How Much Does a Cruise Cost?

Estimating your cruise costs can lead to saving on your next cruise
Knowing all the possible cruise costs is the first step to saving on your next cruise. | Author: Pixabay

Cruises continue to offer the best value when it comes to traveling, and the perks really can’t be beat. Anyone who has taken a multi-city (or multi-country) trip can attest to the planning, coordination, and cost associated with major vacations. The idea of getting to explore different places while unpacking once is one of the cruise industry’s biggest bonuses. However, getting the most out of your cruise means more than finding the lowest cruise prices. Seasoned cruisers stress the importance of staying sensible when it comes to shipboard spending, and being aware of what may not be included in that super-low cruise fare.

We’ve taken a look at some of the most frequently overlooked cruise costs, and we’re here to break down some of the hidden costs of cruises.

What’s included in the cruise price?

One of the mistakes first-time cruisers make is taking the amazing prices for cruise tickets advertised online as literally all-inclusive. So, what’s actually included in the price?

Cruise Fare

The advertised ticket price covers accommodation for one person on that particular sailing. That’s it. Normally, it also includes some meals, some beverages, and it may include some entertainment while on board - but not always

Cruise ship ticket prices can also vary widely, even for the same sailing. Three primary factors influence the price of a cruise:

1. Cruise Lines

Mainstream cruise lines tend to offer larger ships and lower prices, while luxury cruise lines are more expensive and have fewer (but larger) cabins.

2. Cabin Type

All cabin types were not created equal. Interior cabins can be as much as 10 times cheaper than the swankiest suites on the same sailing. In 2017, for example, we saw interior cabins on a 12-night Great Barrier Reef cruise on Celebrity Solstice priced at $2,349. The penthouse suite on the same cruise? A cool $29,725. 

3. Where you go (and when)

Generally speaking, Caribbean cruises tend to be cheaper than more adventurous or remote locations. For example, the average total cost of a 7-night Caribbean cruise per person ranges between $1500 and $2000, while the same cruise to Alaska may shift that whole price range up $500. To get a deeper insight you can check out this comparison of the cheapest cruise lines for a Caribbean cruise in 2019. Timing also matters: a Mediterranean cruise during the summer will be significantly more expensive than one in March, when the high season begins, or October, when it ends.

A cruise ship docked at a pier
The cruise costs depends on when and where you are going. | Author: Jan Simon

It’s also worth noting that cruise fares are always listed per person, not per cabin. Even prices listed on cabin types are calculated per person. An interior cabin for the bargain price of $299 with two guests will wind up costing a total of $598 before taxes and fees. 

“Okay, Cruisewatch,” you might say, “That’s all well and good, but I’m a lone wolf. I like my cruises like I like my intergalactic smugglers - solo.” We hate to be the bearers of bad news (especially because we appreciate sci-fi puns as much as the next digital cruise advisor), but single passengers can expect to pay a premium of at least 150% of the advertised cruise price. 

Before you cry foul, this cruise practice isn’t the nickel-and-diming it’s cracked up to be. Just like airlines sell individual seats, cruises sell individual accommodation in double-occupancy cabins. So, one person in a cabin is akin to one person taking up two seats on a flight. It may not seem fair, but as we’ll see below, the average additional revenue generated by even one passenger is pretty significant. For this reason, solo cruisers should expect to pay anywhere between 150% and 200% of the advertised cruise price.

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What’s not included in the cruise price?

The sheer amount of extras and goodies available to cruise guests can make budgeting in advance difficult, but it’s worth it. The spontaneity of a splurge may seem harmless enough on the ship, but avoiding the comedown of post-vacation sticker shock is only possible with planning. When you’re figuring out how much your cruise costs, be sure to account for the following additional costs.

1. Taxes, fees, and cruise port expenses

Should taxes and fees be included in the advertised cruise price? Probably. But until that paradigm shift happens in the cruise industry, the work of calculating the additional cost falls squarely on the consumer. Here’s the brass tacks of what you need to know:

  • Taxes are assessed regardless of your port of embarkation (aka port of departure). Some taxes may go back to the embarkation port, while some may go to the country where the cruise ship is registered. 

  • Port fees may be itemized on their own, or may be lumped in with “taxes and fees” on your receipt. These are fees the port charges the cruise line, which are then passed to you, the passenger. Port fees are based on the number of people on a cruise, as opposed to how much you spent on your ticket. Different ports charge different fees. For example, the fee for a Caribbean port may be half the fee for an Alaskan port for the same number of people. 

  • All taxes and fees are charged in advance, including port fees. If you miss a port due to inclement weather or other extenuating circumstances, the fee for that port may be credited back to you in part or whole, usually as onboard credit. 

How much do taxes, fees, and cruise port expenses usually cost?

This largely depends on the cruise line and destination, but you can generally estimate an additional $100 to $200 per person in taxes and fees. 

2. Flights and transportation to & from the cruise ship

Even if you live in the port city from which you’ll depart (assuming it’s the same one to which you’ll return), you’ll still have transportation costs associated with getting yourself to the gangway. More likely, you’ll need to factor in the cost of flights, airport transfers, hotels, and/or parking. Some cruise lines may offer additional transfer packages at the time of booking (including flights), but these prices are also adjusted to include overhead for the additional manpower needed to coordinate travel. They can certainly save you a headache, but if your budget is your main concern, spending a few extra hours checking airfare, transfers, and hotels can save a lot of money.

View from the airplane window on the sea full of cruise ships
Flying to your departure port, you have to consider the transportation cost in addition to the cruise price. | Author: Rohit Rao

How much does transportation usually cost?

