Budgeting for Your Cruise: Tips on how to save $ from “The Cruise Traveler’s Handbook”
By Gary Bembridge
When budgeting for your cruise, take into account what different cruise lines include or exclude in their fares.
While cruise fares include ‘full board’ (accommodation breakfast, lunch, and dinner), each line takes a different approach to what else will be included. Add-on items can make a significant difference to the total cost of your trip.
There are three areas to focus on when budgeting for your cruise.
Understand exactly what is included in the fare. You need to add to your budget everything that is not included in the fare. Specifically, check if the fare being offered to you includes the following:
• Flights and transfers to and from the ship.
• Drinks, including soft drinks, alcohol, and teas/coffees.
• Gratuities. These could add $5 to $20 per day, per person. There are three main approaches to gratuities:
o Included in the fare. You are not expected by the crew or the cruise line to tip while on board.
o Added to your onboard account at a rate determined by the cruise line.
o Left to your discretion to give directly to the crew. The cruise line usually provides a suggested daily rate and envelopes to put it in.
• Excursions. These could add between $50 and $150 per person, per excursion.
• Free shuttle-bus transfers into town in all ports of call.
Budget for the additional costs you will incur before the cruise. Add in payments you will have to make before your cruise:
• Travel insurance. Good insurance is essential to cover cancellation, illness,
and repatriation should you fall ill or need to return home.
• Visas and inoculations.
• Credit card charges. There may be a levy for using a credit card to pay for the cruise. You are not usually charged a fee for using a debit card.
• Costs of getting to and from the ship not included in your fare, including parking costs if leaving your car at the port.
• Additional baggage charges if you are flying to your port city.
• Overnight accommodation if staying at the port before or after the cruise.
Budget for the costs you will incur while on the cruise. The cruise line will be aiming to get you to spend as much they can while on board.
You need to budget for and control your spending.
The items you should include in your budget are as follows:
• Gratuities: Even if covered in your fare, you may want to tip for outstanding service and tour guides.
• Drinks: You may have to pay a surcharge for special cocktails, champagne, and premium brands. Cruise lines sell wine, cocktail, and soft-drink packages based on a per-day charge. If you drink alcohol, these packages may save you money and help control your onboard spend. Many cruise lines will not let you bring your own drinks on the ship, and they may search for and confiscate it. Check if your cruise line allows you to bring it on board before you waste money trying to bring it on your ship.
• Specialty dining charges: While your cruise fare will include meals in at least one venue, cruise lines have added specialty restaurants and charge a fee to dine there. Charges can range from a modest $5 to a more substantial $75 per person.
• Photographs: Every time you board or go to an event, and even at some meals, you will have your photograph taken. They can cost $10 or more each if you decide to purchase them.
• Internet access: Access to Wi-Fi will cost anywhere from $0.25 to $1 per minute. Most cruise lines will sell discounted packages of Internet access.
• Telephone calls: Including mobile phone roaming and usage charges.
• Spa: Treatments can cost between $80 and up per session.
• Fitness classes: Many of the larger cruise ships run Zumba, yoga, and exercise classes at an additional cost. This could cost around $50 for a seven-day cruise.
• Gambling and gaming costs: From casinos to bingo.
• Laundry and dry cleaning: Costs will be comparable to those on land. Most cruise lines offer free self-laundry and ironing rooms.
• Shopping: Including art auctions, jewelry, tax-free items, and souvenirs.
Tips on minimizing your spend on board
I am often asked how you can counter the ‘tricks’ used by cruise lines to get you to spend more on board. While there are some steps you can take, by far the best solution is to set a daily budget, monitor it, and stick to it. There are some things that will help you to avoid overspending:
• Staying clear of all promotional activities. This includes merchandise sales tables, shopping talks, art shows and auctions, and onboard stores.
• Taking your own photographs while boarding and on formal nights.
• Not buying the special cocktails and champagne on offer at sail- away parties.
• Attending the Captain’s cocktail parties and other events where there are free drinks and snacks.
• Buying the specially priced drinks packages.
• Not using, or using very selectively, the specialty restaurants.
• Drinking the ship’s water, versus buying bottled water.
• Not playing games such as bingo. Do not gamble in the casino or take part in the competitions run there.
• Doing your own laundry, versus sending it to the ship's service.
• Checking email and accessing the Internet when you are in port and can find free Wi-Fi stations. Ask the crew or follow where they go, as they will know where the closest free ones are.
• Following my advice and tips on excursions later in the book.
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Gary Bembridge has been an avid cruise fan and self-confessed ship geek for over a decade. He stumbled into it when he reluctantly went
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This article was last modified on November 21, 2017, 2:40 pm