Cruising is one of the most popular ways of travel. Most people think of cruising as an activity most popular for older more mature travellers, however, that’s not necessarily true. Cruises are also family-friendly, especially lines like Carnival and Disney. There are also new cruise companies that cater more to younger people, such as U by Uniworld cruises. Essentially, cruising can be for anyone. That being said, the real question is: how much does it cost to go on a cruise?
This article is going to be a set up a little differently than the other articles in my ‘How Much’ series. Because cruises are global, I can’t provide an estimate on airfare. Similarly, the cost of the cruise itself will vary depending on the destination, length, and cruise line. Instead, I’m going to focus on the add-ons and unexpected costs that come with cruises, along with some tips for picking cruise lines and keeping costs low. This way, when you see the pricing of a cruise you are interested, you know approximately how much extra you will need to budget to get the real experience. Hopefully, this article will prevent you from the nasty surprises of hidden fees. With that in mind, here’s how much (extra) it will cost to go on a cruise.
Shore excursions can end up being one of the biggest costs, even for seemingly simple day trips. Of course, this is also where you want to spend your money. After all, you didn’t go on a cruise just to sit on-board all day every day (at least, I hope you didn’t).
Shore excursion options are often very diverse. Depending on the cruise line and destination you’ll see everything from historical walking tours to adventure activities to beach days. Some are more luxurious (helicopter ride, anyone?) while some might be as simple as a transfer from the ship to the beach on a catamaran. The possibilities are endless and the prices are varied. You can expect to pay around $100USD per excursion for many cruise lines. Longer, more inclusive excursions will cost more while simpler ones may cost less, but allocating an extra $100USD/day should give you a decent estimate on what to expect in terms of shore excursion pricing.
That being said, you don’t have to do a shore excursion if you want. You can stay on board, stick to the port area and explore on your own, or arrange a tour yourself. More on that to come later in this article.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Express Platinum card gives you a signup bonus of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $600 (potentially more if you transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy). There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has no foreign transaction fees and a sign up bonus worth $250.
Internet on cruise ships
Internet is something we have come to rely on in our day-to-day life, however, it’s rarely included on cruises. Most cruises will offer you internet packages, either an unlimited rate for the duration of the cruise or packages with certain amounts of data.
If you can live without checking Instagram and your emails for a few days, then don’t bother with the internet package. There are plenty of places in port that have free Wi-Fi for you to use.
However, if you think you do need your internet and plan to use it a lot (especially for social media) then the plan that lasts the duration of the cruise is probably your best bet. Don’t bother upgrading to the plan that lets you stream. A lot of feedback says it’s not worth it and doesn’t work well for streaming at sea.
Internet plans vary in price, but you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars. To give an example, a friend paid $350USD for a 14-day cruise with Norwegian cruise lines.
On-board dining and drinks
Most cruises offer a mix of dining and drink options. Included in the base price of the cruise are the buffets and basic drinks like water and juice in the restaurants (bottled water often needs to be purchased separately). Of course, you can take advantage of the drinks package, but before you do, evaluate whether or not it’s worth it.
The drinks package often included alcohol and pop (soda, for my American readers). While it may seem like a good idea if you think you’d like to drink every day, the cost-ratio may not be worth it if you spend most of your days off the ship in port. In which case, you can just get drinks from the bar. It’s definitely worth pricing out. Please note that many cruise lines will not let you bring your own alcohol on board.
As for food, buffet and dining room dinners are included however larger ships will also have specialty restaurants such as steak houses, Italian, French, sushi, etc. which you can dine at for an additional fee. These tend to be higher scale restaurants and the prices reflect that.
Tipping on cruise ships
Another extremely important cost to factor in is tipping. Cruise ship lines differ on how they manage them. Sometimes, your account is billed daily for a pre-set amount while others will leave it at your discretion, either way, tips are expected (and well deserved, the cruise ship staff work VERY hard). If the tip is automatically included, you will have a note about that on your confirmation as a reminder. If it is not, you will be given a recommended amount to tip each day. Usually, this amount is somewhere between $10-$15 USD per day. It’s important to note that this is per person, not per cabin.
