While we love cruising, we also aim to give readers the best information possible. And that means pointing out where cruise lines can do better or providing information to help you be a smarter consumer.
One such example of being a smarter cruiser? What we consider the hidden fees when it comes to cruising.
Let’s be clear, all of these fees are laid out before you pay them. However, they are costs that either the cruise lines usually don’t disclose upfront or you might not think about when you book a cruise. For that reason, we consider them hidden.
Still, the costs of these charges can add up quickly. At a minimum they can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of your vacation. Not only is that a lot of money, but it can hurt your pocket even more when you weren’t expecting the charge in the first place.
To make sure your ready for these costs, we’ve rounded up some examples of hidden fees and costs on your next cruise that you’ll need to know about before you set sail.
The biggest surprise to many first-time cruise passengers is the inclusion of gratuities on your cruise. Similar to going to a restaurant, gratuities are added onto your bill and given to the staff providing services like room cleaning and waiting restaurants. These charges are usually automatic these days and either paid before you even step on board or tacked onto your bill at the end of the trip. They usually cost around $14-15 per person, per day.
While the charges are laid out before you purchase your cruise, they usually aren’t mentioned in the cruise’s “headline” price. Be prepared and plan on budgeting about $200 for these charges for a couple on a 7-day cruise.
Want to see how much your gratuities will cost? We have a free gratuity calculator you can use here.
Taxes and Port Fees
As you might expect, you have to pay taxes on your cruise. What you might not realize is that you are also on the hook for port fees. These are fees paid by every passenger and aren’t negotiable.
So how much are they? That depends on your specific trip. Port fees change depending on which ports you visit. We’ve seen them from around $100 per person all the way to $400 per person for some cruises. The good news is that these fees will be shown before you submit payment for the cruise. If you think they are too high, you can try different routes with different ports, which may lessen the cost.
When you get on the ship, there is a lot included in your cruise fare, including your room, some food, and most entertainment. Off the ship, however, you are completely on your own. If you want to take a shore excursion, for example, then you’ll have to shell out for the experience. Excursions can run from relatively cheap — $30 per person — all the way to hundreds of dollars. It depends on what exactly you plan to do. No matter what you plan, just don’t think that these onshore experiences are included with your cruise fare.
It used to be that you paid your cruise fare and everything on the ship was included. That’s not the case anymore. Case in point: food. Now, you don’t have to spend a dime extra on food on a cruise if you don’t want to. There are plenty of free options.
But in our opinion the best — and the most unique — restaurants are usually specialty restaurants, which charge to eat there. This is sometimes a flat cover charge (such as $15 per person). Other times it’s a la carte ordering like a land-based restaurant. Either way, don’t get on the ship thinking food anywhere on the vessel is free.
Some Entertainment & Services
The good news? Most things to do on the ship are completely free. This includes the entertainment put on by the staff (including production shows), the pools, watersildes, etc. We’ve seen the cruise lines moving to charges for some of the bigger and more notable activities. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Lines charges $15 per session to rides its famous go-karts at sea. Meanwhile, things like the spa or salon services are always an extra charge.
Remember, just because something is on the ship doesn’t mean it’s included in the cruise fare.
Room service is a special treat while you’re on a cruise. In years past it used to be completely free. Want a burger at 2 a.m.? You could have gotten one at no charge. In the past few years, cruise lines have started to charge for this perk.
Some lines charge a flat fee for anything you order. Others only charge a fee for orders between certain hours like 10 p.m to 6 a.m. Still others charge by the item you order.
No matter the policy, the days of free room service are largely gone. Expect the charge — it’s disclosed on the menu when you order — and don’t be surprised.
Hotels Before You Cruise
The cost of hotels before you cruise aren’t hidden. No one expects a free night’s stay. But hotels might not be a cost that you think about when sailing. If you are driving to the port, then it’s not big deal to drive in the morning of your cruise.
If you are flying in for your trip, then we always recommend doing so the day before your cruise. There are simply too many things — from weather delays to mechanical failures to computer breakdowns — that can cause a flight to arrive late. If this happens on the day of your cruise, then you’ll miss the ship.
Instead, flying in early and staying in a hotel is a smart idea. Just be sure to budget he cost in your vacation.
Driving in for your cruise? One of the great things about cruising is that trips leave from ports around the country so chances are high that you live within driving distance of a port. If you’re driving in, then you of course need somewhere to park your car while you cruise. (Hotels with park and cruise packages can help you save some money.)
Every cruise port has official parking, but it can be pricey — $20 a day or more is common. A number of independent lots surround some ports as well, offering cheaper alternatives.
No matter where you park, however, you’re going to pay. Don’t be caught off-guard by the extra expense.