(69) Hidden Costs of Cruising
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If you are not cruising with an all-inclusive cruise line, plan ahead for these onboard a la carte charges not typically included in cruise fare:
- Cocktails, wine, beer, soft drinks and items in cabin mini-bars. Look for a discounted drink-of-the-day special each day. It is permissible to bring a bottle of wine or champagne onboard; however, cruise lines do not officially permit you to bring your own alcohol on board for consumption in your cabin. If alcohol or wine is purchased in ports, it will be confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise. (Inside scoop: Some cruisers say they pack a bottle of their favorite liquor (wrapped securely against breakage or leakage) in checked luggage to save money and enjoy their own in-cabin beverages.)
- Luxury spa and salon services. Watch for specials, especially on port days when many passengers go ashore and business is slow.
- Ship photographs and DVDs. A ship's photographer is always around capturing cruise moments, including formal portrait sittings. There is no obligation to purchase photographs or a souvenir DVD, but if you do photos typically cost $6-$10 each.
- Ship to shore telephone calls. At $15 or more per minute, calls to say “hello” add up quickly. Establish a free Email account with Yahoo or Hotmail before leaving on a cruise and stay in touch via Email at sea. Most modern cruise ships have Internet cafes and some ships offer wireless access for personal laptops. Email onboard ship is not free, but it is reasonable. Some cruise lines charge by the minute; others charge for blocks of Internet time. Average charges for Email are between $0.35-$0.50 per minute.
- Special activities like trapshooting, golf simulators, wine tastings, bingo and interactive video games have extra fees.
- On-board ATMs charge a fee of $5.00 or more per transaction. Your bank also adds their fee. Take the maximum allowable cash each time to reduce the number of transactions.
- Shipboard specialty restaurants usually charge $10-$20 per person.
- Cruise operated shore excursions can add several hundred dollars to a shipboard account. However, they are sometimes the best option for sampling the attractions of ports of call. In other ports, you can save money by booking independent tours or exploring on your own. (See Cruise Excursions vs. Independent Explorations.)
- Casinos are mega-money makers for cruise lines. Inside Tip: Casino fans swear that slots pay better the first few days of a cruise and machines on the end of rows are more lucrative. Also some new cruise ships are moving away from tokens or coins in favor of play via your shipboard card or a casino card that debits or credits shipboard accounts. When this is the case, it is easy to lose track of losses and incur a significant gambling debt.
A cruise ship is a “no cash” environment. These onboard expenses are added to your personal shipboard account. At embarkation (cruise check-in), register a major credit charge card to settle your shipboard account. You will receive a shipboard card. This card identifies you, charges beverages and other a la carte charges to your shipboard account and doubles as your cabin key. Guard it with care! If you don't monitor these expenses, it's easy for them to get out of hand. This is especially true when traveling with minors who have their “own” cards. Develop a clear understanding of what and how much they can charge daily.
At mid-point on the cruise, ask the purser's desk for a print-out of your shipboard account and get another copy a day or two before the end of the cruise. If you have questions about any charges, address them with the purser's desk before the last morning of the cruise. Also, if you do not re