Cruise Tips10 Ways Rookies Waste Money on a Cruise

10 Ways Rookies Waste Money on a Cruise

Smart cruisers make the best cruisers.  Here are 10 ways that rookies waste money on a cruise and how to avoid them.

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If you’d rather check out our video on ways rookies waste money on a cruise check out the clip below:

1. ATM Fees – Forgetting to bring extra cash can be costly on a cruise with ATM machines charging fees that will range from $5-8 per transaction (on top of what your bank will charge you).  If you do need cash for a day in port or to tip the crew a few extra dollars, you can avoid ATM fees on cruise ships with a handy tip on our cruise hacks page. This doesn’t work on every cruise line but works on many.

2. Spa Products – Getting a massage during your cruise is a great way to get pampered while on vacation.  However, you will usually be offered a hard sell right after your treatment is over for some ridiculously overpriced products.

After one of my massages, they tried to sell me a brush that improves circulation for $60 and a 3 pack of bath treatments for another $160.  If you are interested in purchasing these products, order them online after you get home for a fraction of the cost.  The same $60 brush that I was offered I found online for under $20.

3. Cash Cube – This game in the casino goes by a number of names and looks super easy.  The object is to line up a key and fit it into a box to win $100, $500, $1,000, $2,500 or even an iPad.  Did you ever notice that the key almost always “just misses”?

That is because the game is rigged and is controlled by a RNG (Random Number Generator), so a skillful player can’t clean out the machine.  You could line up the key perfectly and still lose 100 times in a row if the RNG isn’t a winning number. The machine is programmed to make a profit.  Remember this before you dump $20 after $20 because you are “so close”.  Yes some people will win, but most will walk away losers.

Recently, one of my favorite YouTubers Mark Rober created a video showing how some of these games operate and how they appear to be a game of skill but are really programmed to make a profit. You can click play on the video below and it skips right to the point where he explains how some of these games work.

4. Not Understanding Sign and Sail Cards – It’s easy to overspend on a cruise since it is 100% cashless (casino is an exception).  I had a friend recently take their first cruise and attended a skin seminar on board. After hearing how great the product was, she came back to her cabin with two tiny makeup bottles.  What she failed to realize was that her credit card was just charged $70. Using your cabin card is just like using your credit or debit card.

5. Cell Phone Charges – I can’t tell you the number of times I heard rookie cruisers say, “cell phone roaming charges can’t be that much, I’ll just upload a couple pictures”.  At $15 per mb, logging on to Facebook and uploading one picture can cost you anywhere from $20-30.

With the cheaper Internet packages cruise lines now offer, turn data roaming off on your cell phone and save yourself from a huge headache a month after your cruise when your cell phone bill arrives in the mail.

Related Post: See our 6 packing hacks for a cruise here

6. Pull Tabs – Before shows on some cruise lines, the crew will walk around selling strips of “Pull Tabs” where you could win $500 or more.  These strips offer some of the worst odds but yet cruisers can’t raise their hands fast enough to buy them. Why? You are sitting in your seat waiting for the show to start and are a captive audience.  This makes you easy pickins for the cruise line to make money.

7. Shore Excursions – Booking shore excursions only with the cruise line can cost you double what others pay for the same excursion (usually in smaller groups too) through third parties.  Most passengers will do this because the ship will wait for you in the event that your group is late returning to the pier.

However, many third party shore excursion companies (including Shore Excursions Group, Cruising Excursions, and Shore Trips) also offer a guarantee that you will arrive back on time. These excursions are also often in smaller groups and offer a better experience.

8. Drink Packages – Not taking advantage of drink packages and cards that cruise lines offer can end up costing you a lot more money by the end of your cruise.  Many even offer drink packages for non-alcoholic drinks.

Princess Cruises sells a unlimited Coffee and Soda package for $19.99 per day that includes all coffees, soda, smoothies, mocktails, fresh juices, milk shakes and more.

9. Not Purchasing Future Cruise Certificates – Passengers who will cruise again on the same cruise line and don’t purchase future cruise certificates on board is equivalent to throwing a $100 bill into the ocean.

10. Movies on Demand – On a recent cruise, the cruise line wanted $19.99 to watch some newer movies in the cabin.  After spending $1,500- $2,000 on your cruise fare, do you really want to pay to watch a movie in your cabin?

