Last June, I booked Carnival Freedom’s 12-day Mediterranean itinerary leaving from Civitavecchia, Italy. With the low dollar-to-euro exchange rate, Europe is a very expensive destination for Americans. Fortunately there are some creative ways to save money on a cruise and one big way is to make friends before you board the ship.

Cruise Critic camaraderie

If you are booked on a cruise and want to find folks to tour with, Cruise Critic’s Roll Call forums are the place to connect. There are individual forums for each cruise ship, where each sailing date is listed. Fellow passengers will then post that they are sailing and many often note that they are looking for other guests to share the costs of a private tour guide.

After perusing the “Roll Call” for my sailing, I discovered a post from a guest looking to share the cost of a tour in Rome along with transportation to the ship. It seemed ideal so I posted a note saying I was interested. After weeks of e-mailing back and forth our group tour was set. The Aquinos from Los Angeles, the Trandels from Chicago, and the Potters from Pittsburgh would meet at the Vatican for a day long tour and ride to the ship.

The Aquinos had taken charge from the beginning with organizing the bus, guide, and tour. They figured out the number of passengers needed along with the costs. Like the Trandels, my family and I found it a great way to meet fellow passengers while at the same time saving money.

The price for a similar tour and transfer through the cruise line was several hundred dollars per person; however, our private tour split amongst ten people ended up being around $150 per person. Best of all we were a small group not en masse with a hundred fellow cruisers.

I have to say upon meeting my fellow “Roll Call” friends I felt like I had known them for a long time and the comfort level was immediate. It was terrific to have our own private guide in a sea of wall-to-wall tourists.

Our guide Daniela Piermattei Taennler had a master’s degree in symbology – in other words she’s the female version of Robert Langdon from the “Da Vinci Code.”

She pointed out lots of little things along the tour of the Vatican that we would not have known otherwise. It was a very cerebral tour of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, something I cannot fathom a large cruise tour group being able to experience.

After our group parted ways with Daniela the driver was on time to pick us up for the ninety minute drive to the ship docked in Civitavecchia. It was a long, hot afternoon and we were thrilled to have a cool mini bus with plenty of room to stretch out. It could not have turned out better.

Making “Roll Call” connections

The popularity and usefulness of the “Roll Call” forums is no surprise to Laura Sterling, Cruise Critic’s community manager. “Our Roll Call forums have become the place on the Web for cruisers to meet one another before they sail and we have forums for just about every cruise line sailing today,” says Sterling. She goes on to say that over the years she’s heard stories about members who have met on the “Roll Call” forums and have continued to sail together ever since.

So, how can you save on your next cruise? Simply register to be a member of Cruise Critic’s forums.

But before doing so keep in mind some important advice. Invent a screen name that does not give out your real name. For example, providing your full name and the city you live in would make it very easy for someone to locate you. Keep in mind that all public information you share on a forum can be viewed by anyone with access to the Internet. This includes information that you might post, your board profile or signature. So if you’re sharing personal information that you wouldn’t want everyone to see, you might want to think twice before posting.

Cruise Critic’s “Roll Call” forums are very friendly. Lurk for awhile on a post until you feel comfortable. If you find someone on your cruise looking for tour buddies respond with a post stating that you are interested. Then when details need to be hashed out take the conversation off the boards and discuss via e-mail or phone.

There are many wonderful benefits to participating in an online community with like-minded cruisers. As I discovered, not only was it a great way to save some money, but my family and I found some terrific people to share a great tour with – we will always remember them fondly.