was really on the backs of the people working on the ships. I began to become uncomfortable with this. I read an article recently that talks about some this. I’m not calling you out, just asking you to consider it like I did. I think many people simply don’t realize. Here’s the article. Have a great week.

  39. I’m getting ready to go on a Carnival cruise, this October and it will be my first. I can’t wait and your article gave me great advice and tips to use. Thanks for the info!

  40. Wise Cruiser

    Carnival allows one 750 mL bottle of wine or champagne per person to be brought on board on embarkation day. I suppose you didn’t read these “rules’ when you “sneaked” booze on board – here’s the link:

    If you can afford to cruise, you can afford the booze. No need to sneak liquor aboard; there are lots of “free booze” events, especially on embarkation day.

    Maybe you’ll get wiser the more you cruise.

  41. Wise Cruiser

    Carnival allows one 750 mL bottle of wine or champagne per person to be brought on board on embarkation day. I suppose you didn’t read these “rules’ when you “sneaked” booze on board – here’s the link:

    If you can afford to cruise, you can afford the booze. No need to sneak liquor aboard; there are lots of “free booze” events, especially on embarkation day.

    Maybe you’ll get wiser the more you cruise.

  42. Debbie Henning

    I’m trying to put together a cruise for my husband and myself to Alaska this year.
    I’m going to ask you for your expertise.
    I have two things on my bucket list that I could cross off with this cruise, the Northern Lights and a train ride.
    I understand Princess offers this train ride from the cruise. You get off ride the train and then get back on. For this I would like to know when is the best time for the Northern Lights from Alaska. (I understand you can get a much better sighting in Iceland with 70 degree weather, but another trip)
    Also what do you think of Princess (heard the best for this trip) and any tips regarding them.
    Also wanted to stay in Seattle before and after the trip, any suggestions for making this better or should I say cheaper? ( heard Hotel 5 was good)
    I know they give Military discounts (I think they still do) but I want a Balcony room for I am some what disabled (better riding in a motorized chair or faster) is there breaks there? I don’t want to invest in a balcony room and get an obstruction because I ask for a handicapped room?????
    If you could tell me how to become a travel agent I might even do that while confined to my bed.:)
    Also what’s the best rooms for seeing the land? Aft or port? I know low rooms are better for seasickness also ??? I’m sure it’s similar on any cruise line.
    If you could help me with this I would greatly appreciate it.
    Many thanks in advance!!

  43. Corinna

    I just got a call that I won a Carnival Cruise and a $100 gift card. I just have to go to a presentation for 2 hours. The lady said I can use the visa gift card anywhere. She wanted to make an appointment for the presentation but I had no time and wanted to research first. She said she won’t be able to call me back but I have the number on my phone. Before I sign up I need more info. I am a single mom with a 10 year old. She said I could keep the gift card and give the cruise away. I would go to the presentation if it is really on 2 hours because otherwise it would be to long for my daughter. Any advise? Should I go for it? I just don’t want to be trapped with expenses on my credit card. She asked if I have a major credit card and I read you have to give them the information when you go on the cruise…

  44. Cruise Tracker

    Thank you for sharing! it’s safe to say I’m absolutely hooked! I’ve experienced the wonders of both Princess and Carnival cruise lines, both of which graciously allow passengers to bring along two bottles of wine. The idea of alcohol being part of the cruise fare is new to me; I’ve only heard of the option to purchase a drink package. Our group has occasionally smuggled alcohol on board, with mixed results—sometimes it’s been confiscated, and other times we’ve been lucky. Can’t wait to hear more about your experiences!