How Much Is a Cruise: The Hidden Costs of Cruising and How To Save Money

Olu Ojo
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Embarking on a cruise can be a thrilling adventure to anticipate, but determining the budget for such a vacation often leaves potential cruisers with questions. The cost of a cruise is affected by a variety of elements, such as the chosen cruise line, cabin type, itinerary length, and the season of travel.

While some may opt for a basic interior cabin, others may splurge on a suite with an ocean view. I’ve learned that timing is also key; sailing off-peak can substantially reduce expenses compared to peak summer voyages.

Navigating the pricing of cruises, I’ve observed that the cruise fare is just the beginning. The fare usually covers accommodations, most meals, entertainment, and use of the ship’s facilities, yet it leaves out the extras. These can include specialty dining, shore excursions, beverages, and onboard activities that require an additional fee.

When planning a trip, it’s important to keep in mind that the total cost includes more than just the upfront fare. You should also consider additional expenses like onboard spending, gratuities, travel to the port, parking, and out-of-pocket expenses while visiting destinations. According to past finance reports from cruise companies, a reasonable budget estimates that onboard spending will be around 30-40% of the cruise fare.

Key Takeaways – How Much is a Cruise?

  • Cruise prices vary significantly based on cabin type, travel timing, and cruise line selection, among other factors.
  • The listed cruise fare typically includes the most necessary amenities, but additional expenses onboard can increase the total cost by about 30-40%.
  • Additional costs to consider are travel and accommodation before the cruise, onboard gratuities, and spending at various ports of call.

Types of Cruises

A cruise ship sailing on calm waters, with various types of cruise ships in the background. The setting sun casts a warm glow on the scene
Image credit: Frenz Hub

When it comes to planning a cruise vacation, there are numerous options that cater to different preferences and interests. Whether you’re looking for a luxurious escape or an adventurous journey, each type of cruise offers unique experiences and amenities.

Mainstream Cruises

Mainstream cruises are a popular choice for many due to their affordability and wide range of on-board activities. They typically feature large ships and provide a variety of entertainment options such as pools, theaters, and kids’ clubs.

These cruises also include multiple dining options, from buffets to specialty restaurants. Companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean International are renowned for their mainstream cruise offerings, ensuring that there is always something for everyone on board.

Luxury Cruises

For those seeking a more exclusive and intimate experience, luxury cruises present an elevated level of service with attention to the finer details. Luxury cruise lines, such as Cunard and Oceania Cruises, offer smaller ships that allow for attentive service and luxurious accommodations, including spacious suites. Fine dining with exquisite cuisine, high-end bath products, and inclusive extras like fine wines and spirits contribute to the luxurious ambiance.

Specialty Cruises

Specialty cruises are designed around unique themes or interests and often provide a more tailored experience. These may include adventure cruises to more remote locations like the Galapagos Islands or thematic voyages focusing on interests such as cuisine, history, or music.

Smaller ships allow for a more customized journey and often include expert-led tours or workshops. The destinations and activities are carefully chosen to enhance the themed experience for those with specific interests or hobbies.

Cruise Pricing Overview

A cruise ship sailing on a calm ocean, with a clear blue sky and a price tag hovering above it
Image credit: Frenz Hub

When considering a cruise vacation, understanding the factors that influence the price is essential. Similar to airline tickets, cruise prices are quoted on a per-person basis and can vary significantly based on cabin selection and timing.

Base Fare

The base fare of a cruise covers the bare minimum: your cabin and certain amenities. Inside cabins on lower decks are the most economical options. As I learned on my last Royal Caribbean voyage, opting for a basic cabin can significantly reduce costs.

However, prices fluctuate daily due to supply and demand, and various promotions may be available. For instance, a cruise that I considered outside of the holiday rush, during shoulder season, was notably cheaper than peak season rates by close to $600

All-Inclusive Options

Booking promotions that include drink packages, Wi-Fi, and shore excursions can make your cruise more all-inclusive. They cover both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, gratuities, specialty dining, and other amenities.

