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Onboard Costs – Keeping spending costs down

Not too long ago, cruises were all-inclusive.  Paying a single price covered all of your on board expenses.  However, this has changed and today your fare can be surprisingly low compared to the total bill at the end of your trip.

With so many different extra cost options, you will need to manage these items, activities and services as you go along; if you want to keep expenses down.  All-inclusive fares include accommodation, meals and entertainment.  This makes sense since cruise ships make most of their money through the extras the sell on board.  No you understand why they do everything they can to convince passengers to buy their photos, book for spa sessions, reserve on shore excursions, attend art auctions, make on board store purchases and visit the casino and bar.  The basic and initial price of your cruise may have been a bargain but you should exercise caution in terms of on board spending.

While on board, you will not need to carry any cash, credit cards or even your wallet around with you.  You will be issued with a single card that acts as a room key, boarding pass and spending card.  You may pay for anything on the ship with this single card.  This includes everything from refreshments and gift shop items to shore excursions, spa treatments and even art work.  Surcharges for alternative restaurants, internet access, ship to shore phone calls and casino chips can also be paid for with this card which can make it that much easier to lose track of how much you spend.

The quality of your cruise is not simply determined by how much you spend on all the extras.  There are plenty of ways in which you can stick to your budget and still have the time of your life.  One handy tip to remember is that many ships allow real time access to your on-board spending tab via the closed circuit TV in your cabin.  This kind of up-to-date bill helps you prevent over spending by allowing you to check in at any time.

Extra costs on board are just about everywhere you look.  

Airport transfers:

A round-trip airport shuttle transfer purchased through the cruise line is around $40 or more per person.  Another option that can help you save time and money is by taking a taxi.  Of course, it will depend on how far away from the ship you are.  Long distances are cheaper by shuttle but it also depends on how many passengers are travelling together.  The cost of a taxi is a single fee for everyone riding in the same vehicle.  The shuttle service charges a per person so this will also be a deciding factor.  Get quotes from various taxi companies before calculating the best possible option for you.


Alcoholic beverages are always extra no matter what you do.  The average prices on board are usually about the same as you could expect to pay at an upmarket on-shore bar.  Although they obviously prefer for you to buy you drinks from them, some ships allow passengers to bring their own wine aboard and have it served at dinner.  You will, however, be charged a corkage fee of about $10 per bottle.  Do not attempt to sneak on any liquor.  The cruise line will just confiscate it and return it to you when the trip comes to an end.  Opportunities for passengers to enjoy a free drink will be at occasions like The Captain’s Welcome Aboard party or you may receive a complimentary bottle if you are celebrating your anniversary.  The other good news is that alcohol discount packages are becoming increasingly popular and “wine-and-dine” promotions are spreading throughout various cruise lines.  For example, on a seven day cruise, a certain cruise line offers a package for $109 and the passengers receive one bottle of wine per day on board.

Soft drinks:  

Depending on the ship and cruise line, you can expect to pay between $3 and $5 for a soft drink.  If you tend to consume a fair amount of soft drinks every day, then you may wish to opt for a flat rate option.  Some cruise lines allow you to pay a set price and enjoy unlimited soft drinks.  This is particularly great for passengers with kids.  Alternatively, find out whether you will be able to take your own large bottles of soda along for the trip.


Bottled water can cost you as much as $6 per bottle on board.  Bring a bottle on board with you.  You can buy one in port or even on board.  However, instead of buying more water every time, rather refill the empty bottle with water from the tap in your cabin or from the fountains.  The water is free and perfectly safe for consumption.

Alternative and speciality restaurants: 

Most of the other dining establishments on board have a surcharge of anything from $15 to $40 per person, per meal.  The average surcharge is about $30 and it can be worth it for a meal or two while on board.  However, dining in the main room is free and the food is usually of a very high standard as well.  You are paying for your meals in the main dining room so you might as well enjoy them!  You can treat yourself to a trip to one of the other on board restaurants but don’t make it a regular affair if you want to stick to your budget.


Most ships allow you to purchase a certain number of minutes for a set price.  You may also have some included in your cruise fare.  Another great tip to help you save money is to read and compose emails offline if possible.  Only go online when you send and receive.  Also, some cruise lines offer package deals at a fixed price but you can save even more by visiting internet cafés while in port instead.  Ask one of the crew members where to find the nearest internet café in port.  Since they seek the same services, they will know the best places to go.  Remember that many public libraries offer cheap or even free internet access too.  You probably can’t use them to phone home but you can at least check your emails.

Ship to shore phone calls:  

Phoning home while on board is extremely expensive.  One minute can cost as much as $2 – $3!  An good alternative is to buy the internet package instead and use Skype to communicate with loved ones back home.  Your mobile phone should also work if you are close enough to land and as long as you have activated roaming before you depart on your trip.  An international calling card is a really cost effective option and you can use it every time you are in port.

Spa treatments: 

The spa services on board great but there is no reason to pay more when you can save simply by booking your treatments at the right time.  Spa treatments are usually offered at discounted rates while the ship is in port and they are a lot quieter during port days as well.  Do remember that spa staff are paid on a commission base which means that they are likely to try to sell their products to you after your treatment is complete.  That being said, don’t feel obliged to buy something unless you really like the product or the staff member did an exceptional job.  Many cruise lines offer products by Steiner Leisure.  Take a look at their prices online and you will find that they are usually a lot cheaper than those on board.  When choosing a treatment, choose something that you wouldn’t ordinarily get done at home.  Something as simple as a manicure can cost a lot more on board.  Get your nails done just before your trip and select a more exotic spa and unique treatment instead.  On the first day of your cruise, many spas offer a “tour day” where passengers are shown around the treatment rooms and told more about the products.  If you are particularly lucky, you could even get a free demo treatment!

