Hidden Costs of Taking a Cruise

by Ryan Guina

After deciding your cruise destination and agreeing on the price, the dollar amount you see is most likely not the total cost of your vacation. You also have to take note of the “fine print,” and the “hidden” costs of cruising. These hidden costs aren’t always necessarily hidden, but they are not always included in the listed price either.

Not included in the cost of your cruise are items such as:

  • Alcohol: Unless you are taking an all-inclusive, drinks included cruise, you will likely have to shell out a lot of money for alcoholic beverages. Some people advocate bringing your own alcohol on board, but not all cruise lines allow this. Some people advocate sneaking alcohol on board, but that is up to you.
  • Soft drinks: Most cruises only include water, coffee, and tea with meals. Some also include juice, but many do not include soft drinks. If you want a soft drink with every meal, this can add up quickly!
  • Bottled water: Again, most only serve tap water with meals. If you want bottled water, expect to pay extra. Or, you could do what I do at home – refill your own bottles. Reusable water bottles are a thrifty way to save a lot of money and save the environment.
  • Shore excursions: The cost of shore excursions can add up extremely quickly! The best thing to do is decide on a budget and prioritize which excursions you want to take. You can also look into booking your own tour guides or doing a self-guided tour, which can save you hundreds of dollars. However, if you do it yourself, expect to spend a lot of time organizing your excursion.
  • Air Fare: Unless you live within driving distance of the port, expect to include airfare in the cost of your vacation. Be sure to shop well in advance to find the best deal you can!
  • Gratuities: The service on cruises is generally considered top notch, and you should expect to pay for it. Many cruise lines publish a suggested guide for tips, but feel free to tip more or less depending on your experience and what you feel the service is worth. Keep in mind though, this is their livelihood! 😉
  • Cruise / travel insurance: This isn’t always necessary, but it might be a good idea to look into it. Insurance will protect you against unforeseen events, but not everything. Be sure to shop around and read the fine print!
  • Special onboard restaurants: Meals are all-inclusive on cruises, but many cruises offer special restaurants where you can have a more secluded evening with special fare. Of course, this isn’t a necessary cost, but you may want to consider it for a special evening with your significant other.
  • Laundry / Ironing services: Fresh water on a ship is at a premium, and laundry and ironing services are usually very expensive. You can skip this cost by bringing enough clothes to last the cruise, or wash clothes in your bathroom and hanging them in your room to dry. Most cruise lines do not allow you to bring an iron on board due to the obvious fire risks. Hanging clothes in the bathroom while you shower is a good way to steam the wrinkles out of your clothing.
  • Souvenirs: Photos are the best and cheapest souvenir, but be sure to keep the cost of souvenirs in mind if you plan on buying gifts for friends or relatives.
  • Other: Spa treatments, Casino games, massages, internet, phone calls, and an endless list of conveniences and niceties can add to the final cost of your cruise.

The good thing is that you have some control over many of these extra costs. You can pay for as much or as little for these items as you wish or are able. Depending on your situation, you may be allowed to take a small bottle of alcohol on board the ship, refill your water bottles, drive to the port instead of flying, skip the spa and casino, or wash your socks in your room’s sink.

There are many little ways you can be frugal while still having a luxury vacation.

Bon Voyage, everyone! 😉

Published or updated February 3, 2009.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 dong

I definitely want to echo the bit on Tips. Even though you can and should include the gratuity with your bill, I’d also suggest tipping your waiter if you’re at a set table separately, and the cleaning staff. The crew on a cruise works extremely hard, and usually from less affluent parts of the world, especially those doing the harder work. The cruise lines pay their staff minimally, and are exempt from U.S. labor laws.


2 SavingDiva

I’ve seen really cheap cruise deals, and I guess they make up the differnece with all of the little extras. Thanks for the heads up on what to expect!


3 Ryan

Dong, Great point. There were people from 57 different countries working on the cruise I was on, and they were are hard workers. The cruise line had recommended tips in place which they collect and distribute among the workers. You tip waitstaff, stateroom attendants and others separately, and the money is distributed accordingly. The workers all definitely earned their tips!


4 Ryan

Saving Diva,

You would not believe how much some things cost, and they charge for just about everything. I will write a future post about how cruise ships are money generating machines! But, you can still travel on the cheap if you are prepared and know what to look for. 🙂


5 Julie

I didn’t know that about some ships not allowing irons on board.

And yes, the presentation of the bar bill at the end of the cruise is always an unwelcome shock. They slip it under your door and scurry away, probably to avoid the shouts of outrage, hehe.


6 John (Loves boats) Alford

Thanks for the tips. I don’t plan on going on a cruise anytime soon, but I did find your tips useful for the future, especially the bit about allowing the steam in the bath to iron out wrinkles on clothes. I didn’t know about that, so thanks.

I don’t know why there aren’t employment laws in place for cruise ships. I do think it’s terribly unfair if the employees aren’t being paid a reasonable rate. The tip culture is great – it’s an optional way of showing appreciation for an amazing service received – but I also think when the employer doesn’t pay well, tippers then become glorified employers in a sense – I don’t think that’s right – it’s not fair on the customer, the employee, and it gets the real employer off the hook.


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