Hidden Cruise Costs
While the sound of an all-inclusive vacations sounds amazing (and they are!) there are fees and expenses that some travelers do not consider when booking a cruise. These “hidden cruise costs” can potentially DOUBLE your vacation budget if you are not careful.
Personally, we feel a cruise is one of the best bargains for our buck to visit foreign beaches, have all our meals prepared for us, a comfortable bed, and all the other benefits of an all-inclusive trip. Unfortunately, there are costs that add up quick that might make your vacation no longer that great bargain you were hoping for.
FYI – Some of the fees are associated with any vacation but if you are not one who travels a lot, they may be something you hadn’t considered so I am including them too.
Did I miss any hidden cruise costs? Drop a comment below to share with others your “traveler beware” tips for “hidden costs.”
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Hidden Cruise Costs
We are lucky because Bob travels enough and we are all part of the Southwest Rewards program that almost all of our flights are free. (Shout out —- we HEART Southwest Airlines!) If you are not flying for free using miles or points, then this additional cost could be almost as much as your cruise!
Did you over pack or taking a lot of bags? If you are on an airline that charges for EVERYTHING, then you may be paying additional fees for checked luggage or your carry one bags. (Again… we HEART Southwest Airlines!)
OFF SHIP MEALS
We will normally grab breakfast or lunch before arriving at the airport or while we are at the airport to take on board with us. Flying from Las Vegas to the port cities non-stop is normally at least a 3+ hour flight and this crowd wants food.
Once we arrive to our destination, a meal before we arrive at the hotel is normally almost needed.
And of course, even though we dine early in the morning on the ship for breakfast, a meal is needed for our non-stop flight home. The return trip is normally longer so we normally do a larger sit down meal for our flight.
Also to consider are the off ship meals that you may incur if you dine for lunch on the islands. I know some cruisers who will leave for shore as early as possible, go back for lunch on the ship, and then return to the island for the remainder of the duration. For us, we will just bit that cost and enjoy some local flavors.
In my opinion, flying in the day of your cruise can be risky. One cruise we took found our friends who were traveling from Idaho in November on a delayed flight that almost made them miss their fun filled week!
We don’t chance it and always fly in the night before so we are up and ready to board the ship as early as we can to get our vacation started.
This is our choice and our choice costs us a night’s stay in a hotel. Since we are Marriott loyal, we always find a nearby Marriott to stay so we can use our points to stay for free. This is great for us but if you are not a member of a hotel loyalty program, this cost is out of pocket.
We will always rent a car at the airport and keep it overnight until the next morning for when we board. Bob will drop up off at the port, return the car, and either walk back or take a shuttle. We normally get excellent rates with our Avis status and spend ~$40, which is ~$10 a person – cheaper than the shuttle per person directly from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the port. (I do not know about the shuttle fees between the Miami Airport to the cruise ship port as we always fly to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines.)
If you are driving, you have the cost of gas and possible tolls to add to your vacation cost.
One note on rental cars that I mention under shore excursions (which we normally skip), is that we will add the expense of a rental car at times when on the islands as we like the freedom to explore at our own pace.
ON BOARD DINING
Even though you have dining options available during the entire duration of your trip that is included, some passengers opt to experience the chef’s tasting table or the dining rooms that are available for an additional fee.
We have so many fabulous dining options in Las Vegas we don’t feel the need to spend additional money beyond what is provided on the cruise. If we want a 5-star dining experience, we will do that in Las Vegas or another city we are tavelling to rather than on our cruise.
What most cruises offer passengers:
- Breakfast buffets
- Lunch buffets
- Sit down dining within the assigned dining room
- 24-hour room service
- Small specialty food items such as pizza, deli sandwiches, etc. that are provided throughout the cruise
On most cruise ships the alcohol, soda, and bottled water ARE NOT part of the all-inclusive deal. Some cruise ships will allow you to bring a specified amount of of these beverages per person for free or for a corkage fee. Since I am a soda brand specific girl, I would recommend this if you are brand picky too. Also, in my opinion, rather than schlepping a case of water on board bring a refillable water bottle or a small amount of unopened water and reuse those bottles. The bottles of water on board are normally the large bottles which are awkward to carry around and are around $4+ a bottle.
Typically most cruise ships offer the following as part of the all-inclusive deal:
- Hot Chocolate
- Orange Juice and Orange Passion Fruit Guava Juice (at breakfast)
- Milk (at breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
We normally get the unlimited drink package for Bob and Alex, with Bob’s being the alcohol version. Since we book two rooms we only have to buy one of the alcohol packages since our kids are both under 21, otherwise we would have to buy two of the packages which is a waste for us.
The soda program is an easy decision since ordering two sodas on board normally is the overall fee for the day – no brainer. The alcohol package is one you really need to figure out if it’s for you as it sounds like a deal but it may not be. On Carnival cruises the CHEERS! package is $49.95 a day and figuring that you need to drink at least 6 drinks a day to “break even.” We easily met that with a few rum and cokes by the pool, a few glasses of wine at dinner, and a cognac for after dinner. For nights that we stayed up late Bob would drink wine or Bloody Mary’s which pushed us in the “BARGAIN” category.
Example of the Carnival version of these programs:
“Bottomless Bubbles” is their unlimited soda program which allows the cruise passenger unlimited soft drinks and juices for the duration of the cruise at a one-time purchase price. Prices are as follows – a 15% gratuity will be added.
