Cruises are some of the most inexpensive vacation options out there. Most cruises are considered to be all-inclusive – your transportation, lodging, entertainment, food, and drink are all covered in the price. The problem is all of the little extras onboard that are not covered by your fare. A soda here, a massage there – it adds up pretty quickly!
So, what is covered in you cruise fare? Different cruise lines include different items in their "all-inclusive" price. Some give you a certain drinks free while others ask you to pay…others have free gyms while their competitors will demand money every time you want to use it. Usually, the more exclusive or expensive your cruise is, the more incidentals are included.
It's probably easier to tell you what is usually not included in your fare, such as:
Travel To The Port City:
Whether you need to fly into the port city or have the luxury of driving, you have to cover the cost. This is usually the same for your transfer from the airport to the pier where the ship is moored.
If you do need to fly in, check with your travel agent or the cruise line to see if you can have it added to your fare for an additional charge. Sometimes these airfares are at a discount and can actually save you money but sometimes they're not. It's best to compare prices and see which is less expensive.
Lodging at the Port City:
If you arrive in the port city the day before departure, you'll need a place to stay the night. The cost of a hotel room will be your responsibility but considering that cruises sail from major cities, finding an inexpensive room shouldn't be a problem.
Parking at the Port City:
If you drove into the port city, you will need to find a safe place to store your car while you're away on your vacation. You can't expect to park your sedan on the city streets or in a hotel parking lot for 3, 7, or 10 days without someone getting suspicious and having it towed away.
Check with your cruise line or travel agent for parking options at the port. Some have large parking garages while others direct you to nearby privately-owned lots or garages. One thing is for sure – you will be charged for your car's stay, usually $10 to 20 dollars a night.
To save money, either leave your car at home and take a different mode of transportation or leave your car with a friend who lives nearby and take a cab or bus to the port.
Alcoholic Beverages & Some Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Be ready to pay a premium for any alcoholic drink you order while on board. This is the same for sodas, specialty coffees, smoothies, and anything else beyond the basic water, tea, and lemonade that most cruises offer for free. These drink charges can add up fast, especially if you have kids, so watch out!
To help families budget while still enjoying their trip, most cruise lines now offer a drink card at an additional cost. These allow the owner of the card to purchase as many soft drinks they want while on the cruise. These cards may seem like an extravagance but if you divide the cost by the cost of individual sodas from the bar, you'll quickly see that it is an affordable option, especially if you drink a lot of soda.
Some Dining Options
As long as you eat in the main dining room or at one of the buffet lines, your meals will be included in your fare. It's when you decide to eat at one of the specialty restaurants where you start to rack up a tab. These usually run you around $10 to 30 a person and can be great for a special occasion but shouldn't be used on a daily basis.
Along with the specialty restaurants, some ships have a la carte eateries where you order off of a menu and pay for just those items. Prices are the same as in any tourist location – high but not exorbitant - but can easily drain a vacation budget if you're not careful.
Salon & Spa Treatments
Salons and spas are on almost every cruise ship these days. You can get your hair done, schedule a relaxing massage, or get a mani-pedi so your nails look perfect at dinner.
Of course, none of these services come free. Many of the salon and spa prices are on the high side, equal to those in a large city or tourist area. Also, be ready for a lot of upselling by the staff – they'll have lots of suggestions on how to improve your looks and health. You come up for a manicure and the next thing you know, you're getting your hair cut and styled!
If you're really looking forward to a little "down time" in the ship's spa, look into spa packages that you can buy ahead of time. These will usually snag you a nice discount and ensure that you are on the spa's schedule.
Gym and Fitness Classes
There are some cruise lines that charge for the use of their gym, usually on a per-day rate. There are others that let you use the gym for free but charge you a premium if you want to take a fitness class.
The moment you step on board, you'll get mobbed by the ship photographers who want to take your "welcome aboard" photo. This will be your first of many run-ins with the guys with the camera. Their job is to catch all of the fun you and your family have and then resell it to you at a premium.
There are pros and cons to using the services of the onboard photographers. Not only do you not have to worry about carrying your camera everywhere onboard but you're also never obligated to buy a horrible picture….but then again, the high cost ($20+ for an 8x10) could be detrimental to your wallet.
If you want to save money on photography, have everyone in your party bring a digital camera (or buy a lot of disposable cameras) and snap pictures whenever they want. Not only can you print them cheaper at your hometown drug store but you'll get some great photos that will have a more special meaning to you.
At every port of call, you'll have access to a full list of tours and activities that the cruise line has setup for passengers to enjoy…at an extra cost, of course. Many are expensive ($30+ for a bus tour to $400+ for an activity like kayaking or rock-climbing) but include knowledgeable guides, all necessary equipment, and transportation to and from the ship.
Of course, you're not stuck with the cruise line-endorsed excursions. You can always explore or set something up on your own. This could save you some money but does take some time to plan.
Incidental Purchases and Souvenirs
Once the ship reaches international waters, the duty-free shops open for business, luring in bargain hunters looking for a great deal. There are also all sorts of stores on board selling a variety of items, from incidentals like aspirin and pens, to luxury items such as jewelry and clothing. Of course, there are the usual souvenir stands and stores that sell hats, toys, magnets and shot glasses to remind you of your vacation for years to come.
If you're not careful about keeping track of your purchases, it can be easy to go overboard, especially if you use your cruise ID to make all of your purchases. Make sure to keep a log of what you buy or check the balance often to ensure that you are staying within your vacation budget.
It's important that you tip the crew well at the end of your trip. Most of them, especially the ones that help you every day, depend on your tips to survive. Cruise lines provide you guidelines and some even automatically add the tip to your bill – usually around $10 per person, per day.