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Hidden Costs of Cruising

You have probably heard the term “all-inclusive” applied to cruises every so often. But while a voyage is one of the best values around since all major expenses (lodging, meals, snacks, activities, and entertainment) are indeed included in the fare, there are some items—mostly of a personal nature—that are out-of-pocket expenses. “Ready money,” Lord Byron once said, “is Aladdin’s lamp.” So set aside some cash to cover these expenditures to truly make your next sailing the cruise of your dreams. And to make sure the incidentals don’t break the bank for you, here are some tips on saving on the “seven seas.”

Shore Excursions

Read the line’s shore tour booklet and attend the port lectures given aboard ship that give you more details about the organized tours available for sale on the ship. Prices for these excursions range from about $25 to $45 for a half-day city tour, to more than $200 for some all-day tours, overland programs including meals and snacks, and such exciting offerings as helicopter flight-seeing and hot-air ballooning.

Savings tip

While you may wish to sign up for some of the ship’s tours (particularly if you are not familiar with the port and do not speak the language) you also have the option to tour independently at a fraction of the cost—or even for free, if you go on a self-guided walking tour. Before setting sail, request free planners with maps, calendars of events, and attraction brochures for the ports-of-call on your itinerary from tourist boards. Check out books on your destination from the public library, and visit websites such as Cruise Critic to give you ideas for touring in the ports.

Look over the calendars from the tourist offices for festivals or crafts displays (sources of good, free entertainment) during your visit. Art galleries showcasing local work, parks, and beaches are some free or nominal-charge attractions to check out. Museum and native crafts exhibits are other inexpensive options. If you decide to hire a car and driver to give you a private tour (generally less expensive than the shipboard excursions) or just to take you to the center of town, always agree on the price (and in the case of a tour, what specific points of interest will be covered) before you board the car.

Alcohol and other beverages

Alcoholic beverages and wine are not included in the cruise fare on most lines (with the exception of some ultra-deluxe lines). And your tab can add up: Hard liquor, cocktails, and wine range from $3.50 to $8 apiece, depending on cruise line (higher end lines tend to charge more for drinks); soft drinks will run $1.50 to $2.

Savings Tip

Most vessels advertise “daily drink specials” you may want to try. At meals, iced tea, milk, coffee, and juices are complimentary. 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 $20. Or bring your own—we pick up soda six-packs in port. Be forewarned, though: cruise line policies on bringing alcohol onboard are highly restricted.

Casino gaming

Shipboard casinos keep getting bigger and bigger, so it is safe to say, the lines are doing well at their tables and slots.

Savings tip

Set a limit as to how much you wish to risk and leave if you lose it. Or better yet, avoid the casino altogether—there are plenty of other diversions onboard, like music for dancing, production shows, variety entertainment, and TV-style game shows that will not set you back a penny.


A massage is typically around $90 to $110. Take advantage of ship discounts on port days. Most shipboard spas are operated by Steiner’s of London, and the staff, who works on commission, often gives you a sales pitch (they sometimes even call it a “prescription”) that calls for you to buy several of their products.

Savings tip

If you get a sales pitch and do not want the products, just smile and say you will think about it and get back to them. Or be bold right up front and ask not to be bothered with sales pitches at all. Another tip: check your ship’s daily program of activities for ads for spa treatment specials that may be available one day only or during certain hours of a given day.

Souvenir Shopping

You probably want to purchase something to remember your cruise, and it may take a lot of willpower to pass up on the beautiful—and expensive—figurines, perfumes, designer fashions, and leather goods if your budget does not allow for them.

Savings tip

Avoid temptation by not browsing in the boutiques onboard and ashore if you cannot afford to buy. If you do plan to purchase some souvenirs, check the prices of merchandise at stores back home and bring pages of their sales catalogs for the particular items you are interested in to compare prices (they may be cheaper at home). Good, inexpensive souvenirs include handicrafts from outdoor markets and street vendors, and local products such as coffee and jellies purchased at grocery stores in the ports.


As at land-based resorts, laundry and dry cleaning charges on a cruise can be steep (approximately $2.50 to $3.50 to wash a T-shirt, for instance). Check to see if there is a self-service launderette and use it (typically, washing and drying one load of clothes comes to about $2 to $3).

Savings tip

If there is no launderette, pack enough changes of clothes for the cruise and do the wash back home.

Film and other camera needs

Getting additional film, batteries, and other camera supplies will not only cost you more money (generally $1 to $2 more per item than the same articles bought at a discount store back home), but precious vacation time as well. Ships’ photographers typically charge $7 to $9 per photo, $15 to $20 per formal portrait.

Savings tip

Buy plenty of film and other camera supplies on sale at home and bring more than you think you will need, just in case. Take your own pictures and rely sparingly, if at all, on the ship’s photographers.


Many lines recommend about $10 per person per day to be given to the dining room waiter ($4 per person, per day), assistant waiter ($2 per person, per day), and cabin steward ($4 per person, per day). If you have butler service, be prepared to tip that crew member $4 per day. Bar tabs are charged a 15 percent gratuity automatically. When the maitre d’ performs a special service, such as arranging for a birthday cake to be brought to the table, he should be tipped as well.

Savings tip

These folks—particularly the waiters, assistant waiters, and cabin stewards—work very hard. Unless the service has been poor, tip the recommended amount. And add a little more, if you can, for outstanding attention.

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