Fares based on double occupancy are standard, so book with lines offering sales or dedicated solo cabins to avoid paying the single supplement. Remember to account for all costs when budgeting for your cruise to ensure a vacation that fits your expectations and financial plan.

Understanding Cruise Fares

A cruise ship sailing on calm waters with a clear blue sky and a price tag floating above it
Image credit: Frenz Hub

When planning a cruise, it’s crucial to understand how fares work, as they are quite unique compared to other types of travel and accommodation pricing. I’ve learned that the rate you pay is not solely based on the destination but varies greatly depending on cabin type, booking season, and available promotions.

Cabin Types

Just as I’ve experienced with air travel, paying less for a cruise usually means compromising on space and location. An interior cabin, located on a lower deck without a window, is typically the most affordable option.

If I want to wake up to ocean views, I’d opt for an oceanview cabin which is priced higher. For an outdoor experience, a balcony cabin adds a private outside area and is a step up in cost. For supreme luxury and space, I’d consider a suite, which has premium amenities but also comes with a premium price tag.

How Much is a Cruise
My Balcony cabin at my last Royal Caribbean Cruise (Voger of the Sea) Image credit: Frenz Hub

Seasonal Variations

Much like the airline industry, cruise pricing fluctuates based on supply and demand and the time of year. A Caribbean cruise, for example, may cost me between approximately $400 to over $1500 per person, depending on when I book.

Rates drop significantly during the off-peak hurricane season or the Mediterranean during winter. Conversely, during popular travel times like summer or holidays, I can expect to pay premium fares.

Last-Minute Deals

Occasionally, you can snag a bargain with last-minute offers, similar to the rush deals airlines release. These can provide substantial savings, though your options may be limited in terms of cabin selection and itineraries.

Still, flexibility can lead to exceptional last-minute deals, especially when cruise lines aim to fill unsold cabins close to the departure date. It’s also worth noting that some cruise lines provide discounted rates or extra benefits like onboard credits during certain booking periods, commonly referred to as “Wave Season.”

Additional Costs on a Cruise

The scene shows a cruise ship with a price tag and a calculator, indicating additional costs. The background could include various amenities like dining, excursions, and onboard activities
Image provided by Frenz Hub

When planning a cruise, it’s important to consider not just the ticket price, but also the various additional expenses that can accumulate. From dining upgrades to exclusive onboard experiences, these costs can add significantly to your vacation budget.

Dining and Beverages

Dining: While cruises typically include meals, there might be charges for certain menu items in the main dining room. Some ships offer upscale specialty dining venues that require an additional fee, ranging upwards of $30-$50 per person. It’s an extra cost for a premium experience, like having a gourmet meal or enjoying a specific cuisine that isn’t available in the inclusive dining areas.

Beverages: Cruise lines usually charge for alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees, and bottled water. I noticed on my last cruise that a soda might cost between $2-$4. Considering a drink package could be financially sensible if you enjoy multiple beverages daily; however, with prices rising, it’s crucial to calculate if it’s worth it based on your drinking habits.

Excursions and Activities

Shore Excursions: Exploring the destinations your cruise visits often entails additional expenses for shore excursions. Guided tours can range from a modest $35 per person for a short city tour to over $300 for elaborate full-day adventures that include meals.

Onboard Activities: There might be charges for certain onboard entertainment and activities. Exclusive shows, premium experiences, or novelty attractions (like a VR experience or a specialty simulator) often come at an extra cost, though many ships still offer plenty of complimentary entertainment options.

Gratuities and Service Charges

Gratuities: Service charges and gratuities are typically not included in your cruise fare. These service charges are distributed among the staff, from housekeeping to dining crews. Cruise lines either charge a daily gratuity fee ranging from $14 to $20 per day or suggest tipping staff directly. It’s essential to set aside funds for gratuities, as this is a significant part of cruise staff income.