Child Rate Per Day: $4.50 USD for 17 years of age and younger
Adult Rate Per Day: $6.00 USD for 18 years of age and older
CHEERS! beverage package, guests can enjoy a wide variety of wine, beer and spirits (including cocktails and frozen drinks), along with sodas and non-alcoholic frozen cocktails throughout the voyage at one convenient flat rate plus tax and a 15% gratuity added at the time the package is purchased.
All sailings $49.95 per person/per day
HEALTH & BEAUTY
I was shocked at the price of a massage on our last boat at $150 an hour! Bob pays $60 for the same massage at our local place he frequents. At that rate, we will never add this expense to our vacation.
Along the same line you will find that all the other services provided in the spa and salon are incredibly overpriced. In my opinion, skip all of them unless you are dying to have an overpriced experience.
One fee my sister was shocked to see was that the exercise classes she wanted to do had a fee with them. So her morning yoga and Pilates classes she skipped.
Living in Las Vegas we don’t feel the need to gamble on a cruise ship which has less than desirable odds for the table games. But, since my kids are over 18 and not yet 21, they are able to play once the ship is at sea. While playing craps we watched LOTS of people dropping hundred dollar bills like they were one dollar bills. YIKES… not us. We each played $25 per person for our last cruise and two of three left the craps table ahead.
The arcade is a scary one if you have kids and they have their cruise card on them. Why? Because with one swipe they can cost you $1 – $10+ playing arcade games if you don’t have their cards locked down to deny charges to your folio. (Learned THAT ONE on our first cruise.)
We played bingo as a family had ended up adding $100 to our bill that I regret. Each bingo pack was $25 and it was for ONE game. Wish we had known that BEFORE we played.
While almost all ships offer a “kid’s club” type center for children 17 and under for free, some of the activities and extended hours come with a fee.
Booking shore excursions through your cruise line is easy and the “recommended” way if you are going to do it. The reason I say “recommended” is because if you are on their excursion through the cruise line and there is a delay that is cause you to be late to the ship… they won’t leave you. The shore excursions booked through the cruise line will be anywhere in between $30 – $150 per person (and up) depending on where you are, what you are doing, and how long it is.
We never do the excursions through the cruise line and normally rent a car to bop around the island and do our own thing.
You can also find your own excursion and if it’s cheaper, some cruise lines will give you your money back (and some add a little more to the top!).
We haven’t been on a cruise that has self-service laundry (that I know of) so we always plan our packing to avoid laundry fees. Fees on a cruise ship are typical of fees you will find on land at a resort and are around $2 – $3 per shirt laundered. If you don’t want to pack the additional clothes grab the travel size laundry items at your local store and wash the items in the sink or shower and leave to dry overnight in your shower (or balcony if you have one).
We avoid the camera always as we are not thrilled to have others take our photos. If you are camera shy – skip them and the cost of buying the photos taken by the ship’s photography group which are around $10 – $20 each. Or, if you want one of your family at dinner, ask the nearby table to use your camera to snag the shot.
My sister ended up paying $44 for 3 photos taken during the cruise. She was told on the excursion that the photos would only be available by buying a CD with all of the images for $69 but once she returned to the ship, she found them printed and ready to buy.
It’s so tempting to buy a t-shirt, bag, hat, etc. to remember your cruise with but that shirt, bag, and hat may cost you an extra $50. For us, we will take a photo instead.
Cell phone service and the internet are some HEFTY charges that you may be faced with if you do not plan ahead. First thing… turn your phone to AIRPLANE mode BEFORE you turn it off and stick it in the safe. If you do want to use your phone on the islands, check your phone carrier to see if they have a plan you can use – example: ATT’s plan for Carnival Cruise Line.
We kept our computers off but could have taken them on the islands as many of the shops and stores offer free Wi-Fi to customers. When we were on Grand Turk we camped out at a very small open beach bar and they offered free Wi-Fi which we used with our phones.
TIPPING & GRATUITIES
Tips for the crew who keep your room clean, food delivered hot to your table, and more are normally added automatically to your shipboard bill at a rate of $10 to $12 per passenger, per day, depending on the line and bar bills may include a 15% gratuity.
It may not sound like a lot but it does add up fast! Below is an example using our latest Carnival Victory cruise:
Carnival recommends $12 per person, per day of which $6.10 is earmarked for the dining room services, $3.90 to cabin services, and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. These gratuities are automatically added to your folio and can be paid prior to the cruise or at the end. While this is the percentages set by the line they can be adjusted on the 3rd floor at guest services.
A 15% gratuity is automatically added to bar bills as you purchase drinks. This includes drinks that are purchased individually or as part of the Cheers Program.
Additional tipping at your discretion to consider:
- Room service delivery
- Bartenders and servers
- Dining room staff
We always tip our dining room staff the equivalent of 20% of the estimated cost of the meal for each night. These guys hustle from the kitchen to our tables and as they get to know you really do the “added touches” to make your dining experience more pleasurable.
HOME & FURBABY SITTERS / KENNEL
As with any vacation, if you have animals this is a cost that you need to add to your vacation – not exactly one of those hidden cruise costs but I added this to the list as some folks may not think of this as an extra fee associated with taking a cruise.
We have “a few” animals and animal care while we are vacation is one of our biggest expenses. At this time we have a pet sitter come into our home while we are gone to take care of the cats, bird, and our ferret while Jack (or dog) goes to the kennel. Cha-ching. (I always dread this bill at the end!)
Hidden Cruise Costs
What fees are the ones that you always add to your trip to make it more memorable, which were you shocked to find, or… which hidden cruise costs did I miss? Comment below to share with others.