Compared to other travel options, cruise vacations can offer great value due to their more inclusive nature. Visiting a land resort or hotel, travelers pay for the room and often the price turns out to be more than they anticipated, once taxes and fees are added. Once there, visitors have to eat, find things to do and get around the city they are visiting too. On most cruise vacations, all that is included in the price. Still, there are other parts of the cruise experience not mentioned in advertising that while desirable, cost more and can add up fast.
Here are the most common optional expenses that indeed do need to be considered when calculating the total price of cruise travel:
Gratuities- In the early days of cruising, this was done on the last night of the cruise when passengers would show their appreciation for a job well done, handing appropriate crew members envelopes with cash inside. Today, cruise lines break this down for passengers in advance adding between $10 and $12 or more per person, per day on to their onboard charge account. On a seven-day sailing for a family of four, that’s about $300 more to the total price of the cruise.
Easy Control Tip: Pay these in advance and consider gratuities just part of the price paid for the cruise.
Shore Excursions- Most major ocean cruise lines charge extra for shore excursions; the organized tours that go ashore. The cost per person on these can vary widely from $30 per person for a quick bus tour of a port of call in the Caribbean to $hundreds for flightseeing in Alaska. The good news is that most cruise line websites have detailed information and pricing on these shore excursions available in advance, to help budget what can be a big ticket item, not included in the price.
Easy Control Tip: Make a list of two or three excursions at each port as well as any ‘just walk off the ship and enjoy the beach’ options along with pricing and let those going vote for which one they find the most interesting at each port with the total for all equalling or less than the budget you set.
Spa Treatments– Every ocean cruise line has a spa, usually connected to their exercise center. Onboard treatments can include everything from a haircut to a manicure or a variety of massages, skin treatments and lifestyle classes. All cost extra and often up to twice the price that the same service might be offered for on land. On a recent sailing we saw a manicure and pedicure combination advertised for $95. That was a sale price available only when the ship was in port. On land, we pay between $20 and $40 for the same treatment. Still, there’s something to be said for a massage the first day on the ship, just to get that cruise vacation off on the right track.
Easy Control Tip: Do spa treatments on days when the ship is docked and most passengers are off the ship on excursions. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon are the best times so you can enjoy going ashore also.
Casino Action- On cruise ships with casinos on board, like casinos on land, this is an item that can add up fast too. Savvy cruise travelers budget a certain amount to play with for each day of the sailing. Gaming lessons, available on board most cruise ships, as well as other complementary casino events can help lower this extra expense.
Easy Control Tip/Cruise Gambling System: Have an envelope for each day of the cruise to put budgeted casino funds in. At the end of the day, cash out and put (hopefully a lot of) winnings in that same envelope. Run out during the day? You’re done. No borrowing from other days.
Alcoholic Beverages and Soft Drinks– Many cruise lines charge extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages but pricing is available online that can help with budgeting. Premium cruise lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Viking River Cruises and others, include soft drinks and paired wines with meals as part of the deal. Many other lines have all-you-can-drink packages that can add up to considerable savings for those that drink a lot.
Easy Control Tip:Take advantage of all opportunities to reduce the onboard expense of drinking like bringing bottles of wine, soft drinks and/or bottled on board during embarkation. Champagne Art Auctions = free champagne for those in attendance.
Travel Insurance– An optional charge on any cruise vacation, travel insurance of some kind is always a good idea. Where we buy it is another matter altogether. Cruise lines all have their versions, which can be added to the cruise fare and paid along with the price of the cruise. Third-party sources like TravelGuard, recommended by experts as the way to go, can be both cost efficient and provide customizable coverage. Comparing cruise line coverage to third-party sources on a cost and coverage basis, older travelers often come out ahead buying via the cruise line while younger travelers get a better value with third-party sources.
Easy Control Tip:Always check with your personal insurance agent first, the person who might handle your auto, home, health or life insurance. That trusted source will have guidance for you.
Spending Off The Ship– Other than the price of Shore Excursions, cruise travelers often choose to go ashore for shopping which is often duty-free and can offer some good savings compared to U.S. land-based shopping options. A stop by a sidewalk cafe for coffee, a drink or two or maybe lunch should also be considered.
Easy Control Tip: “Duty-Free” is not what it once was. Take a good hard look at that bottle of liquor in the duty-free store and be sure it is worth the savings compared to the local liquor store at home.
Optional Dining Venues-Generally included in the price of the cruise is an upscale main dining room experience, a buffet of some kind and 24-hour room service. In addition, some optional dining venues, called “alternative dining,” are available for a nominal charge for those who want something different. Those can run anywhere from $5 per person to $50 or more but, to many cruise travelers, offer one of the best values of all the optional charges. All can be researched in advance and many can be reserved in advance too. Royal Caribbean, for example, has 150 Central Park on their Oasis-class vessels that offers one of the best dining experiences ever on land or sea for $40 per person additional.
Easy Control Tip: All alternative dining venues are priced and described on the individual cruise line web site. See what they cost and build that amount into your onboard budget
Parking- Cruise lines have made it easy to sail, deploying ships at home ports scattered around the United States. In the olden days of cruise travel, most ships sailed from a Florida port, making airfare a serious consideration in the total cost of a cruise vacation. Driving to the port eliminates that cost but parking can add up too. Storing your car in a secured, covered lot at the cruise port can cost between $15 and $20 per day, an extra $100 to $150 on top of the fare paid. Satellite lots at most cruise ports with a shuttle to and from the ship are available at reduced prices.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Stays– Experienced cruise travelers know that coming in to the embarkation port where the sailing begins a day early is a good idea. This is especially true when flying from a northern U.S. location to a southern U.S. embarkation port in the winter, when flight delays due to weather are a real possibility. As airfare prices rise and more cruise travelers look for ways to save, flying stand-by is becoming more popular too, demanding travel a day or two in advance of sailing, just so they don’t “miss the boat.”
Easy Control Tip:Most cruise port-oriented hotels have Cruise and Snooze, Fly and Cruise, or Drive and Cruise specials that include transfer to and from the cruise port.
InternetFees– This one can add up really fast. Internet access on cruise ships can cost up to $.75 per minute. The best value will be on the largest packages available and can cut that cost in half on a per-minute basis. Equally important to consider when budgeting for Internet access at sea is the reliability and speed of the ship’s Internet system. In other words, it is often not how much you pay but what you get out of it that counts.
Easy Control Tip: To get the most out of your Internet access dollars, pick a new ship or recently remodeled ship with the latest satellite system installed. Also, stop by the ship’s Internet cafe and ask the crew members working there one simple question: “What do I need to do on this ship to get the most out of your Internet connection?” A frank answer will greatly maximize your online experience.