Buyer Beware: How Extra Fees & Expenses Can Make Your Cheap Cruise Break the Bank

Without a doubt one of the biggest draws to cruising is that it’s a cheap way to take a great vacation.

With a traditional getaway, you have to buy plane tickets, hotel rooms, food, entertainment… the list goes on.

But with a cruise, you simply pay one fee and you get all of this included, at a huge discount to the cost if you were you purchase each part of your vacation on your own. In fact, cruise lines offer some amazing deals where you can go on vacation to the tropical Caribbean, visit exotic ports, eat five-star food, and get to see world-class entertainment at a price that can be less than $100 a day.

In fact, we’ve found some cruises that offer overall rates of less than $200 in total! Imagine that, a vacation for just a couple of Benjamins:

Cheap cruise fare

But before you get too excited, you should know that if you think you are going to take a cruise for just a few bucks, the headline price shown when buying your cruise is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s common for the price of your actual cruise to end up being 2-3 times as much as what you see on the website.

Here’s how the cruise lines end up having to shell out way more for your trip than you were ever expecting…

Higher Fares For Better Rooms

It only takes a quick glance at any cruise line website to be enticed by mouthwateringly low fares. For example, we recently saw this on Carnival’s site:Carnival $249 fareA $249 vacation? Not so fast…

Any fare you ever see advertised will always be for the lowest-grade cabin on the ship. That means an interior cabin with no windows. Thinking of cruising in a room with a beautiful view of the water and a fresh breeze coming in off your balcony? Those are only available if you pony up extra cash.

How much more? Well, that will depend on a lot of factors, including the ship’s capacity, number of available rooms, season, and more. But if you want a balcony room, expect it to be at least 50% more than the interior cabin fare that’s advertised:

Carnival fare chart

Very quickly, your dirt-cheap fare has been bumped up significantly unless you stick with the interior cabin.

The Quoted Fare is Just Half of What You’ll Pay

There’s another tricky way that cruise lines get to show you those low fares. They are quoted for only one person, but cabins are double occupancy.

That means if there are two people sailing, then you can double the initial fare right off the bat. So a $300 cruise instantly becomes $600.

What if you aren’t traveling with someone else? Too bad. Most cruise lines only have an extremely limited number of solo cabins. Everything else is for double occupancy. That means even if you are sailing alone, you have to pay as if two people were sailing in the room.

This means if you are trying to figure out how much a cruise will cost, you need to double the advertised fare immediately to get in the ballpark of what you’ll pay to get on the ship.

But that’s not all…

Don’t Forget Port Fees and Taxes

You can’t really blame the cruise lines for the next additional cost, but that doesn’t make your pocketbook feel any better.

Advertised fares you see online don’t include taxes and port fees. Unlike airlines, which now have to include such fees in their published rates, cruise lines don’t have to do so until you actually select the cruise. Then you’ll see the additional charges.

How much can these fees run? Depending on the port you are sailing from and where you are headed, it’s not surprising to see port fees and taxes that total up to $100 per person. Many are lower, but still add a significant chunk to what you’ll pay.

And yes, each person has to pay these fees so you are hit double if sailing with two people.

Gratuities Can Add Hundreds

There likely isn’t a topic in cruising more controversial than tipping.

These days, tipping is customary — and it isn’t cheap. Five to ten dollars per day for a cabin steward and a few bucks a day for the dining room staff, you’ll quickly realize that the amounts add up quickly.

To be sure, tipping is still optional, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. (Crews are actually paid paltry wages, so tipping is a big part of their income.) In fact, cruise lines have now added the option of prepaid gratuities. This offers a ton of convenience — no more having to figure out how much to tip or whom to give money to. You simply select to prepay your gratuities and the amount is rolled into your cruise fare.

Gratuities run about $13 per person, per day. That amount varies a bit by cruise line. So at more than $25 per day for a couple traveling, you can see how tips can quickly run up the total of your cruise. For a weeklong cruise, you’re adding in $175 to your fare for tips alone.

Drinks & Extras

While most things are included in your cruise fare, alcohol and soda are definitely not. This is one of the ways that cruise lines are able to advertise low fares, but still pad profits. Drinks are somewhat expensive, as you would expect given the cruise lines are serving a captive audience. It’s not unusual to pay around $6 for a beer.

Let’s be clear — you completely control how much extra your cruise costs due to buying drinks. Cruise lines don’t force you to purchase them. Still, if you enjoy 3-4 drinks a day then the price can quickly add up to hundreds more on your cruise.

Cruise lines do offer “all you can drink” packages that can help you budget a little better. However, these usually are worth it only if you are drinking 5-10 drinks a day (depending on your beverage of choice) every day that you are on the ship. For most people, they aren’t worth it.

In addition, cruise lines also offer specialty restaurants on board that cost extra, such as the steakhouse. While the prices for these eateries are less than you would see on land, they still take money out of your vacation fund.

Excursions? That Will Be Extra

You don’t have to spend money on excursions, but if you want to do anything more than sit on a beach, then expect to shell out extra.

Excursions are really what makes those days in port memorable. They offer some amazing opportunities to do things you never thought you would do — hike Mayan ruins, snorkel in crystal-blue water, dive in a submarine, and more. But they all come with a cost.

Prices will vary depending on what you want to do, but expect to shell out $50 per person as a minimum for anything you want to do. Most charge even more.

It’s easy to see how a couple of excursions on your trip can quickly add $200 or more to your cruise.

The Bottom Line: What a “Cheap” Cruise Actually Costs

To get a better idea of exactly how much more you’ll spend compared to the advertised rate, let’s do a quick calculation.

Below, we’ve found a great deal on a cruise — a fare advertised at $244!

$244 cruise fare

As we said above, this low rate is for the lowest-grade room; an interior cabin. Lucky for us, an upgrade to an oceanview cabin so that we can have some natural light is just a few bucks extra — costing $259.

But then come the additional charge for a second person, along with taxes and fees totaling nearly $200. Once we select to add in gratuities, you can see that our $244 fare has now more than tripled to $820! And that’s before we even step on the ship, buy a drink, or go on an excursion.

Total cruise cost

You should still keep in mind that a trip for two people at less than $1,000 is a great deal. But you remember all those extra costs when it comes to understanding what those low advertised fares really end up costing.

If you want to know how to get the cheapest rate on your cruise, read our 10 rules of cruise buying here.

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