Service Charges: Additional service charges can occur in various contexts, such as a corkage fee for drinking your own wine in a restaurant. On my last cruise, I also noticed a trend of “convenience” charges for room service, leading me to grab a bite from the free eateries instead of ordering in.

How to Choose The Perfect Cruise Line

When deciding on the perfect cruise line for your vacation, consider your preferences and expectations. The right choice can markedly enhance your cruising experience, whether it’s mainstream excitement or luxury tranquility you seek, or a specific destination that you dream of exploring.

Mainstream vs Luxury

Mainstream cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line appeal to a broad audience, offering a vibrant atmosphere and diverse activities. Think of Royal Caribbean’s vast ships boasting amenities like rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks.

Alternatively, luxury cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises provide a more exclusive experience, often with a higher staff-to-guest ratio, gourmet dining, and inclusive extras, which may justify a higher price point. For instance, on my last luxury cruise, I reveled in the exceptional service, noting that the cost was commensurate with the quality and exclusivity of the experience.

Destination Focused

I’ve found that some cruise lines focus more intently on the destinations they visit. Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, offers unique itineraries that include overnight stays in cities, allowing more exploratory depth. Luxury lines, on the other hand, may access smaller, boutique ports of call thanks to their smaller vessel size, enhancing the cultural immersion of their cruises. Whether it’s the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, ensure that your chosen line offers the routes and destination access that align with your travel desires.

Budgeting for Your Cruise

Crafting an effective cruise vacation budget requires a clear understanding of expected costs and strategic planning for both expected and unexpected expenses. This guide is designed to help you steer clear of financial surprises and anchor into a fulfilling and well-planned sea voyage.

Initial Estimate

Fare: At the foundation of your cruise budget will be the base fare which varies greatly depending on the destination, duration, and cruise line. This fare can often be reduced by taking advantage of seasonal sales and limited-time offers, senior discounts, or discounts available for military personnel.

Additional Mandatory Costs: To the fare, add mandatory taxes, port fees, and, in most cases, travel insurance to safeguard against trip cancellations or medical emergencies at sea.

Example:

  • Fare per person: $1,200
  • Taxes and port fees: $200
  • Travel Insurance: $100
  • Total Initial Estimate: $1,500

Hidden Costs

Gratuities and Service Charges: These are often automatic and can range anywhere from $10 to $20 per person per day.

Onboard and Port Expenses: Broaden your budget to include onboard expenses such as internet, spa treatments, specialty dining, and activities. Shore excursion prices also vary and need to be accounted for – these can be a significant addition, often ranging between $50 and $175 per excursion.

Beverage Packages: Many opt for a pre-purchased beverage package, offering savings on drinks that aren’t included in the fare. Be mindful of choosing the option that best fits your drinking preferences.

Shopping: Whether it’s sundries you forgot to pack or duty-free shopping, allot a portion of your budget for onboard and port purchases.

Add 10% Buffer:

  • Expecting the unexpected is wise. By adding a 10% buffer to your total estimate, you prepare for spontaneous decisions or unforeseen costs.

In forming a budget for a cruise, it is essential to incorporate both the clear-cut fare and the less obvious, hidden costs. With a comprehensive financial plan, you’ll be one step closer to embarking on a cruise that is as stress-free as the open sea.

Travel Insurance Costs

When planning my last Royal Caribbean cruise, I carefully considered travel insurance. Travel insurance protects your investment in a trip, such as a cruise, by covering unforeseen events that may cause cancellation or disruption. The cost of this insurance is influenced by several factors, including the price of the trip, the insurance coverage selected, and the traveler’s age.

What It Covers:

  • Trip Cancellations
  • Emergency Medical Expenses
  • Lost Luggage
  • Trip Interruptions or Delays

Cost Breakdown:

  • Basic Plans: May start from as low as 4-10% of the total trip cost.
  • Comprehensive Plans: Can range up to 12% or more depending on coverage.

