Hidden Expenses of Cruising: Essential Tips for Budgeting

Hidden Expenses of Cruising: The fact that so much is included in the cost of cruising is one of its biggest draws. In addition to a room on a ship, those $499 weekly rates that you see advertised also include meals and entertainment. In addition, the ship provides free transportation, taking you wherever you need to go.

However, cruises aren’t always all-inclusive. You will pay extra for many small items (and some large things) on many ships.

Some of the items that are extra-charged are extra. For example, you will typically have to pay extra for guided shore excursions or treatments at onboard spas.

However, an increasing number of ships also have additional expenses that may come as a surprise to you, especially if you haven’t traveled on a ship in a long time.

For example, room service used to always be free, but some lines now charge extra for it. Some menu items in the “free” main dining area now have an additional cost on specific ships.

Hidden Expenses of Cruising: Port charges, fees, and taxes

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(Credit: Nassau Cruise Port)

The extra-fee shocks at many lines begin even before you board the ship.

One that you will probably come across initially is a levy for “taxes, fees, and port charges.” During the booking process, it will show up on your final billing, and it frequently costs hundreds of dollars per person.

It can cause a sailing to cost far more than it seems at first.

For example, Carnival Cruise Line was offering four-night cruises to Mexico out of Los Angeles starting at $179 per person as of the date of this article.

That does not, however, include the $118.65 in taxes, fees, and port costs. That means that the actual beginning price of the cruise is 66% higher than what the line states in the fine print on their website.

All of the expenses that nations, states, cities, and ports impose on ships and their occupants are covered under the taxes, fees, and port charges section on invoices, which the line then passes along to you.

There is no way to avoid these costs. Before committing to a certain voyage, you can, however, approach the booking procedure with an open mind by looking for such fees in the fine print on booking websites.

Costs of using the Internet

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Given that many hotel companies now provide free internet, it would make sense for cruise lines to do the same. Cruise ships are essentially floating hotels, after all. Generally speaking, however, complimentary wifi is available only on the most upscale cruise lines (as well as many river lines).

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You may occasionally have to pay outrageous prices for internet connection at several well-known cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess Cruises. For example, the quickest service on a Carnival ship costs $18.70 per passenger every day. Compare that to the monthly cost of your home internet service.

Waiting until you’re at a port to check your emails, read the news online, and use the internet for other purposes is one approach to avoid the expenses. Free wifi is frequently available at the cruise terminal where your ship docks as well as in a nearby cafe or restaurant.

Another choice is to sign up for one of the less expensive internet plans that include access restrictions. For example, Carnival offers a less expensive “social” plan that costs $12.75 per day and grants access to popular social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and messaging apps like WhatsApp, but not much else. It might be all you require.

Take note of the fact that these internet fees appear to be doing nothing but growing. Carnival’s social plan now costs $12.75, which is 37% higher than it did two years ago.

‘Convenience’ fees for room service

On cruise ships, free room service used to be normal, but an increasing number of lines now charge extra for it.

For example, Royal Caribbean, the largest cruise line in the world based on passenger capacity, now charges a $7.95 “service charge” per order for room service, even if you just order one side of fried browns.

In addition, and this may really irritate you, it tacks on an 18% “gratuity fee” to the service charge as a precaution. We think that fee-on-top-of-a-fee system is ridiculous, just for the record. Simply state that you will bill us $9.38.

A $9.95 “convenience charge” is currently applied for room service on Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the other lines that has begun to charge for it. This year, Celebrity Cruises also introduced a $9.95 room service fee for everything but continental breakfast. Similar to Royal Caribbean, Celebrity tacks on an 18% gratuity cost to that amount. We view this to be an absurd situation—an additional service charge on top of already high service fees.

Avoiding these costs is as easy as not ordering room service.

Food is almost always free on many ships and may be found in a variety of locations close to your accommodation, from quick bite restaurants to casual buffets. To get it, you just need to take a quick stroll from your cabin.

Charges for drinks

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(Credit: CruiseExperts)

On cruise ships, meals are usually provided (in certain onboard restaurants, at least), but most drinks (not just alcoholic ones) are expensive.

Coke and bottled water are often extra aboard ships (although strangely enough, coffee, iced tea, lemonade, and hot chocolate are frequently free). Depending on the line, a Coke might cost anywhere from $2 to $4.

The luxury lines are an exception, as they usually include all types of drinks in the fare. Many river lines will serve a variety of beverages with their lunches and dinners, such as wine and beer.

Think about getting a drinks bundle if you’re a heavy drinker. If you typically order a lot of drinks each day, this can save you money. Nevertheless, the cost of drink packages has increased recently; one of the largest lines is currently charging $138 per day for its most expensive drink package.

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Corkage cost

Speaking of beverages, a lot of cruise lines let you bring your own wine or champagne on board, though typically only in small amounts. If you choose to do so, watch where you sip it. Depending on where you crack open your own bottle, you may have to pay $15 or more for corkage.

When guests choose to open their own bottles in dining areas, bars, lounges, and other aboard locations, cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Princess charge corkage fees.

Opening your wine or champagne in your room and either drinking it there or carrying it about the ship in an unremarkable glass is the only way to avoid paying this price.

It’s not like this always works: even if you want to drink your own wine in your hotel, Norwegian levies a $15 corkage fee. As soon as you board the vessel carrying a bottle, it will start charging.

Lazy days in adult-only regions cost money

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(Credit: Cruise critic)

Many of the largest cruise companies take great pride in the adult-only relaxation spaces on their ships, where you can get away from the kids. What they occasionally fail to mention, though, is that you’ll frequently be charged for the ability to enter a designated area free of children.

