Cruise TipsThe 10 Most Overlooked Cruise Expenses and How to Avoid Them

The 10 Most Overlooked Cruise Expenses and How to Avoid Them

As most of our readers know, if you want to get the most bang for your buck out of a vacation, it’s hard to beat a cruise.  The cost of traveling all over the world, eating like royalty, and seeing top-notch entertainment every night would come at a high price anywhere else.  But there are some extra overlooked expenses that come along with cruising that can leave you in shock at the end of your voyage.

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Just because you are going on a cruise doesn’t mean you have to blow ALL your money.  Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t break your budget on your next cruise.

Cruising solo

If you are going on a cruise by yourself you will more than likely still have to pay for two people.   This is one of the biggest misconceptions with cruising.  That price you see on the brochure is probably for just one person, even though you will have to pay for two.  Cruise lines base their prices based on double-occupancy and if only one person is in the room they have to re-coop their costs somehow.  However, there are some cruise lines that will offer lower rates for the second half of the fare of a solo cruiser.  Sometimes you will have to pay only 50% of the other fare.  Norwegian actually offers single cabins on some of their cruise ships as well.

Surfing Online

You will be better off surfing on the FlowRider than surfing online aboard a cruise ship.  Not only do many cruise lines charge by the minute, but the connections are so slow it will suck away even more precious minutes out of your time and out of your wallet as you wait to connect. Prices can range anywhere from $.65 to $.75 per minute and some cruise lines have connection fees as well.  Thankfully, some cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line) have begun to offer more affordable options recently with unlimited packages.

If you absolutely must go online, you will be better off finding a WiFi hot spot at one of your ports of call or using your phone connection when you are at a U.S. port like Puerto Rico or the Florida Keys.  Just make sure your service provider does not charge extra at these ports before you leave home.

Side note: Most cruise ships allow you to access the internet from your room on your own device while older ships only have certain hotspots in parts of the ship.  Alternatively you can always visit the cyber café as well but you better surf quickly because these costs can add up fast.

Buying pics from the cruise paparazzi

Cruise lines love to make passengers feel like celebrities with the constant flash of photography everywhere.  But this is not because you are exceptionally photogenic or famous.  It’s because they make a fortune off those prints which can cost $20 for one 8×10.  While these pictures don’t cost you anything if you don’t want the prints, today’s cameras can take exceptional pictures for free.    It’s not hard to find another cruiser willing to take a picture for you.  You just won’t have those nifty backgrounds in your photo.

I always like to buy at least one photo from the cruise line because I know those photographers work hard for their money, but it’s easy to get carried away and find yourself spending well over $100 for just a few prints.  Only buy the prints you simply cannot live without.

Shopping on board the cruise ship

While cruise ships will often have “sidewalk” sales and sell t-shirts for $15, for the most part items in the shopping plaza of a cruise ship will cost you more than you can get it for at home.  Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole “duty-free” shopping experience, but those shops are there to make money, not cut you the deal of a lifetime.  When looking at prices for a watch on one occasion the salesperson actually pretended to be shocked at how low the price was for a particular time piece and said, “Wow, I can’t believe how low this price is.  It just can’t be right.”  Needless to say, I smiled politely and walked away.  I didn’t have an extra $300 to spare.

Two tips here:  Wait until the last day when the deals on the ship are the greatest.  And make sure you pack all the necessary toiletries, batteries, cameras etc so you don’t have to blow it in a boutique.

Shore Shopping

Some people love to shop their hearts out at each port.  Each cruise line will usually have a special talk on shore shopping tips as well.  They will tell you where to get the best deals on jewelry and offer “insider secrets” that seem too good to be true.  Just remember most of these cruise shopping lecturers get kick-backs from these different companies at the ports and this is factored into the price of what you will end up paying at those shops as well.  You’re better off avoiding the shops these “shopping experts” endorse and finding your own deals.  Of course, they also offer coupon books for getting a bunch of “free” stuff at the ports, but the coupon book is not free and when you go into a jewelry store to get that one free earring, you are pressured to no end to buy more stuff.

