The convenience of a cruise vacation is hard to beat. Paying one flat rate for accommodations, dining, and entertainment is pretty appealing, right?
Before you get all excited about the cheap cruise deal you found, there are a few extra charges that you should be aware of.
The base fare of any cruise line you sail with will include lodging, select food and beverages, transportation between ports, and entertainment. There's a lot, though, that the fare doesn't cover, like alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, and specialty dining. In other words, most mainstream cruise lines do not offer an all-inclusive experience.
When budgeting for your vacation, here are 14 cruise ship extra charges that you should know about.
Read more: What are the cheapest cruise add-ons?
Port fees are fees charged directly by the ports of call to the cruise lines who then pass them on to the passengers. They are a summation of a few different fees, including the pilot fee, per-passenger fee (head tax), and docking fee.
All guests pay the exact same amount to the cruise line to help cover these fees, no matter if you are staying in a two-bedroom suite or interior stateroom. There's no way to get around paying them, either.
Depending on your sailing, you might have to shell out anywhere from an extra $100 to $250+ per person, as they vary based on departure port and ports of call. Usually, they are neither included in the advertised rate nor calculated into the total until the final stage in the booking process.
Gratuities are service charges that most passengers pay daily for the duration of their cruise that will be spilt between hardworking crew members including stateroom attendants, dining and culinary services staff, and other individuals who work behind-the-scenes and contribute to the overall cruise experience.
Essentially, they are just tips for services you receive onboard and are standard for all guests onboard, whether you only choose to dine in the buffet or never see your stateroom attendant.
Depending on the cruise line and cabin category, gratuities range from $14.50 per person, per day to $25 per person, per day.
Most mainstream cruise lines (i.e., Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International) automatically add the daily fee to each guests' onboard account, if they were not prepaid in advance.
Read more: Worth it or not: Carnival prepaid gratuities
Plus, many onboard purchases are subject to additional service charges. Any alcoholic beverage, for instance, will include an 18% gratuity. Therefore, it is up to the guest if they wish to leave an extra tip in the form of cash or their onboard account.
Non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages
Depending on the cruise line, your base fare includes a select list of beverages, such as water, coffee, lemonade, and iced tea. If you want to purchase other drinks -- think mocktails, soda (unless sailing on Disney Cruise Line), or alcoholic beverages -- you will have to pay for those separately.
Since you will be on vacation, you may want to partake in more drinking than usual. If you think that you will be sipping on more than 5 drinks per day, you may want to consider splurging on a drink package. Many cruise lines offer a variety of packages to suit different personal preferences and range from soda-only to premium, top shelf liquor.
If you don't purchase a package, expect to spend at least $10-$14 per cocktail, $6-14 per glass of wine, $6-$9 per beer, and around $3 per soda, plus gratuities.
Packages vary greatly in pricing. You can pay as little as $59.95 per person, per day if you're sailing with Carnival Cruise Line or as much as $80 per day with Royal Caribbean.
Each cruise line has their own package(s) and rules. Carnival's CHEERS! Package, for instance, limits guests to 15 alcoholic drinks per day, while Royal Caribbean's Deluxe Beverage Package does not.
You can read more about MSC Cruises' Drink Packages and Norwegian Cruise Line's Drink Packages by clicking on the attached hyperlinks.
And note that Disney Cruise Line does not offer any inclusive packages; all of their beverages are à la carte.
Spa treatments are one of the most costly cruise add-ons, and you can spend upwards of $200+ on a single massage. Even manicures and pedicures cost a pretty penny (or two).
Sometimes, however, there will be specials available on port days as an incentive to keep passengers onboard. They'll either discount single treatments or put together a package of mini-treatments. You can check directly with the spa or on your daily cruise newsletter to see what's being offered.
Additionally, cruise lines may offer free (and short) sessions for guests to sample spa treatments.
Arcade games are not included in your base fare, either. Each game usually costs anywhere from $1.00-$3.00 each. Therefore, it's really easy to rack up a $30+ tab in arcade games on a rainy afternoon!
Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, allow guests to pre-purchase money to spend in the arcade for a discounted price. While it depends on the current promotion that they are offering, you can sometimes snag $100 to spend in the arcade for only $79.99.
