Extra costs on a cruise. 23 hidden costs to know before you go. cruise ship in the background

23 Extra Costs on a Cruise {Beware of hidden cruise costs}

What are the extra costs on a cruise?  In this article we’ll look at 23 of these extra costs and fees that you’ll need to budget for.

If you’re like me, you want a general idea how much your vacation will cost. 

You don’t want any big surprises when it’s time to pay the total cost of your onboard account or when you add up the total cost of your cruise vacation.

23 Extra costs on a cruise, hidden costs to know before you go.  Image is a cruise ship

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What costs extra on a cruise? – List of 23 Extra Costs on a Cruise

Each cruise line has slightly different policies when it comes to what is free and what costs extra on their ships. 

But below are some products and services that are usually considered additional fees on most cruises. Being aware of these hidden costs ahead of time will help you budget and save accordingly.

This may seem like a big list, but it doesn’t mean you’ll have to put out big money for a cruise.  Many people go an entire cruise without paying extra for indulgences like spa treatments or laundry service and they still have a fantastic time.

I just want you to know what to expect ahead of time to minimize surprises and help you budget for extra expenses.

Let’s start the list of extra costs on a cruise ship.

1) Alcoholic Beverages

When you think of a vacation do you imagine a cold beer or umbrella drink in your hand?

Cruises are known for their tempting cocktails and drinks, but it’s essential to budget for these. 

Alcoholic drinks are an additional cost on most ships unless you buy a deluxe beverage package in advance.

These drink packages can provide a fixed cost for unlimited (or in some cases a certain amount of) drinks during your cruise. 

Another tip is to check for happy hours or daily drink specials where you might get discounts on your favorite drinks.

If you enjoy wine with your meals, consider bringing your own bottle of wine onboard, as many cruise lines allow this. They do however charge a corkage fee to have it opened.  Check the specific alcohol policy of your cruise line for details. It can be a more economical choice than purchasing wine by the glass.

Miami Vice frozen cocktail on a cruise
Miami Vice frozen cocktail

2) Specialty Restaurants

While cruise ship dining often includes various complimentary options including the main dining room.  Specialty dining usually come with an additional fee. 

To manage this cost, plan ahead and make reservations for these restaurants early. 

Sometimes, cruise lines offer dining packages that bundle multiple specialty restaurant visits for a lower price, so keep an eye out for these deals.

Specialty restaurants are completely optional.  The good news is that you can eat at only the included restaurants and not feel like you are missing out.  

This is one area where you can save money on a cruise – avoid the extra fee restaurants.

Specialty restaurants are an extra cost on a cruise

3) Internet Access

Staying connected at sea usually comes with a cost. To manage this expense, consider purchasing an internet package in advance often at a discounted rate.  The cruise lines offer different plans depending on your usage needs.  

Another option is to just use Wi-Fi when you’re in port, where it may be more affordable. 

Most cruise lines now have their own app, which for a minimal extra charge you add a texting feature to communicate with your travel companions while onboard.  

4) Spa Treatments

Indulging in a spa treatment on a cruise can be a luxurious experience, but it can also add up quickly. 

To avoid overspending, consider booking spa treatments on port days when they might offer discounts. 

Many of the other passengers will be exploring the ports of call so they may offer better deals for the passengers remaining onboard.

You can also inquire about package deals or promotions that could help you enjoy relaxation without breaking the bank.

A great way to have the spa experience without purchasing a pricier spa treatment is to purchase a day or weekly pass for the spa relaxation areas.  Many cruise ships have relaxation areas with heated tile loungers, steam rooms, saunas, aromatherapy areas, and thalassotherapy pools.  

The spa facility features vary greatly ship to ship so be sure to research your ship ahead of time to see what is offered and if that ship does in fact sell passes.  Passes are often limited. 

Cruise spa relaxation lounger

5) Fitness Classes

It is free to use the cardio equipment and free weights in the fitness center of most cruise ships, but instructor-led fitness classes usually come at an additional charge.

To stay fit without the extra cost, consider using the exercise room on your own, or joining complimentary onboard activities like dance classes or yoga sessions.

6) Specialty Coffees

Regular coffee and tea are usually free on a cruise ship, but if you love specialty coffee, be prepared to pay extra. 

Some cruise lines offer include specialty coffees and teas in their drink packages.  

Select Royal Caribbean ships even have Starbucks onboard.  This is definitely an extra cost and not included in any of Royal Caribbean cruise drink packages (but so worth it 🙂 ).

Starbucks on a cruise ship is an extra cruise cost
photo by Load The Luggage

7) Soft Drinks

Most cruise ships charge extra for soda and energy drinks, but you can save by purchasing a soft drink package if you enjoy several sodas a day. 

