What Impacts the Cost of a Cruise?

Like other forms of vacations, the price of a cruise can vary significantly, depending on a number of factors. One of the most important factors in determining the cruise cost is location: the port(s) from which the cruise embarks and disembarks, and the ports in between. Supplies and fuel can vary in cost throughout the world, and such costs are passed along to the traveler, one way or the other. Cruise lines spend an enormous amount on fuel every year, and even a small price variation can make a big difference to their bottom line. Food costs can have similar variations, but with the added complication that a cruise line must ensure that food is of a certain quality, so as to taste good and not make passengers ill. As such, food cannot be purchased anywhere, but only at certain locations, and from certain vendors, approved by the cruise line. Generally, cruises that depart from the US and/or the Caribbean tend to be the least expensive in this regard. Cruises in Europe are more expensive, with northern Europe being more costly than the Mediterranean. Asian and specialty cruises can be even more expensive, however South American cruises are often a bit cheaper.

Another issue with location related to docking and port fees. The cruise line absorbs (and likely passes on through the cruise fare) the docking fees charged by various ports. However the port fees are charged on a per passenger basis, and as such the passengers will pay them directly, as an additional ‘tax’ on top of the cruise fare. Sometimes these fees are minimal (such as in the Caribbean) but they can also be very expensive (such as passing through the Panama Canal).

Of course the biggest factor in determining a cruise fare is demand. If a cruise itinerary is popular, then the cruise lines can (and will) charge more. Even a low cost cruise can suddenly shoot up in cost if the cruise line feels that passengers are willing to pay those prices. For the last couple of years, Alaska has been an extremely popular cruising itinerary, as people are turned away from international travel by terrorism threats and rapidly increasing airfares. As such, Alaskan cruises have become more expensive. On the opposite end of the scale, cruises to Mexico have become less popular, and therefore much cheaper, as hurricanes and drug wars in that country make news headlines.

Travel dates are another important ingredient in the pricing mix. School vacations tend to be the most expensive time to cruise, as the demand for vacation options soars. Summer cruises, spring break cruises and winter holiday cruises all come with a premium. If you are able to cruise in ‘off season’, such as in January/February, late April/May, or September/October, then you will see much lower prices than the other times of year.

Taxes are also added to cruise fares, although usually they are not a significant amount when compared to the overall fare.

So your total cruise cost to board the ship will be the cruise fare itself, plus taxes and port fees. Make sure all three components are included when you are comparing the cost of cruises.

As mentioned in last week’s post, another thing to consider is transportation costs. You will have to make travel arrangements to get to the departure port, and then back home again from the arrival port. I have seen many great fares in Europe, Australia and South America, but when the cost of airfare is factored in, the price of the trip quickly escalates beyond what I am willing to pay. Keep in mind your transportation options and costs when comparing cruises.

Once onboard the ship, there are more costs to consider. In the next couple of weeks I’ll discuss onboard costs, and how to get onboard credit to help alleviate them.