10 Cruise Gouges & Rip-Offs to Absolutely Avoid (If You Can)

I have a little confession to make — I’m one of those people that can’t stand feeling like I got a bad deal, even if I’m on vacation. It’s not the money, really, if the idea that someone got one over on me or that I didn’t get the best deal I could have.

And I know that I’m not alone in that feeling. 

That’s why I put together some of the gouges and rip-offs that I’ve learned over a decade of cruising — to help you be a smarter passenger. Some you can avoid and some you can’t, but you should know all about them…

Pricey Suites on a Short Cruise

Suite on a Celebrity cruise ship
Suites are wonderful, albeit pricey. On a short cruise, the limited time in the cabin means you likely won’t get your money’s worth.

I’ve toured and stayed in suites, and I can tell you, I get it. They are top notch. If you’re taking a week-long cruise and can afford it, then by all means book the room. What seems to be a bad deal to me, however, is people booking these rooms on short cruises of three or four days and paying three or four times the fare for a room they will barely use.

Take a cruise I found on Royal Caribbean. Four days aboard Utopia of the Seas from Port Canaveral, with stops in Nassau and CocoCay. A summer sail date starts at $850 per person for an interior cabin. Want a balcony? That’s $950. But the suite is nearly $1,800 per person or more than $900 more per person over the interior cabin price.

I know first-hand that on a cruise like this you spend so little time in the room. With two ports of call and a massive ship, you’re always out doing something. The room on a cruise this short is really just a place to sleep and not much more for most people.

Again, if you want it, then buy it. But on short cruises, the high-end rooms seem like a big waste unless they are only priced a little bit higher.

Tourist Traps (Read Reviews!)

My visit to La Bufadora meant walking a gauntlet of vendors. If I read the reviews, I wouldn’t have booked the excursion.

I visited Ensenada, Mexico for the first time a little more than a year ago and honestly had one of my most memorable days ever. Without realizing it I visited during Carnivale and got caught up in a parade. Yes, I even got to see the Gene Simmons KISS float.

Fast-forward a year later and things were very, very different. And I felt very ripped off.

Looking through what was available for excursions, one place seemed to keep popping up — La Bufadora. La Bufadora is a natural crevice in the rocks on the Pacific coast. It’s formed in such a way that when a wave pushes in, the pressure shoots water in a mist up into the sky.

So I spent $45 to go check it out last-minute on a tour. I didn’t read any reviews or talk to the staff. I just booked it through the phone app a day or two before.

That morning, we all loaded up on the bus and headed out 45 minutes around the bay. Then as the bus parks, I realize what’s going on. From the parking lot to the viewpoint is about a quarter-mile. And that walk is lined every inch with vendors. This was the definition of a tourist trap.

The actual geyser is pretty cool, but I’ll be honest, it’s something that unless it’s really rocking, you see for a couple of minutes and then you’re done. And after you look, it’s back for the quarter-mile hike through the gauntlet.

Once I got back, I checked out the reviews online and my experience is far from unique.

Bottom line: Most excursions are tons of fun. I’ve loved literally every one I’ve been on until this. But doing a quick check of what others think — which I didn’t — can save you from getting gouged.

Not Bringing Your Allotment of Drinks

How can you rip yourself off on a cruise? What about not taking advantage when the cruise line actually helps you to save money?

Just about every cruise line allows you to bring on a bottle of wine or champagne when you board. Most also let you bring on a 12-pack of non-alcoholic drinks like sodas or juices. That may not seem like much, but given the prices of drinks on a cruise, it can save you a ton of money.

Take that 12-pack of Coke. On the ship, they might serve Pepsi like Carnival does. Even if they do sell Coke, a can will run about $3 plus gratuity. So a case that might cost $6-7 on land saves you nearly $40 on the ship.

Wine prices can vary widely, but expect to spend $8-12 a glass. A $10 bottle of wine saves you several times that over the course of the cruise.

Taxi Fares in Port

Taxi fares in Puerto Plata
In many ports there are set taxi rates. That doesn’t mean they are a good deal. Many times the set fares are eye-watering.

For a long time one of the classic scams in a foreign country has been getting gouged by a taxi. You hop in for a ride just a few miles down the road and then a shady driver tells you the fare is some crazy amount and demand you pay.

To put tourist minds at ease, many ports have standardized fares and posted taxi rates. You know exactly what you’re going to pay before you even get in. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it a good deal.

I remember paying $12 for a taxi ride from the port to visit Chankanaab in Cozumel. I hop in, and literally 3-4 minutes later I’m there. Round trip adds up to close to $25.

But that’s nothing compared to rates posted in Amber Cove near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. There, rates were $70 to get from the port to the city and back, roughly 15 miles round trip.

