Cruising 101 Part 6: Hidden Costs

March 23, 2021



As we previously blogged, cruising is a great addition to your vacation repertoire. But, many cruisers have been unpleasantly surprised with hidden costs that could have been avoided or even reduced. Most people believe that paying for a cruise includes everything, like an all-inclusive resort. Look out for these "extras" so that you can plan efficiently and economically.

1. Getting there: 

*When you sail from a port near your home city, these are called "no fly" cruises.  But, you still have to get to the port: by hired car (cab, Lyft, Uber, Curb, etc), parking your car or getting a ride. Also, you have to plan for any tolls. 

*Savings: Parking at the pier generally runs $15-$25/per day. Still cheaper than a flight, especially if there is more than one person. 


2. Beverages: 

* What's included: water at the buffet, coffee, tea, lemonade, unsweetened iced tea, & juice for breakfast. For some people, that's enough. 

Not included: soft drinks, alcohol, juice bars & specialty coffees and teas (like lattes).There are also juice bars, specialty coffee bars and robot bartenders. 

What you can bring onboard: canned soft drinks, baby formula, one bottle of wine per adult per cabin. 

What you cannot bring: your own water in bottles, anything that can be opened and re-closed, like cardboard containers with screw caps and any alcohol bought on shore or in the gift shops (they will confiscate it until the last evening or morning). 

What you need to know: the alcohol packages can add up to almost $400-$500 for one person but all adults in the cabin have to buy the package, which means an extra $800-$1000 on your account before you even buy a souvenir magnet. Drinks range from $6 - $15. If you have 3 a day, for a 7 day cruise, you may still spend around $200 less. Consider carefully if you will drink enough to warrant the package (most cruise lines have put a limit to 12-15 drinks a day). 

*Savings: Bring an empty water bottle and use the cups provided to refill your water bottle (don't put your bottle to the spout of the dispenser). Bring your own tea bags if you like herbal. 

3. Onboard activities:

*trivia games, lido deck parties, most shows, comedy routines, etc. are generally included. There may be a surcharge for some of the upper scale activities, such as wine tastings, the flow rider, ice bars, the arcade, behind the scene tours. The spa and hair salons will cost extra. 

*Savings: choose one special activity per cruise. Attend as many free activities as possible to maximize what you paid. And restrict the kids' spending on your account so that they don't swipe out your life savings in the arcade. Also, the fitness room, miniature golf, table tennis, shuffle board and most sports complexes are almost always free. Have fun and get in shape at the same time.


4. Excursions: 

*Once you dock at ports on the itinerary, you will want to do an activity. There are a slew of excursions for sale by the cruise line. 

*The advantages are: if they cancel the activity, your money will be refunded; if the excursion is late returning, the ship will wait for you; and the companies have been vetted or verified as legit by the cruise line company. 

*The downside is that they are more expensive than planning one yourself and you can feel like a school field trip with very limited freedom to explore on your own. Also, many of these trips are by bus and your contact with the local area is very touristy. 

*Savings: The most economical way is to tour the city on foot or rent a car. However, if you are wary of foreign countries, stick with the area near the pier or do an organized excursion. 

*But for the adventurous, rent a car, get a map and head out. See our article here: Cruising 101: Part 5, Plan Your Own Excursions.

5. Gratuities: 

*Tips used to be voluntary but they seem to be mandatory on many cruise lines. However, many cruise lines will adjust the automatic gratuity that will be added to your account if you ask. They will probably ask you for a reason because they want to be sure that it's not because of the service. 

*Savings: Pre-pay when you book your passage so that your account doesn't start with a balance. Bring some cash and give your cabin steward and main server extra if you feel it is worthy. When you get a drink, look at the bill carefully and adjust the automatic gratuity to what you would like to give.

6. Premium Meals: 

*Your fare includes meals in the dining room or at the buffet, and some areas that are open when the dining room and buffet are closed, usually pizza, the deli or a burger grill. 

*Room service may be free, but a gratuity will be added. 

*The good stuff? The premium restaurants depend on the cruise line and almost all of them charge extra for the privilege. 

*Savings: depends on the experience you want to have. Instead of the 3 meal specialty dining package, just go to one restaurant. The upcharge is normally no more than $30 per person. 

7. Laundry and ironing: 

*Irons are not allowed and some cruise lines do not have a passenger laundry/ironing room (Carnival does). To look spiffy for formal wear night, consider carefully fabrics that pack well (linen is not one of them). 

*Savings: Roll your clothes rather than fold them. Bring a small bottle of fabric wrinkle releaser (I was surprised that it works fairly well). Pack pants/shorts/skirts that can be worn twice with different tops. Bring workout clothes that dry quickly so that you can wash them out yourself (use the body wash or shampoo provided by the ship to wash out small items). See our tips here: Cruising 101: Part 4, Packing.


8. Souvenirs and shopping: 

*If you intend to shop abroad, you know must know what you can bring back duty (meaning tax) free when you return. Duty free shopping is not unlimited. *Warning: Many of the locally made crafts are quickly made, they may break and some really look cheap. 

*Not all food can be brought back (certainly not fresh food). Stick with tea, coffee, spices or sweets.

*Savings: think functional, like a water bottle or a t-shirt to sleep and work out in, etc.

9. Photos: 

*Of course it is easy to say bring your own camera or use your phone to take photos. That seems to be a no-brainer. But there might be that rare family reunion when all of the grandkids are there at the same time. Having the cruise line take your photo is free. You have until the last night to choose which to buy. *Savings: choose one print or check out the prices for the digital download packages. 


Happy Travels!

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Cruising 101 Series:


Part 1: 10 Facts to Know

Part 2: How to Book a Cruise

Part 3: Below Deck & Behind the Scenes

Part 4: What to Pack

Part 5: Plan Your Own Excursions

Part 6: Hidden Costs


Cruise Reviews:

Anthem of the Seas

Jewel of the Seas

Carnival Pride

Cruise to Alaska

Intro to Carnival Cruise Line


How to Travel Series

Part 1: Plan Your Own Trip

Part 2: Resources to Use

Part 3: Travel With Electronics

Part 4: Renting a Car