Soft drink can, soft drink in a glass with ice and sunglasses on a table on a cruise ship
photo by Load the Luggage

There are some free drinks on a cruise ship.  Typically you will find regular coffee, tea, and juices available in the morning with iced tea and lemonade available in the afternoons in the buffet restaurant.  Some cruise lines offer different flavored waters.

Another option is to get water from one of the water stations (often found in the buffet and other beverage stations), drink as is or bring flavor packets or drink mixes to add some variety.  If this is your plan, I would suggest bringing your own reusable water bottle as it will hold far more than the small glasses provided as well as keep it cooler longer.

8) Bottled Water

Cruise lines often charge for bottled water.  Some do include it if you have purchased a drink package.  

Be aware that if there is bottled water in your cabin, it is probably for an additional cost.  This is the case with Carnival Cruise Line.  On our last cruise, Carnival left 2 large bottles of water in the room with a tag that said the water is $4.50 per bottle, if the bottles were drank or removed, the charge would be included on your onboard account.  Be sure to read the tag and let your kids know that if they drink it you have to pay for it. 

To avoid this cost, bring your reusable water bottle and refill it at water stations available on the ship. Most cruise ships provide safe and clean drinking water.  I prefer a wide mouth water bottle so that I can fit ice cubes in it.

9) Room Service

Do you want some yummy food or refreshing drinks brought right to your room?

Well if you’re on the popular, mainstream cruise lines be prepared to pay extra unless it is continental breakfast.  

Most cruise lines offer room service continental breakfast (cereals, pastry, coffee) delivered to your room for no extra money, but most now charge for full breakfast or other meals delivered.  Some charge per item while others charge a flat fee.  

If room service is something you would like to treat yourself to (after all breakfast on your own balcony can be pretty great), bring a few smaller bills to till the crew members making the delivery.

If you want to save a bit of money on your cruise, you can always bring your own food back to your stateroom.

10) Shopping – onboard and at cruise ports

The cute shops and boutiques onboard the major cruise lines may tempt you to buy some new clothing, jewelry or souvenirs.  Or the duty free shops selling alcohol and perfume might catch your eye.

If you love to shop then you’ll want to plan and budget for this.

Purchases made in any of the onboard shops get charged to your onboard account which is either linked to your credit card or funded by cash throughout your cruise.  

Bring some extra cash in smaller bills for shopping at the cruise port if you plan on purchasing some local souvenirs.

11) Laundry

Didn’t pack enough clothes for your cruise and now you need your clothes washed? Well, prepare to pay extra for laundry service.

Some cruise ships have self-service laundry that cost extra, while most ships offer laundry service where the ship’s crew does your laundry for you.

Self serve passenger laundry room on Carnival Vista cruise ship

12) Cruise Gratuities

Cruise ship service gratuities are definitely something you need to budget into the total cost of your cruise.

The cruise lines suggest a daily gratuity fee that they automatically charge each passenger (over the age of 2).  This daily gratuities amount is either prepaid or charged to your onboard account.  The cruise line then disburses these gratuities to certain crew members such as your stateroom attendants, main dining room servers, and other staff that help make your cruise vacation amazing.

The crew members work incredibly hard and deserve every cent of these gratuities, many people even tip over and above this amount to certain cruise line staff directly in cash.

13) Shore Excursions

Shore excursions, tours, and activities at various ports of call are usually not included in the cruise fare. 

These can range in price drastically depending on the type of excursion.  You’ll find beach breaks, shopping excursions, cultural excursions, to more adventurous activities.

Check the cruise line’s website for what is offered and the cost.  Cruise line shore excursions are often more expensive than local tours, but are safer and more convenient.  If you purchase your shore excursion directly with the cruise line, the ship will wait for you should your excursion run late.  If you purchased a local tour and are late back to the ship, the ship will not wait.

Some ports are located right in a city or near activities and may not require a tour at all, you can simply walk around and enjoy.

Many of the cruise lines have private islands which are great as they have lots of free things to enjoy.  Royal Caribbean has an incredible private island called Perfect Day at Coco Cay.  There is a water park that does have an extra cost, but there are beautiful beaches, a large pool, kids splash park, and other activities you can enjoy for no additional cost.  The other great thing about Perfect Day at Coco Cay is that there are free food options, free water and lemonade stations, and you can use your drink package on the island.

14) Casino

As you probably expected, playing in the casino costs extra on a cruise if you do choose to play.  

Cruise ship casinos offer various games like slots, poker, and blackjack, but obviously you have to pay to play.

