How Our Family Took A Free 5 Day Carnival Fantasy Cruise

When my wife found out she was pregnant last year, we were super happy. We were going to be parents!

Unfortunately, that meant we would have to take a break from our favorite vacation, cruising.

You can’t cruise after 20 weeks pregnant and our new son couldn’t cruise until he was at least six months old.

That meant we had to take a longer break than we would have liked.

Typically, we like to take two cruises per year. This time we took an 18 month break between cruises.

Thankfully, our cruising vacation drought came to an end recently as we embarked on a 5 day family cruise on the Carnival Fantasy.

As always, I like to detail our vacation costs here on the blog.

I like to share how we save money cruising as well as to share how affordable cruising can be, even for families. For those that aren’t familiar with the benefits of cruises, I’ll share why we enjoy them so much, too.

To make things even better, we were able to offset all of these costs and essentially take a free Carnival cruise.

Here’s exactly how much our 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise cost and how we got it for free.

Our Cruise

For our first cruise with our son, we decided to take a shorter cruise out of Mobile, Alabama because it was close to home. We figured this would be a great test to see if our son would enjoy cruising without causing any major stress.

The only option out of Mobile, Alabama was the Carnival Fantasy, Carnival’s oldest ship. We didn’t let that deter us, though. We still had a blast. In fact, the ship has been kept up very well and has even received recent upgrades.

The five day cruise included stops in Cozumel, Mexico and Costa Maya, Mexico.

We don’t really do much in port other than look around the shops because we have amazing beaches just a couple miles from home. For that reason, we didn’t really care where the cruise went. We were just ready to cruise again.

The Cost of Our Cruise

Our cruise was not during peak season so we didn’t have to pay peak cruise prices. On the other hand, this was the first time paying for a third person so our costs were higher than usual.

Yes, cruise lines charge the same price for a 6 month old as they would charge for a 21 year old. The only difference is Carnival does not require gratuities for children under the age of two.

Cruise Fare

The cruise fare for my wife and I was $344 each. Our son added an additional $129. Our total cruise fare was $817.

Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses

Each person who sails has to pay these fees. They’re the same per person no matter how many people you have in your room. For this trip, we each paid $80.30 in taxes, fees and port expenses for a total of $240.90.

Suggested Gratuities

Cruise lines says gratuities, a fancy word for tips, are optional. That said, they automatically charge the tips to your account when you’re onboard if you don’t prepay them before you leave for the cruise.

Gratuities are a part of the cruise workers’ compensation, so we definitely leave this alone and pay the $12.95 per person per day.

Gratuities aren’t required for guests under the age of two, so we only paid for my wife and I. This cost was $129.50.


We always drive to the cruise ports, so we have to find a place to leave our car while we cruise. Usually, we shop around and find parking that is cheaper than what the cruise terminal offers.

Sadly, Mobile only has one cruise ship that visits the port and the port is downtown. That meant there were no parking alternatives. We ended up paying $18 per day for a total of $90.

Voluntary Tips

When you arrive at a cruise port, you drop your bags off with a porter. The porter takes the luggage and puts it in the proper area to get loaded on the ship.

While these employees are paid an hourly rate, it is customary to tip them $1 per bag according to Carnival. We tipped $2 for our two bags.

Onboard Spending

Onboard spending can add up quickly if you like to drink. However, this cruise we didn’t drink hardly at all. My wife had a margarita and we both had a free drink we earned from the loyalty program for a total of $12.87 including tips.

We took advantage of the multiple photo opportunities to get a couple of professional family photos. We bought two photos and a CD with one of the images for $53.97.

As far as souvenirs go, my wife purchased two shirts for $20 and we bought a Christmas ornament for $12.95.

Finally, because we weren’t drinking as much, I purchased two fancy deserts for $2.59 each or $5.18 total.

We also had received onboard credit of $8.49 per person or $25.47. This brought our total onboard spending down to $79.50.

Spending In The Ports

We usually avoid buying many of the touristy items vendors sell in the ports. This time we decided to get our son a small souvenir to represent his first cruise. We found a small maraca he could use as a rattle for $1. That’s all we bought in Mexico.

