Understanding the Costs of a Cruise

The cost of your Caribbean cruise can be confusing, and some items are hidden from view

When considering a Caribbean cruise vacation, it is important to understand that the starting cost of the trip is only that, the starting point. There is really no set amount of how much your cruise will cost. What you spend will depend largely on you, with the number of amenities, and various activities not included in your cruise package that you want to enjoy during your vacation. You can, however, get an idea about how much your vacation will cost by considering basic charges, knowing the types of activities and experiences you want to have, and being aware of costs that are often overlooked when budgeting for cruise vacations.

Cost Basics

Overall, taking a cruise is a very cost effective way to vacation and cruise travelers are generally more satisfied than other vacationers. Many vacation expenses that would normally be separate from the cost of the trip come as a package with cruise trips. The basic cost of your trip will most likely include cabin accommodations, on-board entertainment (large productions, comedy shows, live bands, piano bars, discos, etc.), activities, meals and some beverages (depending on the cruise line), use of the facilities aboard the ship (whirlpools, fitness centers, and limited sporting equipment), and travel between ports.

The selection of cruise line and specific accommodations will have the most significant effect on your cruise costs. Another important factor is the number of people that are staying in your cabin. If you reserve multiple cabins, it will obviously cost more than if your party can squeeze into a single stateroom, but you may qualify for a special discount if you book over a certain number of cabins at one time. Keep an eye out for cruise lines offering promotional discounts during the time of your booking to save money. Other general variables that will affect the cost of cruising include:

  • When you choose to take your cruise vacation (off-peak travel is cheaper than cruising during the high tourism season)

  • The length of your cruise

  • Where you are going on your cruise

  • The style of cruise vacation you take

  • The cruise line that you travel with

  • Where you will be flying to and from the ship

If you have already been on a cruise before, you may be able to take your next trip at a discounted rate, depending on the cruise line and the agency with which you are making your reservations with and whether or not they offer past passenger discounts.

Fuel Surcharges

In recent years, many cruise lines have implemented fuel surcharges in response to the rising price of oil in 2007. To find out if and how much the cruise line with whom you will be booking assesses a fuel surcharge, be sure to read the fine print and inquire since every line has a different policy.

Hidden Costs

Look out for charges that may not be as obvious as others. Know that most personal items will come out of pocket. If you decide to go on a shore excursion not offered by the cruise line, you will have to pay an additional cost. Casino gaming will also be a cost separate from the overall trip. Other extras that can be enjoyed at additional costs include spa treatments, souvenir shopping, laundry, and tipping (although some cruise lines do include gratuities in their charges). Newer and larger ships may have more features but additional costs - some exercise classes, Internet access and alternative restaurants are but a few examples.

Reading Cruise Ads

When planning your cruise vacation, you may come across different advertisements whether it be on the Web or in the Sunday paper. If a price looks too good to be true, then it just may be. Beware of the “lead-in” price that is used to grab your attention. Most of the time these prices are for the minimum inside cabin category (unless the ad says otherwise). Read the fine print and specifically look for whether advertised prices include port charges and taxes as they might be an additional cost on top of the advertised cruise fare.

Tips for Understanding Costs

There is some general advice you can take to help you better understand the costs of your cruise vacation. First of all, you should never pay the brochure price for your cruise, as these are mostly what are known as “sample prices.” You can usually find better bargains if you shop around or inquire about any promotions or discounts the cruise line or travel agency may be running.

The Internet is a great place to find deals on cruise vacations, so surf the Web before booking your trip. Try to be as flexible as possible allowing room in your budget for unexpected costs that may arise. If you can, try and cruise as near to home as possible. This is a big money saver, as you won't have to pay as much in airfare (maybe nothing if the port is within driving distance).

Another aspect of cruising that can be a major cost item if you aren't careful, is buying alcoholic beverages and even soft drinks (which on mainstream cruise lines aren't generally included in the cruise fare). Some people are flabbergasted when they receive a bar tab that has reached a few hundred dollars or more.

You may be able to save on cocktails and other beverages by bringing some of your own alcohol and canned soft drinks on board. While this is frowned upon by some cruise lines, they are usually more lenient if you bring your own wine on board. Or, take advantage of the cruise line's soda package (which gives you unlimited canned sodas for a set price—much cheaper than buying just one soda at a time) and look for drink specials that are advertised daily while you are on board.


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