Coffee bar:  

Regular coffee is included in your fare but anything special, like espressos and cappuccinos will cost you extra.  They usually cost the same as you would pay at an on shore café and pastries and speciality coffees are available between meals from speciality establishments on board.  Regular filter coffee and soft serve ice cream is usually free from the buffet so enjoy these options and perhaps a dessert after lunch to keep yourself from being tempted into buying a somewhat expensive snack.

Photos and videos:  

On-board professionals charge a pretty penny for photos and videos.  Now, while you don’t want to buy every picture offered to you, you may want to purchase one or two during your trip if they are particularly fantastic and capture the moment.  Of course, you can always take your own camera and get other passengers to snap a picture of you and your partner or family if you want to avoid paying high prices of up to $40 for a single photo!  That being said, if you do pose for a photo, you are under no obligation to purchase it and even if you just buy one, it is sometimes worth having a professional photo as a holiday souvenir.

Art auctions: 

Such events are usually held while you are out at sea in order to ensure a high attendance level.  They are usually set in a high traffic area of the ship so that passengers passing by are also attracted to the event.  While they can be all kinds of fun, you may want to avoid such temptation and free champagne.  Instead of bidding on any of the overpriced items, try to take a picture of the piece you like and look around on shore for something similar.

Shopping on board: 

There are some ships today that house more than just a shop or two.  They have mega-malls that put those of a small city to shame.  They often offer fair priced goods and can even prove cheaper than on shore stores thanks to the lack of taxes.  That being said, be wise while shopping and don’t buy anything just for the sake of it.  You could find the same or similar items even cheaper if you buy them online, for example.  Remember that on-board shops usually offer some great discounts while in port (if permitted by the local authorities) and on the final day of the cruise.  You can usually find the best deals on the last cruise of the season.


While it really is up to you, you will be better off buying something useful and practical.  Avoid clunky items that serve no real purpose other than the fact that they have the port name or ship name on them.  When shopping on shore, look for smaller local stores, stalls or craft markets instead of large commercial souvenir stores.  The smaller shops usually offer a more unique and authentic collection to choose from as well as lower prices.  Anything made from wood, seeds, shells or animal products should be inspected thoroughly prior to purchase.  Products made from these materials may be confiscated by customs if they have not been properly treated.


Passengers can expect to tip the crew while on board but they are in control of who and how much they tip.  It’s sometimes better to stick to the old-fashioned method but, if you are keen on convenience, you can opt for the prepaid option.  You can also give extra at the end of the cruise if you wish.  Remember that the crew members work extremely hard and their wages are not high at all.  Your tips are vital for their survival and make all the difference.  Check with your cruise line to find out what kind of system they use in terms of gratuities.  Some cruises charge an amount automatically at the end of your bill.  Even if the ship does implement these automatic charges, you can have them removed simply by asking.  Then, you can give each staff member a personal tip and you can decide just how much to give each one.


If you are on a budget and want to stick to it, you’re best bet is to steer clear of the casinos.  It is so easy to get lost in the colourful and noisy world.  Especially when you are buying chips on your on-board account!  If you can’t resist the urge, set aside a specific amount for gambling during your trip.  Plan to lose the money and, get out before you spend more than your set limit.


Playing bingo could cost you about $80 to $100 and the jackpot is only about $500.  The odds aren’t really in your favour to win and the prize is rather small to start with.  If you enjoy a game of bingo, then wait until later on in the cruise when your chances of winning are better and the prize is higher.  Besides, if you do manage to win on your first night or two, you will most probably end up spending it all before your trip is through.

Extra costs:  

Take the time to find out about any and all possible extra charges that could end up on your bill.  Examples may include surcharges, automatic gratuities, taxes on items purchased while not in international waters, port fees, other taxes and so on.  By making yourself wise to these charges, you can either avoid them completely or at least plan for them when calculating your budget.  Some charges, like port fees, are unavoidable and can be as much as a couple of hundred dollars.  Check your itinerary in this regard.


Laundry and dry cleaning services can cost a fair amount on board.  For instance, washing a t-shirt can cost $4 and a pair of underwear can cost $2 to wash.  Find out whether the ship has a self-service laundrette since it will be a lot cheaper (around $3 – $5 per load).  Some cruise lines also offer one day during the cruise where the wash one bag of laundry for a set fee of between $10 and $15.  Find out whether this is the case during your trip and save your laundry for that day.  Paying to have your laundry done for you will mean that you will have more time to enjoy your trip and it is returned to you clean, dry, pressed and folded!

Film and sundries:  

Make sure that you take plenty of film and other camera supplies along with you for the trip.  On board, the price is extremely high and, while an underwater camera could have cost about $15 back home, you can expect to pay about $30 on the ship.  Pain relief medication, sunscreen and other small personal items should also be packed for the trip in order to avoid paying high prices on board.  If you take a digital camera along and you aren’t all that skilled at downloading the images, you could ask the ship’s photographer to place them on a disc for as little as $10.  This will free up the memory on your camera and make room for you to take more.  Plus, discs are extremely small and easy to fit in your luggage.  Plus, you can email these pictures back home as well if you like.

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