If it is a movie you want to see, make the most of your time on board and just rent it for $4 or $5 through Amazon when you get home.  Note: Cruise lines will usually also have a selection of movies/TV shows through in-stateroom programming at no extra cost.

This article was updated in October 2022.

10 ways rookies waste money on a cruise

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Ben Souza
Ben Souza
Ben is a world traveler who has visited 40+ countries, taken over 70 cruises. He is one of USA TODAY's experts for their 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. His writings have appeared and been cited in various media outlets such as Yahoo News, MSN, NPR, CNN, Fox, and ABC News. Ben currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow Ben on Instagram. Visit Ben Souza on Linkedin. You may email Ben at [email protected].
Cruise Tips10 Ways Rookies Waste Money on a Cruise


  1. After 7 cruises we have learned alot. Wish we had found info like this. We drink on our cruises, we purchase a bottle through cruise line, have it delivered to the room. Not as cheap as liquor store, but still cheaper then drink package or s&s at the bars. Carnival allows a 12 pk of canned soda or juice per person to carry on, and a bottle of wine per person to carry on. We don’t do spa on the ship, u want a massage u can get one on most islands, cheaper and cash. Talk to other cruisers, u will learn a lot, places to eat, see, swim or snorkeling. We learned the excursion thing the hard way, booked through cruise line, while waiting same company as our excursion, selling tickets $30.00 cheaper. Just be aware some countries if u don’t book excursion, u can’t leave port. Found that in Dominican republic, Amber cove. Still plenty to do there, zip lining, shopping, very large pool w swim up bar, jet skis.

  2. We get a global data plan before we leave for about $25 through Verizon. That way, we can use our phones when and how we need, including on shore. We’ve never paid for internet on board but have cruised enough with Princess to get free minutes. We also don’t even get the soda package anymore because it cost more than just buying a couple Diet Cokes every day and encouraged us to drink way too much soda. You have to drink like 5 alcoholic drinks/day to make those packages pay off. Many days, you aren’t even on board! Better to go to the buy one get one for $1 happy hour!

  3. agree with most of your comments – just use a bit of common sense – this is a business, not a charity – but one big disagreement. We used the future cruise option a few times and although you get credit on the ship you are fixed to the price that the company want to charge you at that point. We’ve found that you will get that same cruise much, much, much cheaper with a good travel agent which more than makes up for the onboard credit offered by the cruise lines

    • Hi, we cruise primarily Celebrity, RC and Princess. With the Future Cruises, we’ve started using this recently. Not a bad deal generally. Then when we get home, we transfer the booking to Costco Travel to act as our Travel Agent. Generally this scores you an extra $200-$600 in redeemable shipboard credits. Unlike the cruise lines unredeemable if you have a credit left at the end of your cruise. We pay with our Costco MasterCard and as Executive Members get another 2% rebate. We just were settling a major cruise final payment and the Costco Travel rep “re-fared” the cruise with Celebrity to see if there was a price reduction or additional amenities – it wound up there wasn’t in our situation, but I didn’t even realize this was a possibility. Just my tip for other cruisers who are Costco and/or. Costco Travel members.

  4. As for #3. Cash Cube… If this was true it would be illegal. The reason these machines are on or enabled when the rest of the casino is closed is because they are legally considered a game of SKILL, as opposed to a game of CHANCE. If they were controlled by a random number generator as you suggest, that would make them games of CHANCE, and not open while in port.

  5. Love cruises. My friends and I have gone on once a year for 9 years now. Very inexpensive getaway, lots of food and fun, no worries about driving every day to get anywhere. Have one booked for Feb, 2017.

  6. We debated on booking our excursion with the company direct or thru the cruiseline. We checked in for our excursion and they started asking basic medical history questions. They refused to take us when we answered Yes to Asthma, although it is controlled with medication and we had a Drs “permission slip” with us. They refused. The cruiseline got us onto another similar excursion. He handed us a paper to fill out and mail back to “apply” for a refund. When I told him we booked thru the ship, he took the paper from me and told me we would have to talk to them. The cruiseline was able to get us onto another identical excursion later in the day. If I had not booked thru the cruiseline I’m certain we would have been out $500.

