cruises have been hailed as the best kept travel secret, but the truth is that hidden fees may drain your wallet.
“Cruising looks like an incredible deal, and it can be if you’re smart, but if you’re not it’s going to cost a lot of money,” says Johnny Jet, a travel and deals expert. And while “cruises have traditionally been billed as all-inclusive packages, most everything is going to cost extra.”
That means spending more on Mai Tai cocktails, Internet use, beach towels, and off-shore excursions—basically everything that enticed you to book the trip in the first place.
With the cruise industry seeing a 60% drop in revenue since its 2008 peak, reports KGTV News 10, consumers should expect to see more fees in the coming holiday months.
Hold on to your life raft—here’s what to expect when navigating the high fee seas on a cruise and some tips to keep your wallet from going under.
Cabin fever got you down? Too bad--that bike jaunt or scuba excursion is going to cost you big time, says John Deiner, managing editor of Cruise Critic.
You can always skip the adventure, but if you're bent on catching some air, these outings might be worth the inflated cost.
'People pay for the protection of being in a ship-sponsored excursion to go with the group,' says Deiner, and 'if you're late getting back, generally they'll hold the ship. Plus, they're heavily vetted. These cruises have been working with these vendors a long time.'
Going the private vendor route can certainly help you save, but you run the risk of getting left behind and will have pay your way to the ship's next port. We recommend budgeting for on-shore fun in advance--it's a vacation after all.
Passengers often get jipped while relaxing by the pool and ordering what they think is a 'complimentary' drink, only to get hit with a $10 charge at the end of their trip, says Jet.
The secret is avoiding the beverages altogether, or playing it smart: Deiner recommends stocking up on sodas in port and taking advantage of the complimentary iced tea, milk, and coffee at meals.
Knowing the ship's alcohol policy (Cruise Critic lists a great one) can also help you determine whether to BYOB, and if you're offered a drink in a souvenir glass, ask for the regular-priced one instead. Also check out two-for-one drink specials and happy hours on some ships. Events tend to offer free booze, and some lines have beer and wine packages that feature unlimited drinks. Just make sure to drink enough so it's worth your while.
Staying busy on a ship gets pricey when you're hit with a $10 to $15 charge for every spinning, yoga, or pilates class. After-hours babysitting (about $6 per child, per hours), behind-the-scenes tours, and rounds at the casino can also add up, Deiner says.
Gambling is especially dicey, says Jet, the travel expert: 'The odds in gambling are always towards the house, and on cruise ships they seem even worse.'
Deiner's tip: Get busy with free activities, start a conversation, or pick up a book. There really is plenty to do on board, from music performances, to cooking demos, wine tastings, lectures, and more. But if you're bent on trying something, set aside the money beforehand.
Batteries, memory cards, and a session in the photo booth can all hike up your cruise bill, Deiner says.
Just say no to the roving photographer, and resist the temptation to buy what he shot by not viewing the image in the 'gallery.' Likewise, pack your own camera, batteries, and supplies so you don't have to buy them on board. If you still forget, stock up when the ship is in port, says Deiner.
From a $5 T-shirt to a hundred-dollar bauble, souvenir shopping can get expensive.
We admit it can be hard to resist a beautiful snowglobe, but it's better to wait until later in the trip to buy it, when the bargain tables roll out. On shore, browse the outdoor markets and street vendors for cute and inexpensive handcrafts.
And check on-shore grocery stores for cheap candies and local foods, says Deiner.
If luggage is another word for 'fee' in the airline industry, then 'alternative' restaurants are cruise line's fee of choice.
'A lot of lines are introducing options to buy food on a cruise ship this year,' Deiner says, noting the $5 cover charge to dine at Celebrity's Silhouette venue, The Porch. Who wants to pay extra for popcorn or $75 to dine at Disney's Michelin-chef-helmed French restaurant, Remy?
Either skip the meal, or make the most of your budget by passing up the Mai Tais at the pool and splurging on dinner instead, Cruise Critic says. Meals in the ship's main dining room and buffet are usually just as decadent--and included in the overall cost of the trip.
You can also check out early bird, two-for-one specials at some restaurants, or look for deals that offer on-board credit or free meals that are tied in to booking the package, Cruise Critic suggests.
We don't recommend using your bikini as undergarments, but doing laundry and dry cleaning your clothes on a ship can be costly ($2.50 to $3 to wash a shirt and between $2 and $4 for a load, notes Cruise Critic).
Instead, try packing extra clothes, bringing travel-sized detergent for the self-service laundry station, or having your cabin mate scrub your skivvies in the sink then hanging them up to dry.
As Cruise Critic points out, tipping policies vary, and it's hard to get around them. Unlike in the U.K., where tips are rolled into the overall price of the service, passengers are recommended to tip '$10 to $12 per person, per day to be distributed among those who provide key services--dining room waiters, assistant waiters, and cabin stewards,' says the site. Bar tabs, meanwhile, get a 15% gratuity.
Deiner discourages travellers from skimping on tips unless the service was truly sub-par, in which case you should air your grievances to the front desk.
Crew members really depend on tips to earn their living, so if they do a stellar job, throw a little extra their way to show your appreciation.
Skip the blowout and cut, says Deiner. Cruise line spas charge rates that are up there with high end salons, and the commission-based staff are out to get you with the hard sell on their overpriced products.
'A massage is typically about $100 to $150, with more exotic treatments running into the $200 to $250 range' notes Cruise Critic. 'Passes to thermal suites and thalassotherapy pools average $15 to $30 a day.'
Is it worth it? Perhaps, but you'll score a better deal at your local salon.
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