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Why cruise prices are about to get a little clearer

Cruise ships in Miami

You might notice the next time you price out a cruise vacation, the final price will be easier to determine.

The value of a cruise has always been one of the key selling points of this kind of vacation, but often fees and extra costs were left until the final checkout process.

Beginning on July 1st, the major cruise lines will begin including the cost of port expenses, taxes and other fees in the price that potential passengers see. This includes Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises.

MSC Seaside side view

These additional fees are mandatory taxes and port charges, and depending on the itinerary could add hundreds of dollars to the overall cost of the trip.

The reason why this change is happening is because of California’s “Honest Pricing Law” that is about to go into effect.  The law prevents companies from advertising a price that is lower than what a consumer will ultimately have to pay. Rather than try to maintain one set of prices for part of the country, cruise lines have decided to make the change nationwide.

"Treating California differently than the rest of the United States could have created confusion and introduced unnecessary complexity," a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said in an email to travel agents. Royal Caribbean also operates Celebrity Cruises and SilverSea, both of which will also abide by this new ruling (although SilverSea was already pricing itself in this manner).


Carnival announced its intention to change its pricing last month in order to provide guests with a clear price upfront, rather than leave them surprised by additional fees later on during the booking process. 

"At this time, the Carnival Cruise Line, Princess, Holland America, and Cunard North America brands have elected to include ALL the current taxes, fees, and port expenses into the advertised price," is what travel agents were informed of in an email update.

"This will provide guests with the clear total price upfront for the cruise selected."


Norwegian Cruise Line has not made any change in policy yet, and is still considering how it what changes changes it would make in response to the new law.

What's being added to the price


Consumers can expect to see more up-front pricing that paints a clearer picture of what the total cost is.

The cruise fare advertised is merely the base starting price, and was hawked as an entry point, in the same way a car dealership advertises the price of a car before all the fees come at closing.

Beyond the cruise fare, there are various costs levied by governments that are passed onto consumers.

NCL star

One such fee is a port fee, which a country charges the cruise line for every passenger onboard. Think of it like an entry tax, and everyone is required to pay it. Port fees are part of your total cruise fare and must be paid in full by the time of final payment. 

Typically, they're a summation of a few different fees, including the per-passenger (head tax) fee, docking fee, and pilot fee. The latter covers all costs associated with the local harbor pilot who is brought onboard to help guide the cruise ship into port, while the head tax is charged to offset the cost of guests using the local infrastructure. Finally, the docking fee is what the local authorities charge to the cruise line for the right to dock in port and pay for all of the services required. 

The total cost of port fees varies. Alaska, for instance, is known for higher fees, while those in the Bahamas and Caribbean tend to be far less. 

Read more: 12 sneaky ways cruise lines get you to spend more money

There are still optional extra costs

Celebrity Cruises drinks

While this new law will do a lot to make the cruise price clearer, there are still extra costs that could add up.

Gratuities are not part of this change, as technically they are optional.

Likewise, shore excursions, drink packages, WiFi, and a host of other optional purchases are up to the guest to purchase, and will not be in the total price for most lines.  The exception would be luxury cruise lines that include these in their base cruise fare.

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

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