  7. The last cruise we took we took a beating with the drink card. The cruise companies will not allow just one person buy a card, both have to if they are in the same room. Problem is, my wife is not a very big drinker, fact is she mostly drinks sodas instead. Just figuring out how it broke down daily there was no way I could even drink enough to use one card.
    Next time we are only getting the soda card and will just pay for the drinks ourselves.

    • It’s the same on Princess, my friend bought just one drink pass and when her husband wanted a drink, she went and got him one. It may just depend on what cruise line, you use.

    • On Princess everyone in a room must buy the drink package – that way you don’t have people getting drinks for anyone that they want. My husband and I recently did a Mediterranean cruise and thought that they drink package was well worth the cost. We couldn’t drink what the package allows either but with an average cost of $10/drink (and we do like happy hour) again – it was well worth it.

  8. Booking excursions through the cruise ship may be a bit more expensive than booking an excursion with an independent tour group BUT I look at the additional cost as an “insurance policy” that the ship will wait for you if you return late to the ship. As with any insurance policy, you may use it or you may not BUT if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you had that extra “insurance assurance”. Having experienced being returned 1.5-2hours late to the ship after an excursion twice in 27 cruises, I ONLY recommend those excursions sponsored by the cruiseline. Additionally, the cruiseline monitors the excursions offered through the cruiseline for safety. A tour operator must meet & maintain specific criteria to remain a cruiseline offered excursion.

    If the ship sponsored excursion does not meet the cruisers expectations, you do have some recourse with the cruiseline (usually as onboard credit) for any reasonable and justified dissatisfaction. Also if the cruiser becomes injuried during the excursion, the ship is made aware of the problem immediately to provide additional support/medical care if needed. If you use an independent tour group, all the ship knows is that you left the ship at a certain time & they have no idea where you are until you return to the ship.

    • I engage in a judicious mix of both…..was wise to book shore excursions in Russia to get the blanket visa for our group.

  9. I disagree with the shore excursion comment. I recently did a train shore excursion through the cruise line. The ship was able to secure ALL of the BEST carriages for the train trip. meaning anybody
    that wanted to do it privately at the same time as we did ours(a good 4 hours) had the not so
    nice carriages. We had a wonderful lunch. alchohol, snacks and commentary all included.
    Our train actually passed the “other” train and the look on the people’s faces on the other train at our
    first class carriages was priceless. And we had the guarantee that the ship would wait for us as well.

    • We took a ship tour in Costa Rica and if we hadn’t been on that tour the one hour road block that prevented us from returning to the ship on time for departure would have meant finding our own way to the next port at our expense. Purchase ship excursions through the cruise line or take your chance..the ship will leave you behind to avoid penalties for late departures…departure times are not “approximate” they are definite unless one of their tours are delayed.

  10. OMG! I have never been on a cruise.. And after reading this I won’t ever bother either!! It sounds like all these cruise lines want to do is weasel money out of you.. What enjoyment is there on a cruise?? Aside from the view off the boat??

    • Let’s see: the delicious food, great entertainment, seeing the moonlight on the water from your balcony,
      meeting people from many different places, watching dolphins alongside the ship, being
      lulled to sleep by the subtle movement of the ship, enjoying a cold drink from a lounge
      chair on deck, meeting the crew members and much, much more.
      Don’t get to the end of your life saying, “Oh, I wish I had . . . “.

    • Agree with all of the above. And Best of all……. No worries.If you want, you can just sit back, & be PAMPERED, on a SHIP. – not a BOAT – your 5 star luxury hotel. No dishes to wash, & the Best food. You so even have to make the Bed, if you choose not to!
      Then there are the Beautiful Sunrises and Sunsets.

    • Cool new places! The beach! Love cruising! It’s easy to just not play their game and spend money. So much else to do. Don’t let that stop you from going.

    • Best thing that I love about cruising is you only unpack once, but you get to go to some amazing destinations. I agree the excursions are costly, but if you do your research, you can find that it might save you a lot of time and effort. The trick is to be smart about it. Definitely get the drink package, it can save you BIG $$. Depending on where you live and where you’re going, or how you like to sleep, an inside cabin is much less expensive and all you are missing is a window. For someone like me, who likes to sleep in total darkness, I don’t miss the window. We live in the tropics, so we see enough palm trees and beaches that I don’t care if we have a balcony. Now going to Europe, that’s another story, I have a balcony reserved for that. Just be smart about it, learn what you like and learn what you don’t need. As said in the article, your room card is just like a credit card. Everytime you swipe it, you’re spending money. Remember, we are in control of our own actions and if you let this one article stop you from even trying something you might love, then that would be sad

