Tempted by that cheap cruise? Don’t forget the extra fees.


Colleen McDaniel remembers being on her first cruise over 20 years ago when someone offered her a drink of the day.

“I was like, ‘Awesome,'” she recalled, not thinking about it when they asked for her room card. It was only later that McDaniel, now editor-in-chief of the Cruise Critic news and review site, realized she had been charged for the drink—an early precursor to the way expenses can add up after the cruise fare has been paid.

Cruise executives love touting the value of a cruise: Pay one price and lodging, food, entertainment, and visits to multiple ports are all included. With gas prices soaring last summer, the cruise cost less than filling a few tanks. But there are a host of extra fees — some optional, some mandatory — that can come as a big surprise to new cruise travelers, especially on big ship lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

And as costs on land have risen over the past year, so have fees on cruise ships. Several cruise lines have announced in recent months that they are increasing automatic gratuities, raising WiFi rates or charging more for room service delivery.

It equips clients with a few key messages, said travel consultant Ted Blank, affiliate of Travel Leaders. The first is to promote the value of a cruise over a land vacation.

“And then I say, ‘But it’s important to understand that sailing is not an all-inclusive vacation, unless you really get to the luxury level of sailing,’” he said. “Many things are included in the price, but you need to kind of plan and budget for the extra costs you’ll incur while on vacation.”

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Some fees are unavoidable, but most are discretionary extras. And they can increase your costs by hundreds of dollars.

For a theoretical cruise fare of $300, travelers should know that fares are quoted with the expectation of two people in the cabin, each paying that amount, said Tanner Callais, founder and editor of online cruise information resource Cruzely. This price will also be for the lowest priced interior cabin, with balcony rooms commanding higher rates. Then port fees and taxes can cost between $100 and $200, and there are still tips to add before moving into an optional area.

Some drinks are included in the cruise price: think regular coffee and tea, lemonade, juice, and water. But on most non-luxury lines, soft drinks, premium coffee drinks, and alcoholic beverages cost extra.

For those who don’t want to go out every time they order a cola, beer or cocktail, cruise lines sell drink packages. Some lines have packages that cover bottled water or Starbucks coffee, while nearly all offer soda or alcoholic beverage and soda deals. The Carnival package, which includes alcoholic beverages, starts at $59.95 per day and must be purchased by all adults in the room; Norwegian Cruise Line’s alcoholic beverage deal starts at $109 per day with the same base.

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Drink packages are one of the most common extras cruise lines offer as a booking incentive, McDaniel said, so travelers can often avoid paying that price if they find the right deal.

It’s possible to get on a ship and not pay extra for meals — but cruise lines have added a slew of alternative dining options to entice passengers to part with their cash.

Danny Genong, CEO of travel agency Harr Travel, said he and his wife rarely spent any extra money on their first 100 cruises and that his father would never pay extra to dine on a ship. But he admits: “There are great specialty restaurants on board. There are plenty of places to upgrade.”

End of official cruise nights

Cruise lines typically offer steakhouses, sushi restaurants, teppanyaki restaurants, seafood options, and more for an additional fee. Many also offer food packages to travelers they know will want to sample. Main dining rooms and buffets, often pool bars, pizzerias and other casual fare, are included in the cost of the cruise.

Several lines have also added delivery charges or per-item fees for room service in recent years.

A cruise isn’t just about the ship, of course—but getting out and visiting ports can cost extra.

Travelers can book cruise-sponsored excursions, third-party outings, or head out on their own. Excursions can be relatively simple (a $50 trolley ride in Cozumel) or quite expensive (dog sledding in Juno for $650 per person).

“In the Caribbean, one of the cheapest things to do is just head to the beach,” Calais said, which may cost no more than transportation.

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Many of the activities on the ship are free, McDaniel said: using the gym, lounging in the pool, and playing mini golf. But many also come with a fee, including some escape rooms, laser tag, kart or arcade rides.

In addition, many exercise classes, which are often limited in number, will also cost extra.

Want to show off your dance party skills on Instagram? It will cost you. Want to stream your favorite show on your phone while on a cruise? It will cost more. Onboard WiFi has improved over the years, but it’s still quite expensive.

At Carnival, for example, next week prices will rise from a range of $10.20 to $17 per person per day, depending on usage, to $12.75 to $22 per person per day.

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“This is part of the cruise fare,” Jinong said. “Nobody does not pay that.”

Cost varies by location, but for a seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise that costs $533 per person, for example, port fees and taxes add another $141 per person.

Cruise lines add an automatic daily gratuity to passengers’ bills, though travelers can choose to pay it in advance for budgeting purposes. Tips can be modified on the board.

Many operators have recently increased daily service charges; Norwegian, for example, now adds a fee of $20 to $25 per person per day, depending on room category, up from $16 to $20 per day.

Carnival is increasing the per capita daily fee to $16-18 per day on April 1, up from $14.50 to $16.50.

Calais said gratuities are also automatically added to drinks or the bill at specialty restaurants or spa services.

Jinong said he tells customers to expect these tips to be part of a trip.

“Everyone in the hospitality industry works hard,” he said. “Nobody works harder than those who work on a hotel, resort or cruise ship.”