Travel To And From The Port

Travelling to Mobile only cost us $27.74 in fuel costs. On the way there, we didn’t have to stop for a meal. On the return trip, we got off the cruise ship a bit later than anticipated and stopped for lunch, which cost us $11.78.

The total cost of traveling to and from Mobile was $39.52.

Items For The Cruise

Finally, we did purchase some supplies to take on the cruise. In total, we spent $25 for things like Dramamine, bottled water, soda and other items we brought with us on the cruise.

Total Cost

Adding up all of the above costs bring us to a total of $1,424.42 for our family 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise. In the end, we didn’t end up having to spend a penny of our own money to go on this wonderful vacation. Here’s how we offset the cost of our cruise.

How We Got Our Cruise For Free

Every time we shop at Walmart we use Walmart Savings Catcher to find us savings. Basically, if Walmart finds a lower price, we get the difference in a gift card. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, I wrote a whole post about it here.

We used $25 of our rewards to offset the items we bought for our cruise. We still needed $1,399.42 to pay for the rest of our cruise.

Credit Card Rewards

Credit card rewards are one of our main source of travel funds. My wife and I used regular credit card rewards and sign up bonuses to pay for our 5 day Carnival Fantasy cruise. Here’s exactly what we used.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus

For this cruise, my wife and I both signed up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. We each earned a $500 value sign up bonus for spending $3,000 on our cards within the first three months of having the cards.

In addition, we each earned $60 in regular rewards for spending the $3,000 and $23 in travel rebates for redeeming our rewards. We each earned $583 for using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card for a total of $1,166.

After using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus sign up bonuses, we still had to figure out how to pay for the last $233.42 of our cruise. It was much easier than you’d think.

Citi Double Cash

When we aren’t working toward sign up bonuses, we use our Citi Double Cash credit card to essentially earn 2% cash back on all of our purchases. Over time, we had earned hundreds of dollars in rewards.

We redeemed $233.42 to pay off the remaining cruise costs and still had some Double Cash rewards left over.

The Credit Card We Don’t Use

If you’ve ever sailed Carnival before, you might be surprised to hear I don’t use the Carnival FunPoints World Mastercard.

While the Carnival credit card does offer $100 toward Carnival travel after the first purchase, it only offers 2 points per dollar on Carnival purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. I’d rather sign up for cards that offer better sign up bonuses and rewards.

However, on this cruise I quickly learned many people don’t know about the great credit card offers available.

A representative sat in a highly trafficked area of the cruise ship offering a cheap Carnival backpack bag and a lanyard to hold your cruise key card for signing up for the card. The applications rolled in fast and furious.

If you’re going to sign up for a card, make sure you’re getting a better bonus than a cheap lanyard and backpack bag.

If you’re interested in finding credit cards to help you cruise for free, check out my curated list of the best sign up bonus credit cards, which I update monthly. I use many of these cards to help pay for our vacations.

Why We Enjoy Cruising

Now that you know how much our cruise cost and how we essentially got the cruise for free, I’d like to share why we think cruising is such a great deal.

Cruising Is Relaxing

When it comes to vacations, we like to relax. Cruises are perfect for relaxing.

Once you get on the cruise ship, you don’t have to make any major plans or decisions. You wake up in the morning, look at the activity schedule and pick what you do or don’t want to do.

We always cruise in the Caribbean, so we’re usually surrounded by beautiful water and scenery. There is something about being out on the water with nothing else in sight that is very relaxing.

As far as meals go, you have a few venues to choose from and many of them are included in your cruise fare. You don’t have to plan dinners or do dishes.

You can spend extra money and dine at a specialty restaurant or stick to the main dining room which serves great food, at least as good as the major restaurant chains.

When you get to port, you can take a pre-planned excursion or you can go explore the area on your own. Alternatively, you can stay on the ship and enjoy a very empty cruise ship.

One of our favorite things about cruising is the opportunity to disconnect.

While you can pay to get internet access onboard, we usually opt not to buy them. Instead, we enjoy the company of our family and relax without the constant smartphone notifications every few minutes.