The cruise lines do offer a reward program where you can earn different perks such as free drinks when you play in the casino, specialty restaurant vouchers, and in some cases even free cruises.

Royal Caribbean casino

15) Medical Services

While you hope not to need them, medical services onboard come at a cost. It’s essential to have travel insurance to cover unexpected medical expenses.

In addition to having travel insurance, it is important to pack your own travel first aid kit and an assortment of medications.

While many common medications are available in the cruise ship shops, they have limited supply, limited hours, and are expensive.

Being prepared can help you save money and may keep you out of having to see the medical center for something minor.

16) Professional Photographs

Most cruise ships have professional photographers who take pictures of passengers throughout the trip.   

You are not obligated to purchase any of the photos they take of you and can be really great cruise souvenirs, however they are not cheap.

But having a great snapshot of your cruise vacation may be worth it.

17) Travel Insurance

While not a direct onboard cost, travel insurance is essential to consider. 

We never travel without it.  Medical insurance as mentioned is a must, however you should also consider trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance (often sold together).  We had to use it this past Christmas when a massive storm caused us to miss the cruise ship 🙁 

It can protect you financially if unexpected events disrupt your cruise plans. This is something to consider as soon as you book your cruise.  Many policies must be purchased shortly after booking and before any portion of the trip becomes non refundable.  

Be aware that pre-existing conditions may not be covered.  Be sure to speak to the cruise line or your insurance broker to find out exactly what is covered and what isn’t, especially since it can be very different company to company.

18) Transportation to the Ship

This is also not a direct onboard cost, but when planning your cruise vacation, remember to budget for how much it’ll cost to get to the departure port. 

If you are flying to your cruise departure point or have several hours drive to get there, it is always recommended to arrive a day prior to your cruise. Trust me, missing a ship is devastating (and yes we were booked to arrive more than 24 hours prior to the ship’s departure).

Don’t forget to budget getting from the airport or hotel to the cruise terminal and back.  Or parking if you are driving.  Most cruise companies offer a shuttle from the airport to the port and vice versa.

19)  Some activities

While most activities and amenities on a cruise ship are included in your cruise fare, there are some that will have an extra cost if you choose to participate.  

These will vary cruise line to cruise line but often the more innovative amenities such as the roller coaster and iMax theater on Carnival, race track (Norwegian Cruise Line), and escape room (Royal Caribbean) have an extra cost.  This is just a sample.  Be sure to research your ship so you know ahead of time whether these are extra costs on a cruise that you will incur.

An example of other activities that usually have a fee are craft classes, cooking classes, and alcohol tasting.

Royal Caribbean escape room
This was worth the extra cost

20) Bingo

As I’m sure you guessed, Bingo, which is a popular cruise ship activity does have an extra charge.  Cruise bingo is not a cheap activity.  

If you are looking to save money on a cruise, here is one easy extra cruise cost you can eliminate.

Cruise bingo card and dauber

On our recent sailing, this bingo card which had 3 different colored sheets was $25USD, the dauber was an additional $2. They had larger bingo card packages available too. Prices of course can change, but this gives you an idea of the cost of bingo on a cruise ship.

21) Pre-cruise hotel

As mentioned earlier, it is always advised to arrive a day early to your cruise departure city.  The cost of a pre-cruise hotel is not included into your cruise fare and should be added to the total cost of a cruise.  

22) Arcade

Most cruise lines have an arcade with a selection of different video games. These all have an additional cost, and this cost can add up quickly.  If you children have charging privileges on their cruise card, make sure they are aware of their allowed budget.  Games are often $1.50 – $5.00 a game, the charges can add up really quickly.

Mariner of the Seas arcade

23) Port fees

Port charges are automatically added to every base cruise fare.  These charges vary depending on the port and number of ports in your itinerary. The taxes and port fees are paid when your final cruise payment is made.  

While these can’t be avoided, I just wanted to point them out as many cruise line websites will list their base fare and then in the fine print say that taxes and port charges are additional.  

Another question many first time cruisers have is what to bring on a cruise, this list will have several items you may never have thought to bring on a cruise.

Extra costs on a cruise summary

As you can see, with the exception of port charges, cruise service gratuities and the costs getting to and from the ship, the rest are optional.  

You could go on a cruise vacation and not pay for specialty meals, drink the free water/iced tea, and participate in the free activities and entertainment and still have lots of choice and an amazing time.  

By being aware of these extra costs on a cruise and following these tips, you can enjoy your cruise vacation while keeping your onboard spending in check.

I hope this has helped you plan and budget for an incredible cruise trip.

A cruise vacation is definitely what you make it.