Saving Money on a Cruise

Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
August 11, 2010

Unexpected Cruise CostsThere really is no such thing as an "all-inclusive vacation", because no one could include everything. However, some vacations claim to have everything, and then sneak some charges in the package. Cruise vacations are one of them. Cruises are great family getaways and a chance to see multiple countries in one trip, but while your trip is paid for before you leave, you'll be paying much more by the end of it. Know what to expect so the end of your trip is as pleasant as the beginning.


What's Not Included

Cruises do include many things in their total package price, including all meals and snacks. What they don't include are drinks. Whether you like to visit the bar or your kids just want a soda, you'll be paying top dollar for both. A kid's soda card which allows unlimited sodas or juices will cost $5 a day; an adult card is more like $7.50. Without paying extra, you'll be limited to water, coffee, and a lemonade/fruit punch option all week.

While the advertised cruise states that tipping is not allowed, don't misunderstand. You will be tipping all of your service staff, but it won't be done throughout the week. You'll be billed a per day service gratuity for each passenger on the cruise, and that bill will come at the end of the trip. The average is $10 per day. This fee applies to children as well, requiring children to give a full tip the dining room staff who may or may not have served them depending on their age. At a time, the cruise lines allowed guests to alter these amounts, but the trend is turning towards a flat fee applied to the account with little say from the traveler.


Whether it's the ride from the hotel to the ship, the airport to the ship, or from the ship to shopping in ports of call, you're on your own when it comes to transportation. While in port, you most likely will book an excursion which takes you sightseeing and shopping, but some leave you in town to shop and ask that you pay your own way back to the ship. Take some extra money for cab fares on islands as well as at the airport. Your best bet is to work with a hotel that offers transfers to and from the boat and/or airport; their rates are usually much less if at all.

Required Options

You're not obligated to do anything while cruising. You can sit in your room for eight days if you like. However, most people like to get up and move around the ship. Entertainment is free and fabulous, but there are some things that will cost you extra, all being billed to your account due at the end of the trip.

If you're looking to do anything more than walk off the boat and cross the dock to visit a few shops, you'll have to purchase excursions. Some come in under $30, but most sit around $65-$150. They're once in a lifetime opportunities, and the cruise lines guarantee them to be what they advertise. However, if you want everything paid before you go, budget another $500 for excursions for the entire family and pre-book them online.

On board shopping is hard to resist. You walk past the same shops day after day, and they advertise specials in ways that even a hard core budget shopper can't resist. Jewelry, liquor, and cigarettes are all duty free, meaning there is no tax. They are also sold at nearly 60% of their normal cost. It's a great deal if you've been eying up a new watch or planned to invest in some gemstones. There are reasonably priced luxury items and jewelry on board as well, and you're fooling yourself if you think that you're not going to purchase something.


Bingo, raffles, lottos, slot machines - cruise ships have them all, and they cost. Raffle tickets can be $5 a piece, but bingo cards promising $250-$10,000 for each winner cost $20 each. It's another temptation that's hard to resist, especially if you're feeling a little lucky.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that cruises are great vacations, and these unforeseen extras aren't meant to deter anyone from going. However, the only feeling that can top the letdown of an ending vacation is a staggering account bill handed to you upon leaving. Be prepared and know what's yet to come, then sail away and have Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

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Kelly Ann Butterbaugh
March 30, 2007

Package vacations are often great deals for families, but there are often costs that aren't advertised in the flyers. While I'm a great fan of cruise vacations, there are a lot of unadvertised costs involved.

Cruise Ship


Silver Post Medal for All Time! 263 Posts
June 9, 2006

A pal and her hubby prefer to book their cruises at end of season. She said the cruise staff are more at ease, as they're about to have some time off, making the cruise more like a party for all on board, more so than normally...



Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community.

October 8, 2008

Hubby and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary by going on a Western Carribean cruise. I would like some general frugal tips from people who have gone on Royal Carribean Cruise Lines (or any line really). We are trying to do this budget friendly while still getting the most out of our trip. One big question I have is, all the off shore excursions through the cruise line are kind of pricey and I'm wondering if they are less expensive if I just go through the locals by taxi?

For example, to go to the beach, just to relax, nothing else included, through the cruiseline is $29 for each person.

My frugal mind is saying there's got to be a less expensive way to do this. I'm also worried about the formal dinners. How dressed up is everyone? Travel agent says just a dress shirt, pants and a tie, then some people have said you need to be "black tie" in order to not feel out of place. We are very casual people and I really don't want to dress up if I don't have to. I have so many questions. I hope to get lots of advice. Thanks everyone!


By Guest (Guest Post)
October 8, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

My husband and I took the same cruise (but on Princess) two years ago. We found that doing some research ahead of time and doing our own excursions saved time and money. The taxi ended up being about the same as the organized trip, but the advantage you have doing it on your own is you can sometimes barter them down. And plan for indoor and outdoor activities at each port in case it rains. You can always pop back to the beach if the sun decides to return.


As far as being frugal, be aware that some cruise lines charge for everything (drinks, ice cream, etc) and some are all inclusive. If you're a heavy soda drinker, you can be paying a lot for a drink. Don't forget tips for the employee who cleans your room and serves you your food. And don't let fuel surcharges catch you off guard.

Formal nights were easy for us. We had just tied the knot a few months prior, so he had a tux and I could still fit into a formal from college. Our table mates were dressed much like we were, but by no means was the rest of the room in tuxedos and formal gowns. Right now is a great time to find a nice dress--end of season sales are going on.

Good luck and have fun! And congrats! (Make sure the crew knows it a special trip for you. We got balloons in our room and a special dessert at dinner one night. And my friend who cruises Royal Caribbean frequently told me she has been upgraded to a bigger/better room a few times for special occasion trips. Worth a try.)

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September 8, 2011

This is a page about taking a Disney cruise. A cruise can be very expensive, but there are ways to go on a memorable trip without stretching your vacation budget too far.

Taking a Disney Cruise

April 30, 2005

If you're planning on taking a cruise anytime in the next year, to get the best deal, book it 1 year in advance. Deep discounts are given to advanced booking.


Also, if you were refer friends, who also book early, you could receive additional discounts for them doing so, as well.

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