Cruise tips? Is that really necessary? Isn’t a cruise supposed to be the easiest way to travel?
If you’ve ever been on one, you know that expenses can go way beyond the bargain price you paid for the cabin. If you haven’t, don’t think the cost of your trip stops there. Food is abundant and entertainment is included, but it can be a mistake to think of a cruise as “all-inclusive.”
There are extra costs before you walk up the gangway
Although a cruise can be a good value, a wise traveler budgets in a few unavoidable add-ons:
- Tips for the cabin steward and staff, about $15 a day for a standard cabin, called “service charge.” In an upgraded cabin? Expect to tip more.
- The 18% gratuity that’s added to any purchased beverage. As a point of reference, a can of soda is about $3 and a bottle of water is about $4.
- Fuel and/or port taxes, which are tacked onto the final price of the cruise. How much depends on the length of your cruise: About $100 for a 4-night Bahama cruise and $220 for a 7-night sailing.
Cruise tips for the budget–and savvy–passenger
How can you enjoy the experience and not be shocked when your bill (or “folio” as it’s called onboard) arrives the day before your cruise ends? By planning ahead. Here are a few tips:
- Get the drink package. Unless you’re perfectly content with the water, lemonade, tea, and coffee from the buffet areas, bite the bullet and get a drink package. Yes, it seems hefty ($9/day for soda; $27/day for any non-alcoholic drink; $55/day for everything, including drinks up to $12 each…all of these prices will also get the 18% gratuity added on) but if you enjoy a Pina Colada by the pool, a Coke with your burger, a bottle of water after an excursion, a glass (or two) of wine with dinner, and a nightcap, you’re going to pay more than $55. And yes, a five-night cruise will set you back about $325 per person. Paying upfront doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. It means you’re realistic about what beverages cost on a cruise. For drink package prices on major cruise lines, click here.
- Don’t book your excursions through the cruise line. I wrote about this before, but cruise lines get a chunk of the excursion fees, so naturally the prices are higher–up to 50% higher. CruiseExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com offer excellent excursions, with a guarantee to get you back to your ship in time for departure. Also, if you book your excursion and for whatever reason, the ship doesn’t stop at that port, you’ll get a full refund. Get out and explore those ports without having to hire a taxi (unless you want to, of course!) and be confident that you’re in good hands with English-spaking guides.
- BYOM: Bring Your Own Medications. No one intends to get sick during a cruise. But if you do, you do not want to wait for the ship’s store to open so you can pay a zillion dollars for either Pepto-Bismol or Ex-Lax. Nor do you want to pay a fee to visit the ship’s clinic for an ailment that you can handle by yourself. Numbers vary, put just showing up seems to run about $100. If you bought travel insurance, the fees may be covered, but the expense will still show up on your folio and you’ll be expected to pay before disembarking. Here’s more on health services at sea. Read my post on 8 OTC Medications Every Traveler Should Pack–you’ll save time and money…and stay well.
- Watch out for “hidden” fees. On my first cruise, I was delighted to see the fitness center which was free) offered yoga and Zumba classes. It never occurred to me that there would be a charge–and in my naivety, I didn’t ask. Plus, the 45-minute sessions were generic and disappointing. Imagine my. surprise to see $30 added to my bill at checkout. The daily bulletin should list the day’s onboard activities and their cost. Just don’t be dumb like me…
Want more budget travel tips?
8 Secrets for Budget Travel Planning