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These Hidden Cruise Expenses Will Ruin Your Vacation—Here’s How to Plan Ahead

Don’t let the hidden cost of cruising sink your dream vacation. Review this list of common charges that catch cruisers off-guard, and build them into your budget before you set sail.

Cruises are a wonderful way to travel, but aren’t as all-inclusive as the uninitiated might believe. From automatic tips to unexpected fees, there is a hidden cost to cruising. Once you’ve scrimped to pay for your cruise, keep saving until the Sail Away Party. There are more charges to come. This list of expenses and extras can help you budget and prepare accordingly. The more you know—and pay in advance—the more you can enjoy a carefree time at sea.

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Tips of the Not-So-Optional Variety

In the name of convenience, cruise lines now automatically charge passengers for tips for the housekeeping and dining staff. This predetermined amount can set you back anywhere from $12.50 to $17.50 per person per day, depending on the cruise line. For a family of five on an eight-day voyage, this could mean an extra charge of $700. Imagine your surprise if you didn’t know that bill was coming!

INSIDER TIPTo avoid sticker shock while on your cruise, consider pre-paying your tips online. Vacation is more enjoyable when you don’t get a big bill at the end.


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But, Wait—Even More Gratuities

Once you’ve swallowed the daily-tip pill, there are more charges waiting to hop on your bill. Purchase a drink onboard? An 18% gratuity will be automatically added. A visit to the spa will also include an automatic 18% tip. These receipts will come with a line for an additional tip, so keep an eye out for that. Unless your service was truly exceptional, there’s no need to double-tip.

INSIDER TIPHave a few dollars on hand when you cruise because there are also a few tipping occasions that require cash. If a porter carries your bags to or from the ship, it is customary to tip one dollar per bag. And, if you order room service, it is expected that you’ll give a few dollars upon delivery.


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Excursions—and More Tips!

A big part of cruising is port day adventures: snorkeling with stingrays, climbing waterfalls, exploring exotic beaches. Joining excursions is a great way to make the most of a few hours in a foreign country, but the cost can add up. Once again, if you’re traveling as a family of five, a $100-dollar excursion becomes $500, plus tips. Bring small bills of U.S. currency to tip your drivers and guides; you might have several per excursion.

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The Cost of Leaving

Live in Texas but you’re cruising out of Miami? The expense of getting to your departure port might surprise you. If you’re traveling by plane, you’ll want to fly the day before your cruise so unexpected flight delays don’t ruin your vacation. But, this means the additional cost of a hotel, plus transportation from the airport and to the cruise terminal. If you plan to drive, you might still require a hotel, and will also need to look into the cost of parking during the cruise.

INSIDER TIPMany car rental companies and hotels offer complimentary shuttles to nearby cruise terminals. Some hotels also offer discounted parking in their lots for cruisers. If you can find accommodations that provide both parking and a shuttle, you could save a great deal.


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Sharing Your Trip on Social

If you don’t post photos of your vacation in real time, did it even happen? Internet is available on all cruise ships, but the speed and cost can vary greatly. It can also be difficult to find these prices in advance, so it might require a little online sleuthing. Carnival offers a social Wi-Fi plan for $6.80 per day, which allows you access to the most popular social websites, and more expensive plans for full internet access. Royal Caribbean offers packages starting at $15.99 per day for one device, going up to $19.99 per day per device for the faster VOOM wireless internet. Disney has packages as cheap as pay-as-you-go for 25 cents per megabyte… if you can guess how much that will cost you.

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Texting at Sea

Once you sail out to sea, your cell phone becomes useless for texting. So, how do you reach the rest of your party to tell them where to meet for dinner? If you plan to pay for an internet package for everyone in your group, download WhatsApp onto each phone before your trip for easy communication. Using Skype or Facetime would require a streaming package, which generally costs more. Some cruise lines offer onboard communication apps, but many of these still require Wi-Fi or the purchase of a communication package to access. Carnival’s app is one of the more affordable at only $5 per device. As long as you pay the activation fee for each device, you can text via Carnival Hub for the duration of your cruise. This works better than the old walkie-talkie plan.

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Not All Shows Are Created Equal

One surprise for first-time cruisers is often that not all onboard entertainment options are free. On Carnival Horizon, for example, visits to the IMAX theater cost extra. Movie snacks are also an additional charge. Royal Caribbean offers a royal escape room, The Observatorium, that comes with a fee. There will also be countless opportunities for cruisers to spend a little more on fun and games, from the arcade to the casino. Set your budget in advance, to avoid overspending on too many extras like Build-a-Bear at Sea or the slot machines.

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Get Fit on Your Own Dime

Cruise ships have nice gyms that are free to use, but classes will cost you. Pilates or yoga often run about $12 per class, and Body Sculpt Boot Camp could cost closer to $120, and, yet again, instructors may expect tips. This can be a tricky item to budget for as class costs generally aren’t published online. You will have to check the schedule once onboard and make your plan.

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Food and Drinks Are Included, Except When They Aren’t

Cruise ships offer some restaurants where you can dine at no charge and some that require an additional fee. Expect to pay for sushi bars, exceptionally fine dining, and coffee shops. Drinks will cost you no matter where you dine. If you don’t purchase a beverage package, you will likely only be able to drink water, lemonade, iced tea, hot tea, and coffee – hot chocolate if you’re lucky. Anything else, from soda to beer, will cost extra. Beverage packages range from $50 to $70 per person per day, with premium packages closer to $100, plus the automatic 18% gratuity.

INSIDER TIPIf fine dining is of interest, look for package deals after you board the ship. Carnival offers a deal if you make reservations at all three of its specialty restaurants.


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Free Room Service Isn’t Always Free

Most cruise lines offer complimentary room service, but beware charges for premium items and delivery fees. On Royal Caribbean ships, in-room food delivery costs $7.95 per order—including an additional 18% additional gratuity—regardless of the time of day, excluding orders of Continental breakfast. On Carnival, a late-night room fee of $4.95 is added to all orders received between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Once onboard, prices should be clear from the menu, but watch out for the fine print.

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Steam Rooms and Saunas

Steam rooms and saunas on newer ships almost always require a fee for use. If you pay for a spa service, do not count on being able to use these areas for free. On Carnival Horizon for example, if you’d like to relax in a steam room after your massage, access to the Thermal Suite will cost you $179.

INSIDER TIPDo your research on the ship’s spa to see if a couple’s massage gains you access to a special suite. This might afford you a little private time relaxing in a room with a jacuzzi. It’s also worth attending a spa tour the day you board the ship. Cruise lines often offer discounts and raffles at this time.