To me, you’re still getting gouged with the set prices, it’s just all out in the open.

Internet on the Ship

When I cruise, I’m jealous of those folks that can completely disconnect. Since I make a living writing and talking about cruises, when I sail I’m actually working, so I have to get the ship’s internet.

And I will be the first to admit I don’t know the technology or cost it takes to provide thousands of people on a ship with internet connectivity… but can it really be this expensive? Paying upwards of $20-$25 per day is common. I just dropped nearly $90 for four days of access on my last cruise.

In other words, I spent more on the internet for a few days on a cruise ship than I do for an entire month at home.

Meanwhile, what you get is impressive for being in the middle of an ocean, but it’s far slower than what we’re all used to on land. If you can avoid it, save your money. If not, welcome to the club of having to pay up.

Cheaper, Slower Internet Plans

I just covered the cost of the internet on the ship, but many cruise lines offer multiple tiers of service. There’s a slower-tier of service that may be more limited in that it doesn’t have fast speeds or allow streaming, yet it still costs a wild amount of money.

For instance, Carnival charges $19.55 for its value plan, and $21.25 for its Premium plan. For the extra roughly $2, you get speeds up to three times faster and the ability to stream.

Cruise internet has gotten better as most have switched over to Starlink service. But it still isn’t blazing fast. What I’ve found is that whenever I opt for the lower-tier plans, they can be unusably slow. So even though I think the prices are wild, I’d still suggest you pony up the extra money to go top tier. It may be more expensive, but it’s a better deal.

Gratuity When Not Served by a Person

Royal Caribbean’s Bionic Bar is where robots make and serve your drink. You are still charged gratuity.

Tipping culture drives many people nuts, but some spots on the cruise ship have you tipping for service you provide yourself or through a machine.

If you head to a bar and order a drink from the bartender, everyone knows that gratuity is automatically added on. That $12 drink becomes $14 and change when all is said and done.

But what if you buy a drink from the mini-bar or get it from a self-serve station or even buy a beverage from a robot that makes drinks like Royal Caribbean’s Bionic Bar? You guessed it. You can also see this charge.

Now I know that crew members still have to stock and maintain these bars, but it definitely feels weird to be charge a gratuity for a robotic arm

Port Transportation Compared to Uber/Lyft

The last time I cruised solo, I did something that I’ve always considered a gouge, and that was take the cruise line’s transportation between the ship and the airport.

Cruise lines all offer shuttles to get you to the ship and back. The issue is they only run the day your cruise begins and ends, you’re on their schedule, and they are expensive. For example, a ride for one person costs about $25 from the Miami airport to the cruise port. You can get an Uber or Lyft — which carries up to four people (although three is more likely given the luggage) for the same amount of money.

So why did I take it? I’ve found that in most cases the price for the shuttle for one person is roughly the same cost as an Uber. So if you sail solo like I did, there’s no real difference in the overall cost. And if it’s already headed to the airport, why not catch a ride?

But if traveling with two or more, other ways of getting to the port are way, way cheaper.

Summer Fares for Cruises

I’ve taken literally dozens of cruises, but the number I’ve taken in the months of summer or holidays? Those can be counted on a single hand.

That’s because you’ll pay a ridiculous amount more during these times, and I find the fares to be majorly overpriced. Thanks to flexibility, I don’t have to pay those fares if I don’t want to. Not everyone is that fortunate. If not, then just know you’re going to be hit with a much more expensive cruise.

Take a 7-day Carnival cruise departing January 2025 that I found from Miami. The cheapest price is $589 per person for an interior cabin. Of course, you have to pay double occupancy and taxes/fees, but that’s still a good price.

The exact same cruise, same room type, same everything during the window between Christmas and New Years? It’s around $1,300. Summer trips come in starting around $1,000.

I’m not picking on Carnival. You see this across cruise lines. Is it a gouge? It’s likely more market pricing, but it’s still wild how much more you’ll pay.

Not Using AARP Discounts

AARP Membership card
For years I’ve been an member of AARP and use the membership to purchase discounted gift cards for cruises. It’s an easy way to save 10% on many trips.

File this one under ways that you can gouge yourself, maybe without even realizing it.

I am a card-carrying AARP member, and no, I’m not retired nor anywhere near 55 years old. But anyone can be a member for $12 a year. And when you’re a member, you unlock some big discounts for anything from meals to hotels and yes, cruises.

The group offers discounted gift cards to Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, and Holland America for 10% off the face value. So you can buy a $500 gift card for $450… and you can buy up to 25 at a time.

In other words, if you’re not buying these cards and then using them to purchase your cruise, you’re paying way more than you should. On a $3,000 cruise, you’re essentially leaving $300 on the table.

You can see my article here on AARP gift cards if you want more details.

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