Cruise vacations are a great value for a vacation, but make sure you know the hidden costs of cruising that can cost you big bucks so that you can plan your vacation budget. I can tell you that I have found some amazing cheap cruises and I would have had an incredibly cheap vacation if I just stayed on the ship. But while a cruise voyage is one of the best values around since all major expenses (lodging, meals, snacks, activities and entertainment) are indeed included in the fare, there many items and incidentals that could break the bank for you.
The Top Five Hidden Costs of Cruises:
1. Port Fees and Taxes.
Did you know that the advertised price of cruise vacations is not the total price? Experienced cruisers know this to be one of the hidden costs of cruises but if you’ve never taken a cruise before, you’re in for some sticker shock at check out. What most people think of as “port charges” are itemized separately on the cruise bill. Port fees and taxes are the taxes that foreign jurisdictions impose on arriving passengers to support the facility where the ship is docking or tendering, security, the longshoremen that tie up and release the vessel and related charges. Passengers must pay these nominal charges over and above the published cruise fare and it can add up to 5% to 8% of your entire fare unless you purchased your cruise at a deep discount at which point you will pay your fees based on the published fare of your cruise.
2. Drinks on Board the Cruise Ship (Sodas and Alcohol).
On cruise vacations, most cruise ships only provide water, ice tea, lemonade and coffee, for the price of their cruise. You have to pay extra for bottled water, alcoholic beverages, wine, and even sodas since they are not included in the cruise fare on most lines (with the exception of some ultra-deluxe lines). And your bar tab can add up quickly since the cost of Hard liquor, cocktails and wine ranges from $3.50 to $8.00 a piece or more, depending on cruise line (higher-end lines tend to charge more for drinks); soft drinks will run $1.50 – $2.00; and you will pay extra for specialty coffee drinks like cappuccino or lattes.
? Most cruise vacations have advertised “daily drink specials” on the ship that you may want to taste as they can be rather fun. You can also purchase wine by the bottle in the dining room and your waiter will keep it stored for you to serve at your next dinner. This can save you money over the purchase price of wine by the glass.
? Find out if your ship offers “soda packages” that feature unlimited sodas during the cruise for about $15 – $20.
? You can bring-your-own bottled water on board or you can pick up soda six-packs of soda in port before you board, but this may vary cruise line to cruise line. I always purchase plenty of bottled water before I go on a cruise before I board. If it’s too much water to carry, then consider refilling water bottles at the casual restaurant on the ship but please make sure you comply to health and safety standards. Do not place your water bottle directly under the “water spicket” but you should fill several glasses of water and then fill your water bottles with the water from the glasses.
? Do not bring alcohol on board unless it’s a souvenir you want to bring back home as it will have to be stored for the duration of your cruise. Be aware that most of the cruise line policies for bringing alcohol on board are highly restricted.
3. Tipping for Ship Personnel.
Your cruise fare does not include tipping the ship personal. Many cruise lines recommend about $10-$12 per person per day to be given to the dining room waiter ($4 per person, per day), assistant waiter ($2 per person, per day) and cabin steward ($4 per person, per day). If you have butler service, be prepared to tip that crew member $4-$5 per day. Bar tabs are charged a 15 percent gratuity automatically. You can, of course, always give tips for exceptional service. Cruise vacations are no vacation for your waiters, assistant waiters and cabin stewards as they work very hard and many of them don’t get a day off, so unless the service has been poor, do tip the recommended amount. You can also add a little more for outstanding service or attention.
4. Shore Excursions.
For cruise vacations, this is one item that, outside of the price of the cruise, that will be your major “hidden” cost and excursions can sometimes double the cost of your vacation, but I am a big fan of booking excursions for many reasons. First, many ports are not located near the destinations that are advertised. In certain ports there is a lot of sightseeing you can do on your own, but I have found that some port cities are a little intimidating and depending on where you port, you’re better off booking excursions to get the most out of your trip. The cruise you book may very well be a once in a lifetime trip so you don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish when you’ve traveled a great distance and then don’t ante up the excursion fair for the excursion to Rome, Florence or the ancient city of Pompeii, for example.
Prices for these excursions generally range from about $25 – $55 for a half-day city tour, to $200-$300 for some all-day tours, overland programs including meals and snacks, and such exciting offerings as hot-air ballooning and helicopter “flight”-seeing. You will be met by a well maintained air-conditioned bus and all of your admissions are included.
Savings Tip: Booking excursions through your cruise line are recommended over booking excursions on your own or through a third party vendor for one very good reason. If the excursion you booked through the cruise line is late getting back (and this has happened to me), they have to hold the ship for you if it’s set to depart before you actually returned to the ship. If you booked your excursion through a third party or went off on your own and ended up not making it back to the ship prior to the departure time, it’s up to you find a way to reconnect with the ship at the next port. This is definitely something to consider if you’d taken a train into a city an hour away and then miss the train on the return or you get stuck in traffic with your cab or your rental car.
5. Fuel Surcharges.
In 2008, just about every cruise line (including mainstream cruise lines and most niche cruise lines) responded to the escalating cost of fuel by levying fuel surcharges on cruise trips. As the price of a barrel of oil dropped, every cruise line removed the charges, but as the cost of fuel fluctuates, cruise lines will reserve the right to levy these charges if the cost of fuel rises rapidly.
If you don’t live in a port city, you will also have to add the cost of airfare or gasoline if you drive to the port city. Even with these hidden hosts, cruise ship vacations are an excellent value for your travel dollar. Just make sure you budget for these additional costs when planning your cruise.
For over twenty years, TV Travel Show Producer, Marianne Schwab, has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for high profile television programs and also as a road warrior of business travel. In addition to traveling around the world, she has flown all over the country to produce and direct video shoots and live television productions. She has produced on location from Ceasar’s Palace on the Vegas Strip to Universal Studios Hollywood to the beautiful island of Oahu. She loves sharing her insider travel secrets on how to get the best travel deals. Marianne helps her readers discover a world of ways to see the world on almost any budget at http://www.best-travel-deals-tips.com/index.html including the latest travel tips most people don’t know on how take vacations you never thought they could afford at prices that seem unbelievable. In addition to her travel advice web site, Marianne is Executive Producer at CMP Media Caf?e in Los Angeles (http://www.cmpmediacafe.com/whoarewe.htm) where she specializes in getting her clients media exposure on television and radio news programs.