Are you wondering about the costs onboard a cruise ship, once you get on?
Some cruise passengers have a little surprise on disembarkation day when the final bill appears. So, let’s examine those extra charges and see how to improve the final bill.
Gratuities – Costs Onboard a Cruise Ship That Adds Up!
Almost all cruise lines add the gratuities automatically at the end of the cruise. In general, these payments get distributed by the cruise line amongst the staff (waiters, housekeepers, cooks janitors, etc.). However, the exception is those who get an “Auto Gratuity,” such as those who work at the bar, or in the spa.
Every cruise line has a different amount per passenger per day. The amount varies based on the type of cabin being more expansive for passengers traveling in a suite. For example, gratuities for those passengers traveling in a suite is approximately $14.00 to USD 17.00 per passenger per day. For a long cruise, the amount can add up to a lot of money. Occasionally there are specials where the cruise line offers fares that include prepaid gratuities.
Another excellent option is to prepay them in advance. If a cruise is booked in Australia, the cruise fare includes the gratuities. Usually, it is quite common to leave an envelope with some extra cash for crew members if they were particularly helpful.
Very often cruise lines offers pre-payed gratuities as a perk to attract passengers. If you find a fare with perks it is usually a very good deal.
Excursions can be a big part of the final cruise bill. You do not have to take an excursion if you don’t want to. In fact, in a city, we usually explore on our own. In other locations (Ie Alaska, Caribbean, South America) excursions are a big part of the experience. Some cruisers prefer to book excursions independently from the cruise line. There are some pros and cons of doing that. The most significant benefit is they might be cheaper if booked independently. Unfortunately, if the excursion, for any reason, can not make it back to port in time, the ship will not have wait for you. (Here is an article that explains all about cruise ship shore excursions)
In my experience, I found excursions booked through the cruise line to be reasonably priced. I also like the fact that by booking through the cruise line they guarantee that the ship will wait in case of delay. I only book excursions independently if I don’t like the ones that are offered by the cruise line.
Some ports offer free shuttles to the city center and major attractions. Naturally, this can be a great way to save some money on excursions. If you decide to do that, ask when is the last shuttle to be back by “All Onboard Time.”
Drinks Will Quickly Add to Your Costs Onboard a Cruise Ship!
Fancy a drinking by the pool? Or how about a cocktail in the afternoon? And a bottle of wine with dinner? Drinking is a great way to enjoy the vacation but be careful as the costs can add up very quickly. Many cruise lines offer drinking packages that can be purchased in advance or on embarkation day. To see if the package is worth buying, read what the package includes. Then, do some math. For example, consider if an average drink is about $10.00 and the package is $70.00 per day, it’s only worth it if you are planning on drinking more than seven drinks a day.
If you’re planning on drinking wine with your meals, a good saving strategy is to order wine by the bottle and never by the glass. Cruise lines will be happy to store your unfinished wine bottle and bring it back to your table at your next meal.
Some cruise lines are offering cruise fare with built in drink packages making the fare a “All Inclusive”. For many passengers this is an excellent opportunity to book with this kind of fare.
Specialty restaurants are becoming more and more common on cruise ships. Passengers like to try different food and have a wide variety of choices of restaurants. The options vary from an Italian Pizzeria, Sushi, Teppanyaki, molecular gastronomy, steak house, pan Asian cuisine, etc. Be careful! These specialty restaurants can be very pricey and will add to your costs onboard the cruise ship – quickly! Indeed, some offer a set price for dining, while some others offered “a la carte.”
I like specialty dining, as they offer a more intimate setting. Furthermore, there’s a slightly more attentive level of service than the main dining room. In my experience, specialty restaurants are an excellent choice for a date night or a more intimate dinner. But, other than that, we are pleased with the food in the main dining room.
These days, it’s almost impossible to go on vacation and to be able to disconnect entirely from the world. Cruise lines know this and are coming out with newer and better WiFi satellite connection. Also, cruise lines charge a lot of money for onboard internet. Fortunately, there are packages available for purchase with different level of connectivity that allows cruise passengers to stay connected. In our experience, WiFi costs vary in both price and speed onboard cruise ships. Notably, Princess Cruises has the MedallionNet, which is incredibly fast. How Fast? Fast enough to stream Netflix, make Facetime/WhatsApp/Skype calls, etc. The MedallionNet pricing runs about around $100 per device, per week.
It is a lot of fun to take professional photos on board, especially on formal nights all dressed up. Unfortunately, the cruise lines charge a lot of money to print them out. We usually don’t buy any photos unless we find one that is particularly nice.
Onboard Shopping and Art Auctions: These Can Add to your Costs Onboard the Cruise Ship
Some of the newest ships now look more like shopping malls inside. The selection of merchandise found onboard is quite extensive, and most items are “duty-free.” However, the prices on board are not much better than the prices back at home. In my opinion, shopping on a cruise ship is not worth it. Although there is an exception. Once per cruise, and usually toward the end of the journey, the gift shop has a sale, and it is possible to buy some souvenirs for a reasonable price.
The art gallery and art auctions are another great way for the cruise line to make money. They are discretionary expenses. A pro tip: most art auctions offer free “champagne.” If you’re in the mood for a glass of sparkling wine, check when the next art auction is and take advantage of the freebie!
The Spa: Massages, Hair and Nail Salon
Every cruise line has a spa area and a beauty salon. Prices depend on the type of service, and they can be quite pricy. Naturally, these are entirely discretionary expenses. For a modest entrance fee, many cruise ships offer an area to relax. For example, indoors/outdoors with pools, sauna, steam room, etc. Those areas are quite lovely and most of the time, adult only. Sometimes they include a spa lunch menu included in the entrance fee with a choice of healthy food. (Examples: Princess: “The Enclave,” Celebrity: “Canyon Ranch Wellness,” Royal Caribbean: “The Vitality Spa,” etc.)
Casino, bingo and prize games
The casino, bingo, and other games are, obviously, totally discretionary. If you want to gamble, we’ve heard your best option is on the first night. The odds of winning are better at the beginning of the cruise.
If you want to avoid surprises on your final bill my suggestion is to check your onboard account frequently. Surely, you can do so at the special kiosk around the ship or these days, on your phone.
I hope these tips help you better understand onboard cruise costs – and enjoy your vacation!
Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.