Cruises can be an amazing way to explore different parts of the country and the world — often while enjoying unlimited quantities of food. Even on an “all-inclusive” cruise, however, not everything is included in the cost of your ticket.
Cruises are full of opportunities to spend more than necessary. Watch out for these costly extra charges, and save money on your next cruise.
Paying Extra for WiFi and Data Roaming Charges
Staying connected online can be a challenge when you’re out at sea, especially on a multi-day cruise. While major cruise lines — including Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line — are taking steps to provide high-quality, broadband WiFi access to passengers, this service comes at a price.
According to a 2015 study from Skift, passengers end up spending between $50 and $100 a day just for WiFi access. Leading cruise review and information site Cruise Critic recently reported that pricing is going down, noting that Carnival charges $25 per day for full internet access, but it’s still costly for cruise lines to connect passengers to the net. If you’re going on a seven-day cruise, you could easily spend up to hundreds just to stay connected during your journey.
And if your phone starts to pick up other signals that are out of your carrier’s range, you might end up paying data roaming charges every time you use an app or check your email. To avoid unnecessary costs when traveling, a good cruise hack is to check your settings before departure, and pay close attention to WiFi access fees before you connect.
Buying Drink Packages
If you plan on enjoying alcoholic beverages, one of the best ways to save money on your cruise is by buying an all-inclusive package for unlimited drinks. Just make sure you’re aware of any extra charges and rates when buying the package online versus during your trip.
For example, the Cheers! Beverage Program available on most Carnival Cruise Line ships costs $49.95 per person, per day, plus 15 percent gratuity ($57.44), if you buy online. You will end up paying $54.95 per person, per day, plus 15 percent gratuity ($63.19), if you buy the package onboard, though. This $6 difference might not seem like a lot, but that’s almost $30 extra for a five-day cruise.
Dining at Restaurants Not Included in Your Package
Even if your cruise vacation is part of an all-inclusive package that includes luxurious dining options, most cruise lines still have limitations on where you can eat and what beverages you can enjoy. If you end up buying meals or snacks from venues that aren’t part of the package, you will be billed in full when you check out — plus gratuity.
For example, a cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean ship will include most meals and some beverages. If you end up dining at any of the ship’s specialty restaurants, such as Johnny Rockets — and you order beverages — you will be charged extra, however. Additionally, some of these restaurants have cover charges.
Read the cruise line’s terms for any gourmet dining purchases during your trip, and find out if you can use gift cards at onboard restaurants.
Only Booking Excursions Through the Cruise Line
While it’s worth checking out the latest cruise excursion options listed by your line of choice, one of the best cruise tips is to avoid limiting your search to cruise line activities because you think you will be saving money.
Cruise and travel writer Sherry Laskin Kennedy of Cruise Maven recommends booking your cruise with travel agents because they receive the timeliest updates directly from the cruise lines. Consider them your travel insiders. After all, they get information about the newest menus, changes to itineraries and availability.
You can also save money on your cruise vacation using the online Cruise Agent Finder tool from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Neglecting to Pack Essentials
Packing for a cruise often means downsizing your usual packing list to accommodate for smaller cabin space. That doesn’t mean you should skimp on the basics like toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair care products and even snacks, though.
You might think you can just buy these items at a gas station along the way, or pick up personal care products and food from the cruise ship’s convenience store. But doing so means paying marked-up prices.
For best results, buy travel-sized versions of your favorite toiletries and bring them along.
Buying Souvenirs and Duty-Free Goods
It’s tempting to pick up souvenirs from the gift shop or stock up on handmade goods and other items when you’re island-hopping. But you can save money on these items by purchasing them online. So, it pays to shop around if you have the time.
If you decide to venture to a duty-free store aboard an international cruise, make sure you’re not seduced by the idea of your purchases being discounted. Americans who meet their duty-free spending limits are still subject to duty charges when they enter the U.S. A single traveler gets an $800 exemption, but the next $1,000 worth of goods purchased are subject to a flat 3 percent rate.
