Unexpected Costs of Taking a Cruise

Cruising on a Dime Final

by Tiffany Davis

Fall break is next week and if you still don’t have plans but want to book something last minute, consider taking a cruise. After the Carnival cruise ship mishaps in 2013 and 2012, Carnival has reduced their cruise prices to as low as $38 per day. Before taxes that is around $150 for a 4 day cruise! While that price is unbelievable, the extras can really add up. I recently sailed on the Carnival Imagination and our final bill from our on board expenses was a lot more than the initial cost of cruise. Here are some common expenses you will be charged in addition to the upfront cruise fee:


On the Carnival cruise line, orange juice is offered at breakfast and lemonade is available all day for free. If you want soda, you’ll have to pay. Carnival sells a refillable drink cup that you can use for unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, but it will charge your room around $6 dollars per day per cup and gratuity. To save money, bring your own water bottles or 12 packs of soda, or throw a couple of cans in your suit case to get you through the cruise. This is one way you could save a lot of money if you want more than water and lemonade.


If you plan to fly to catch your cruise, don’t forget you will have to pay for transportation from the airport. You should plan at least $30 per person each way to have the ships shuttle pick you up. You can look up what the cab fare from the airport to the ship at http://www.taxifarefinder.com. If you drive, you will have to pay for parking (about $15 per day).

Prepaid Gratuities

Many cruise lines including Carnival require passengers to set up a tab before boarding the ship. Everything you purchase on board will be billed back to this tab. Carnival also adds automatic gratuities to your tab for the people who service your room, the waiters at restaurants and miscellaneous other staff. The charge is a minimum $10 a day per passenger. You are still expected to tip above and beyond that amount when ordering food or beverages that are not included in the cruise package. On a 4 day cruise, this charge is 26% of the price of a $150 cruise.


While you don’t have to spend money to leave most cruises, most of the activities off of the ship will cost you. Beaches and shopping are not always within walking distance and the average paid excursion will run you $50 to $150. While these can be really exciting once-in-a-lifetime activities like para sailing or scuba diving, they are not cheap. To save money, research the activities and see if you can book the same activities cheaper outside of the cruise line. On our recent cruise to Catalina Island, golf cart rentals are a common way that people can explore the island. To book a cart through the boat it was $50 an hour or more depending on if the tour was guided. We were able to rent a cart when we got there for $40 an hour. Also consider taking a taxi to and from the ship instead of paying for transportation through the ship. On our port in Mexico, taking a taxi several miles back to the boat cost under $5 and the ship charged $25 per person.

On board Activities

There are a lot of activities on the ship that are free including musical shows, comedy, game shows and live music. There are also a lot of activities that will cost you like gambling, bingo, concerts, lotto’s, raffles, going to the spa, and of course shopping. Save your money and stick to the free events.

ATM Fees

My final tip is to take enough cash that you won’t have to use an ATM on board. The fee on our cruise was $10 to withdraw even $20 and the ATM on our cruise would not work with our credit union debit card. Plan ahead and bring cash so you don’t have to worry about about money. You don’t want to get stuck on an excursion in another country without cash.

I loved my cruise. These costs shouldn’t deter you from cruising but you should keep them in mind so you don’t overdraw your bank account or go in to debt. Budget at least $250 per person to cover these costs before you go on your cruise. With a little planning ahead and choosing less expensive activities, you can save a ton of money and have a great vacation.



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