It’s easy for first-time cruisers to overlook these 5 costs that always take them by surprise.
Planning for your very first cruise is an exciting time. There are so many possibilities for adventure, and wonderful memories are sure to be made. It doesn’t matter if you are taking your first cruise solo, or with extended family. You are in for a treat!
Cruises are one of the most cost effective ways to see the world. Traditionally, they are seen as an all-inclusive vacation, and for the most part, they are. While most things are included on a cruise, there are a few things that are priced separately or optional all together.
When you are budgeting for your cruise, be sure that you allot extra funds for optional items and standard gratuities. Here at Cruise Fever, we have put together some of the typical things that first-time cruisers might miss as a line item in their budget.
Keep reading, take notes, and get ready for a vacation you’ll never forget.
1. Specialty Beverages
Unfortunately, most cruise lines do not offer specialty beverages as part of their base cruise cost. You might be curious as to what we mean by “specialty beverages”. Let’s dig into that a bit.
For our articles’ purposes, “specialty beverage” means anything besides tap water, lemonade, iced tea, brewed coffee from the buffet, and hot chocolate.
If you are accustomed to having a carbonated beverage with your meals, be prepared to purchase each soda a la carte. These can be purchased at most bars and from your wait staff in the main dining room.
If you drink several carbonated beverages per day, a soda package might be a great option for you , if your chosen cruise line offers it. These soda packages usually allow you unlimited servings of carbonated beverages each day of your cruise.
While mass-produced, brewed coffee at the buffet is free and readily available at all times. Some cruisers are fine with this, but some prefer a fresh cup of espresso when starting their day. Many cruise lines offer a specialty coffee shop, similar to your favorite stops at home.
Be sure you put a line item in your budget for coffee if this applies to you. The coffee on board tends to be very reasonable, but not included with your cruise price. These coffee shops usually brew iced, hot and frozen beverages. Some coffee shops even offer “adult milkshakes” and “adult coffees”. These beverages contain alcohol and can only be ordered by cruisers 21 and up.
You can usually find sports drinks and energy drinks at the coffee shop, too. These drinks are not free and can be purchased a la carte or as part of a beverage package.
Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages must be purchased separately or through a beverage package. If you enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner or enjoy indulging in buckets of beer by the pool, the beverage package may be worth the money for you.
If you like to try the daily drink special and one glass of champagne before dinner, purchasing these beverages individually will probably be a better idea than a package.
Pro Tip: Some cruise lines allow you to bring on a 12-pack of soda. If you are willing to carry this on the ship, this can be a money-saver for sure. If you are a wine-lover, some cruise lines allow you to bring a bottle onboard. Check with your chosen cruise line for current rules and regulations.
It is inevitable that some new cruisers (and experienced ones alike) will be unaware of the gratuities that are customary on a cruise. It is the norm in the cruise industry for gratuities to be separate from the base price of your cruise vacation.
Most cruise lines have a set amount that is charged per person, per day to cover your gratuities. These gratuities usually go to your dining room/wait staff, room stewards, and other alternative dining venue and support staff.
Of course, you are free to tip staff in addition to the set gratuity amount. Some people even choose to hand cash directly to special staff that they have regularly interacted with throughout their vacation.
You can also prepay your gratuities before you set sail. If you booked your cruise online, you may be able to do this yourself. Contacting the cruise line directly or your travel agent is also an option.
Pro Tip: If you handle paying your gratuities before you set foot on the ship, you won’t have to worry about this “surprise” expense. It will be taken care of and you can save more money for excursions, drinks, photos, and the casino!
Read more: Common cruise tipping blunders to avoid
Right before you board your ship for your best adventure yet, you will probably be summoned to have your photo taken. This will be the first time of MANY times throughout your trip that photographers will be ready and waiting for you.
Every afternoon, ship photographers will set up backdrops and scenes to take eager cruise ship passengers’ photos. Staff will allow you to take solo photos, as well as family photos at each backdrop they have set up.
Ship photographers will also be on hand when debarking the ship for a day in port. They usually take at least one photo of your group by signage that reflects the port you are in for the day. Sometimes, you will have the opportunity to have your photo taken with costumed characters while debarking or even in the dining room.
Take as many photos as you like, as you are not obligated to purchase any of them. More times than not, you will find at least a few shots that you like. Just keep in mind that these photos tend to be pricey and an easy way to run up your cruise budget.
Pro Tip: Give yourself a set amount of money that you intend to spend per day on photos and stick with that. These photos are a great way to document your vacation, but you probably don’t need to purchase every single one.
4. Shore Excursions
Choosing a shore excursion that interests you while in the Caribbean, Europe, or Alaska is a very popular choice for a reason. You won’t have to worry about planning your day out or figuring out transportation logistics while in unfamiliar territory.
If you book a shore excursion through the cruise line, you can feel at ease, knowing you won’t be left behind by the cruise ship, if the tour is late. If you book your own excursion through an independent company, and the tour is late returning to the ship, there is no guarantee that the ship will wait on you!
Having said that, keep in mind that shore excursions can add a considerable expense to your cruise budget. Costs vary for each excursion and the price tends to increase, depending on many factors. Longer excursions may cost more, as well as excursions that include meals and adult beverages.
Pro Tip: Choose your shore excursions ahead of time. This will allow for better selection and less chance of the excursion selling out. If you are able to, pre-purchase your shore excursions so that you won’t have this large expense on your cruise bill.
5. Specialty Dining
Specialty dining has become increasingly popular in recent years. Once upon a time, cruise ships only offered the dining room and the lunch buffet. The days of cruise ships only having these limited dining options are a thing of the past.
Now, most cruise ships will offer at least one or two specialty dining options. While some cruise lines offer specialty dining in the cruise cost, most do not.
If you want to have dinner in the ships’ steakhouse, be prepared to pay an upcharge for this. These steakhouses, such as Cagney’s Steakhouse on Norwegian Cruise Lines, tend to offer a meal comparable to a higher-end steakhouse at home, for a much cheaper price. You will usually pay for the meal as a package price. This includes an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. Definitely splurge on this if you can.
More cruise lines are adding additional casual dining options that require an upcharge. These are totally optional, but give you more variety and choices. A few examples include Bonsai Sushi on Carnival, Johnny Rockets on Royal Caribbean, and Teppenyaki on Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Pro Tip: Some cruise lines offer a specialty dining package. If you plan to eat at specialty restaurants and this is an option, definitely consider it! Carnival Cruise Lines offers a free bottle of wine or a heavily discounted bottle for patrons of the Steakhouse on the 1st and 2nd evenings.
First-time cruisers, we want you to be fully-prepared on your inaugural cruise vacation. Financial surprises are no way to start or end your vacation. With a little pre-planning and budgeting, you will be off to a vacation that you’ll never forget.