Cruises are often marketed as an ‘all-inclusive’ vacation, implying that once you pay your fare and board the ship, there are no further costs. This is not completely true, as I will describe in this post. With an increasing supply of cruise ship berths, cruise lines have an incentive to keep prices down, to attract more customers to their proffered vacations. A cruise today costs roughly what it did 20 to 30 years ago, despite the fact that all of the component elements, most especially fuel, have risen significantly during that time.
So how do cruise ships make up this difference? By charging more for ‘a la carte’ items onboard. Here is a guide as to what is included on a cruise, and what is not.
- Stateroom with service. Your cruise fare pays for your room, as well as a steward and assistant(s) to clean it, provide fresh linens, and offer a turndown service.
- Most meals. This includes 2 to 3 meals a day in the main dining room(s), a (usually 24 hour) buffet, as well as other casual eateries. Most cruise ships at least offer a pizza stand and a grill (hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, chicken sandwiches) as part of cruise fare. It is also common to have some kind of sandwich/panini shop included as well. You can easily eat entirely from these included venues for your entire cruise.
- Limited beverages. Water, coffee, hot and iced tea, and milk are generally included in the cruise fare, with juices being provided at breakfast time. Sometimes another soft, non-carbonated beverage, such as lemonade or fruit punch, is offered as well. Disney Cruise line is unique amongst ‘mass market’ cruise lines in providing sodas as part of cruise fare, along with these other choices.
- Most entertainment and activities. During the day and night, cruises offer an array of activities, and the vast majority of these are included as part of the cruise fare. Nightly shows are offered, which can be Broadway-style productions, comedians, magicians, singers, musicians, hypnotists, jugglers or acrobats. During the day, game shows, trivia, card games (bridge, mahjong, etc.), pool games and crafts are scheduled. Live music is provided all over the ship, and in many venues you can dance to live music as well, or simply ‘shake your booty’ at the disco with a DJ. Some ships provide karaoke, rock climbing, ice skating, or other forms of entertainment included in your cruise fare.
- Fitness center, pools and hot tubs. There will be a fitness center with workout equipment and weights, pools and hot tubs available for use.
- Transportation from port to port. The cruise ship will take you from port to port, along your itinerary.
- Gratuities. It is expected that you will provide gratuities (pay tips) to your stateroom and dining personnel. All mainstream cruise lines now charge an automatic fee, calculated as a set amount (usually $10 to $12 per person per day). Sometimes you are required to pay this fee up front, when you pay for the cruise, and other times it is added per day to your stateroom account. Although these fees are termed ‘gratuities’, and technically they can be removed, it is considered very poor form to do so (just as leaving no tip in a land-based restaurant would be considered very bad form). This may well be the largest charge you pay to the cruise line, after cruise fare.
- Alcoholic (and some non-alcoholic) beverages. Mainstream cruise lines charge for alcoholic beverages, and (with some exception on Disney Cruise Line) for sodas as well. Bottled water, premium juices (such as fresh-squeezed orange juice) and specialty coffees are often also available for an additional fee, which is usually quite high, and much more than you would pay on land for the same beverage. Prices are similar to buying drinks at a fancy restaurant, an airport lounge, a large theme park, or a sports stadium. Some cruise lines offer ‘beverage packages’, which may, or may not, save you money, if you plan to drink a lot of these ‘additional fee’ drinks.
- Shore excursions. When the ship docks in port and allows you to walk onshore, it has provided the service it promised. However, if you are willing to pay an additional cost, the cruise line can arrange to have you take on tours in each port, to explore the local sites and attractions. It is not mandatory to take a cruise-line-sponsored excursion; many people simply prefer to walk about on their own, or arrange private tours. This topic will be covered in a future blog post.
- Photographs. Cruise ship photographers are ubiquitous, particularly on formal nights, when passengers are encouraged to dress up for dinner and the evening activities. Said photographs are not cheap, and usually begin at $20 per picture.
- Fitness classes and a few other activities. While most activities and entertainment are included in the cruise fare, fitness classes usually incur an extra charge. You can work out for no additional fee, but working out with an instructor, either privately or in a group session, will cost you. Occasionally, there may also be other activities that come with a small charge, such as computer courses or pottery classes.
- Specialty dining. All cruise ships have at least one ‘specialty dining’ venue that comes with an extra fee, and some cruise ships have many such venues. While many of these eateries are considered ‘high class’ cuisine (French or Italian restaurants, steakhouses, seafood restaurants, creperies, etc.) there are also more casual specialty venues, such as Johnny Rockets burger restaurants or ice cream/gelato parlors. Food at such venues is generally of higher quality, and provided with a higher level of service, hence the additional fee.
- Spa and salon services. Next to the fitness center you will invariably find the spa, where beauty treatments from haircuts and manicures to massages and facials can be obtained for an additional cost. Generally, spa prices are about 50% more than you would pay on land for similar services.
- Casino. Other than Disney Cruise Line, cruise ships have casinos. Odds highly favor the house and slots are usually quite ‘tight’.
- Shopping. Anything you buy in the stores onboard a cruise ship will incur an extra charge.
Other than gratuities, all of these are optional charges, and it is certainly possible to have a wonderful cruise without paying for any of these additional things. Many people eschew the casino, shopping, and photographs, arrange their own shore excursions, bring on their own alcoholic/soft drinks, and only eat at the included dining venues, and still have a wonderful cruise. It is your choice as to how you spend your money. I only want you to be aware of these extra fees, so that you are not surprised once you are onboard, and you are able to budget for such extras in advance.
Naturally, all of these things can lead up to a rather large onboard account (bill) at the end of your cruise. One way to alleviate this nasty surprise is to accumulate onboard credit, which will be the topic of next week’s blog.