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12 sneaky ways cruise lines get you to spend more money

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When browsing for cruises, the rate that you see likely won't be the amount you end up paying. While there's a lot included in your fare, there are some unavoidable extra charges, including port fees and gratuities. If you're someone who has to stay connected at sea, you will have to pay for Wi-Fi, too. 

Of course, some add-ons aren't necessary, such as specialty dining; however, these experiences can make a cruise much more memorable, if you're willing the shell out the extra money. 

Here are 12 sneaky ways cruise lines get you to spend more money. 

Port fees 


Port fees are fees charged by the ports of call to the cruise line. In turn, they pass the fees on to the passengers. Sometimes, they can be hundreds of dollars, especially if you're cruising to somewhere like Alaska. You shouldn't be surprised if a $500 cruise becomes a $750 cruise in the blink of an eye. 

Everyone onboard pays the same amount, regardless of your cabin selection. This differs from gratuities, as the rate increases for those in suites, whereas guests in standard staterooms pay less. You can't avoid paying port fees, either, as they're due in full by the time of final payment. 

When searching for cheap cruises, keep in mind that the rate will fluctuate based on where you're sailing. While the advertised fare for a 7-night Caribbean cruise may be more than a 7-night Alaska cruise, you'll likely end up paying more just because of the fees. 



Like port fees, gratuities, or tips, are rarely calculated into the advertised price of a cruise. While you can technically have them adjusted (or outright removed) once onboard, this is frowned upon. 

Gratuities are divided between the hardworking crew members, including cabin stewards, dining and culinary services staff, the Guest Services team, and more. The rate varies based on which line you're sailing with. Royal Caribbean, for instance, charges $18 per day for standard cabins, while Norwegian charges $20. 

Additionally, many onboard purchases are subject to additional service charges, including spa treatments and alcoholic beverages. If, for instance, you order a $17 cocktail on Celebrity Cruises, your final bill will reflect a 20% service charge. 

Alcoholic beverages


Unfortunately, alcohol isn't included in the cost of your cruise. Drinks onboard can be pretty expensive, too. On my recent sailing onboard Celebrity Ascent, I was shocked when I ordered a drink at the Magic Carpet bar that ended up costing $21! 

When budgeting for your vacation, make sure that you take your drinking habits into consideration. If you're someone who enjoys a few more drinks than usual, you may want to consider purchasing a drink package, rather than buying each drink individually. The price varies based on which line you're sailing on; however, the majority fall somewhere between $55 and $80 per person, per day. 

Some non-alcoholic beverages cost extra, too, such as specialty coffees, mocktails, energy drinks, and bottled water. Of course, you can enjoy the complimentary drinks throughout your cruise for no extra cost. Many lines allow you to bring on limited quantities of wine on embarkation day, too. 

Shore excursions 


While you are guaranteed to have a great time on the ship, you'll want to have fun plans while ashore, too. Why cruise to Alaska or Europe if you're just going to stay onboard the entire time? 

Shore excursions can be expensive. Plus, the most desirable ones tend to sell out in advance, so you will want to research each port and decide how you want to spend your day. 

While I do love spending time on the ship, I've had some amazing memories on excursions with friends. In May 2022, I took my best friend from college on her first-ever cruise onboard Allure of the Seas. We had a great time on the ship, but when I reflect on that trip, I think about the excursion we booked snorkeling in Aruba. 

Room service 


You'll never go hungry on your cruise. From the buffet to the elegant Main Dining Room, you'll have seemingly endless options to please your palette that are included in the cost of your initial fare. It's pretty easy to enjoy everything that's included without spending additional money. 

Perhaps, though, you're tired from a long day ashore and want to order room service. On most lines, unfortunately, it isn't included. Some cruise lines allow you to order as much as you want and pay a single service charge, while others make you pay for each item individually. 

That being said, continental breakfast is usually included. You can order things like bagels, toast, juice, and coffee for no extra charge. 

Specialty dining 

Hibachi on Harmony of the Seas

While there's a ton of food included in the cost of your cruise, you may want to splurge on a specialty meal and enjoy a premium cut of steak or a fun hibachi experience. 

It is important to know what food is and isn't included before getting onboard, as you don't want to be disappointed upon learning that the restaurant you were anticipating costs extra. 