If you become a frequenter cruiser and start climbing loyalty ladders, you may find yourself rewarded with arcade credits whenever you cruise; guests 17-years-old and younger who are Platinum with Carnival Cruise Line will receive a $5 arcade credit.
Select onboard activities
It's true that most activities onboard a cruise ship are free; however, you may find yourself having to pay extra for some of the newer thrills, like the first-ever roller coaster at sea, BOLT, onboard Carnival Excel Class ships. If you want to ride a roller coaster in the middle of the ocean, be prepared to pay $15 per person, per ride.
The same goes for racing go-karts on select Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Unfortunately, the attraction isn't included in the cruise fare, and guests who have the need for speed will have to pay $15 each.
Norwegian also strayed away from included mini-golf with the debut of their newest ship, Norwegian Prima. One round of Tee Time, the first interactive and tech-immersive mini-golf at sea, is $15.
Even Royal Caribbean has a few activities that passengers will have to pay extra for, including group ($69 per person) and private ($550+) FlowRider lessons, laser tag ($19.99 per guest), and even sushi making classes ($34.99 per guest)
On Quantum Class ships, the North Star is included in the price of your cruise during port days, but if you want to go up while in port, there is a nominal fee of $30 per person.
If there's a certain activity that you're looking forward to onboard your cruise, you'll want to double check to make sure that you don't have to pay an additional fee for it!
Read more: 18 free things to try on your next cruise
You'll never find yourself hungry when on a cruise, especially when the newer ships can have upwards of twenty different dining venues onboard!
From three-course meals in the main dining room, to a more laid back experience in the buffet, and intimate meals at specialty restaurants, there are options to satisfy all travelers.
Each cruise ship has select venues that are complimentary and others that cost extra. These can include signature steakhouses, sushi and hibachi restaurants, and Italian eateries. Newer ships, of course, have much more to choose from.
Therefore, it's important to understand what places are included in the cost of cruise fare and which come with a surcharge. Depending on the cruise line and type of specialty restaurant, the additional fee could be as low as $20 per person or as high as $80 per person.
Today, staying connected at sea is easier than ever! Most of the time, you even have the ability to livestream to social media or via Skype, FaceTime, etc., for a premium.
Cruise ship Wi-Fi, however, is not free. If you are hoping to have access to the internet for work purposes or simply to stay in contact with loved ones, you'll need to appropriately budget for it.
Internet connection on a Royal Caribbean ship ranges from $20-$25 per device, per day; however, you can often find it on sale via the Cruise Planner for cheaper, usually around $17-$19, and bundle it with more than one device for additional savings. They only have one plan, and it supports streaming and video calling!
In late 2022, Carnival Cruise Line announced that they are raising the prices of all three of their internet packages.
The following rates were increased effective on January 16, 2023:
The Social Plan will be increasing from $10.20 to $12.75 per day.
The Value Plan will be increasing from $14.45 to $17.00 per day.
The Premium Plan will be increased from $17.00 to $18.70 per day.
Norwegian Cruise Line has two different plans available. The first is available for $20 per device, per day, while the second costs $25 per device, per day. The only difference between the two is that the latter includes streaming via YouTube, TikTok, Netflix, Hulu, etc. You have the option to bundle multiple devices for a lower rate. If you book a Free at Sea deal, you may opt to get 150 minutes of Wi-Fi for free.
MSC Cruises offers two Wi-Fi packages, both of which are similar to Norwegian Cruise Line in that the more expensive one is compatible with streaming services. Their website advertises that you can save up to 20% off internet packages by booking them in advance.
Disney Cruise Line offers three different internet packages. Their lowest tier package begins at $10 per day for the entire cruise or $12 for a single 24-hour period. The medium tier costs $20 per day for the entire cruise or $24 for a single 24-hour period, and the highest and most inclusive package is $30 per day for the entire cruise or $36 for a single 24-hour period.
These packages are relatively new, as Disney Cruise Line used to only operate on a pay-as-you-use system, meaning that you had to pay for each megabyte of data.
Onboard Celebrity Cruises, you can pay $35 per device, per day for their premium plan, or $20 per device, per day for their basic plan.
