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Watch out for these 8 fees and 1 smart hack that could make your cruise vacation more expensive


Though cruise fares encompass a range of expenses including accommodations, entertainment, onboard activities, dining, and more, they're rarely all-inclusive. What appeared as a cheap fare can easily double or even triple by the time you finish calculating the additional costs, including flights, alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, and more. 

Those new to cruising might not know about all the add-ons that cruise lines charge for. To stay connected, for instance, you'll have to shell out extra cash for a Wi-Fi package, which could end up costing you upwards of $150 for a weeklong cruise. 

Similarly, mainstream cruise lines don't include alcohol in their base fares, so you will have to be prepared to either purchase each drink individually throughout the sailing and settle your onboard account at the end of the cruise, or buy a beverage package. 

Before jumping on a cheap cruise fare, here are 8 fees, as well as one sneaky hack employed by the cruise lines, that will make your vacation more expensive. 

Port fees


Port fees are separate from the base fare and are charged by each port of call to the cruise line to allow ships to dock. In turn, they pass the fees on to all guests. Every passenger, regardless of whether they're staying in a cheap interior room or a lavish two-story suite, will pay the exact same amount. 

Since port fees are tacked onto the overall cost of the cruise during the booking process, they're due in full by the time of final payment, This differs from gratuities, as cruise lines give guests the option to pay them in full before the cruise or have them added to their onboard expense account. 

Some regions, namely Alaska, charge more than others. Whereas most passengers can expect to pay around $100 to $150 in port fees on weeklong cruises to The Caribbean, they're typically closer to $200 or $300 on sailings to the Last Frontier. 

Read more: 14 lessons learned after I tried my first Alaska cruise


airplane taking off

Unless you live within driving distance of the cruise port, you'll have to rely on airfare to reach the embarkation city. Additionally, rather than risk a cancelation or delay causing you to miss your ship's departure, you'll have to shell out extra cash for a pre-cruise hotel. 

As an example, my finacée and I paid roughly $1,165 on airfare and a pre-cruise hotel for our Celebrity Reflection sailing. Residing in North Carolina, driving to Fort Lauderdale didn't seem feasible, as we would have had to devote over 20 hours to transportation. 

If you book a last-minute cruise, the inflated airfare costs could negate any potential savings on the fare. If, for instance, I were to fly from Charlotte to Miami June 22-30, which is a little over one month away, for a sailing on Carnival Celebration, the cheapest non-stop flight offered by American Airlines currently sits at $422 per person, meaning that a family of four could easily shell out over $1,600 on airfare alone. 

Read more: The costly cruising mistake newbies make planning their first cruise

Shore Excursions


Though you're bound to have fun onboard your cruise ship, you cannot forget about the memories waiting to be made ashore. Depending on where you're cruising, you may not have to spend a lot to have fun ashore. In many Bahamian and Caribbean ports, for example, taxis are readily available to shuttle passengers from the cruise pier to nearby beaches. 

Other regions, such as Alaska, have more expensive tour costs. On my recent cruise onboard Quantum of the Seas, my dad and I spent $1,026, or $513 per person, on two ship-sponsored excursions. While they were costly, they weren't the most expensive options! 

Cruise line-sponsored excursions tend to be the most expensive. To save money on tours, consider booking through a third party. You should, however, be aware of the risks before doing so. If you're running late and miss the all-aboard time, the ship isn't required to wait for you. 

Read more: 11 common cruise shore excursion mistakes to avoid

Wi-Fi and Drink Packages


While alcohol isn't a standard comfort, internet connectivity is. Whether at home or on a trip to cities like New York, Miami, Key West, or Las Vegas, you rarely have to go without cellular service or Wi-Fi. Cruises, however, don't have free Wi-Fi for passengers to use. Instead, it's an add-on, and it isn't necessarily cheap! My father and I spent around $290 to stay connected on our Alaska cruise. 