Cruising Is Very Affordable

Our cruise cost us $1424.42 or $284.88 per day. For that price, we get a hotel, dining, entertainment and travel to foreign countries. I don’t know many other vacations that offer the same benefits cruising does at a similar cost.

As I mentioned earlier, cruising is made even more affordable by the fact that we use credit card rewards to pay our vacation bills.

If you’re interested in learning how to do the same, or would like my help using rewards to pay for a cruise, feel free to contact me. Do you like cruising or earning free vacations? Tell me your stories in the comments.

How Our New Addition To Our Family Will Affect Our Finances

In case you missed the hidden announcement in last year’s Thanksgiving post, we’ve welcomed our son to the world!

We’ve been eagerly anticipating his arrival and we’re definitely glad he’s here.

His arrival means some major changes for us, including our finances.

Here’s what we expect and what we’ve learned so far.

Baby Showers And Friends Are Amazing

The first thing we learned is baby showers and friends are amazing. We are super thankful for all of our friends and family that bought our son things he would need for the beginning of this life.

We got a ton of clothes and many other essentials that made the first few weeks of his life much less stressful. Financially, they also made the first few weeks of his life a lot less expensive, too.

In addition to things we actually needed, we got a lot of things that made our life much easier. For someone who has never had a baby before, there are a lot of expensive gadgets that I probably would never buy that have been able to save us a lot of time or headache.

Diaper Costs Will Add Up Fast

I really should have known this going in, but disposable diapers are expensive. Yes, we could use cloth diapers and save a lot of money in the process, but I’d much rather pay a bit more and not have to deal with that mess.

Thankfully, we have a membership to the local Sam’s Club and they run great deals on diapers pretty often. We’ll just have to learn how quickly we use them before we stock up during the next sale.

We Need Life Insurance

While my wife has a small amount of life insurance through work, I have no life insurance at all. In the past, I’ve always stated we didn’t need life insurance because if something happened to my wife or I, the other one of us would be fine financially.

Now that we’ve added a child into the mix, as well as a more expensive home, that is no longer the case. If one of us passed away, the other would struggle trying to raise our child and hold down a full time job.

We have enough money to last long enough to figure out what to do, but it would definitely be very stressful.

I’ll totally admit I don’t know much about life insurance, so this is something we’ll be researching in the near future. We definitely know we don’t want whole life insurance and will likely pull the trigger on a term life insurance policy.

The questions are how much do we get and how long of a term do we get. I’ll likely post more about this as we figure out what to do.

Need To Decide On College Savings

We also need to decide if we want to put aside money for our son’s future education and if we do, how we want to go about it. My parents helped me pay for half of my college costs and that was a huge help.

While I would want to help my son attend a reasonably priced college as well, I do not know what the future holds. Maybe he won’t want to go to college at all. After all, I don’t directly use anything I learned in college to be a personal finance blogger.

We’ll continue investing our money as we do now and if my son goes to college, we’ll see what we can do to help at the time.

Who knows, maybe we’ll be financially independent by the time he heads to college. If that’s the case, a little bit of work would surely help pay his way. Time will tell.

Things We Never Expected To Change Will Change

The four items listed above are just the super obvious financial changes we’ll have to deal with in the next 18+ years. I know there will be a lot more to deal with, but we’ll take them as they come.

For now, we’re just enjoying spending time together raising our son.

If you’d like to share some things we should be preparing for, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

How Much Do You Spend On Vacations?

Carnival Cruise Trip Cost ReportVacations are one of my favorite times of the year.

I know I’m not the only person that feels that way.

If you’re lucky enough to get paid time off from work you even get a paycheck while you’re relaxing on a beach or riding the roller coasters in your favorite theme park.

The sad part is we all know that vacations aren’t free unless you win a contest or pay for your vacation with credit card sign up bonuses.

Related: Disney World Trip Cost Report

Vacations Aren’t Cheap!

Vacations can be extremely expensive if you’re not careful. Many people easily overspend on vacations to make their families happy or because the particular vacation you are on is a once in a lifetime trip.

