There is a reason why booking holidays is a profession (it can be mind-boggling at the best of times), and cruising is a whole different beast in the world of travel. It’s your transport, hotel, restaurant, bar, entertainment and destination all in one, and with so many different cruise liners and combinations to consider, it is easy to get lost in the detail and concentrate on price. This is the first mistake. The advertised price is not the cost of the holiday!
So what can you do to avoid a hefty bill at the end of your voyage? It’s simple. You need to budget! This blog post will help uncover those extra hidden costs, and guides you through how to plan for them so there are no surprises to spoil the end of your cruise.
Almost all cruise lines offer a standard ‘full board’ fare. This means you will receive 3 full meals on board for each night of your cruise. Sounds great, right? But what are you going to drink?! You can’t drink tap water on a cruise you know! OK, so most cruise lines offer a buffet with complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks, but outside of the buffet, all drinks are chargeable, and often not at your typical high street price. It’s important that you go in with your eyes wide open, consider what you usually drink on holiday and weigh up whether a drinks or ‘all inclusive’ package is going to offer you better value. Also consider taking re-usable water bottles and flasks to allow you to take drinks back to your cabin.
2) Travel Insurance
Yawn! But essential none-the-less. Being airlifted to hospital in an emergency, missing the boat or being confined to your cabin due to infectious illness can be a costly business! Most cruise lines won’t allow you on board unless you have a comprehensive cruise-specific insurance policy, and if you have pre-existing medical conditions, this can add to the cost too. Be sure to get a quote and take out insurance AS SOON AS YOU BOOK! This will protect you against cancellation in many circumstances too. It may be boring, but it could save you thousands in the long run.
You’re full board, so what more do you need to pay for? Speciality dining – that’s what! If you’re on board for more than a couple of nights, you might want to try a different cuisine, and often some of the best restaurants are at sea! These can cost anywhere between £5-£150 per person, so you will want to look in to the options carefully!
4) Car Parking
If you drive to the cruise port or airport, car parking is essential and is always cheaper when pre-booked. Planning ahead can save you hundreds of pounds! Shop around online or ask your travel agent for a quote, but be sure to read the reviews before agreeing to book. I have heard many stories of people’s cars being moved and damaged in the process, significant mileage being clocked up in their absence, even cigarette ends being found inside the car! The mind boggles… Be sure to leave your car with a trusted provider!
Want one of those delicious cakes temptingly displayed in the showcase? Fancy an ice cream out on deck? That’ll cost you! OK, so some cruise lines include this in the fare, but many don’t! If you have kids, saying ‘no’ all the time can wear very thin, so set realistic expectations or upgrade your package accordingly!
Not all cruises are created equal. Some itineraries have once-in-a-lifetime pre-bookable excursions which must be reserved in advance, others not so much. Excursions can be very expensive, but are pretty much essential for places like St Petersburg or the Great Barrier Reef. You don’t need to book directly with the cruise lines. Often third party excursion providers or even local guides can save you money and deliver a unique experience. Check before you travel or you may end up spending hundreds on board when you weren’t expecting to.
7) Port Transfers
Believe it or not, giant ocean cruise ships can often not drop you off on the doorstep of the must-visit points of interest. Some are even several miles away from civilisation! In these circumstances, the cruise line offers a port transfer, but that’ll cost you both time and money. Sometimes (in Tallinn for example) the cruise line offers these but they are really not required for most able-bodied passengers. Other times (in Copenhagen for example) the terminal is several miles away from the main city, and public transport does not serve you well! Check before you travel, and budget for taxis or port transfers accordingly.
8) Gratuities (tips)
The most common cause for concern for many first time cruisers is the question of tips. Are they optional? Are they necessary? How much should we tip? Who should we tip? Well, that again depends on cruise line. Do your research! Some cruise lines (such as P&O) have recently become a ‘gratuity free’ cruise line due to the customs in the country to which they market their cruises (UK guests). Others are aimed at American or European guests which are far more used to tipping, and so include a customary amount which is automatically added to your onboard account. These can be as much as $15USD per person, per day. You will also find an additional 18-20% is added to all listed beverage, mini-bar and spa prices which is NOT optional. These can add up quickly, so make sure you’re prepared (or at least sat down when you receive your bill the night before disembarkation)!
9) On Board Recreation
Modern cruise ships are fantastic and their facilities rival any hotel on land, but everything comes at a cost! Spa treatments, wine tasting, room service, the casino, babysitting… even some shows are payable! Most cruise lines don’t display these proudly online as they can change based on demand, but you can usually find some examples on blogs and chat rooms from past cruises.
Boutiques to rival Bond Street, Duty Free to rival Heathrow and patisseries to rival Paris… You will spend money on board, and they know it, so things aren’t cheap! The shops and cafes on board are pristine, many have ‘sales’ and ‘special events’, and attentive staff are on hand to charm the money from your cruise card! They have the art of selling down to a tea, so be prepared or avoid the shops altogether!
Tips & Tricks
- Check which currency your chosen cruise line uses on board – if you use a standard debit or credit card and your cruise line doesn’t take the payment in your home currency, you could be hit with added fees and a percentage charge on top of your bill!
- See if gratuities can be pre-paid before departure – sometimes they can and this can help reduce that final bill.
- Compare drinks packages – not all packages are created equal! Some have daily limits and don’t include certain branded products.
- When people ask you what you’d like as a birthday present, ask for gift vouchers or travel currency! No more trinkets, just savings on your holiday!
- Take some snacks & drinks on board. Most cruise lines allow you to take a limited amount of alcohol, soft drinks and food on board, so have a stash in your cabin for those times when the buffet seems so far away…
Have you ever been caught out on any of the above? Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments!