Are cruises expensive? Not if you avoid these costs!

Are cruises expensive?

We always talk about cruising as being a really economical way to travel. You can see the world without paying for multiple flights, transfers, meals out, activities etc. A perfect holiday which you can budget for pretty easily, and is great for all the family. However, there are hidden cruise costs that you need to know so you don’t get hit with a huge unexpected bill at the end of your vacation…read on to avoid any nasty surprises!


Parking Fees

Depending where you’re cruising from, you’ll want to check out the charges for leaving your car at the port. It will generally be cheaper to get public transport if possible, or if you’re sailing from Southampton, UK, the cruise companies often have deals on parking for guests, as do local hotels. Check these out first before you arrive.

parking lot

Beverage Packages

Depending on the cruise line, you may find that you are pressured into purchasing a beverage package on board. Before you do anything, crunch your numbers! If you or your kids are big soda drinkers, it may be worth getting this package as most families find it works out well for them (check what’s already included first though, there are usually some soft drink options – fruit cordial, iced tea –
included in your fee). However, when it comes to alcohol, how many drinks do you have every day? If you are on holiday mode and plan on having cocktails by the pool throughout the day, and then drink through the evening, it’s probably a great purchase for you. If you’re someone who just has a glass of wine or two with dinner, then maybe avoid this and look into the wine packages – they usually have a deal where you can pre-purchase several bottles which they keep for you each evening.

Sadly, due to cheapskates purchasing one package for a couple, cruise lines have got smart and had to restrict their beverage packages in a way that if one adult in a cabin purchases it, both have to have it. It sucks if only one of you is a drinker, but what can I say, blame the lowlifes for that one! If you have a medical reason you can’t drink alcohol, this will usually be taken into consideration, FYI.

Another tip for you here, most cruise companies allow you to bring a bottle of wine on board per person. Open it in your cabin to avoid corkage fees. For more tips like this one, check out my cruise tips for first time cruisers (it will open in a new page so you can jump back to continue this post!)


Shore Excursions

Purchasing a shore excursion through the cruise company comes with several advantages. They guarantee that the ship won’t leave without you, they have tried and tested tour guides and they have direct contact with the ship, should it be necessary. Basically, it’s peace of mind.

However, you will be paying a premium for this. You can book your own tour which does a very similar (if not exactly the same) attractions, for a fraction of the cost, if you do your own research. Generally speaking, these guys know what they’re doing, they do it day in and day out with every cruise line. They have their schedules down to a tee to ensure you’re back at the ship in plenty of time. You can choose to pre-book, or just wing it when you get to the port and negotiate then and there. Just make sure you’re aware of exchange rates and know in advance what you’re prepared to pay, and confirm the price with the tour operator (or even a taxi) before you leave.

Check out these posts if you’re looking for shore excursion ideas in Sydney or Melbourne.

Shore excursion

Boutique Sales

It’s true, you can get some amazing shopping deals on ships, especially when you utilize the duty-free sales. I have a lot of Swarovski jewelry which were a steal from my cruises…but you need to know the original price first. The staff are fantastic at telling you what a great deal you’re getting, when actually, you’re not! Do your research first, find out what stores are on your specific ship, then look them up online to get an idea of cost for whatever item you’re interested in. Then, when you’re in holiday mode, free ‘champagne’ in hand, you won’t be persuaded to purchase that item you could have bought from the airport at half the price!

If you’re looking for some cruise-related gifts whilst we’re waiting to get back on board, check out these awesome ideas which will bring a smile to any cruise addict’s face!

jewellery sale


Aside from the high-end boutique cruise lines, every other ship loves to pap you…as often as possible! It can be quite annoying, not going to lie! I’m not a fan of posed photos, so being told to get up in the middle of my dinner to move around for a cute family photo is really not my thing…but hey, each to their own.

For some families, it’s a rare chance to update that 5 year old photo hanging over your fireplace with everyone in the same place, nicely dressed up and smiling! If this is you, go for it, and maybe even book in for a family session. If it’s not you, feel free to refuse the cameras, because each 5×7 will cost you around US$20 to purchase, and do you really need/want it?! Get a friendly cruise guest to take some pics for you after dinner instead and save the dollars!

cruise photographer               Photo courtesy of Seven Seas Photo


There’s one rule to remember with this one..the house ALWAYS wins!

I understand people love casinos and get real enjoyment from the risk, and that’s absolutely fine, I’ve had a flutter myself a few times. But make sure you enter with a cap fixed in your head. Never play more than you can afford to lose, and don’t think you will ‘win it back eventually’…chances are, you won’t.


Single Supplement

If you’re travelling alone, you’re likely going to get hit with a single supplement from most cruise lines. This is a cost for not filling both beds in the cabin, as the ship is losing out on that second revenue stream. It sucks, it’s unfair, but it is what it is.

That said, you can find deals for solo travellers out there. Some boutique cruise lines will offer a 50% discount on the supplement in various sales throughout the year – although you may have to ask for it. Azamara are pretty good with this, so check them out if you’re looking for a mid-sized ship.