It is easy to relax your wallet at the same time that you’re trying to escape your daily life. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen to others many times in the few vacations I’ve been on.

On our last cruise (read the 7 day cruise cost report here) we saw plenty of evidence of people overspending on vacation all within about 5 minutes of each other. We were waiting in the guest services line to ask a question and overheard two people arguing with guest services about their bills.

The Crazy Bar Tab Denial

How Much A 7 Day Carnival Cruise CostsThe first was a group of three girls in expensive clothes arguing about their bar tab. They were certain there was no way they charged $700 of drinks in just 4 days.

The funny part was it wasn’t $700 between the three of them, it was around $700 each! Insane! If I had to guess, they probably did charge the drinks and were just trying to get out of it once they saw the bill.

Maxed Out Credit Card Denial

The second example of overspending on vacation was a lady who was asking why she couldn’t charge any more money on her onboard cruise ship account. The guest services clerk had to explain that she had maxed out her credit card at her limit of $7,000.

The cruise ship representative told the cruiser that they could put cash on the card or give a different credit card to make more charges. The guest argued with the guest service clerk for a while, but eventually left without giving another card or cash for future purchases.

Take On Debt To Go On Vacation? No Thanks!

PHoneymoon Cruise Trip Cost Reportersonally, I don’t think anyone should take on debt to go on vacation. While I will charge my purchases on a credit card when I’m on vacation, I always ensure I have enough cash to pay my credit card bill in full as soon as I get home.

Plus I get rewards for money I would have spent anyway so it is a win-win for me.

So how do you determine how much to spend on vacations? It all depends on your values and how much value you place on getting away versus living your everyday life.

Personally, we put aside a set amount of money every paycheck for any vacation we’d want to take. Once we have enough money in the account we get to go on the vacation, assuming we can get the time off from work together.

I Want To Know! How Much Do You Spend On Vacation?

I am extremely curious when it comes to average vacation spending so I thought who better to ask than you!

How much do you spend on vacation? How much do you spend in dollars or a percentage of your income? What does a typical vacation include for you? Do you use a particular method to save for your vacations such as saving up credit card rewards?

Our 7 day honeymoon Carnival cruise trip cost report, Disney World cost report and 5 day Carnival cruise trip cost report show how much we spend on our vacations.

All photos by Tori.

Big News! We’re Having A Baby And What It Means For Our Finances!

So, I have some huge news to share today.

Tori and I are excepting our first child to be born later this year!

We’re super excited and, at the same time, we know a huge change is coming for us.

Life Changes Thanks To Baby

Adding a child is actually one of the reasons we’re making so many changes in our life this year.

As I mentioned before, we’re selling our current house, selling our rental property and building our dream home, well the dream home that we can afford. Our real dream home would be beachfront!

We didn’t make these decisions lightly. In fact, we spent quite a bit of time making each decision.

Selling the rental was an easy decision because I worried about it too much. I didn’t want to have to deal with it without a child, so adding a child to the mix made selling it an easy decision.

Buying our dream home and selling our current house was a much larger decision. We ultimately decided that since I now work from home, we would end up needing a house with a bit more space at some point in the next few years.

Instead of waiting, we decided to move ahead to a home that was a better fit for us now while interest rates are still near historic lows.

Of course, they may be near lows for years to come, but if interest rates rose just two or three percent in the next few years housing would become much more expensive for us so we decided to go ahead and make the leap now.

Financial Changes Thanks To Baby

Adding a baby to the family has huge implications on our family finances.

We’ll have a larger house payment once our new home is built, but we already have that figured into our budget. We’ll also have to start paying more for health insurance and anything the baby needs like diapers, etc.

A couple of major financial to-dos that we have on our list is getting life insurance and writing a will. These tasks aren’t fun but they will need to get done.

Those aren’t the only changes. Adding a baby and a larger house payment means we need to reevaluate our emergency fund.

We personally keep our emergency fund filled with six months of expenses, but now with these additions our expenses will be increasing. That means our emergency fund needs to increase, too.

Thankfully, selling a few items in preparation for our move in addition to our regular income has already allowed us to increase our emergency fund to our new estimated six months worth of expenses post baby.

