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The biggest cruise rip-offs that you should avoid to save money

Ripoffs on a cruise

Cruising is one of the most affordable vacation options available. When booking a cruise, your cruise fare covers dining, entertainment, accommodations, onboard activities, and transportation between ports of call.

While it’s true that your fare is quite inclusive, cruise lines have plenty of ways to get you to spend even more money once onboard. Take one look at your daily itinerary and you can find countless ways to spend money each day of your cruise.

In fact, it’s easy to feel as though you’re being nickel-and-dimed by the cruise lines, even after you’ve made your final cruise payment. Things like Wi-Fi, spa treatments, art auctions, and even bottled water can all rack up a huge bill. This is especially true if you’re sailing with a family, as the expenses can quickly multiply.

As a budget-conscious traveler, there are some obvious tactics cruise lines use to encourage onboard spending. Here are the biggest cruise rip-offs that you should avoid to ensure you aren’t wasting your money.



Although onboard internet has become less expensive and more reliable in recent years, the cost of Wi-Fi on a cruise ship is still sky-high. Compared to what you pay for internet service at your home, you’ll find that Wi-Fi and daily-use passes on a cruise ship are extremely expensive.

If you need to stay connected to the internet during your cruise, you really have no other choice but to purchase a Wi-Fi package from the cruise line. You can typically purchase a daily internet pass as well, which can be useful for occasional access. Regardless, the cost of internet on a cruise ship is exorbitant.


For example, I pay $65 each month for my internet service, which is high-speed, fiber access. On my recent 12-night cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, I spent $365 for a premium, unlimited internet package to use while onboard. Although the package was advertised as having premium speed, the performance and reliability onboard were shoddy at best.

Consider whether you really need to stay connected during your cruise. Also, check with your cell phone plan if you can utilize international coverage. A port-heavy itinerary might have you ashore more often than onboard when you can use your cell phone instead. You can also find free internet during your port stays as well.

Spa treatments

NCL viva

Cruising is all about relaxation, and that’s exactly why you will find a dedicated space for a spa on every cruise ship. As you’d expect, most spas are beautiful with a variety of treatments available. From full-body massages to haircuts, skin treatments, and more, the cruise ship’s spa will likely have whatever you’re looking for.

However, the spa treatments are overpriced for what they are, especially when you compare the onboard price to what you’d find ashore or at home. You can expect to spend upwards of $200 to $300 for any sort of massage or treatment. Most of the treatments will impose an automatic charge for gratuities, too, upwards of 18%.

In addition, your masseuse will almost always end your treatment by trying to upsell you with more treatments or products. If you’re someone who gets uncomfortable with aggressive sales pitches, this is something to consider.

Spa Divina

There are a few strategies to save money if you’re set on a spa treatment during your cruise. Consider doing a treatment on a port day instead of a sea day. You will normally receive a discounted rate for treatments since the spa is not as busy when the ship is docked in port.

Also, if you have any sort of loyalty status with a cruise line, you can often receive some sort of discount on treatments because of that. This can certainly save you money, although I would argue the spa prices are still overpriced even with discounts.

Finally, consider purchasing a pass for the thermal spa during your cruise to get more bang for your buck. You can use the thermal spa, along with all of its amenities, during the entirety of your cruise. Even though the price is still high, a thermal spa pass to be used daily can be more worthwhile than a one-hour treatment.

Paid onboard thrills

Bolt Carnival Celebration

Cruise ships are full of activities to keep you busy from the moment you step onboard. The newest cruise ships have more onboard thrills than you can imagine, including water slides, go-kart racing, roller coasters, zip lines, and more.

While most cruise ships have plenty of included attractions, the newest and most exciting onboard thrills will likely cost you money. In my opinion, the price is almost always a rip-off for such a short experience. If you’re sailing with kids who want to try everything onboard, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on these attractions.

For example, Norwegian Cruise Line charges an additional fee for most of their onboard thrills. The Galaxy Pavilion (a virtual reality playground) charges $8 per player, while the Formula 1 Grand Prix Racing is $20 per play. The cruise line’s newest ships featured the first-ever speedway at sea with go-karts, which cost $15 for a single kart session.

NCL speedway

Similarly, Carnival Cruise Line’s revolutionary Bolt roller coaster is $15 per person for two laps around the track. While we tried the roller coaster during our sailing on Carnival Celebration and had a lot of fun, I’m not sure if $30 (for two passengers) is worth 30 seconds on a coaster unless you’re a true thrill seeker.

Finally, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas features the thrilling Crown’s Edge. This short ropes course hangs over the side of the ship and allows you to zip-line over the ocean. Royal Caribbean was charging $90 originally for the attraction, which takes no more than two minutes at a maximum! Now, however, guests report being able to purchase a timeslot for around $50. 

Cruise line excursions


Cruise lines will offer excursions to purchase for every port stop on your cruise itinerary. These are vetted excursions with reputable tour operators. You are guaranteed to make it back to your cruise ship on time as well, which is a major selling point for booking an excursion through your cruise line.

However, the cruise line excursions will be a rip-off compared to the cost of independent tour operators. Excursions with a third party are almost always cheaper. Booking excursions on your own will undoubtedly save you money.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for shore excursions. Cruise line excursions provide peace of mind that you will make it back onboard your cruise on time. In addition, you will receive priority tendering and priority immigration if needed, but you will pay a pretty price for cruise line excursions!

Solo supplements surcharge


If you’re traveling solo on a cruise ship, you are typically subject to a single supplement surcharge. This is an additional cost that solo travelers will incur when cruising alone. The single supplement surcharge can be anywhere from 50% to 100% for single occupancy of a double cabin. This is a massive rip-off for most solo travelers, as it’s intended to make up for the lost revenue of a missing second passenger.