Princess Cruises' has internet packages starting at $15 per day. It, however, is included if you book a Princess Plus or Princess Premier fare!
Finally, Holland America Line has three different packages for guests to choose from: Social ($10 per day), Surf ($15 per day), and Premium ($20 per day).
Whether you find yourself in a situation where you didn't pack enough clothes or had an unfortunate spill, it's nice to know that most cruise ships have laundry facilities and/or services, for an additional fee.
Laundry services can be quite pricey, with some cruise lines charging $7+ for a shirt and $10+ for a dress!
One perk of reaching higher cruise line status is that many of them provide some sort of free laundry. For instance, Carnival Platinum VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) cruisers get two free bags of laundry on sailings that are 3-6 days, three bags on sailings that are 7-13 days, and four bags on 14+ day sailings.
Have you ever wanted to go behind-the-scenes for a look at ship operations, explore the Engine Control Room, and receive a tour of the Bridge?
For an additional fee, some cruise lines offer some sort of all access tour to a limited number of guests, allowing them to peek into areas of the ship for a rare insider's view.
According to Carnival Cruise Line's website, the cost of their "Behind the Fun" Ultimate Tour is between $55 USD to $95 per person. In comparison, Royal Caribbean's "All Access Tour" is anywhere from $155 to $200 per person.
Celebrity Cruises also offers their own version of an exclusive insider tour that starts at $139 per adult and $129 per child.
If you are hoping to utilize the ship's photography services, you will have to be willing to pay extra for them! Unless, that is, you have reached certain loyalty levels and receive limited photos each cruise for free.
Usually, photographs are a great, cost effective way to remember your vacation. Photos captured by the cruise line's photographers, however, are not cheap; one alone can cost you between $15 and $25!
Depending on which cruise line you are sailing with, you may be able to purchase a photo package to save a little money. On Royal Caribbean, the cheapest package is for ten photos and costs about $100. Once onboard, you may even be able to purchase an unlimited package.
Room service is a luxury that many feel is a necessity on vacation. What better way to start the day than to have breakfast delivered to your stateroom while sitting outside on your personal balcony?
There's tons of complimentary food available onboard your cruise, so it makes sense for one to assume room service would be, too. It's most likely just the same food coming from the buffet or main dining room anyways, right? Wrong.
While the food itself is free (unless sailing on Carnival Cruise Line), there is an applicable service charge that varies by time of day and cruise line. Continental breakfast is usually included in the cost of your cruise fare. Norwegian Cruise Line, however, recently started charging $4.95 + 20% gratuity for breakfast. Included, though, are hot menu items, such as a ham and cheddar omelette and french toast.
During the day, most cruise lines charge a fee for every room service order, which ranges from $7.95 + 18% gratuity for Royal Caribbean to $9.95 + 20% gratuity for Norwegian and Celebrity Cruises.
If you are sailing on Disney Cruise Line, 24-hour complimentary room service is included!
For those who prefer to stay active while on vacation, you can absolutely use the ship's fitness center for free. Some, however, like the atmosphere of a workout class.
Cruise lines offer fitness classes for a nominal fee, usually anywhere from $12-$20 per class. Your ship may offer spin classes, pilates, or even personal training sessions, which can cost over $80 each!
What kind of once-in-a-lifetime activities are on your bucket list? Riding a helicopter up to the top of a glacier in Alaska? Snorkeling at the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, off the coast of Honduras?
Cruises are a fantastic way to see the world and experience new cultures, even if only for a few hours before returning to the ship. Excursions in ports of call, however, cost extra and are not included with your cruise fare.
This may not be as important in the Caribbean or Bahamas where there are easily accessible beached near every port, but you'll want a nice shore excursion budget for European and Alaskan cruises.
Due to their duration and activity level, they tend to be pricier than the two-hour snorkeling excursions in the Caribbean. Some can even run $150+ per person! Of course, you can always look into third-party vendors for potential savings.
It's important you understand the pros and cons of booking outside of the cruise line, though. If, for instance, your excursion runs late, the cruise ship won't wait for you!
Read more: Are cruise excursions worth it?