Of course, like alcohol, you don't have to book any specialty meals; however, they're far more memorable than those in the Main Dining Room. When my finacée and I cruised on Freedom of the Seas, we ate at Izumi, and it's the meal we cherished the most! Everything was delicious, and we sat with a fun group of people. 

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about (2024)



Cruises are a great time to disconnect; however, not everyone can go a week without talking to those on land. While you can find free Wi-Fi in port, if you want to be constantly available, you'll have to pay for a package onboard. 

Similar to drink packages, the price of Wi-Fi varies. Internet connection on Royal Caribbean ranges from $20-$25 per device, per day, but you can usually find it on sale via the Cruise Planner for around $17-$19. Carnival has three packages that range from $12.75 to $18.70 per day. 

Something important to note if sailing on MSC is that you can't switch devices, so if you want to have Wi-Fi on your phone and computer, you'll have to get to packages. If, for instance, you sail with Celebrity or Carnival, you can rotate which device has internet access. 

Onboard shopping

Disney Wish shop

Since shopping onboard a cruise ship is duty-free (i.e., no taxes), you probably think you're going to save money, right? Sadly, that isn't always the case. I've noticed that cruise lines tend to up the price of things like cosmetics, so the deal isn't as great as you think. 

They'll also have "sales" on things like t-shirts and tote bags. While two for $20 might sound like a good deal, the shirts are usually left over from previous sailings. In other words, you might see a shirt for Cozumel, Mexico on a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. 

Of course, if you're buying branded merchandise, you can't get that at home, so you should definitely get your ship model or lanyard! 

Extra cost activities 

Bolt roller coaster

Newer cruise ships have some amazing activities onboard, such as roller coasters, sky diving simulators, zip lines, go-kart tracks, and more. Not all of these activities, however, are included. If, for instance, you want to ride BOLT onboard Carnival's Mardi Gras, Celebration, or Jubilee, you will have to pay $15 per ride. 

Similarly, the go-kart track on Norwegian ships costs extra. To race against friends and family, you'll each have to pay $15. If you are traveling in a group of five, this could mean spending upwards of $75 just on this one attraction! 

And while Royal Caribbean's North Star (on Quantum Class ships) is complimentary on port days, you'll have to pay for it on sea days. 

All-inclusive bundles


When booking a Norwegian cruise, you'll be asked to select which "perks" you want as part of their Free at Sea program. A "free" drink package sounds great, right? Like most things in life, it isn't actually FREE, as you'll have to pay the gratuities. 

While it's certainly cheaper than paying the daily price for the package, you won't be able to sip on your favorite cocktails for free. Plus, the included package is typically the most restrictive. If you want to have a wider selection of beverages, you'll have to pay even more to upgrade. 

Similarly, select cruise lines, such as MSC, Celebrity, and Princess, have packages that allow you to bundle drinks and Wi-Fi for less. While it may seem like a good deal, if you aren't actually interested in purchasing these add-ons, you'll likely be spending more money. It's important to weigh whether the value makes sense for you and your travel party. If, for instance, only one person needs Wi-Fi, you might spend more bundling everyone's fare with add-ons. 

Onboard credits 


Onboard credit (OBC) is essentially free money given to you by the cruise line (or other party) for you to spend on things like specialty dining, shore excursions, etc. Rarely, however, you will receive enough credit to fully cover any given add-on. You'll have to pay the difference for any experience you'd like to book. 

Let's say that you got $50 from Carnival. If you want to book a specialty meal for you and your partner at the steakhouse that costs $49 per person, while one person will technically eat for "free," you'll have to pay the other fare to dine together. 

Similarly, the majority of shore excursions cost more than $50. While the discount certainly doesn't hurt, to fully use the OBC given, you'll likely end up paying more out of pocket. 

Kids Sail Free deals

Harmony kids

Throughout the year, some cruise lines will offer "Kids Sail Free" deals. Of course, there's usually a catch, such as blackout dates, itineraries, or age restrictions. Additionally, rarely are kids completely free, as you're still responsible for paying the same taxes, port fees, and gratuities as standard adults. 

To be eligible, kids typically have to sail in the same cabin as the first and second guests in a single reservation, so you won't be able to book adjoining staterooms and take advantage of these promotions. 

If you think that you'll be unhappy cramming everyone into a single stateroom, the cost savings might not be worth it. 

Read more: Are kids free on cruises? How family cruise pricing works

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