While many travelers believe that cruise vacations are all-inclusive, this is normally not the case. You will have to pay extra for some activities and services. In addition, many cruise lines impose fees and service charges; some are mandatory and others are optional.
Let's take a closer look at the "hidden" costs of cruising.
Transportation to Your Departure Port
You are responsible for getting yourself to the departure port, although your cruise line can help you make those arrangements. To save money, consider choosing a departure port near your home or one that is served by a low-cost airline. Remember that you will have to pay to park at the cruise pier. (Tip: Consider buying travel insurance if you fly to your departure port in case your flight is canceled and you miss your cruise.)
When the ship is in port, most passengers take one of the shore excursions offered by the cruise line. These excursions can cost anywhere from $25 to $300 or more, and you must pay for them separately. You can save money by exploring on your own (on foot or by taxi), but you are responsible for making sure you are back on board well before the ship's scheduled departure time. If you miss the ship's movement, you will have to pay for your transportation to the next port on your itinerary.
Depending on which cruise line you select, you may have to pay separately for certain beverages you consume. Most cruise lines charge for beer, wine, and mixed drinks, and they do not allow you to bring your own hard liquor on board. Some also charge for sodas and bottled water. To save money, plan to drink tap water, juice, coffee, and tea with most of your meals. If your cruise line permits it, bring a case of soda or bottled water and a bottle of wine or two with you when you embark.
While the food served in the main dining room is included in your cruise fare, most cruise lines now offer "premium dining" options for an additional fee.
Spa and Salon Services
On a typical cruise ship, there is no charge to use the exercise/fitness facilities, but some cruise lines charge for use of saunas and steam rooms. Expect to pay for special classes, such as Pilates or yoga, as well as for spa and salon services.
Many cruise lines charge for Internet access. Typical charges include a one-time login fee and a per-minute charge ($0.40 to $0.75).
Tipping and Gratuities
Traditionally, cruise passengers were expected, but not required, to tip everyone who assisted them during the cruise, from the cabin steward to the waiters and waitresses who served them meals. Tipping is still expected, but some cruise lines now assess each person a standard, per-day gratuity or service charge which is then shared by appropriate staff members. Of course, you should consider tipping any staff members who provide services specifically for you, such as a spa or salon treatment, luggage transportation or room service, as the "standard gratuity" will not be shared with them.
A separate, mandatory gratuity of 15% to 18% will normally be added to your drink orders.
Many cruise line contracts include a fuel surcharge clause that states that a specific per-passenger surcharge will be added to your fare if the price of oil passes a specific limit. This surcharge is unavoidable. All you can do is watch the oil markets and set some money aside to cover the fuel surcharge.
Shopping and Gambling
Almost all large and mid-size cruise ships have casinos, gift shops, and roving photographers. Photographic memories and souvenirs are lovely, and gambling can be quite entertaining, but all of these items and activities do cost money.
Travel insurance makes good sense for many cruisers. Insuring your trip will protect you from the loss of your deposit and subsequent payments. You can also purchase coverage for travel delays and cancellations, baggage loss, medical care, and emergency evacuation. (Tip: Be sure to read every word of the insurance policy before paying for it to make sure it includes all the coverage you need.)