This blog series is for travelers who are beginners in cruising.
As we previously blogged, cruising is a great addition to your vacation repertoire. But, many cruisers have been unpleasantly surprised with hidden costs that could have been avoided or even reduced. Look out for these "extras" so that you can plan efficiently and economically.
Bonus Tip For Your Trip: Sometimes, the cruise line offers an extra service either for free or for a discount when you book or pay by a certain time (such as unlimited drinks or a WiFi package).
1. Getting there: when you sail from a port near your home city, these are called "no fly" cruises. But, you still have to get to the port: by hired car (cab, car service, etc), parking your car or getting a ride. Also, you have to plan for any tolls. NYC Traveler Tip: Parking at the pier generally runs $15-$25/per day. Still cheaper than a flight, especially if there is more than one person.
2. Beverages: water at the buffet, coffee, tea, lemonade, unsweetened iced tea, & juice for breakfast are usually included. Ask about non-dairy milks. For some people, that's enough.
-Not included: soft drinks, alcohol, some juices & premium coffees and teas (like lattes), energy drinks like Red Bull. There are juice bars, specialty coffee bars, wine dispensing machines, breweries and robot bartenders on the upper class ships.
-What you can bring onboard: Baby formula, sometimes one bottle of wine per adult per stateroom, your own tea bags. Most cruise lines do not allow your own soft drinks, even in cans, but read the FAQs.
-What you cannot bring: your own water in bottles, anything that can be opened and re-closed, like cardboard containers with screw caps and any alcohol bought on shore or in the gift shops (they will hold it until the last evening or morning). You also cannot bring a personal blender, even if you claim it's for your protein shake. You can bring your own powdered protein mix and a plastic bottle (again, ask about any special milks you may drink).
-What you need to know: the alcohol packages can add up to almost $400-$500 for one person but all adults in the cabin have to buy it which means an extra $800-$1000 on your account before you even buy a souvenir magnet. Drinks range from $6 - $20. If you have 3 a day, for a 7 day cruise, you may still spend around $200 less. Consider carefully if you will drink enough to warrant the package (most cruise lines have put a limit to 12-15 drinks a day).
-NYC Traveler Tip: Bring an empty water bottle and use the cups provided to refill your water bottle (don't put your bottle to the spout of the dispenser). Also, bring your own tea bags for variety and your own sweetener if you like something different.
3. Onboard activities: trivia games, lido deck parties, most shows, comedy routines, etc. are generally included. Also, the fitness room, miniature golf, table tennis, shuffle board and most sports complexes are almost always free. Have fun and get in shape at the same time. But, check to see if a reservation is required.
There may be a surcharge for some of the upper scale activities, such as wine tastings, the flow rider, ice bars, the arcade, behind the scene tours, 3D or Imax movies, I-fly skydiving, etc. The spa and hair salons will also cost extra.
NYC Traveler Tips: choose one special activity per cruise. Attend as many free activities as possible to maximize what you paid. And restrict the kids' spending on your account so that they don't swipe out your life savings in the arcade.
4. Excursions: Once you dock at ports on the itinerary, you will want to do an activity. There are a slew of excursions for sale by the cruise line. The advantages are: if they cancel the activity, your money will be refunded; if the excursion is late returning, the ship will wait for you and the companies have been vetted or verified as legit by the cruise line company. The downside is that they are more expensive than planning one yourself and you can feel like you're on a school field trip with very limited freedom to explore on your own, not to mention lining up, getting on a bus and sometimes even wearing a badge or wrist band. Since most of these trips are by bus/van, your contact with the local area is very touristy.
NYC Traveler Tip: The most economical way is to tour the city on foot or rent a car (if feasible). However, if you are wary of foreign countries, stick with the area near the pier or do an organized excursion. But for the adventurous, rent a car, get a map and head out.
5. Gratuities: tips used to be voluntary but they seem to be mandatory on many cruise lines (you can pay in advance, which we recommend). However, many cruise lines will adjust the automatic gratuity that will be added to your account if you ask. They will probably ask you for a reason because they want to be sure that it's not because of the service.
NYC Traveler Tip: Pre-pay when you book your passage so that your account doesn't start with a balance. Bring some cash and give your cabin steward and main server extra if you feel it is worthy. When you get a drink, look at the bill carefully and adjust the automatic gratuity to what you would like to give.
6. Premium Meals: Your fare includes meals in the dining room or at the buffet, and some areas that are open when the dining room and buffet are closed, usually pizza, the deli or a burger grill. Room service may be free, but a gratuity will be added. But the good stuff? The premium restaurants depend on the cruise line.
NYC Traveler Tip: depends on the experience you want to have. You might want to try one meal or you may want to do 5 out of 7 nights or the whole thing. The upcharge is normally no more than $30 per person per meal.
7. Laundry and ironing: Irons are not allowed and some cruise lines do not have a passenger laundry/ironing room (Carnival does). To look spiffy for formal wear night, consider carefully fabrics that pack well (linen is not one of them).
NYC Traveler Tip: Roll your clothes rather than fold them. Bring a small bottle of fabric wrinkle releaser (I was surprised that it works fairly well). Pack pants/shorts/skirts that can be worn twice with different shirts/tops. Bring workout clothes that dry quickly so that you can wash them out yourself (use the body wash or shampoo provided by the ship to wash out small items).
8. Souvenirs and shopping: If you intend to shop abroad, you know must know what you can bring back duty free (meaning tax free) when you return. Duty free shopping is not unlimited. Warning: Many of the locally made crafts are quickly made, they may break and some really look cheap.
NYC Traveler Tip: Think functional, like a water bottle, a t-shirt to sleep and work out in, hat or visor, etc. rather than some dust-collecting trinket. (Remember the on-board shops are closed when a ship is in port.)
9. Photos: Of course it is easy to say bring your own camera or use your phone to take photos. That seems to be a no-brainer. But there might be that rare family reunion when all of the grandkids are there at the same time. Having the cruise line take your photo is free. You have until the last night to choose which prints to buy.
NYC Traveler Tip: choose one print or check out the prices for the digital download packages. You can print your own. 10. Wifi and Phone Service: There several plans available for wifi. If you use the phone in the cabin, read the info about the charges. Figure out what you can live without and choose the most basic. You might want to consider international service with your mobile provider rather than logging on to the free wifi in every port (a good way to get hacked). Send your love ones your itinerary and tell them you will check in at the ports. Fair warning: on sea days and at dinner time, the wifi can be extremely slow! NYC Traveler Tip: There are several messaging apps that will work for texts and calls through wifi. (But, you're on vacation. Disconnect for a day or so.)
NYC Traveler Tip: Throughout this series, we have been warning about getting left at a port (though that has never happened to us!). But we have been on more than two ship-sponsored excursions that were late getting back to the ship! Keep in touch with your tour guide.
Other Articles in This Series:
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All text and photos copyright Marcia Crayton All Rights Reserved 2023
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