A typical cruiser can expect to spend an additional 40-60% above what they paid on the actual cruise fare. So, what is that being spent on, and, how can you keep the costs under control?
How Much Does a Cruise Vacation Cost?
When budgeting for a cruise vacation there are two distinct things to keep in mind. First, you must pay for the vacation itself. This is what you pay when you reserve the cruise and includes your accommodations, most meals and ship-board entertainment. Second, you may need to budget for on-board expenses above and beyond the fare you paid for the vacation.
A typical cruiser can expect to spend an additional 40-60% above what they paid on the actual cruise fare. So if the total cruise fare was $2000, a cruiser may spend another $1000 which includes gratuities, alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, spa treatments and sundries. We'll break down what's covered in the cruise fare and on-board expenses below and demonstrate ways to reduce spending and keep you within your budget.
The Cruise Fare
We have detailed information on where to buy a cruise and how the cruise lines price their fares, but there is more to it than that. The price you pay up-front will include your accommodations, meals served in the buffet, room-service and main dining rooms, and non-Alcoholic beverages such as coffee, tea and juice. Ship-board entertainment such as shows, live music and children's programming are part of the up-front price for the vacation. This fare also includes government mandated taxes and port charges which are paid on your behalf by the cruise line. Once on-board you must also pay for gratuities.
In most aspects of life, tipping for service is optional, but consider it mandatory when cruising. On Carnival for example, the recommended gratuity is $10 per person per night of the cruise. On a seven night sailing, you can expect to pay an additional $70 per person. This goes to the ships staff for their service they provide to you while on-board. Things like maintaining your stateroom and providing excellent table service deserve to be rewarded, and $10 per person per day is a nominal fee.
Spending Money While Onboard the Ship
On a typical Carnival cruise, guests can actually spend no money while on-board other than gratuities. And budget conscious cruisers frequently do this. But as we mentioned before, the typical cruiser will spend roughly 40-60% more than what they paid for the cruise vacation itself. Charges for shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, photos, soda cards and surcharges for premium restaurants can add up quickly.
The cruise line makes most of its revenue from on-board spending. Photographers will snap your picture nightly if you allow them, and there is no charge for viewing the photo. However, if you'd like to take it with you, expect to pay for it. Bar waiters will be carrying around 'drinks of the day' in souvenir glasses that can run as high as $10 per drink. And, as with most hotels, bar drinks include a 15% service charge. If you'd like wine with your meal, Carnival offers several value priced bottles and they even allow you to bring one bottle of your own on-board. There is a $10 corkage fee (verified November 2010).
Three of the largest expenses are spa treatments, shore excursions and the casino. Spa treatments on-board the ship are reasonably priced and actually lower than what most 4 and 5 star American resorts charge. Guests can expect to pay $100 for a one hour full-body massage plus a service charge or gratuity. On port days, guests can find discounts in the spa.
Shore excursions can be expensive, especially if they are long in nature or include a meal or alcohol. For more helpful advice on shore excursions, please review our in-depth research article on Cruise Line Shore Excursion Expert Advice and Tips.
Depending on luck or skill, the Casino can be a huge expense, or could end up paying for the entire vacation. Carnival maintains Las Vegas table standards in their casinos – some cruise lines do not. Guests will find minimum bets, odds and payouts comparable to major Las Vegas resorts. Black jack tables generally have minimum bets of $5 during the day and rising to $10 at night. Craps tables have similar minimums and players are allowed to take up to 2 X odds on line bets.
Like most cruise lines, Carnival offers high-stakes bingo and art auctions. We recommend avoiding both. Guests can expect to pay up to $40 per card to play bingo and it's an added expense with very little chance of payout. Don't be fooled by claims of $1500 to $3000 jackpots. Your money is better spent elsewhere. At some point during your vacation, you will hear or read an announcement about an art auction. In some instances, free alcoholic drinks may be offered. No matter what the auctioneer claims, there is a 90% chance that the art is not original (think prints), and the recommended values are inflated vs. buying the same poster at a frame store back at home.
In order to get the most value out of your vacation, we recommend checking your on-board spending account during the sailing at the purser's desk. This will give you an idea of what you've spent and keep you within your budget. We also recommend avoiding 'drinks of the day', bingo and art auctions. For guests desiring spa treatments, we recommend using port day promotions to keep costs down.
In conclusion, guests have options to reduce on-board charges and stay within a budget. Some guests avoid these expenses entirely (other than the gratuities). By following our advice, guests should be able to find a balance between being overly frugal, and breaking the bank. After all, a cruise is a vacation!