We may have to adjust it some more after the baby is born, but we’ve got a good chunk of the money we need to save already put away.

Waiting For The Unknowns

While we’ve known of the above changes, I’m absolutely positive there will be a ton of things that need to be done that we haven’t thought of yet. There will also be expenses we didn’t dream of.

We won’t be able to think of everything, but, luckily, we still have plenty of time to figure all of this out. Whatever we don’t figure out in advance we’ll figure out on the fly and it’ll all work out in the end.

We’re excited! I’m sure you’ll see some of the lessons we learn over the next months and years here on Money Manifesto. Hopefully they help you!

How Much Is A Cruise? Here’s How Much A Cheap Cruise Cost Us

First time cruising? Have you ever wondered how much is a cruise like a 5 day Carnival cruise? I kept track of my expenses to share with you. Check out my trip report detailing our travel expenses and cruise tips on (Hint: It is much higher than the cruise fare you are initially quoted when shopping). Have you ever wondered how much a cruise really costs? I’m going to give you a hint.

It is much more than the list price you see when you’re looking into booking your first cruise.

Cruises like these are a great value, but you need to be prepared for all of the costs.

Here is a breakdown of all of the costs we paid on our first ever cruise.

How Much Is A Cruise?

The most obvious cost of the cruise is the cruise ticket itself, but you can save a significant amount of money by using a service like Cruise Direct.

Since I went on this cruise with my girlfriend (now wife) we bought two tickets.

Each room requires you to pay for the price of two tickets, at a minimum, so if you’re planning on having a room to yourself expect to pay 150-200% of the listed price per ticket.

We went for the cheapest class of stateroom which is the interior class. We didn’t plan on spending a ton of time in our room so we didn’t feel like we needed to pay money for extra space or a window.

Due to the fact that we booked early there were a few rooms available that were in the interior class but actually had two porthole windows. We definitely took advantage and booked these rooms at no extra cost above the price of a normal interior ticket.

Originally, we paid $279 for each ticket or $558 total. We managed to get $80 refunded to my credit card and $80 in on board credits due to the Early Saver program, which saved us $160 dollars.

This resulted in a total cost of $478 charged to my credit card for the cruise tickets themselves. After accounting for the $80 in on board credit the ticket price of our cruise was $398.

Taxes and Port Fees

You don’t get away that fast though! You’re also responsible for taxes and port fees which must be paid prior to the pay off date. I’m not sure what taxes are included as this cost wasn’t itemized.

I do know that each port you stop in charges a port fee which the cruise line passes on to their guests. Taxes and port fees totaled $84.60 each or $169.20 total for the two tickets.

Traveling To and From the Port

We saved some money in this area by traveling with my parents who were going on the cruise as well. We split the cost of gas, tolls and the hotel for the night before the cruise.

I ended up paying $60.00 in gas, $6.60 in road tolls and $62.44 for the hotel after splitting these costs with my parents.

While traveling we stopped for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the way to our hotel. We had some bad service at dinner so the general manager gave us our meal free. The server did a good job, so we still left a tip.

We only stopped for lunch on the way home from the cruise. I spent $46.38 on food on the way to and from the cruise for both my girlfriend (now wife) and I. We spent a total of $175.42 on traveling to and from the cruise.

Arrival at the Departure Port

We arrived at the port and dropped our luggage off with the porter. It is customary to tip the porter $1 per bag so we paid him $2 for our two bags.

In addition to porter tips, my parents had to park their car. Parking at the port cost $15 a day and totaled $90 for the six days we parked the car at the port.

We could have parked off site and taken a shuttle but my parents have had a bad experience with that in the past. I paid half for the parking making our port arrival costs $47.

Visiting Ports

Even though you’ve paid the port docking fees there isn’t any entertainment included in what you’ve paid. We went on a history tour and snorkeling trip that included lunch at our first port in the Bahamas.

The excursion cost us $99 each or $198 total for the two of us. We did pay a premium as we organized the trip through Carnival Cruise Line.

The excursion came with guarantees that the ship wouldn’t leave without us if something happened on our excursion along with other nuances. We didn’t want to run into any problems as first time cruisers.