On my cruise, I found that opting for a Cancel For Any Reason coverage gave me peace of mind, despite its higher price point. This type of policy typically reimburses a significant portion of prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses.

Cancellation Policies: Travel insurance plans sometimes allow for partial or full reimbursement in cases where trips must be canceled for covered reasons. Policy details, including acceptable cancellation reasons and reimbursement percentages, are vital to review before purchasing.

It’s my view that investing in travel insurance is a necessary expenditure for cruises. The right insurance policy can safeguard against significant financial losses due to unexpected trip hindrances. My research on various travel insurance plans showed that the average cost of cruise insurance could be around $457 per trip. These costs are something to budget for when planning a cruise. However, travel insurance policies vary, and it’s crucial to select coverages that align with your needs.

The Best Ways to Book Your Cruise

When planning a cruise, it’s crucial to identify the methods that ensure value for money as well as additional perks that enhance the overall experience.

Best Time to Book

My Strategy for Timing: To secure the most competitive cruise fares, I focus on booking between six and 12 months in advance. This lead time often yields appealing deals that might include onboard credit or free gratuities, which can significantly reduce my onboard expenses.

Alerts and Trends: For continuous awareness of price fluctuations, I set up alerts and monitor 90-day pricing trends. Understanding how prices change leading up to the departure helps me determine the optimal booking window to lock in the best rate.

Comparing Offers

Comparative Research: When I’m searching for cruise offers, I take advantage of the ability to evaluate multiple options simultaneously. I find platforms that aggregate cruises from different lines invaluable, as they allow me to compare prices and special deals without having to visit numerous websites.

Promotional Offers: It’s not uncommon for booking sites to provide enticing bonuses like onboard spending money or waived deposits. To maximize these opportunities, I carefully review the terms of each offer, ensuring that I’m fully benefiting from promotions.

In summary, being tactical about the timing of the booking and methodically comparing various offers and bonuses are my consistent strategies for booking cruises that offer the best value.

Before You Depart For Your Cruise

A cruise ship sails in calm waters, surrounded by blue ocean and clear skies. The ship's name and price are displayed prominently on its side.

Planning for a cruise involves not just packing your bags and dreaming of the open sea; it also requires careful consideration of your travel arrangements and accommodation. Here’s what I learned about streamlining my trip to the port and my stay before boarding.

Travel to the Port

My journey to the cruise terminal was an essential part of my cruise experience. Depending on the departure city, I considered different modes of transportation:

  • Driving: While convenient, I had to budget for parking fees, which can add up over the duration of a cruise. Researching pre-paid parking options helped me save money.
  • Flying: If arriving by air, I looked for flights that would get me to the city at least one day before the cruise’s departure to buffer against any travel delays. This approach often secured me better airfare deals as well.

Accommodation Pre-Cruise

Booking a hotel for the night before we set sail provided me with peace of mind. Here are some tips I picked up:

  • Proximity to Port: I chose a hotel close to the cruise terminal, which sometimes offered a free shuttle to the port.
  • Hotel Deals: Some hotels offer packages for cruisers, including parking and shuttle service, which helped me save on travel expenses.

By considering these key factors before departing for my cruise, I was able to reduce unexpected costs and ensure a stress-free start to my vacation.

Life Onboard the Cruise Ship

Aboard the Royal Carribbean Ship
I was lounging by the pool with a good book to unwind here. Image credit: Frenz Hub

 

Experiencing life on a cruise ship is akin to residing in a floating luxury hotel, with each day offering a wealth of dining options, amenities, and entertainment. I’ve found that the staterooms are designed to be comfortable retreats, while the ship itself provides an array of activities to suit every taste.