Both Royal Caribbean and NCL have single cabins, which don’t have the supplement attached, but the cost is still more than 50% of their entry level cabin…however, they’re good cabins and worth checking out.

Royal Caribbean Super Studio               Royal Caribbean Super Studio


This is usually the fastest way to run up a massive bill! Whilst cruise lines are getting better with the service they offer and some having a free texting service so you can keep track of the kids through their apps, mostly you will be charged a crazy amount to be online…and that can be on top of your own roaming charges if you’re not savvy enough to switch off mobile roaming on your phone.

Work out what the packages are, how much you really need to be connected (a holiday is a great time to have a social media detox!) and utilize the free port hot spots when you dock to reduce your costs on board.


Port Shopping

Many cruise lines will have lectures dedicated to shopping in your upcoming ports. The host will give you their ‘secret’ insights, take you to the ‘best’ places for ‘amazing deals’… Don’t be fooled. These hosts work on commission and they’re taking you to stores that pay them to do so. You’ll be lured in with a ‘free’ item, but good luck getting out without buying something first.

Even if you’re shopping in port alone, you may find stores with signs outside welcoming your cruise ship. Very sweet gesture hey…but they are smart business people. They believe that everyone is cashed up if they’re on a cruise, and you won’t be getting the ‘discount’ they tell you are, because they’ve probably marked up the price in the first place. Now look, this doesn’t apply to everyone, there are some times when you’ll find something awesome and at a decent price…but just be aware that mostly, the opposite will be true.

port shopping

Specialty Restaurants

Food is without doubt one of the highlights of any cruise. It’s plentiful, it’s varied and it’s delicious! There are so many included options, from the main restaurant, a buffet, cafes and fast-food style outlets, but there’s more… Each ship will have 2-5 specialty restaurants too. These usually include a steak house and an Italian and they’ll be around $20-$50 per person.

Personally I really love the specialties. The level of service is a step up, the food is outstanding and it’s a nice change of scenery from the usual eateries if you’re on board for more than a few days. However, if you’re on a budget, this is an expense you can probably do without. Check out the specials on the menu in the Main Restaurant, sometimes they’ll have a couple of dishes from the Steakhouse which you can purchase for just a few extra dollars, instead of the full specialty cost, and the buffets will often have a station set up with something a little different which is always worth checking out too.

specialty restaurant

Mini-bar/Room Service

You’re on holiday, what’s better than grabbing a drink from the mini bar or ordering dinner in bed to chill and watch a movie? Well…probably not the bill that comes with it.

Minibar bills are crazy in any hotel, we’re kinda used to that one, but sadly the room service cost is relatively new to cruise lines. Again, due to people being dumb and ordering obscene amounts of food, or getting to their rooms drunk and ordering 3 pizzas, but falling asleep before it arrives, the cruises had to make some changes. By adding a charge it makes people give a little more consideration before they order. It’s often only after 10pm or on certain items, but check before you order or you could be in for a shock when you see all the built-up charges.

Remember also, there is usually an outlet for you to get food late at night which you can grab to take back to your room – it saves the wait as well as the cost!

mini bar


Ok, so I know this post is all about costs you should avoid, but this is not one of them. I’ve heard every argument under the sun as to why guests don’t think they should pay it, and whilst I agree with some points (yes, the cruise company should pay them more), I still believe they need to be tipped. The crew work their butts off to give guests the holiday of a lifetime. They are away from their own families in order to look after yours. They will remember your name, your preference and go out of their way to help you any way they can. If you did that for someone, wouldn’t you like to get rewarded for it? This is the service industry, like it or not, it works on tips…pay up! It will likely be included in your cruise fare somewhere along the line anyway, transparent or not, just make sure it’s in your budget.

If you want more Dos and Don’ts of cruising, check out this post now!

Cruise staff                 Photo courtesy of


Wrap Up

Have I forgotten anything? Let me know any expenses which came as a surprise to you, or which you always avoid when you’re on board. Also, did you find any of these useful?

Feel free to share to your fellow Cruisers!

Thanks for reading – see you next time!

Wendy A x

Pin for later

are cruises expensive

Sharing is caring!

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Totally agree with you, especially on the gratuities. We do the included and always make sure that we have cash to give extra to our cabin stewards, wait staff etc. They deserve every penny. We always do private tours, too. More personal, small groups, and half the costs. We’ve had great private tours. I don’t do the spa treatments but I’ve noticed that they are very expensive. On some cruise lines there is pressure to purchase their spa products as well.

    1. Hi Dodie, Thank you for taking the time to comment! Yes, the private tours can be fabulous and completely bespoke to you too. I agree with Spa treatments too, if you do the tour on the first day you can sometimes get a special offer, but mostly they are pretty up there, you’re usually better getting a treatment in a port! Hope you’re doing well and keeping safe x

  2. Hi Wendy, I have been catching up on your posts and you are as always spot on with your suggestions, observations and ideas. Each post is filled with great information to facilitate future cruises as well as great reference points to reflect on about past cruises. You have a very fresh, positive way of communicating through your posts and they are always appreciated!

    1. Thank you so much Steve, really appreciate your support and kind words! I hope you’re keeping well. W.

Leave a Reply

Follow by Email