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How To Avoid Extra Cruise Spending

Cruising is one of the best vacation values going. The "all-inclusive" fare includes accommodations, meals, and entertainment. Still, there are extra costs that can really bloat the cruise cost. Here’s some insight into what to look for and how to keep your budget afloat.

The accidental spender

Last summer, John and Helen Finch of Pittsburgh took their first cruise ever, a seven-day Alaska inside passage cruise on the Sun Princess. Faced daily with attractive art, Helen decided to attend one of the ship’s onboard art auctions. Before she knew it, she ended up paying hundreds of dollars on several lithographs—not something she planned for. On top of that, she and John had visited the spa, ordered cocktails daily, booked tours, and gambled in the ship’s casino. When all was said and done, the Finch’s had tacked on an additional $2000 to their cruise.

Cruise lines have always charged additional fees for shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, and spa treatments. Now, lines are expanding their menu of extras to include luxuries such as art auctions, premium restaurants, Internet access, and other onboard activities. The key to avoiding a final bill that empties your wallet is knowing what to expect and planning which services or items you'll buy.

Costs ahoy

Shore excursions

Shore excursion fees can be expensive, particularly on destination intensive itineraries such as Alaska, Europe, and Hawaii. In most instances, it's easy to arrange your own excursions and save money. Most destinations have tourist information on their websites listing local companies that offer excursions. There are even companies on the Internet that can book your shore excursions before you leave home. Check out Port Promotions and Shore Excursions.


Soft drinks, bottled water, and alcoholic drinks can really add up, particularly at the prices charged on most ships. These refreshments are not included in the cruise fare on most lines (with the exception of some ultra-deluxe lines). Obviously, cruise lines prefer that you buy alcoholic drinks directly from them. Still, you may be able to sneak a bottle aboard in port for consumption in your cabin. If you are traveling with children, find out if your ship offers "soda packages" that feature unlimited sodas during the cruise for about $15 to $35.

Alternative dining

Many of the new mainstream and premium cruise vessels offer alternative restaurants with an extra charge ranging from $5 to $25 per person. As an example, NCL's "freestyle cruising" offers a variety of excellent alternative dining, including sushi at a reasonable cost ($5 to $10).


With the exception of a few premium and luxury cruise lines that have a "no tipping required" policy, you're expected to tip your cabin steward, dining room waiter, and assistant waiter. Many lines recommend that each passenger tip about $9 per day to the cabin steward ($3.50 per day), dining room waiter ($3.50 per day), and assistant waiter ($2 per day). Bar bills are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity.

Some cruise lines offer the option of pre-paying gratuities by adding them to your credit card. Aboard other ships, you leave cash in an envelope the last evening of your cruise. Understand these folks work very hard to make your cruise top-notch. Unless the service has been poor, tip the recommended amount. For outstanding service, add a little more if you can.


Shipboard casinos are getting bigger and bigger, which means that more and more passengers are losing money at sea. If you decide to roll the dice, set a limit as to how much you wish to risk and leave if you lose it.

Spa services

While pampering goes well with a cruise vacation, frequenting the ship's spa can be costly. A massage can range anywhere from $60 to $120 (plus 18 percent gratuity) per hour. The staff on most shipboard spas works on commission for Steiner Leisure of London, and often give you a sales pitch for their products after your treatments. Unless you really like the products, don’t feel compelled to purchase them. If you want to use the spa for less, look for discounted specials that are offered at given times on the cruise.

Art auctions

Many cruise lines hold expensive art auctions onboard. Paintings, lithographs, or sculptures can run anywhere from a hundred to several thousand dollars. Unless you an art aficionado, avoid this part of the cruise.

Internet access

Most ships have Internet access, but often charge up to a dollar per minute. Some ships like Disney’s offer unlimited use for a fixed fee, usually around $80 for a seven-day cruise. You can save a lot of money by visiting the nearest Internet facility in port, which are usually a fraction of the cost.


Laundry and dry cleaning charges on a cruise can be exorbitant. For example, a t-shirt can cost upwards of $3 and a pair of underwear $1.50 to wash. Check to see if there is a self-service launderette that is much cheaper, typically $2 to $3 per load.


Buy plenty of film and other camera supplies at home, because once onboard, the price doubles. As an example, an underwater camera cost $20 on my last cruise versus $9 at Wal-Mart. Also, keep in mind that the ships' photographers typically charge $8 to $12 per photo and $20 to $30 per formal portrait.

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