I would have to say the biggest and most frequent complaint I hear about cruising is a nickel and dime experience, and sometimes I hear that from experienced cruisers.
This happens a lot with cruisers looking to score a cheap deal, and then buying a product without really understanding the product. Nothing feels like being nickeled and dimed more than paying for a drink you thought was free.
Even with all the fees and charges, cruising is a terrific way to vacation, and when you get into the nuts and bolts of it, it’s economical as well. However, understanding all your fees upfront, before you get aboard will not only make the cruise experience better, it will help prevent unexpected large bills at the end of the cruise.
I am going to break the overall price of cruising into three parts, the booking cost, pre-board costs ( which are nearly always optional) and the on-board experience.
The Booking Cost: The booking cost is the cruise fare, taxes and fees that all have t be paid before you can board the ship. The actual cruise fare is often what you see online as the price of the cruise, and what most companies quote as the cruise cost, however, there are a few fees you should check out before you book.
- Taxes – this is often included in the price display as part of the cruise fare, but make sure.
- Port Fees – This is a fee the cruise ship has to pay for being in port and that charge is handed back to you.
- NCF and/ Surcharges – Service fees the cruise line charges on top of the normal fare.
- Fuel Surcharge – The cruise line contracts include a line item for the right to charge a fuel surcharge in the event fuel prices surge at cruise time. I haven’t seen it enforced, but the right to charge it is in the contract.
These are often combined and listed as a single line item, but somewhere in your documentation, you can get a breakdown of these additional fees.
The pre-Board costs: These are all costs associated with the vacation, that can be prepaid. It’s important to note that nearly everything I list in the third section ( On -board Experience) can be paid for BEFORE you cruise! Often when you pre-pay for these items you, can qualify for a discount as well. Paying for these items up front not only help prevent the charges from accruing on your cruise bill, they can be budgeted and account for, leaving your ‘vacation cash’ for all those nick nacks and ‘All I got was a stupid t-shirt’ gifts you have to take home.
- Excursions – pre-purchase your activities and save!
- Amenities – Spa treatments, Special dinner or WIFI can all be paid for upfront.
- Gratuities – Pay upfront and skip dealing with it on your last day.
The On-Board Experience:
Once you are on board, understanding when there will be a charge is important.
End of the cruise bill – You will receive a bill at the end of a cruise for any charges placed on your room. Much like a hotel room will present you would present a bill for movies watched or dining / bar tabs added to the room.
Every transaction on a cruise ship is technically charged toy our room. Stuff part of your cruise package is charged as a $0 item. From a new cruiser standpoint, it all looks the same, you ask for a drink, the waiter asks for your room card and brings you a drink. If you have a drink package
Understanding what will be charged can prevent nasty surprises at the end of the cruise. When in doubt, ask! The staff is happy to help point out the inclusions from the premium services.
In all cases, the charges are placed on your room (via your room key) and the bill will be settled at the end of the cruise. Cash is not accepted anywhere onboard except the casino ( and even that seems to be changing). The cruise line will require a credit card on file for room charges (just like a hotel). Note that nearly all of this can be prepaid on most cruises!
- Gratuities – nearly all cruise lines charge gratuities to your account as soon as you board the ship. Most of them will allow you to modify them up or down a bit to compensate for exceptional service or the occasional poor service.
- In many cases gratuities will be automatically be added to every purchase that is service-related AND there will be a tip line on the charge slip
- Spa – Spa service usually has a fee.
- Excursions – Getting off the ship and doing something, usually requires a fee, even if it’s just a cab ride to the beach. The cruise line offers a wide array of activities at every port. In addition, many 3rd party companies offer excursions as well. Finally, there are always people outside the ship ready to take you on an adventure.
- WARNING: As a first-time cruiser I always recommend purchasing either the ships excursion or a certified 3rd party company that can guarantee you will get back on the ship. You don’t want to be the person running down the dock as the ship leaves port.
- Dining – While dining is included in all cruises, alcoholic drinks, soda, and specialty coffees are at an additional cost. Water, juice, tea, and coffee(normal) are provided at meals as part of the dining experience.
- Drinks – Every cruise line has a drink package, it’s important to understand what your drink package includes before you order and what (if any change) there is if you order drinks outside the package. A good example is top shelf Spirits. They are not normally included as part of a typical drink package, but the drink package will often discount the price of a top shelf drink.
o Room Service – The food for room service is usually part of the inclusions, although there are some premium items. There may be a service fee for delivery of the room service though.
- Shopping: There is an entire Deck dedicated to novelty items, Jewelry, Watches, Alcohol and Spirits, and works of art.
- Specialty Dining – There are always specialty and/or Al La Carte’ dining options aboard that have a fee associated.
Settling the end of cruise bill, you should get your cruise bill the last night before you get off the ship, it will be itemized, and while I won’t say I have never heard of mistakes on the bill, I think it’s pretty rare. You can keep an eye on the charges as you cruise as well, often on the TV there will be a menu to view room charges. As long as you agree with everything there, you are good, the cruise line will charge the card on file.
If along the trip you do spot a problem, get to the service desk as soon as possible. The last day the service desk will be filled with people, many of them complaining about all the drink charges they thought were free.
Understanding your cruise package, what included and what’s not, should help avoid a pricey surprise at the end of the cruise. That by itself will reduce the feeling of being nickeled and dimed along the cruise.
When shopping cruise deal, consider all the costs, not just the ‘cruise price’. Always ask about Port Fees / NCF’s and Surcharges not on a quoted price. Online you will usually see a * next to the prices and the page will outline what the prices includes ( or does not include).
At the end of the day, what is really important is how much you have paid at the end of the cruise, not what you paid to ‘book’ the cruise.
Quite often spending a little more upfront can save a lot on the last day.
And Remember – When in doubt… Ask
Have Questions about the cost of Cruises?
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