    • Just came back from Alaska. My only charges onboard were the gratuities. Went to the Caribbean in April. Didn’t have a single charge on my ship card. Gratuities were included on that one so they were already paid. Cruising is awesome. But it can be costly if you’re a drinker (I’m not) or a gambler (I’m not) or you want to eat in the specialty restaurants (I can’t imagine why with all the food at the buffet & the regular dining room) or you want spa treatments (much cheaper at home). Book & pay for shore excursions ahead of time. If you can’t live without the internet, buy the package. Shut your phone off & put it away. Lots of perks on cruises now. Use onboard credit to pay for the internet. Buy the drink card, but decide if it will benefit you (there are a lot of choices). This article wasn’t meant to turn you off cruising, but to warn you about some of the things that can add up quickly without you realizing it

    • Honestly it doesnt matter what vacation you go on (cruise, resort, beach, etc) the market’s goal is to make money, it’s a business like any other. The fact is cruises are a much cheaper way for people to go on vacation. On a cruise you never have to worry about money because everything in included. If you do the research and you know what’s going to cost you extra then it’s easy to avoid those fees. It’s also pretty obvious which things are going to end up costing you more money, like specialty dining. If they ask your room card… they’re going to be charging you.

      Cruising is perfect for any age, any budget, and personality, any reason.

    • You should go on a cruise. You don’t know what you are missing. You can make it whatever you want. Thousands of people go on cruises that have fabulous times. I wish I would have gone on a cruise 20 years ago. I would have never vacationed any other way.

    • Don’t let life pass you by. Try anything and everything. Life’s too short and it isn’t PERMANENT.

    • Good food, excellent food,new friends, new places, wonderful Vistas, amazing cultures , together time with loved ones. Want more?

    • Totally disagree so land travel and cruises and cruises are by far the better value and much more fun!

  11. I completely agree with Jamie above and thank you for pointing out #7. Cruise lines gouge individuals and groups for the shore excursions. In addition, you don’t know who your dealing with and there is no personable experience. The cruise ships and excursion affiliates treat the island guests as if the are cattle. In 11 years, we have never had an issue getting our people back to the ship on time. This is a fallacy and a game the cruise lines play to distill fear on the passenger.

    I’m a born native of Roatan, from Flowers Bay. Since 2005, we give each and every island guest quality service when visiting our island. From email inquiries to getting back on the ship, everything is tailored to satisfy the traveler ( This combined with local knowledge and savings anywhere from 40%-70% is extremely difficult to match.

    • And the one time you have a problem. Are you going to pay the expense of people on the excursion getting to tghe next port to catch their ship. Of course not!!! There goes your profit and then some. Make me a fantastic offer for an excursion, and I’ll show you a stupid person who doesn’t read the fine print. All who commented to take cruise-line excursions are SMART people and SMART CRUISERS.

  12. If you book excursions through the cruise line they will wait on you up to 12 hours if your late. If you book 3rd party and are late…..bye bye

    • I can see them waiting maybe an hour or two but 12 is hard to believe! They have a schedule to keep and other passengers would have to miss ports to make up the time. I would have to look this one up.

    • I don’t know – on my most recent cruise we completely turned around to bring someone who’d had a stroke to shore. We had set sail about 8 hours earlier from Ft. Lauderdale, so we turned around and dropped him off in Miami before setting off again. Due to the turn around and strong winds in the wrong direction, we completely missed our first port – and we weren’t even early to the second one! We talked to a crew member who said they turn around for that kind of thing way more often then you’d expect. Granted, a stoke and a shore excursion are very different. But still. It’s hard to believe a shore excursion group could be 12 hours late.

  13. Re the pull tabs: On Carnival, not only for ships out of the USA but in Australia, they sell these at the bingo afternoons & in the casino & being a sucker who loves a bit of a gamble, I buy them for myself & my wife. After all, we’re on vacation!
    We occasionally would win $15 but I couldn’t believe it on the Splendor sailing out of Long Beach down the Mexican coast in 2011, when on the last night, my pull tab was drawn randomly from the barrel out of all the entries, to win our bar & other charges back for the trip.
    At over $500, it was well worth winning; if only I’d known at the start of the trip, we’d have drunk twice as much (LOL)!