Travelling to and from the port
Not only do you have to consider your flights to and from the cruise ports, but you also have to get to the port itself. Oftentimes, the port is a distance from the airport and there are no public transit options which means you’ll need to splurge for a taxi (or at least an uber). If you’re travelling as a larger family, you may want to look into transportation options that offer bigger vehicles as opposed to two taxis.
Of course, you can’t forget about the on-board extras. Now, these aren’t costs that you will be unexpectedly hit with, but they are costs that might find their way onto your bill, depending on the tip of traveller you are.
Two of the main on-board extras are spas and the casino. Spa pricing is similar to medium-upscale spas found around the world and the casinos, well, that’s up to you. Unless you’re a fan of both, you can probably easily avoid them. However, they can be tempting on sea days.
Other on-board extras to consider are the on-board shops which usually offer typical souvenirs such as clothing and jewellery. There are also convenience items such as sunscreen or books that you may end up buying.
How to save money on a cruise
Cruises aren’t necessarily cheap. Sure, you can get some great deals and sales but as you can see from the added extras above, it’s never really quite the price you are quoted. With that being said, here are a few ways you can help save money on a cruise and cut your costs even more.
- Go for an inside cabin rather than something with a balcony or window. Yes, it’s gloomier, but chances are you won’t be in your room much anyway and you can save quite a bit of cash. There are lounges and other seating areas on-board where you can relax when not at port. That being said, if you are on a cruise that has several sea days, it may be worth the upgrade.
- Book early to take advantage of discounts and add-ons. Many cruise lines offer early-bird type promotions where you can save money on the cruise itself, or get add-ons included. This may include drinks package, internet package, vouchers for on-board dining, or vouchers for shore excursions.
- Use one of the best travel credit cards or one of the best cash back credit cards in Canada. Travel cards have signup bonuses worth anywhere from $250-$1,000 while cash back cards give you a set % back on all your purchases. This is an easy way to offset the cost of your cruise.
- Plan your own shore excursions. No doubt, you can find much cheaper guides and excursion options by booking through a local tour provider rather than paying for the one offered by the cruise, or you can always go out on your own. However, you do need to note that if you’re late returning from your privately booked tour, the ship will not wait for your vs. if the ship’s tour is late, they will wait. It’s a bit of a gamble, but if you are in port for a full day and book a short tour to give yourself plenty of time to get back, it’s worth it.
- Drink in port, not on board. If you choose to forgo the drinks package but still want a cocktail or beer every now and then, save those purchases for when you are in port. It’s much cheaper than buying alcohol on board.
- Stick with the free (buffet and dining room) restaurants for meals rather than the a-la-carte ones which come with an additional price tag. If you want to change it up, grab a good meal in a port one day.
A quick note on different cruise lines
While I’ve broken down the main categories of add-ons and hidden costs above, it’s important to remember that each cruise line is different and, just like hotels, cruise lines come in different tiers in terms of levels of luxury. Needless to say, a Carnival cruise is going to be significantly cheaper than a Viking Cruise.
It should also be noted that some cruises are ‘all-inclusive’; alcoholic beverages with dinner, included shore excursions etc., while others you build on costs based on what you do (or don’t) want to do. Initially, the all-inclusive options are much more expensive. After all, these inclusions are built into the price. However, it might be worth your time to do a bit of a price comparison because, in the long run, what seems to be the most expensive option initially may actually end up being the best deal.
So, how much does it cost to go on a cruise? Since there are so many factors, I can’t get you a firm number but hopefully, this article gives you a better idea of what to expect in terms of hidden fees and final costs. Cruising can be a great and relaxing way to travel and see the world, however it is important to do your research in advance because, with cruises, the price you see on paper is just the beginning.