Like any vacation, cruising can come with good and bad surprises. Finding out your favorite specialty restaurant is free for lunch or that spa treatments are discounted on port days might make you feel like you’ve discovered buried treasure. On the flip side, realizing you have to pay a $10 corkage fee to drink the wine you brought onboard or that the room service you ordered bears a surcharge can be a real let-down.
Despite the «all inclusive» lingo commonly used to describe cruises, all cruise lines have «hidden» price tags. Additionally, each cruise line has its own policy when it comes to tipping, room service and more. Ordering bacon and eggs from your cabin might be free on one cruise line, but cost you on another.
If you’re under the impression something is included, having to pay can put a damper on your worry-free vacation mood and potentially leave your budget in a bind. So how do you prepare for fees that aren’t as obvious? Here are 11 cruise line fees that might take you by surprise.
Most cruise lines offer free room service, but some have now implemented a service charge for each order placed. Expect to pay $3.95 for late-night orders on Royal Caribbean and $7.95 for all orders on Norwegian (excluding morning coffee, Continental breakfast and deliveries to Haven Suites). Carnival is also testing out a for-fee menu. In addition to free items available 24/7, passengers can choose from new items like chicken wings and personal pizzas, ranging from $4 to $7
Gratuities are automatically charged to your onboard account ($12 per person, per day, on average) — which eases the process of tipping everyone who serviced you throughout your sailing, but can come as a surprise to new cruisers who haven’t read the fine print. In addition, not everyone is covered under the auto-gratuity. Room service stewards, baggage handlers and tour guides should be tipped on the spot — so it’s good to have a little extra cash on hand.
Select Menu Items
It’s no secret specialty restaurants — which offer higher-quality food and a more intimate ambiance than the main dining room or buffet — bear a fee. But if you want to upgrade your dinner with a dry-aged steak or Maine lobster, it could cost you. A number of specialty restaurants offer select dishes for an upcharge (roughly $15 to $40), on top of what you pay to dine there. Some cruise lines also offer extra-fee steaks, lobsters and surf and turf in the main dining room.
Cruisers bring wine and Champagne onboard to avoid paying inflated alcohol rates onboard. Before you hit the liquor store, know that cruise lines limit how many bottles you can bring — and charge a corkage fee. You’ll pay $10 to $30 just to drink your cabernet or merlot in the main dining room.
For parents in need of grownup time, a number of cruise lines offer free babysitting — during the day and generally for kids 3 and up. After 10 p.m., you’ll be shelling out an hourly per-kid fee for «late-night parties» (aka, group babysitting). On lines like Disney and Royal Caribbean, nursery care is available for youngsters ages six months to three years, also for an hourly fee.
Soda and Bottled Water
Despite the fact that most iced tea, milk, coffee and breakfast juices are complimentary on cruise ships, soda and bottles of water are not. One can of soda costs roughly $2, and a bottle of water closer to $4. The best way to combat these prices is by purchasing a soda package or bringing your own soda and water onboard (just make sure it’s allowed before you pack it).
Got a latte addiction? Free coffee can be easily found at the buffet or ordered in the main dining room, but anything higher quality or fancier than a plain cuppa joe will almost always cost you. Most cruise ships have cafes serving up specialty coffee a la carte. At Starbuck’s on Royal Caribbean, a tall iced coffee is $2.75 while a tall caramel macchiato is $3.75. If you do happen to be cruising on Royal Caribbean, head to the Promenade Cafe for good free coffee.
Sauna and Steam Room
While use of the saunas and steam rooms attached to the spa’s changing rooms are free on most ships, some lines charge per day or offer a cruise-length pass to their fancier thermal suites. For example, Carnival’s sauna is free, but access to the thalassotherapy pool and thermal suites will cost you $40 per day (or $169 for a cruise-long pass on a seven-night sailing). Norwegian Cruise Line charges $199 per week to access the sauna, steam room, heated loungers and other spa extras in its thermal suite.
Select Onboard Activities
Onboard activities, like salsa classes and towel-folding demos, are generally free, but you will find some attractive pastimes that cause you to spend extra. Noteworthy onboard splurges include MSC Divina’s Winemakers Experience ($40 per person for a 60- to 90-minute session that lets you blend, bottle and label your own wine); Holland America’s personal cooking classes ($29); and specialty fitness classes on various cruise lines ($20 TRX on Royal Caribbean and $10 yoga classes on Carnival, for example).
Cruise Taxes and Fees
Don’t be fooled into thinking that attractively low cruise fare is all you’ll need to pay aside from extras like gratuities and shore excursions. Taxes and fees — which include U.S. and/or foreign government taxes, U.S. custom fees and port charges to cover the ship when leaving, entering, docking and anchoring — can nearly double the advertised cruise fare depending on the line, itinerary and length of your sailing. For example, we priced out a four-night Bahamas cruise on Carnival with a lead rate of $169 per person that jumped to $263 per person after $94 in taxes; a seven-night Bermuda cruise on Holland America that cost $399 per person climbed to $532 after $133 in taxes, fees and port expenses. Make sure you factor the fees into your budget when choosing among sailings.
You need to get yourself from the airport to the cruise port, which can be quite a trek when you fly into places like Rome and London. You can purchase the cruise line’s transfers to the terminal, but you’ll likely pay just as much as — if not more than — a taxi or shared van service. It’s easy to book transfers with your cruise line, but as long as you’re arranging a ride in advance, you can save quite a few bucks by going on your own — especially if you can split the fare.