A typical cruiser can expect to spend an additional 40-60% above what they paid on the actual cruise fare. Where does the money get spent and what can you do to keep your spending in check?
How Much Does a Cruise Vacation Cost?
Many first time cruisers are under the mistaken impression that cruises are all-inclusive. Not true. While the majority of your expenses are paid for before you ever leave the dock such as your room, meals and the entertainment onboard, there will be other expenses beyond the initial booking price of the cruise.
For budget purposes, plan on spending and extra 40-60% above the basic cruise fare. In other words, if the total fare was $1000, figure that another $500 will be spent on shore excursions, gratuities, spa treatments, alcoholic beverages and souvenirs. Now, before you decide there is no way to afford a cruise vacation, let’s take a look at what is included in the basic cruise fare and what extras will cost. We will also see if we can find ways to reduce the amount of money for out of pocket expenses and stay within your spending limits.
The Cruise Fare
The basic cruise fare that is paid up-front includes your room, meals in the main dining, the buffet, room service and beverages such as coffee, tea and juice. Expect to pay for soft drinks in most instances. Entertainment onboard such as children’s programs, shows, trivia contests, and live music are all part of the package plus taxes and port charges. Gratuities in most other cases are considered incidental but when cruising consider them mandatory. Each cruise line has a guide for tipping that in most cases varies from $10-$16 per person per day. That may seem like a lot until you experience the excellent stateroom and dining room service you will receive and you will then understand that the gratuity was nominal. One nice aspect for budgeting is that most cruise lines allow you to pay the gratuities in the upfront fare which also helps for money planning purposes. Keep in mind that these gratuities are only for the dining and stateroom service included in the basic cruise fare.
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Spending Money While Onboard the Ship
It is very possible to spend no money while on the ship if you pay your gratuities up-front. However, in most cases the average bill is around 40-60% more than the basic cruise fare. Things like shore excursions, a glass of wine, photos, and soda plus dining room surcharges from premium restaurant can rack up a hefty bill quickly.
Cruise lines make a substantial amount or their revenue from what you spend above and beyond the basic fare. Photographers are abundant and will be taking your picture every evening and every time you exit the ship at a port of call. Pictures can be viewed for free but if you want to keep some, you get to pay. Be aware of what restaurants, of coffee bars or ice cream shops will cost you and if you have to have your morning coffee, where to get it for free. Waiters will be touting the “drink of the day” in a special glass you get to keep for around $10 per drink plus upwards of an 18 % service charge automatically added. Don’t forget that soda is going to run around $3 per can plus the added surcharge. Wine is wonderful for dinner but if your cruise line allows you to bring your own bottle onboard, be prepared to pay around a $10 corkage fee.
The items where the most money is spent shore excursions, spa services and the casino. Spa services average around $100 for such things a one hour massage plus the obligatory service charge. But keep in mind that discounts can be found especially on days when the ship is in port.
Shore excursion can test the budget depending upon their length and if a meal or drinks are included. But keep in mind this is another item that can be paid for in advance. For more helpful advice on shore excursions, please review our in-depth research article on Cruise Line Shore Excursion Expert Advice and Tips.
The ship’s casino can also wreak havoc with your wallet if money management is not your strong suite in gaming. Some cruise lines maintain Las Vegas gaming standards while others do not. Players will find the odds, payouts and minimum bets in line with Las Vegas casino resorts. Minimum bets at the Black Jack tables start at $5 and go up to $25. Craps tables have the same minimums and players are also able to take up to 2X odds, for line bets.
Most cruise lines offer art auctions and high-stakes bingo. Our recommendation is to avoid both. Expect bingo cards to cost as much as $40 dollars per card with the chance of payout being very low. Don’t buy into the hype of $3000 jackpot claims. There will also be flyers about art auctions. Most of the time, free champagne is offered along with a free print. There’s around a 90% chance it’s a print and not an original plus the prices are higher than what you would pay at home. If you absolutely have to see what it’s all about, go drink the free champagne, get the free print and take it home and frame it yourself.
To stay on budget, check the onboard account either through the interactive TV in the stateroom or at the purser’s desk to keep track of the expenditures on the account. This helps to keep your spending in check. Avoid the “drink of the day”, bingo and spending money at art auctions. If you really want to have the “drink of the day”, go to the bar and get it without the fancy glass. It will be about half the price of the fancy glass version. To keep costs down on spa services, port days will have the best deals.
There are several ways to avoid the additional expense of onboard charges and some guests can avoid added expenses entirely except for gratuities.
By following our recommendations, guests should be able to find the perfect balance between being overly cost conscious, and having to take out a loan when you get home. After all, a cruise is the ultimate vacation!
Photo Credit: Holland America Line