For example, Princess charges $20 for a half-day entry to the adults-only lounge area called Sanctuary, which is available on most of its ships (a full-day pass costs $40 per person).

On certain of its ships, Norwegian features an adult lounge area called Vibe Beach Club. A day admission for this area can cost an outrageous $99 per person (or $278 for two if you want a cabana). At $209 per person, week-long passes are a better value.

If the thought of having a private deck area for adults only appeals to you but you’re not willing to pay for it, you may want to consider ships from Carnival and Disney Cruise Line. Passengers can access adult-only areas on both lines for no additional cost.

Or think about taking a trip with Virgin Voyages or Viking. neither permits children, therefore all of the ship’s lounge areas are off-limits to children.

Fees for some of the ‘free’ dining room’s menu items

Unlimited Dining Package on royal Caribbean
(Credit: Royal Caribbean)

It’s a well-known fact about sailing that there’s usually a complimentary lunch someplace on board. Except for the tiniest ships, all of them typically have a major dining room that is covered by the ticket as well as a buffet restaurant where breakfast, lunch, and supper are always free of charge.

But some lines have started slipping extra fees into these “free” restaurants in recent years.

In its main restaurants, Carnival and Royal Caribbean now charge extra for filet mignon, lobster, or a surf-and-turf combo dish. The cost of a dish varies from about $17 to more than $30.

for times, Princess transforms its complimentary buffet area into a “crab shack experience,” offering premium dishes including snow crab, big shrimp, clams, and mussels for a steep cost.

To stay away from this, get the chicken.

The cost of using spa facilities

More and more cruise ships are equipped with opulent spas that extend far beyond the treatment areas.

Expansive “thermal suites” featuring thalassotherapy pools, saunas, steam rooms, heated loungers, rain showers, and even snow rooms (complete with actual snow) are available for you to spend the day in. However, many vessels charge a hefty fee just to enter one of these regions.

At its spas, Norwegian charges $199 per person per week for a thermal suite pass (day passes are available for $49). Daily fees are also charged by lines like Cunard and Carnival for use to thermal suites.

The good news is that not all shipboard thermal suites are extra-expensive. Rapidly expanding Viking has made thermal suite access free of charge a signature feature of the brand.

The cost of entering popular attractions

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(Credit: Planet Cruise)

There are additional costs associated with some of the popular attractions aboard large cruise ships, like Anthem of the Seas by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Encore.

The much-heralded go-cart track at Norwegian Encore (one of the few ones at sea) costs $15 for a single eight-lap ride. You can play laser tag nearby on the ship for $10 for five minutes. A weeklong pass is available in both situations, but only if you’re willing to pay an additional $199 for each person.

On the other hand, Royal Caribbean charges an additional fee for a 60-second flying experience on the skydiving simulator onboard Anthem of the Seas (after one complimentary trip). On one of its more recent ships, the Carnival Panorama, the cost of a two-hour instruction in the kitchen classroom may reach $59, with an additional 18% gratuity.

Additional cruise ship attractions that frequently have an additional fee include escape rooms, wine tastings, IMAX theater performances, and behind-the-scenes excursions.

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Fees for fitness classes

Gym Equipment on cruise
(Credit: Cruise Critic)

Although your cruise ship ticket will grant you access to the health center, it does not entitle you to free fitness classes. Yoga, Pilates, spinning, and other similar classes cost $10 or more on many ships.

It’s not always like that. River lines, luxury lines, and adult-only Virgin Voyages frequently offer fitness lessons at no additional cost. You should budget extra for most mass-market ships, though.

If you plan to take a lot of fitness classes while on vacation, you might want to think about upgrading to a higher-end cruise line where the cost of the price includes fitness classes in addition to other extras.

Automatically gratuities

They’re known as service fees by some cruise lines. Some refer to them as gratuity charges. In any case, the daily surcharges that some cruise lines add to their bills may surprise first-time passengers.

These fees can reach $25.50 per day at some lines. Additionally, they are not per room like the standard service fee or resort fee seen at a land-based resort. They apply to each individual.

A family of four traveling in a single cabin on major lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian may find that their bill includes service costs of between $70 and $80 a day (Royal Caribbean just increased their service charge to $72 per day for a family of four). That comes out to almost $500 in fees for a family of four on a standard seven-night cruise.

Do you wish to stay away from these fees? One way to get around them is to reserve a cruise during one of the regular sales events that certain cruise lines hold, wherein service costs are waived.

Another choice is to go with one of the increasing number of lines whose service fees are already included in the base fares.

Azamara, Ponant, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, Seabourn, SeaDream Yacht Club, Silversea Cruises, and Virgin Voyages are among the cruise lines that now incorporate gratuities in their prices.

Cruise lines with few additional fees

If you would prefer a more inclusive cruise experience rather than fumbling with workarounds, consider scheduling a trip with one of the luxury cruise lines, such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, or Seabourn. Most luxury lines provide practically everything in their base prices, including gratuities and a variety of drinks.

Naturally, the tickets for luxury lines are significantly greater than those of popular companies like Princess, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean. Sometimes, though, the price difference isn’t quite as big as it seems when you start accounting for all the additional costs you’ll incur on a less all-inclusive line.

Numerous budget-conscious river cruise lines are renowned for their inclusion. For example, even mid-range river cruise lines frequently provide shore excursions in each port. Many provide wine, beer, and soda for free with lunch and dinner.

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