In our second and third ports, we just walked around the city. We stopped in all of the various touristy shops near the port. We only bought a straw fan for $6 and a souvenir t-shirt for $17. The T-shirt was a purchase we had planned prior to leaving for our on the cruise.

In total we spent $221 on in port activities. Think we’re close to being done on cruise spending? Nope, not yet!

On Board Drinks, Food and Entertainment

My parents helped subsidize our costs in this spending category. They had bought us a first cruise gift package. The package included 4 drink tickets worth $5.75 each and a photo voucher worth $15, along with other gifts.

In addition to the $23 in drink vouchers we spent an additional $12.08 on drinks. We considered ourselves lucky compare to many of people on the ship who constantly drank.

Drinks cost about $7 to $11 per drink. Additionally, there is a mandatory 15% gratuity charged on top of to the advertised drink prices.

On the first day of the cruise my girlfriend (now wife) won an $89 off certificate to the spa on the cruise ship.

She had always wanted a massage so she splurged for a hot stone massage that ended up costing $65 after the discount, which is probably similar to what we’d pay locally for a massage so it wasn’t a horrible deal.

We ordered room service for breakfast a few times. It is customary to tip the room service waiters, too. We ended up spending $8 on room service tips.

There was a casino on board the cruise ship! I had always wanted to try playing blackjack but it was $6 a hand. I did decide to play three separate times. The first time I won $6 and the second time I won $16. Sadly, I lost the $30 I brought the third time I played.

Overall I lost $8 playing blackjack for a couple hours but I had a lot of fun. That isn’t too bad for entertainment dollars per hour. It could have been a lot worse though.

In total we spent $93.08 on board the ship for drinks, food and entertainment.

Pictures, Gifts and Other On Board Purchases

Every evening there are professional photographers begging you to let them take your picture. We had the photographers take a few pictures taken both on the casual and formal nights.

The pictures cost us $16.99 after accounting for the $15 voucher from my parents. Getting our pictures taken on the cruise ship was cheaper than getting a professional photo session back at home.

We bought some duty and tax free alcohol at a large discount compared to the prices back home. It set us back $49.98 but saved us money as we would have eventually purchased it at home for a much higher cost. We also purchased a t-shirt for a gift that was only $4.88.

We discovered we weren’t drinking enough water so we bought a reusable water bottle for $6.50 to make sure we had water available to stay hydrated.

In total, we spent $78.35 on miscellaneous on board purchases. We did end up with a $13.96 on board credit for some reason so this brought our total down to $64.39 in this category.

Gratuities – Just When You Thought It Was Over There is More

Carnival adds gratuities on your statement on the last night of the cruise. They charge $11.50 per person per day which totaled $115.00 for us. We did pay this in advance of our cruise. That way we didn’t have to worry about it while we were cruising.

Carnival has since raised their gratuity prices to $12.95 per person per day.

You don’t have to pay the gratuities if you don’t want to, but the crew do rely on them as a large part of their compensation.

If you had any problems with your service or don’t feel you should have to pay that much you can go to guest services and reduce the gratuity amount on the last day of your cruise. We had outstanding service so we didn’t adjust our gratuity payments at all.

Finally Done

That’s it! Not a short list at all. So, how much does a cruise cost? We ended up spending $1,283.09 which really isn’t that bad for a 5 day cruise. In fact, it is only $256.62 per day or $128.31 per person per day.

Related: Want to Cruise for Free? Here’s How to Use Credit Cards for Free Cruises!

When you consider the fact that you get lodging, all the food you care to eat at three decent meals a day, entertainment and the chance to visit foreign countries the price really isn’t that bad at all. 

We could have easily spent double that and I’m going to venture some people spent double that on just their cruise cabin. Hopefully I’ve enlightened you to some of the other expenses on cruises so you can budget for them better for your first cruise. You no longer have to wonder how much for a cruise like our five day Carnival cruise.

If you have any questions or comments about the cost or have a cruise experience you’d like to share please leave a comment below! How much are cruises that you go on?

Photo by: James Willamor Text added by: Lance Cothern