  14. I disagree with what is written regarding shore excursions. There is no guarantee from anyone who offers to get you back to the ship on time! Cruise ship lines are under no obligation to wait for tours that are not part of their package. They would have no idea you are on them and I have seen it first hand when a serious accident held up a tour. The bus was an hour and a half late getting back to the ship and one hour past the departure time due to a road block when a semi- truck overturned on the only route back to the ship! If it had not been for the fact that the bus was part of a ship arranged tour and was able to communicate with the ship, the captain would have sailed without the passengers, and those passengers would have had to find their way to the next port on their own money. It is 100% safer to pay the extra and guarantee the boat will wait for you!

    • On the otherhand, if you’re in Port for eight hours, and want to do a local tour of four hours, you still have time for lunch. I have used both. It just depends on location, time, cruise ship offerings and comfort at the port in question.

    • shore excursions group will get you to the next port at their expense, put you up overnight if needed, & each person will get $500. for their trouble. It’s on their website.

  15. I thought the cash cube was a random slot machine all along…does the key actually go in the hole when it wins, even though you made no effort to try to do that, even if you obviously came nowhere close to the hole? Thats the way I would play it.

  16. Number three about the Cash cube is so true!! I sat there and watched my sister and her husband spend alot of money trying to win this game. It seems like everytime they thought they had won; they didn’t!!!! It was like the key would line up exactly and then at the last second; it would move just a litte bit!! Number 5 about the roaming charges is also true!! The same sister who tried to win at the cash cube; let her cell phone on. She never used it; just let it on. When we got back; AT&T had charged her $750 for roaming charges. She was able to talk them out of it and they took the charge off of her bill!

  17. first I highly recommend you go on excursions through your shipI have heard horror stories from friends who did it on their own or booked an excursion with another company next if you have a balcony room opening up the drapes relaxing in bed looking at the water I’m watching an afternoon movie nothing could be more relaxing Everything else I agree with you 100% really rethink telling people to book an excursion through another company I’ve seen people in Cozumel out on the ferry and not get back shipdid not wait the company bought him an airplane ticket to catch the ship at the next port they will get you to the ship but the ship will not wait for them most of all relax and have fun

    • Hi Craig – I oversee Customer Service for Shore Excursions Group. We’re the largest provider of independent shore excursions in the cruise industry. I read your comment and was hoping to share some thoughts. Our ability to grow so much over the years is due in part to our obsession with getting customers back to the ship on time. On our website customers need to enter their cruise info before they can book with us. Using this cruise info, we do not let customers book excursions that don’t fit easily into their time in port. We can’t speak for other companies or local tour operators but I can assure you we are very focused on this. That, combined with our lower prices and higher quality excursions, has led to a lot of happy customers. We hope you’ll give us a try on your next cruise! If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to email me at [email protected]. Thanks!

    • Some of the best excursions we have been on have been booked with our travel agent and shore excursions Roatan we ended up on a private island tour with our guide and just the two of us and it was amazing and very very affordable. In Belize when we went cave tubing we went through three caves for less than the ships excursion of two caves and we were in the same place! And always back to ship in plenty of time! Just back from an Alaska cruise and same great experience !

  18. You can’t prove #3. If it was true, that machine would be a slot machine and illegally operating in port.

    • It is an absolutely proven fact. ALL prize redemption games include various methods to “moderate payout.” These are regulated differently than slot machines because lawyers for companies like Dave and Busters are really good, and have gotten these GAMBLING MACHINES labeled as “skill games” in 43 states in the US, despite the fact that they all monitor income and payout, and prevent (i.e. “rig”) payout based on previous payouts and income earned. Don’t get me wrong, you can still win. If no one won, they’d go out of business because people would stop playing. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that skill alone will make a difference though. These games all implement measures to ensure the operator makes a profit and avoid the risk of a good player “cleaning themy out”. Also, if you really want to argue that this isn’t a thing, I’d be happy to reply again with a much longer comprehensive overview of the actual manufacturers of these devices, the specific computer programs they run, how they monit or payout, etc.

  19. There are many who would say just taking a cruise is a waste of money? It’s all about personnel choices.
    Have a great cruise and worry about when you get home. Then just say I try a different way on the next cruise. Great excuse to go back.

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