Moreover, alcohol isn't included, either. Those hoping to indulge in fruity cocktails by the pool or glasses of wine at dinner will have to be prepared to pay extra. If you're a heavy drinker or plan to drink more than usual, you may benefit from an alcohol package. Again, these packages aren't cheap, with some costing upwards of $65 or $70 per person, per day. 

It's important to debate whether you'd benefit from a package or not. If, for instance, you're on a port-intensive sailing spending the majority of your days on long excursions, do you think you'll be up for 5 or 6 cocktails daily? 

Read more: Are cruise drink packages worth it?

Specialty Restaurants


From indulgent three-course meals in the Main Dining Room to an all-you-can-eat buffet, you certainly won't go hungry onboard your ship. There are, however, opportunities to elevate your dining experience. Whether you're in the mood for Teppanyaki, prime cuts of steak, or freshly made pasta, you'll find numerous specialty restaurants onboard to tantalize your taste buds. 

Specialty restaurants are considered specialty because they aren't included in the cost of your cruise fare. Instead of eating in a large dining room with hundreds of other guests, specialty venues have a more intimate atmosphere. Plus, the ingredients used are typically of a higher quality, ensuring an elevated culinary experience from start to finish. 

The cost of each restaurant varies; however, it's not uncommon to see restaurants costing upwards of $50 or $60 per person. 

Select Onboard Activities 


Today's newer vessels feature anything from roller coasters to surfing and skydiving simulators, go-karts, ropes courses, zip lines, Formula One racers, and more. Not all of these activities, however, are included. 

I was shocked to see that to test out the RipCord iFly Simulator on Quantum of the Seas, I'd have to shell out $99 on a sea day for a two-minute experience. They did have complimentary sessions, but they were only available on port days. Similarly, the BOLT roller coaster on Carnival's Excel ships (Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, and Carnival Jubilee) costs $15 per ride. A family of four could easily spend $60 on this single attraction! 

Though there's plenty of complimentary programming offered, ranging from live music to trivia, original production shows, variety acts, and more, it's important to calculate whether your ship has a lot of extra-charge activities and, if so, how many you plan on crossing off your must-do list. 

Read more: Is Carnival cruise’s roller coaster worth $15?



During the initial booking process, you'll be asked if you want to prepay your gratuities. If you opt-out, your onboard account will automatically be charged when your cruise begins. 

Gratuities are tips that each passenger pays daily during their cruise. They're split amongst the hardworking crew members onboard, including cabin stewards, dining and culinary services staff, and more. 

The amount varies based on what cruise line you're sailing with, as well as what kind of accommodation you're staying in, as those in suites have higher rates than guests in standard cabins. Most mainstream cruise lines charge around $16 to $20 per person, per day, while suite guests usually pay no more than $25 per day. 

Read more: 10 do's and don'ts of cruise ship tipping

Professional Pictures


Most cruise ships will have photographers available throughout the sailing to help capture precious memories. Whether you're seeking a family picture or formal night or want to remember a specific port of call, such as a cruise line's private island, you are able to professional pictures before disembarking the ship. 

With the quality of cameras on mobile phones continuously improving, some travelers may question if photographs are a necessary expense. 

For the most part, you can enjoy your vacation without queuing up for a picture on a staircase; however, ship photographers have access to unique vantage points and lighting that can be difficult to replicate from an iPhone or Andriod. Plus, you won't have to constantly worry about getting the perfect shot. 

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

Cruise lines bank on passengers booking activities and add-ons before their sailing


As soon as you book your cruise, you'll gain access to the cruise line's online planning portal, showcasing add-ons like drink and Wi-Fi packages, shore excursions, and more. 

During Royal Caribbean Group's 2023 fourth-quarter earnings call, the company said, "Consumer spending onboard and pre-cruise purchases continue to exceed prior years driven by greater participation at higher prices, indicating quality and healthy future demand."

With many passengers booking add-ons months in advance, they're typically paid off when the cruise rolls around. It's important to keep in mind how much you've devoted to your cruise vacation, rather than boarding the ship and spending additional money on miscellaneous things. Otherwise, you may return home and realize you went well over your allotted budget!

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