Figuring out how much cash to take on a cruise is a big question that many cruisers — especially first timers — have before they even start to pack their bags.
From tipping to drinks to souvenirs to excursions, there are plenty of things you’ll find yourself spending money on. So exactly how much cash should your bring?
We’ll get into the details below, but before we get too far, you will likely be surprised that the amount of cash you need on a cruise is less than most people think.
Where You DON’T Need Cash During a Cruise
If you’re going to be spending money, then you definitely need to bring a wad of bills, right? Not so fast. On the cruise ship, you’ll need very little cash day-to-day.
You see, every cruise line now ties your room keycard to your onboard account. Once you are on the ship, you use this card just like a credit card to charge items to your account, which you pay at the end of your trip.
So for drinks at the bar, souvenirs in the cruise ship gift shop, or excursions booked while on the ship, you’ll charge them to your room and pay later. There is no need for cash.
The same goes for most gratuities. Cruise lines now offer prepaid options for gratuities to your room steward and dining room waiters. So you can pay them before you even get on the ship. Or you can wait until on the ship and they will be automatically charged to your account, with no need to pay with physical cash.
So where do you need cold hard cash these days?
Where You DO Need Cash For During a Cruise
We highly recommend paying for anything OFF of the ship in cash. Ports in tourist areas are typically safe from violent crime, but petty crime like theft — or credit card fraud — can happen. So if you plan to pay for meals and entertainment with a card, there is always the risk of being overcharged, charged twice, etc.
For peace of mind, we prefer to simply pay in cash. All ports you visit in the Caribbean or Bahamas will accept U.S. dollars, so don’t worry about having to change over currency.
In addition to security, it’s also helpful to have cash as some places — such as smaller souvenir shops or taxi cabs — don’t accept credit cards.
If you are on the ship, then there are a few places where it is helpful to have cash, mainly for tipping. For example, room service should be tipped $3-5 per delivery. Luggage handlers should be tipped $2-3 per bag.
And if you want to tip your room steward or waitstaff above the prepaid gratuity, then bringing a little extra cash is the best option. Like to gamble? If so, then you’ll also want to bring cash to play with, although that too can be charged to your room in most cases. (We prefer to use cold hard cash at the casino instead of going through the process of charging to the room, however.)
Of course, this all means that the amount of cash you need to carry depends on your own spending habits. If you are a big spender, then you’ll want to bring more money. More moderate spenders will bring less. But in general, you just need money for those things you’re doing off the ship.
That said, there is some quick budgeting you can do. We’ve listed some easy calculations of what you can bring to make sure you have enough cash for your trip.
How Much Cash to Budget for a Cruise
Since the amount of money you need for each day varies depending on whether you are at sea or in port, we’ve broken down each below.
Keep in mind these are our suggestions for the typical Caribbean cruise. Your specifics may vary.
Cash for Day at Sea:
- Tipping (those not included automatically): $0-10 per day
- Gambling: Dependent on your gambling budget
- Miscellaneous: $0-20 per day
- Total: $0-30 per day + gambling budget
Comment: As you can see, you need very little cash on the ship as everything can simply be charged to your card via your onboard account. The one exception is for play in the casino.
Cash for Day in Port:
- Taxis: $40 per day
- Tipping: $20 per day
- Meals: $10-20 per person, per meal
- Souvenirs: $10-20 per person, per day
- Miscellaneous: $20 per day
- Total: $100-120 per day
Comment: Off the ship, cash comes in handy. The amount you need will vary widely based on your plans in port. Just walking to a beach? You’ll likely not need much. Heading out exploring, shopping, and eating lunch? Budget more.
Of course, these are just guidelines. We’ve been on cruises and spent literally no cash in a day. We also know that some people love to let loose on a vacation and spend a bit more.
Our rule of thumb is that you should simply budget as much cash as you would for any other vacation, when in port. On the ship, however, you’ll need far less.
The good news is that if you bring too much cash, you can always put it back into your account when you return home.
And what if you run out of cash? Don’t worry. There are ATMs available on the ship. Although they charge hefty fees (around $6) to withdraw cash, they can help in a pinch. There will also be ATMs in the port areas.
How much cash do you bring on your cruise? Let us know in the comments below…
I have cruised Carnival many times and never had a bad experience. Heading about one bad experience will not make me give up on the company.
Your suggestions sound great for a normal trip. However, my last cruise was not normal! As suggested, we brought cash for Cuba spending, due to no credit cards being accepted there. Fine.
But on our last day onboard the ship, while still in Cuban waters, the purser’s office said they required me to pay in CASH for my $80 souvenirs, which I had charged to my credit card number attached to my sail n sign card. No explanations, just said I couldn’t leave the ship without paying them $80 in CASH. So it was either prostitute myself on the Lido deck, or return my souvenirs.
I chose the latter.
Two months later, Carnival Cruiseline’s supervisor called me apologizing, saying they got a report my credit card had been used to purchase art, which was never returned or paid for, so I owed them money.
The fact was, I bought art a year earlier, and when it arrived, it was too big for my house. I returned the art, but even though they signed the receipt of my art shipment, they refused to reimburse me.
I disputed my claim online, and WON. However, they never logged that info into their computers about my Credit. I received my reimbursement through my credit card company, but NOT them. So at the time they said my card wasn’t valid, they actually OWED my credit card company $400.
That ship wouldn’t even accept a different credit card of mine for my souvenir purchases, even though I had an $18,000 cash advance available on one of them.
Their ATMs onboard didn’t work, and wouldn’t accept any credit cards I put into it.
I couldn’t call home, or use their online internet I had prepaid for, because we were in Cuban waters.
So my advice is:
NEVER buy one thing onboard unless you have double the cash for it. Second word of advance:
Don’t cruise Carnival. I know I’m done with them.
Wow, sounds confusing and definitely not the case for most people.
If you had no other disembark excursions, I would have called their bluff. I suspect that the fact you were still in Cuban waters was the biggest factor. Once the ship (which wasn’t going to stop just for you to pay them) reached US waters, purchase protection and laws kick in.
Cruise ships intentionally operate out of random African/Mediterranean countries to skirt additional laws. Usually involving employee labor. So this is a very common theme.
They cannot hold you hostage on the ship. That’s just hilarious. If they did.. it would actually mean a free cruise. So it’s not only illegal, but actually to your benefit.