Dining and Amenities

Among the many highlights of my time at sea, the dining on a cruise ship stands out. With an assortment of restaurants, from casual eateries to fine dining establishments, I’ve indulged in a diverse range of culinary delights. Meals are often included in the fare, allowing me to savor everything from gourmet international cuisine to comfort food favorites without worrying about the cost.

  • Main Dining Room: Typically offers multi-course meals in an elegant setting.
  • Specialty Restaurants: Additional options that could require a reservation and sometimes an extra fee.
  • Buffets: Serve a variety of dishes, ideal for a quick and casual meal.
  • Room Service: Convenient for enjoying meals within the privacy of my stateroom.

On the amenities front, my well-being is catered to with a plethora of options. Cruise ships boast fitness centers equipped with modern exercise machines and offer a range of fitness classes. I’ve stayed active with the following:

  • Fitness Classes: Including yoga, Pilates, and spinning.
  • Gyms: Open 24/7 with cardio equipment and weights.
  • Pools: Both adult-only and family-friendly options are available for a refreshing dip or lounging in the sun.

Entertainment and Activities

Entertainment onboard is ceaseless and meticulously crafted to cater to a wide audience. I’ve spent evenings marveling at Broadway-caliber shows and participating in trivia contests that are as enjoyable as they are challenging. The staple onboard entertainment includes live music, comedy, and dance performances that are a testament to the ship’s commitment to providing a vibrant atmosphere.

  • Live Shows: Theaters on cruise ships stage spectacular productions.
  • Casino: For those who fancy a game of chance.
  • Deck Parties: Events under the stars, with music and dancing.

During the day, activities range from seminars and workshops to poolside games. Personally, I find lounging by the pool with a good book to be a perfect way to unwind. Furthermore, the ship frequently hosts themed nights and celebrations, ensuring that my evenings are as engaging as my days.

After Your Cruise

When the voyage comes to an end, managing expenses and coordinating return travel can require as much attention as the initial cruise planning. I’ll share my experiences with settling the bill, which often includes onboard spending and navigating post-cruise travel arrangements.

Settling the Bill

Upon disembarking, I was immediately confronted with the task of settling my onboard account. This final bill typically includes charges for any additional services or purchases I’ve made during the cruise, such as:

  • Onboard Spending: Specialty dining, spa services, or other premium offerings.
  • Souvenirs: Items I purchased from the ship’s gift shops.
  • Gambling: Any casino expenses, if I’ve indulged in onboard betting.
  • Wi-Fi: Internet package costs, which can accumulate quickly without a pre-purchased plan.

I carefully reviewed each charge to ensure accuracy, remembering how Wi-Fi fees and those tempting souvenirs can add up. It’s essential to budget for these while planning the cruise to avoid surprises at the end.

Post-Cruise Travel

Following the cruise, my attention turns to post-cruise travel plans. To maintain control over my travel expenses, I consider:

  1. Transportation:
    • Taxi or shuttle services to the airport or hotel.
    • Potential car rental if I’m exploring the area post-cruise.
  2. Lodging:
    • A pre-booked hotel room if I’m staying overnight before flying home.

Advance planning for these expenses is crucial. On my last trip, I saved money on return travel by pre-arranging a shared shuttle service instead of relying on taxis. This not only cost less but also alleviated the stress of finding last-minute transport.

How I Saved Money On My Last Royal Caribbean Cruise

Me at my last Royal Carribbean Cruise the summer of 2023
Me at my last Royal Carribbean Cruise (Voyager of the Sea) in the summer of 2023 Image credit: Frenz Hub

 

When I boarded my last cruise to Mexico with Royal Caribbean, I knew I had to employ strategic measures to keep my expenses to a minimum.