Buying Spa Products and Packages
Almost all the major cruise lines — especially the romantic cruises for couples — boast luxury spas that serve up pampering at a premium. You can probably enjoy a much-needed relaxation session for less, though, if you book services off site.
Cruise lines and travel agents often try to schedule travelers treatment packages that are simply added to their bookings. These might include multiple treatments in one day or over several days of the cruise. You might also find recommendations on spa products to purchase in your cabin or when you check out from the spa. Just make sure you’re aware of the a la carte menu prices for those massages, pedicures and other spa treatments before you agree.
For example, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub offerings aboard Celebrity Cruises include massage treatments ranging from $109 to $340. But you’ll knock off about $50 per service if you book your spa service when the vessel is in port. And if you don’t need a high level of pampering, ask about getting a pass to the spa pools and relaxation areas for more affordable R&R.
Leaving Unfinished Drinks Behind
There are no “open container” laws on cruise ships, reported Smarter Travel, which means you can take your drinks from bars and restaurants with you when you are ready to go. Unless you opt for an all-you-can-drink option, you will have to pay per drink, so don’t waste money by leaving a half-full cocktail or glass of wine behind — you can bring it back to your cabin or to another location on the ship.
Tipping Too Much
You should know the rules of tipping before you set sail. Depending on the cruise line you choose, you might automatically be charged a daily gratuity.
For example, Carnival charges a minimum of $12.95 per person, per day, which is either prepaid in advance or automatically charged at the end of your cruise. The line lets guests adjust tipping at their discretion, however. In addition, the cruise tacks on a 15 percent gratuity to all beverage services and a 15 percent gratuity to all Chef’s Table dining.
Norwegian Cruise Line charges a minimum of $13.99 per person, per day, as a “service charge,” and Royal Caribbean automatically charges a minimum of $13.50 per person, per day.
Of course, you’re welcome to tip extra for exceptional service, but don’t feel like you have to. The daily charges usually cover dining services, your stateroom attendant and other guest services. Check your cruise line’s gratuity policy in advance.
Spending Too Much Time in the Casino
Gambling is gambling, whether you are on sea or on land, so you can just as easily lose money fast while aboard a cruise ship. Many cruises set up their ships so you will have to cross through the casino several times a day when walking to different locations, reported Smarter Travel.
Avoid the daily temptation by abstaining from gambling in the casino, or set limits for yourself if you do like to gamble. And don’t get duped by these other casino tricks.
Buying the Professional Photos
Cruises are filled with professional photography stations where you’re encouraged to pose for photos with your loved ones and friends, and the prints of these photos can come with a pretty hefty price tag. For example, a 10-photo package on Norwegian will set you back $149. Save money by taking your own photos with your smartphone or professional camera and print them at home.
Ordering Wine by the Glass
As a general rule, it’s cheaper to order wine by the bottle than by the glass, and this holds true on cruise ships as well. On Carnival, for example, a glass of Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon costs $6.25, while the whole bottle costs $27.50. Given that a standard bottle of wine holds five glasses, you’d pay $31.25 for the same amount of wine if you ordered by the glass.
Remember, you can take unfinished beverages with you. So even if you don’t plan on finishing the whole bottle in one sitting, it’s a more economical option to opt for a bottle over individual glasses.
Upgrading Your Room
Chances are you didn’t book a cruise with the intention of sitting in your room all day. With all sorts of activities on board as well as daily excursions, you likely won’t be spending much time in your room at all. If you’re thinking of opting for more expensive accommodations than a standard interior room, take a moment to decide if it’s worth the extra cost.
The price difference between standard and deluxe accommodations can be astounding on certain cruises. On a four-night Disney Magic cruise to the Bahamas, an interior standard room starts at $1,669, while concierge level rooms can cost as much as $6,984.
Eating Meals During Excursions
Since many cruises are all-you-can-eat, there’s no sense in eating a meal off the boat at a docking destination. Plan your day so that you can eat on the boat before and after your excursions and avoid paying for additional and unnecessary food costs.
Following these cruise tips will ensure you don’t open your wallet too much while you’re out on the open water.
Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.