Luckily, many new cruise ships are incorporating more solo cabins to accommodate single travelers. These cabins are designed for one passenger and eliminate the need for a single supplement surcharge. However, we’ve found that solo cabins can be just as, if not more, expensive than booking a double occupancy cabin, even with the solo supplement.

If you’re traveling solo, consider working with a travel agent who can help you look for single supplement deals. If a certain sailing has lower demand, cruise lines can reduce the single supplement to a smaller surcharge.

Professional photos


Taking and purchasing professional photos on a cruise ship used to be a cruising novelty. Before cell phones had fantastic cameras, it was common to take professional photos on your cruise and spend $20 for a printed copy to take home.

Now, this is slowly becoming a dying trend on cruise ships because it's so easy to take excellent pictures on your own. But, you will still see professional photographers trying to take your picture while cruising, and purchasing the photos onboard is almost always a rip-off!

You can expect to spend $25 for a printed photo during your cruise. Even worse, cruise lines are trying to charge the same cost for a digital file of the photo! Considering the ease of taking high-quality pictures on your phone, I personally believe this is a total waste of money.

Even still, professional cruise photos are a classic souvenir for many. I recommend looking for the occasional giveaway in the photo gallery. I’ve won raffles multiple times for free cruise photos, which can be a fun keepsake! You can also consider purchasing one digital file of a photo to share with your travel group and split the cost.

Artwork auctions


Every cruise ship has an art gallery with pieces of artwork available for purchase. It’s almost guaranteed that your cruise ship will have an art auction where you can bid on artwork with other guests. The cruise line will even try to lure you into the auction with free champagne.

There is a general consensus that the artwork onboard cruise ships is not highly valued. It’s also easy to get carried away during an auction, causing you to spend more money than you intended. 

In fact, my friend told me that her mom purchased an expensive painting on a cruise ship and found out later that it was fake! Luckily, the cruise line refunded her once she sent the appraisal paperwork. While this is probably not common, it’s something to be aware of.

Onboard shops

NCL viva

If you plan to do any shopping onboard your cruise ship, you can expect to spend a premium cost! While the cruise line’s merchandise is often more reasonably priced, the biggest rip-offs are the everyday convenience items that you can find onboard.

If you need to purchase toiletries like toothpaste, razors, or sunscreen, you can plan to pay almost double the cost of what you’d pay on land. Similarly, if you need to purchase over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or motion sickness medication, these will also be overpriced. Simply put, the reason cruise lines can charge so much is because they can.

If you need these items, you might not have any other choice but to purchase them onboard, so the cruise lines price these items at a premium. Because of this, I always pack a small pharmacy with over-the-counter medication to avoid buying overpriced medication onboard.

Bottled water


Staying hydrated is very important on a cruise, especially if you’re spending your days on the beach, drinking on the pool deck, or sunbathing in the Caribbean sun. Cruise lines, however, do not include bottled water in your cruise fare.

If you want to purchase a bottle of water or a pack of bottled water, it’s a premium. On Carnival Cruise Line, you’ll spend upwards of $12 for a 12-pack of bottled water. On Royal Caribbean, a bottle of water is $3.25 while a 12-pack is $39 and a 24-pack is $69.

While saving money - and the environment -  it’s best to bring your own water bottle onboard and refill it up anywhere on the ship. Cruise lines will also usually provide certain loyalty tiers with bottled water on embarkation day. Regardless, it’s a total cruise rip-off that you should be aware of.

Onboard ATM fees

Credit Cards

If you need to pull cash from the ATM during your cruise, you can expect this to be another cruise rip-off to avoid. While you should travel with some cash while cruising, it’s best to do this before you get on the ship.

If you plan to pull cash from the ATM, you will have a convenience fee of $6.50 per transaction. Those who absolutely need cash will find no other option onboard, so this is why cruise lines can charge such a high fee. Avoid it entirely by bringing cash onboard!

Fitness classes

NCL viva

You’ll have access to your cruise ship’s fitness center throughout your itinerary included in the cost of your cruise fare. The fitness center will have all you could want for a workout, including treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, weight machines, etc.

If you are someone who prefers group fitness classes, you might find a few included classes offered throughout your cruise, but you will likely see more classes for an additional charge. Most of these courses are priced at $20 per course. You can even purchase a fitness class pass on most cruise ships! Either way, it’s a rip-off to avoid on a cruise ship to do group fitness classes. 

Drink packages


Many people contemplate whether they should book a drink package or not for their cruise. This is a personal preference, as you’ll need to determine how much you plan to drink for the entirety of the cruise to ensure your purchase is worthwhile.

In general, alcohol is pretty expensive on a cruise ship. You aren’t allowed to bring your own alcohol onboard - other than perhaps a bottle of wine or champagne at embarkation. Because of this, the cruise lines can charge sky-high prices for cocktails. If you plan to purchase a drink package and you don’t drink enough to make up the cost, you’ll lose money on the package investment.

Read more: Cruise Line Alcohol Drink Packages Guide (2024)

Medical center treatment

Medical Center

All cruise ships have medical centers onboard that can provide medical treatment and services for a variety of conditions. Cruise ships have nurses and doctors onboard that can treat a variety of illnesses or conditions. However, they do not accept insurance, and you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket.

Last year, I made a visit to the medical center on Carnival Celebration looking for some antibiotics. It cost $155 for one round of antibiotics. Luckily, my personal health insurance and travel insurance covered the visit. However, the prices for using the medical center are very high and must be paid out-of-pocket to your cruise account.

If you need to visit the medical center, you absolutely should seek the care you need. But, you can expect this to be very expensive. For this reason, you should always cruise with travel insurance that would cover these costs.

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