Cruises are a fantastic way to travel. You get to explore a handful of new places, meet new people and experience new cultures, and be out on the open sea.
Cruises are frequently labeled as all-inclusive. This is partially true but only if you like eating at the buffet and are willing to limit yourself to participating in free activities. If you want to maximize your cruise experience, you’ll likely have to pay a lot more than you initially expect. It’s easy to rack up a hefty tab quickly on a cruise.
With the help of travel experts, we explore the most common cruise upcharges and how you can avoid overspending during your next (or first) cruise!
Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler warns about two hidden charges you don’t think about in advance: tips and shore excursions. Chris said that some high-end cruise ships include shore excursions, but that’s not always the case.
“I typically expect to spend about 50 percent of the cost of the cruise on shore excursions, but that depends on what you decide to do,” he told us.
During your time on the boat, Chris said you should “expect to tip, and research tip etiquette for your cruise ahead of time!”
Travel expert Judi Cohen of Traveling Judi believes researching ahead of time before each adventure is the best approach.
“Take the time to learn about the ports and plan your shore excursions as soon as you can,” Judi told us.
Alicja Krysiak of Just Adventures feels the same way.
“I research the ports of call and see if there is a local company that you can pre-book with. I always believe in doing the research on the types of excursions you’d like to do -- consult the ship’s website for feedback as well as TripAdvisor or VIATOR,” Alicja said.
Planning ahead is important, especially if cruising on a budget is one of your goals. The more planning you do, the more likely you are to save money.
Rhonda Weaver of Roaming Red Feather has one helpful trick for saving money while still treating yourself to some well-earned relaxation. Her advice: Book a spa treatment during port days.
“Onboard services like spa treatments, spa rooms, or private lounges are deeply discounted on the day the ship is in port,” she told us. As others head out, you could be on board relaxing for a fraction of the price.
One expense you might not have thought of is the cost of drinking while onboard. If you want to wine and dine during your trip, prepare in advance for the hefty price tags on cruise lines’ pretty drinks.
Kathy Marris of 50 Shades Of Age recommends saving money by “grabbing your beverages, such as tea, coffee, water and soft drinks, from the buffet restaurant and taking them with you to other areas of the ship.”
Martin Rose from Wandering Rose Travels agrees.
“Those drinks with umbrellas are cute and go down easy, but the cruise lines make a ton of money here, as well as all those drinks and snacks the kids keep ordering and charging to your room. Decide before you go if you are willing to throw caution to the wind and know your trip cost will increase for drinks and snacks,” Martin cautioned.
Dining well is a priority for some, and not so much for others. Before your cruise, consider if you want to splurge on specialty meals or save money and stick to the buffets.
Kathy is in the camp of indulging in special meals. She’s a believer that specialty dining on cruises is “generally top-class with fabulous service and delicious menu options comprising of three to four courses.”
If you’re budgeting and don’t need to indulge your inner foodie, in a lot of cases, the buffet meals are still an awesome option. Aimie Hendricks, YMT Vacations’ marketing director, said, “The main dining room has a wide variety of options and will have themed evenings, so guests don’t need to worry about getting bored if they decide not to pay extra for a specialty meal.”
If you’re on a longer cruise or are just intending to pack light, laundry might be something to plan ahead for.
Most cruises have laundry services and dry cleaning, but for hefty fees. There’s also a public laundry area in most cruises, but you’ll still have to pay for that, too. It all depends on the cruise you’re on, so check out what laundry services are offered beforehand.
Ryazan Tristram of Everything Zany told us “the best way to avoid doing your laundry onboard is just bringing enough clothes and a few extra -- just in case -- for the duration of the cruise.” A cruise-centric capsule wardrobe could be the perfect solution. Get started with these 10 capsule wardrobe tips for trips.
Cruise insurance can be expensive, but spending a little extra might be worth it depending on your circumstances.
Jeremy Camosse of excursion search Gangwaze said, “While we'd never cruise without it, we understand that many disagree. Ultimately, it will depend on your risk tolerance, flexibility, and your perceived likelihood that something will go wrong. If you've been planning your cruise for five years, have a sick family member, or are prone to oversleeping, you'll likely want to insure your cruise.”
He told us, “As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay between 10 to 15 percent of your overall vacation cost” to insure it.
“We always recommend that our community book with a reputable insurance provider rather than purchasing directly from the cruise line. The terms and pricing will be much more favorable,” he continued.
Justin Tysdal, CEO of travel insurance agency Seven Corners, suggests buying insurance because, well, life happens.
“Flight delays or cancellations caused by poor weather conditions are, unfortunately, a common occurrence for many travelers. Aside from the major headache delays can create, they can also lead to a missed embarkation of a highly anticipated cruise.”
Need more convincing? Here are 10 things to know about travel insurance that can help you make a decision you’re confident about.
Cell Phone Charges
If your cruise will take you out of the country, you can bet your phone bill will be absurdly expensive if you don’t plan ahead.
“There is nothing that will ruin the memories of a great cruise faster than returning home to a $1,000 cell phone bill,” Martin Rose said, and he’s speaking from personal experience. Using your data internationally can become expensive rapidly. Wi-Fi onboard is an option, but one worth thinking long and hard about first.
“While we are used to most hotels and resorts offering Wi-Fi for free, internet on the ship costs extra -- often as much as $20 per day,” Tanner Callais, founder of Cruzely.com, told us.
Our advice is to plan ahead and investigate your phone carrier’s international rates!
International Card Fees
Be ready to get charged for swiping abroad.
Greg Mahnken, a credit industry analyst with Credit Card Insider, told us, “When you swipe your card internationally, you could be paying around 3 percent for the convenience of using your credit card in a foreign currency. “
Fortunately, purchasing onboard shouldn’t involve being charged extra. But this protection is out the window if you decide to pay by credit card while shopping during shore excursions.
If you really want to avoid paying extra abroad, Greg suggests applying for a credit card without such fees.
“Many travel rewards cards offer this perk.” He said cards from Capital One and Discover, for example, have no foreign transaction fees.
Traveling With Kids
When traveling with kids or grandkids, expect to pay extra. Some cruises are more accommodating for kiddos than others.
Katelyn Stephens is a vacation advisor from Magical Vacation Planner. She said, “For Disney Cruise Line, kids’ clubs are included for ages 3 and up with nursery care -- ages 6 months to 3 years -- available at an additional fee. Norwegian Cruise Line has similar kids’ clubs but charges an additional fee for port day play. Some late-night activities cost an additional fee.”
How To Prepare Ahead Of Time
Budgeting for a trip can be stressful, especially since there’s a common misconception that cruises are truly all-inclusive.
Our advice is to research your cruise as much as possible and make sure to budget ahead of time for whatever excursions, special meals, snacks, and drinks you’re looking forward to.
There are so many cruises to choose from -- all incredible in their own right! If you’re interested in an island cruise experience, these cruise lines have their own private islands! Or, if you’re considering a European river cruise, here are seven things to know ahead of time.