Paying extra for drinks and snacks

If you want to drink from the minibar in your room, you can feel free to do so, but it won’t feel free at the end of the week.    Sodas and other drinks will cost you extra if you order them through the cruise line, but most companies offer drink cards you can purchase that allow you an unlimited number of drinks throughout the week.

Alternatively, you can usually bring aboard a 12-pack of soda if that particular cruise line allows it.

Striking it rich at the casino

While most of us know that the casino does not exist on the cruise ship to make passengers money, it helps to be reminded not to allow the one-armed bandits to have too much of your hard earned money.  Even on the high seas, the house always wins in the end.

On my last cruise the cruise director actually admitted how much of a rip-off the casino was.  Of course he was trying to be humorous, but we all knew he was telling the truth.

So how do you avoid this extra cruise expense?  Either avoid the casino altogether or make sure you have a preset spending limit in mind, and don’t try to win that money back once it’s gone.


Tipping must always be factored in to the complete cost of your cruise.  It is not optional here.  Some of the crew will rely on these tips and they work hard for it as well.  Cruise lines will either recommend or require anywhere from $12 to $15 per day per person on a cruise.  So on a 7 day cruise this can add up to about $200 for a couple.  Of course, if your room steward or waiter goes above and beyond your expectations you can tip much more than this.  Some cruise lines will automatically bill your account to include gratuities but you can still tip on top of that if you so choose.

There is no way around this one.  You should tip and tip well.  On some cruise lines the crew relies heavily on this income and what might seem like an insignificant amount could go a long way with them.

Specialty restaurants

One of the best aspects of cruising is the food.  It’s everywhere any time you want and it’s usually delicious.  But it’s not always included in the price of your cruise.  Most cruise ships have specialty dining venues that offer a more personalized dining experience for $20 to $50 a person.    These restaurants offer French or Italian cuisine and most cruise ships have their own steakhouse.  While some regular cruisers will swear that these dining options are well worth the price, it’s an extra expense that you might want to cut out if considering your budget.

When you first board the ship look at all the different dining options on the ship directory.  You might be surprised at some of the “free” options besides the main dining room and buffet if you want some variety.

Shore Excursions

Some of the most fun you’ll have on a cruise can be off the ship on an excursion.  But the cost of a few shore excursions can add up fast.    When booking an excursion through the cruise line you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you will not get left behind if your excursion goes long, but you will also pay more than if you tried to find some lower prices yourself.

Do some research ahead of time and book an island tour, jet-ski ride, or any other type of activity directly from a vendor.  It’s better to do your research before your cruise so you can check the dependability of the vendor you are wanting to book with.

I have used the public transportation at St. Thomas to get a cheap taxi ride to one of the beaches on the island.  Remember you can always negotiate with the vendors at the ports and you can’t do that with the cruise line.  If you book your own port activities ahead of time you will know exactly how much you are spending as well.

Got any more cruise expenses that we left out?  Let us know in the comments below.  I know of a few more I could have added, but 10 seemed like a nice round number.

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
Cruise TipsThe 10 Most Overlooked Cruise Expenses and How to Avoid Them


  1. Parking fees. Unless you get to the port by shuttle, taxi, bus, etc. there will be a fee to park your vehicle at the port. Some area hotels will offer cheaper parking or even free parking/storage (many near the Atlanta Airport have these options) while you’re gone, but be sure to check with the hotel before you take that cab to the ship.

  2. The best advice I can give to any cruise traveler is to never use a travel agent. Do the research yourself. Search for exactly what you want, and book it. this goes for cruise lines, excursions, transportation, etc. If a problem comes up, you can deal with it directly, and not hope and pray you can find a middleman back in the states, while you are sitting in the middle of the Caribbean. Makes no sense. It’s your vacation, and if you are like most people, you only get to do it once a year. So do the research, and get exactly what you want. Not what someone else has already bought, and is trying to convince you to buy from them.

