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Cruise lines and their passengers perpetually play a subtle game of tug of war: Each line wants as much of your money as possible, while thrifty passengers want to save dollars.

In hopes of parting you from your cash, ships heavily promote duty-free shops, shore excursions, bingo games, gambling and, of course, drinking at bars, bars and more bars. No wonder ships depart early from ports: Cruise lines would rather you drop your vacation dollars on board than on shore.Some passengers, though, are beating the cruise lines at their own game, if America Online's members are any indicator. Recently I browsed AOL's Cruise Critic area, to which cruisers had been asked to submit personal tips.

Some of the respondents' niftier tips might help save you some bucks next time you sail - perhaps even pulling the tug-of-war game in your favor.

Drinks can run up your shipboard tab significantly, and the majority of tips suggest ways to save on alcohol and soft drinks. Cruise lines generally discourage bringing your own beverages, but a number of AOLers apparently manage it anyway:

- With soft drinks costing $1.50 or more (plus tip), some cruisers even bring six-packs of soda: "The room steward always has ice in the ice bucket, and not one waiter to date has ever complained when we bring the cans of soda to the dinner table. As a matter of fact, they were more than happy to fill our glasses with ice." Of course, this isn't to say the lines like this practice; the servers were probably just being polite.

- "Bring aboard or buy those large insulated sipper bottles. At mealtime, we fill them up with the free lemonade and drink it on deck."

- "Don't open that bottle of mineral water you find in your stateroom - unless you plan to pay for it. There is a charge."

Other AOL tipsters' suggestions:

- Most ships issue their own charge cards for "cashless cruising" on board, letting passengers charge drinks, purchases and excursions to their stateroom accounts. These are then paid at the end of the trip. To pay that bill, "Definitely bring a credit card! Carrying that much cash can be dangerous!"

- One AOLer uses cash to be debt-free at cruise-end. "Don't pay your shipboard account balance with a credit card. Instead, check the account daily for charges made the previous day, and pay as you go each day with cash. That way you will know exactly what you have left to spend."

- Whenever possible, get your picture taken by the ship's photographer and "look at them often in the display but don't buy any. Then on the last day, make your selections from all those taken, and only buy the most meaningful shots."

- Refrain from purchasing gift items on board until the very last day, when prices of T-shirts and most novelty items in the shops are slashed.

- One tip was succinct: "Beware of the art auctions!" The reason: The art often is overpriced, and auctions often drive prices even higher.

- To save money on shore: "Renting a car for the day to tour a Caribbean island can save a bundle over shelling out money for shore excursions. On many islands, the cost of a one-day rental is $30. The best rates are available when you book the car before departure. If you wait until your arrival in port, you may not find a car available for rent."

- "To tour an island or port city, use local taxi drivers at the dock. You will receive a more personalized tour that is usually cheaper (than the ship's excursion), and you will miss sitting in buses meant for those who are shorter than 5-foot-4."

- Finally, this tip takes a ship's "all-inclusive" policy at its word: "To save money on lunch ashore, we stock up on food from the luncheon buffet and store it in our cabin minibar. There's no charge for food aboard ship, so this always results in a free lunch, whether on a shore excursion or sightseeing solo. If our cabin doesn't have a minibar, we bring bread, cheese, meats and fruits from the breakfast buffet."