Ocean Cruise Basics: Controlling Expenses Made Easy
Ocean Cruise Basics is a series of posts designed for first-time cruise travelers, answering a number of common questions and providing resources to learn more. The goal: to help get the most out of a cruise vacation.
Compared to other travel options, ocean cruise vacations can offer great value due to their inclusive nature. Visiting a land-based resort or hotel, travelers pay for a room by the night and are often surprised by the amount of taxes and fees added on at checkout. At their land destination, they also pay for every meal as well as entertainment and activities. On an ocean cruise, all that is included in the price. Still, there are other costs that can add up fast. Some are nearly required while others are totally optional but desirable for many cruise travelers. Here is a list of typical optional expenses and some quick tips to help define and manage them.
Don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible to go on an ocean cruise and spend nothing more than the price of the cruise fare. Still, options are options because not everyone likes the same things. Some may find joy in simply reading a good book with the ocean as a backdrop. Others want to spend time in the ship’s casino, ashore exploring destinations or doing something else that has an additional fee. For those travelers, knowing the costs up front and planning for them in advance is the way to go.
Shore Excursions- Most major ocean cruise lines charge extra for shore excursions; the organized tours that go ashore. The cost per person on these can vary widely from $30 per person for a quick bus tour of a port of call in the Caribbean to $hundreds for flightseeing in Alaska. The good news is that most cruise line websites have detailed information and pricing on these shore excursions available in advance, to help budget what canbe a big ticket item, not included in the price.
Make It Easy: Make a list of two or three excursions at each port as well as any ‘just walk off the ship and enjoy the beach’ options along with pricing and let those going vote for which one they find the most interesting at each port with the total for all equalling or less than the budget you set.
Spa Treatments- Every ocean cruise line has a spa, usually connected to their exercise center. Onboard treatments can include everything from a haircut to a manicure or a variety of massages, skin treatments and lifestyle classes. All cost extra and often up to twice the price that the same service might be offered for on land. On a recent sailing we saw a manicure and pedicure combination advertised for $95. That was a sale price available only when the ship was in port. On land, we pay between $20 and $40 for the same treatment. Still, there’s something to be said for a massage the first day on the ship, just to get that cruise vacation off on the right track.
Make It Easy: Do spa treatments on days when the ship is docked and most passengers are off the shipon excursions. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon are the best times so you can enjoy going ashore also.
Casino Action- On cruise ships with casinos on board, like casinos on land, this is an item that can add up fast too. Savvy cruise travelers budget a certain amount to play with for each day of the sailing. Gaming lessons, available on board most cruise ships, as well as other complementary casino events can help lower this extra expense.
Make It Easy: Have an envelope for each day of the cruise to put budgetedcasino funds in. At the end of the day, cash out and put (hopefully a lot of) winnings in that same envelope. Run out during the day? You’re done. No borrowing from other days.
Gratuities- In the early days of cruising, this was done on the last night of the cruise when passengers would show their appreciation for a job well done, handing appropriate crew members envelopes with cash inside. Today, cruise lines break this down for passengers in advance adding between $10 and $12 or more per person, per day on to their onboard charge account. On a seven-day sailing for a family of four, that’s about $300 more to the total price of the cruise. Make It Easy: Pay these in advance and consider gratuities just part of the price paid for the cruise.
Alcoholic Beverages and Soft Drinks– Many cruise lines charge extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages but pricing is available online that can help with budgeting. Premium cruise lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Viking River Cruises and others, include soft drinks and paired wines with meals as part of the deal. Many other lines have all-you-can-drink packages that can add up to considerable savings for those that drink a lot.
Make It Easy: Take advantage of all opportunities to reduce the onboard expense of drinking like bringing bottles of wine, soft drinks and/or bottled on board during embarkation. Champagne Art Auctions = free champagne for those in attendance.
Travel Insurance– An optional charge on any cruise vacation, travel insurance of some kind is always a good idea. Where we buy it is another matter altogether. Cruise lines all have their versions, which can be added to the cruise fare and paid along with the price of the cruise. Third-party sources like TravelGuard, recommended by experts as the way to go, can be both cost efficient and provide customizable coverage. Comparing cruise line coverage to third-party sources on a cost and coverage basis, older travelers often come out ahead buying via the cruise line while younger travelers get a better value with third-party sources.
Make It Easy: Always check with your personal insurance agent first, the person who might handle your auto, home, health or life insurance. That trusted source will have guidance for you.
Optional Dining Venues- Generally included in the price of the cruise is an upscale main dining room experience, a buffet of some kind and 24-hour room service. In addition, some optional dining venues, called “alternative dining,” are available for a nominal charge for those who want something different. Those can run anywhere from $5 per person to $50 or more but, to many cruise travelers, offer one of the best values of all the optional charges. All can be researched in advance and many can be reserved in advance too. Royal Caribbean, for example, has 150 Central Park on their Oasis-class vessels that offers one of the best dining experiences ever on land or sea for $40 per person additional.
Easy Control Tip: All alternative dining venues are priced and described on the individual cruise line web site. See what they cost and build that amount into your onboard budget
Pre-Cruise Hotel Stays– Experienced cruise travelers know that coming in to the embarkation port where the sailing begins a day early is a good idea. This is especially true when flying from a northern U.S. location to a southern U.S. embarkation port in the winter, when flight delays due to weather are a real possibility. As airfare prices rise and more cruise travelers look for ways to save, flying stand-by is becoming more popular too, demanding travel a day or two in advance of sailing, just so they don’t “miss the boat.”
Easy Control Tip:Most cruise port-oriented hotels have Cruise and Snooze, Fly and Cruise, or Drive and Cruise specials that include transfer to and from the cruise port.
Internet Fees– This one can add up really fast. Internet access on cruise ships can cost up to $.75 per minute. The best value will be on the largest packages available and can cut that cost in half on a per-minute basis. Equally important to consider when budgeting for Internet access at sea is the reliability and speed of the ship’s Internet system. In other words, it is often not how much you pay but what you get out of it that counts.
Make It Easy: To get the most out of your Internet access dollars, pick a new ship or recently remodeled ship with the latest satellite system installed. Also, stop by the ship’s Internet cafe and ask the crew members working there one simple question: “What do I need to do on this ship to get the most out of your Internet connection?” A frank answer will greatly maximize your online experience.
Spending Off The Ship– Other than the price of Shore Excursions, cruise travelers often choose to go ashore for shopping which is often duty-free and can offer some good savings compared to U.S. land-basedshopping options. A stop by a sidewalk cafe for coffee, a drink or two or maybe lunch should also be considered.
Make It Easy: “Duty-Free” is not what it once was. Take a good hard look at that bottle of liquor in the duty-free store and be sure it is worth the savings compared to the local liquor store at home.