  3. Avoid purchasing the beverage packages, especially if you do not drink alcoholic beverages. They are expensive and I can guarantee that in most instances you will not spend as much if you just paid for your drinks individually throughout the cruise. If for some reason, you do purchase the beverage package and you are traveling as a couple or with a friend, purchase only one package. They will try to convince you at the time of purchase that there is a one to one relationship between the purchased package and each traveler. Don’t believe them. There is nothing to stop you from ordering two drinks and sharing it with someone else.

    • Actually, with beverage packages, most cruise lines bring you one drink at a time, and you can’t order another until your glass is empty. You could try to work around that by going from one bar to another and ordering a drink at each bar, but that’s a lot of walking around and not sitting together enjoying the drinks together. Some cruise lines actually require all adults in the cabin to purchase the package, even if only one person wants it.

    • Sigh…you are the reason some cruise lines now make every adult in the stateroom buy a drink package if one person wants it…

  4. Tips –

    – Most cruise lines allow you to bring Wine on board (one per adult) – avoid the corkage fee by opening in your room and carrying it to the dinng room. Corkscrews should only be in your checked baggage or obtain one from your room steward,.

    – Most cruise lines except Carnival allow you to bring water or a 12 pack soda on board. I recommend a factory sealed package to my clients and place a luggage tag on it – send it to the room. Then bring a soft sided cooler into your room via luggage and the room attendant will keep your drinks cold. Put the cooler in the bathroom as it sweats and drips it will be on tile..

    – Order your excusions on line from your travel agent as the rates are 20-30% below the Cruise Line price. The cruise line scares you with the back to ship guarantee however the tour opperators know when your ship departs and generally schedules tours to end with plenty of time to shop and return to your ship. Its the same vendors, same tour, with a great savings.

    – ALWAYS USE A TRAVEL AGENT – there services are usually free and they offer free advice and often have exclusive offers to add value to your purchase. A nation publication recently announced that the average transaction saves $350 per cruise thru the use of a Travel Agent.. Find one you like and stick with them. Loyality will add additional value.

    • I agree. I’m a lazy traveler, and rely on my travel agent to sweat the small stuff. He knows things like the international date line and how it can mess you up if you don’t account for it, travel insurance, etc. we once had to cancel an expensive cruise when I landed in the hospital, and he ran interference with the insurance company, saving us hours of time and hassle. My sister books her travel through online sites, and has gone to my travel agent to try to get the same deal, and he always does better than she does on her own.

  5. I am a true believer in tipping and I always tip more for the room stewart and for person that brings my coffee every morning. If that was my job and did a good job I would certainly expect a tip. I even tip the folks at drive thru windows, they provide a service that I appreciate.

  6. I am an ex crew member and I have great tip :

    Don’t take the cruise if you are a cheap twat.
    Long time ago cruising was for real gentleman, and now every cheap simpelton takes one.

  7. Tipping is an American thing and outdated, I only tip those who give good service, why should I subsidise wages, when the cruise company should give a decent wage to crew.

    • Tipping is more common in the US than some other countries, yes, but cruise lines, like US restaurants and hair salons, pay way below minimum wage, and the workers depend on tips to make a living. There are other ways to save on vacations.

    • And, if the cruise line DID pay their workers a fair wage, they’ll pass that charge along to you, upping your cruise fare. You pay either way. Maybe try cruise lines that have a “no tipping ” policy, like Silversea. Their price is higher than most of the cruise lines that expect tips. It all comes out in the end.

  8. I am going to Cozemel, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay in August. I want to play Golf at one or all thre ports. What do I need to know about finding a good course, how to get transportation to the golf course and return! Also I am interested in a sightseeing tour for each port. Any information is appreciated!

  9. Soda costs at least $2-3 per drink on cruise ships. Order iced tea or iced coffee and it’s free. Part of your meal. Took me a couple of cruises to figure this out.

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