Thursday, January 2, 2014

What does a cruise really cost?

Part of my preparation for any trip is making out a budget. I include every known cost and allow a generous amount for “miscellaneous” items. As a Virgo, I can be pretty compulsive about keeping track of all expenses.
Celebrity Silhouette cruising the Adriatic Sea
So I’ve come to realize what a good deal cruising can be. Your accommodations, food, and sometimes drinks and shore excursions are included in the price—and you only have to unpack one time. If—like more than 14 million other people, mostly from North America—you’ve decided to try cruising, there are a few things to keep in mind when determining the cost of your cruise beyond what’s posted in the brochure or online.

Meals in the main dining rooms are usually very good.
While some cruise lines include airfare (at least partial), gratuities, and beverage charges in their stated fees, many others do not—although they may have incentive packages that include some of these extra expenses. Just be sure you know what is included and what you can expect as add-ons to your basic fare.

Meals in the main dining room, snack-bars, buffets, and sometimes room service are included in the cost of a cruise. While this is more food (and generally very good) than most of us can/should consume, many cruisers opt to dine in specialty restaurants on board. These can be pricey (upwards of $75 per couple), but their popularity has inspired ships to add more options.

Almost all ships—especially the larger ones--provide an included selection of quality entertainment such as live musicals and production shows or comedy and magic performances. A variety of groups play music throughout the ship for your listening pleasure or dancing the night away. Games, movies, competitions, and classes on board are provided to keep you busy and entertained.

Acrobats perform in the Atrium of a Princess ship.

Nonalcoholic beverages (water, lemonade, tea, and coffee) are included during meals and anytime dining venues are open. If you get really thirsty, pay a one-time fee for a beverage card that entitles you to unlimited soft drinks during your cruise. Alcoholic drinks, including wine and beer, will be additional charges—unless a package was included as an incentive when you booked. Some lines now allow guests to purchase wine in port and bring it to their room, although most will still hold any liquor brought onboard until disembarkation.

Climb the rock wall, a feature of all
Royal Caribbean ships, for exercise.
Exercise facilities, weight room, and fitness machines are available for use in the ship’s gym. Some classes are also free, but others like Yoga or Pilates may set you back an extra $10 or so. Pampering spa and beauty salon services cost extra. Better still, go outside and walk or jog on the track—no charge at all to get some exercise before the next meal time.

If you drive to port, expect to pay for parking. Some cruise lines will pick you up from the airport and bring you to the ship, free of charge, especially if you’ve also booked an add-on hotel stay either before or after the cruise. Others provide pre-arranged transfer services for a fee. Sometimes hotels near a port will allow guests who stay there prior to the cruise to leave their car in the hotel parking area while on the ship.

Although some high-end cruise lines include shore excursions, most provide this option a la carte. Choose when, where, and what you want to do, paying only for excursions that fit your needs. You can purchase excursions arranged by the cruise line online prior to departure or book city sightseeing tours or snorkeling adventures on your own.

Modern ships are visual delights and provide many opportunities
for scanning the landscape.
These days most ships add an automatic minimum gratuity for crew service to your account. You can add to that if someone gives you special service, but don’t expect to ignore the gratuity requirement. Including this charge in the fare is one of the most popular perks offered by cruise lines trying to attract passengers.

Got a bigger budget? Casinos, bingo games, and a variety of shops featuring plenty of special sales entice passengers to spend more. You can keep track of expenses by checking your account daily, either online in your cabin or in person at guest services. If you have onboard credit (another popular package incentive), you’ll know when it has been used up.

Ships are large enough that you won't feel crowded, even
with thousands of passengers on board.
Cruising can be a bargain when you compare the daily cost of what you’d spend for lodging, food, car and gas, and activities on a land-based vacation. Crunch the numbers beforehand, and you can have a wonderful cruise experience without going overboard—financially, that is.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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