Good day, Money Saving Parents! This is the next article in a series about taking a cruise vacation and some of the ways you can get the most cruising bang for your buck. Today’s topic covers the cost of cruising extras. Check back later for more cost saving tips and other advice on this alternative to a traditional family vacation.
Taking a family cruise can often prove itself a cost- effective means to see many different places on a single vacation. Cruise ships usually dock at least twice during a cruise, affording guests the opportunity to visit new countries and/or new cities on a single excursion. A flat price paid per person includes meals, ports of call, and most entertainment on board and is, in most instances, a very good vacation deal when you consider alternatives.
However, like all things travel related that seem too good to be true, cruising can get costly if entertainment and other things are not kept in check. Here is a list of some of the common items that can push a cruise price through the upper deck and beyond and what you can do to keep these costs under control:
Shore excursions: Of all the things that can add significantly to the cost of a cruise, shore excursions ranks at the top of the list. A shore excursion can be almost anything, from a simple party to a hike to the top of a volcano, and the costs of the more lengthy and adventurous excursions can get very high.
There are bound to be some sights that passengers are dying to see, but try to limit shore excursions to no more than one or two. If cruising with the family, save money by dividing up the excursions: Dad goes with one child on a specific excursion while mom goes with the other, on a different excursion. Everyone can decide on exactly which excursion they feel is the best, then partake in only that one. By not dragging the entire family through both excursions, the costs are cut in half. Another effective cost cutting measure is to avoid purchasing excursions from the cruise line and instead look for similar excursions upon exiting the ship at the dock. The prices are almost always lower when an excursion is purchased directly from a person on land, at the location, right when you step off of the ship.
Adult beverages: Unless your particular cruise has specifically stated that all drinks are included in the quoted, up- front price, assume that they are not. On most any cruise, only the basic drinks are included: Water, iced tea, and coffee (some include fruit juice, others do not). If you want to drink any type of alcoholic beverage from beer to martinis, you will have to pay an added price. Alcoholic beverages are usually paid for by running a tab, then settling up the bill at the end of the cruise.
Beverage expenses can really add up quickly and because ships often keep a tab, passengers are usually unaware of the total until the end of the cruise. To keep this cost down to a minimum and keep your eyeballs from falling out when you see the bill, ask your cruise line if they allow the purchase and consumption of liquor by the bottle. On many cruise ships, you can buy a full bottle of liquor, take it back to your room, and consume as you wish. We did this on a cruise we took a few years ago and the price per drink was cut significantly. Oh, and don’t forget- you cannot purchase booze from the outside and bring it back onboard. If you purchase liquor at one of the ports of call, the ship will take it from you and store it until the end of the cruise.
Soft drinks: We all know that soft drinks are very inexpensive, but nevertheless, most cruise ships do not include soft drinks in the up- front charges. Guests have to pay extra for soda and the money can add up faster than you can say Diet Coke with Splenda. If your soda addiction is incurable, you can save some money by purchasing a soda card. This entitles an individual to unlimited soft drinks for the duration of the cruise. The card isn’t too costly, but multiply it by a family of four and the price can easily exceed $100 or more. Decide if you can live without Pepsi or Sprite for a week and limit your purchase of soda cards to just one or two, if possible.
On Board Gambling: Ah, the sound of the slot machines. We can all just imagine the bells and sirens sounding off when we hit the jackpot on our favorite slot machine and win so much money that we can pay for the entire family cruise and have money left over. Unfortunately, the fantasy of hitting it big on board is likely to remain just that. So, before you spend lots of cash on gambling and pull out your credit card for more spending, make sure you set a limit for yourself and then stick with the limit. An excessive night of gambling can cost even more than the price paid for the cruise, so be careful. If you feel like a little bit of gambling, make sure to take advantage of some of the cruise ship’s offers for free chips/tokens to keep the cost of entertainment down, then set a gambling budget for the remainder of the cruise.
Photo Opportunities: Before you board the ship, the photographers will be asking to take your picture. Once you step on board for the first time, the photographers will be asking to take your picture. When you go to the restaurant for dinner, the photographers will be asking to take your picture. I think you get the picture, right? Cruise ships want to help you create memories and while it is awfully swell of them to show such concern for your family photo album, the cost of these pictures is quite high, ranging from $15 to $30. If you accepted every photo op and purchased every picture, the cost of your cruise could easily jump by $200 to $300. Memories are nice, so go ahead and let them take all the pictures they want, then look over them and select just one or two. You will have your memories and you won’t break the family bank in the process.
Internet Usage: A very expensive place to visit on any ship is the internet café. This isn’t your neighborhood Starbucks offering overpriced coffee beverages with free web surfing. No, the internet cafes on a ship charge for both the drinks and the internet usage and they usually break down the cost of internet access by blocks of minutes. A typical price structure might include 15 minutes of access for $10 or 60 minutes for $30. A low cost alternative is to wait until the ship docks at a port, exit the ship, and then look for a place selling internet access. The fees are much lower than those charged by the ship. But unless you really need to check your Yahoo account, internet should be avoided while cruising, both on and off the ship. Besides, with the amount of time we all spend online in an average week, some time away will do us good.
Spa Visits: Rarely a part of the all- inclusive price, spa treatments and similar services can be quite costly- multiple times more expensive than the same treatment would cost you at a local spa near your home. The same is true of the cost to get hair styling- ships offer this and other like services, but they carry a huge premium. Again, unless you really feel the need to relax in the spa or get extensions added, try to avoid these overpriced services.
Laundry: Washing, drying, and ironing services are offered on most cruise ships because customers often want them. But this convenience carries a premium cost that can be avoided with some simple pre- planning or alternative measures. Passengers should try to bring enough clothing to last the entire trip or, if they run out of clothing, should consider hand- washing their clothing and hanging to dry. Many ships also offer dry cleaning service, but unless you really need your favorite suit dry cleaned for the evening dinner, the cost simply isn’t worth it.
Cruising is generally a cost effective way to vacation, but passengers need to remember that cruise ships are also in business to make money. Part of the reason the initial cost to cruise is set so relatively low is because the cruise ship knows that you and your family will most definitely purchase a few extras while on board. They hope, of course, that you purchase lots of extras and as you can see from the numbers above, the total cost of these “extras” can easily exceed the initial cost of the cruise, thereby doubling the overall cost for your family vacation.
Everyone should have fun and not stress over money while on vacation, but the cruise experience is unique in that so many services and activities are going to add to the overall cost in spite of the promotion that a cruise is “all inclusive.” Worse, passengers are often completely unaware of just how much they have spent until the last day, when they see the total bill. The total can be checked at any time, but many passengers neglect to look and are then sticker- shocked when they have to settle the overall tab.
No one wants to see the cost of their vacation double, so if you decide to cruise, keep these and other cost saving tips in mind and limit your activities to just a couple shore excursions, a single night of gambling, one or two photos, etc. There are still plenty of no- cost options on a cruise and families should take advantage of as many as they can. A little bit of pre- planning, combined with some self discipline, can make your next cruise vacation one of your more enjoyable, and one of your most economical.
Next up: Cruising FAQ’s: Answers to some of the more common cruising concerns
Copyright 2012, Bryan Carey