  • By booking well in advance for an oceanview cabin, I was able to secure a lower fare than if I had booked closer to the date of departure.
  • In retrospect, I realize that I made a mistake by paying extra for a balcony cabin that had an ocean view when I could have gone for a cheaper inside cabin. However, for those who are willing to pay more for the ocean-view or balcony cabins, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to enjoy the ocean vistas throughout the ship. I just don’t want others to make the same mistake as I did.
  • Sharing a suite with a friend proved to be not only fun but also economical, by halving the cost which was beneficial for both of us. We also made a pact to avoid the temptation of purchasing drinks like coffee onboard. It can add up, so we simply enjoyed the complimentary beverages.
  • Excursions can be expensive. However, we saved money by exploring ports independently and only choosing important excursions, such as ATV driving, that I have not experienced before.
  • For any luxury items we were tempted by, like wristwatches or perfumes, waiting to purchase these items onboard meant we could take advantage of considerable discounts—a smart move!
  • Another great way to get the best cruise deals is to join a group or subscribe to group discounts. For example, I once joined a college alumni group who had signed up for a Royal Caribbean cruise for their annual association event. By tagging along with them, we were able to get a much lower price than if we had booked on our own. We paid only $1,000 per person for a package that would normally cost $1,500. This is a unique way to save money that many people are not aware of and is definitely worth exploring!
  • Lastly, although I learned it the hard way, buy your internet package ahead of time. Onboard pricing for connectivity is exorbitant, and I paid heavily for this oversight. Next time, I’ll ensure to include internet in my advance purchase to avoid unnecessary financial surprises. With these strategies, I managed to enjoy a full cruise experience while maintaining a firm grip on my budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

When planning a cruise, I often encounter several recurring questions regarding costs and requirements. Here’s what I’ve found based on my experience and information from trusted sources.

What are the typical prices for a 1-week cruise?

For a typical 7-day cruise, I’ve seen average costs around $214.25 per person per day. This figure can vary depending on factors like the cruise line, destination, and time of year. Cruise cost estimates often include the base ticket price, accommodations, and some amenities.

Can you provide a pricing range for a 3 to 5-day cruise?

3 to 5-day cruises can be more affordable. While prices fluctuate, I noticed that shorter cruises could start from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand per person, again depending on the cruise line and package details.

How does the cost vary for different cruise line tickets?

Different cruise lines set their prices based on ship amenities, routes, and service levels. For example, Royal Caribbean lists factors such as ship, sail date, cruise length, and number of guests per stateroom as determinants for their pricing.

What is the average cost of an all-inclusive cruise per person?

All-inclusive cruises generally include meals, drinks, entertainment, and activities. The average cost per person can range widely, but I tend to budget for at least $1,500 to $2,000 per person for a quality all-inclusive week-long cruise.

Do I need a passport for a cruise?

I found that I do need a passport for most cruises, especially if the itinerary includes international destinations. However, “closed-loop” cruises, which start and finish at the same US port, may only require a state-issued ID and birth certificate.

What is the cheapest month to go on a cruise?

Based on my experiences and industry pricing trends, the cheapest months to cruise tend to be during the off-peak times, such as late spring or fall. September, for example, often has lower prices due to the end of the summer travel season.

Do you need a passport for Disney Cruise?

For Disney Cruises, similar rules apply as with other cruises. If visiting international ports, a passport is typically required. However, specific Disney cruises departing from and returning to the same US port might only need a birth certificate and ID for U.S. citizens.

What factors influence the price of a cruise vacation?

Numerous factors impact cruise pricing including the cruise line, ship, departure port, destination, length of the cruise, stateroom type, and time of year. Added expenses like excursions, specialty dining, and onboard spending also affect the total cost. I always consider these aspects when budgeting for my cruise vacations.

Author

  • Olu Ojo

    My name is Olu. I am a passionate entrepreneur who loves to write about Pets, Home Improvement Hacks & Products, Fitness, and Travel Lifestyle. I have two bachelor's degrees in Veterinary Medicine and Applied Accounting with a CPA designation. I currently shuffle time between completing a Master of Business Administration Degree Education, Professional Practice, and Content writing. I have freelanced lifestyle content and posts for many top authority websites like MSN, and Wealth of Geeks.

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