Not to sound like a broken record, but it ultimately depends greatly on your departure dates, how far in advance you’re able to book transportation and lodging, and where your cruise departs. Generally speaking, plan to spend around $500 per person for flights, with transfer costs averaging anywhere between $20 and $100 per person.

3. Alcoholic beverages & specialty coffees onboard

With the exception of many luxury cruises and, somewhat oddly, Norwegian Sky, prepare to pay for all alcoholic drinks and specialty coffees while on the ship. Many cruise lines also charge for sodas and bottled water, at least outside of meal times. 

When it comes to coffee, regular brewed or drip coffees are more likely to be included. Specialty coffees, on the other hand, like lattes, cappuccinos, or blended coffees are considered premium, and charged as such. 

Take a look at this breakdown of cruise lines based on upcharges for coffee drinks, and see if you can spot the pattern.

Premium Coffee Drinks Cost Extra Premium Coffee Drinks Included
Carnival Cruise Line Oceania
Royal Caribbean Regent Seven Seas
Norwegian Cruise Line
Princess Cruises
Celebrity Cruises
Disney Cruise Line

We’ll give you a hint: as a general rule, the more expensive the cruise ship tickets, the cheaper the drinks. This is mainly due to the fact that luxury cruise lines do not rely as much on revenue from food and beverage sales. Mainstream cruise lines, on the other hand, have a habit of upselling, partially in order to keep base cruise prices low.

Many cruise lines offer drink packages both in advance and on board. Whether you’re on a family vacation or a booze cruise, these packages can occasionally help to soften the sticker shock of drink prices. Be sure to read the fine print, though, as not every drink package is the deal it may seem. 

One final note: bottled water is almost never included in the cruise price, but may be included in some drink packages. Before shelling out for a $4 bottle of Evian, remember that the tap water onboard is both free and totally safe to drink. If you need distilled water for medical needs, be sure to discuss your needs with your cruise ship representative well in advance. Otherwise, be prepared to pay extra.

How much do alcoholic beverages and specialty coffees usually cost?

Again, the costs vary by cruise line and sailing, but expect to pay an average of $5 to $12 per drink

4. Gratuities and service charges on the cruise

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the policy, the fact is that many cruise staff members rely on tips and gratuities. These days, most of the gratuities you’ll be expected to pay will automatically be added to all onboard purchases. The standard cruise gratuity is 15%, though this is adjustable in your onboard account. It’s important to note that you do not have to pay these gratuities, but if you enjoyed the service from your stateroom and dining staff, you should pay them. 

Daily service charges go to your stateroom attendant and server, and will either be billed to your shipboard account or prepaid at the time of booking. All other gratuities for bartenders, guides, etc., will be added to your bill afterward. 

The exception is your porter, or the person who carries your luggage on and off the ship. Porters do not receive a percentage of the total gratuities, but should still receive a small tip. Bring enough cash to tip your porter $1 to $4 per person, or $1-2 per bag. It’s not required, but it is a nice gesture to show your appreciation for their work. 

How much do gratuities and service charges usually cost?

This really depends on how generous you want to be and how good the service was, but you can roughly estimate around $13 per person per day.

5. Ship Internet Access and WiFi

Internet access onboard cruise ships has been a notorious sore spot for years. The good news is that cruise lines seem to be improving their connections all the time, with some boasting better speeds than on land. However, cruisers who want to share their experiences on social media or stay connected with family, friends, or work aren’t likely to find bargain deals on cruise ship WiFi

This is partially due to the complexities that also plague airlines - the difficulty of maintaining a consistent connection while in transit, even crossing multiple national borders, remains a tough challenge for cruise lines. 

Normally your choice of shipboard internet packages falls into two categories:

  • Flat daily rate: Basically, you pay for each day you want to connect to the Internet. These packages usually start at $8.99 per day and increase from there.

  • Metered: With this option, you pay either by the minute or by the megabyte. Either way, the cost can add up fast, so you’ll need to monitor your usage very closely. 

Some cruise lines, like Norwegian Cruise Line, are also beginning to offer Internet packages specifically for social media. Their “Freestyle Choice Plans” distinguish between certain apps and websites to cater to cruise passengers’ needs. 

Other cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, focus on providing the highest quality connection possible. VOOM, the Internet aboard Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ships, is fast and consistent, but with a price tag to match. 

A woman using the internet and WiFi on a cruise with her mobile phone
Internet packages are a cost that you should take into account in your spending. | Author: Adrienn

How much does cruise ship internet and WiFi usually cost?

Honestly, by far the cheapest option is simply to disconnect. If that isn’t an option, prepare to pay a flat daily rate of at least $9 per day, or metered rates averaging 75 cents per minute or 35 cents per megabyte

6. Specialty restaurants on the cruise ship

If spending every meal in the buffet or main dining room sounds like a little too much, or if you simply want to experience some world-class cuisine, specialty restaurants are a great option. They’re also one of the many places on the ship where it’s easy to overspend. 

As cruise ships expand their culinary repertoire to include tastes from around the world, cruisers have the chance to try adventurous, delectable dishes they might not otherwise encounter. Budgeting for these indulgences means you don’t have to miss out on anything, so check out what your cruise ship has on offer before tallying up the final costs for your vacation.

How much do specialty restaurants usually cost?

Depending on how often you’d like to frequent them, specialty restaurants can cost from $35 and upwards per person

7. Extra activities and shore excursions

For many, the idea of a day in the cruise ship spa seems dreamy and serene. But it’s harder to reconcile the picture of calm many ship spas advertise with the average price of $120 for a 50 minute massage - before tip. It’s not only the spa treatments, either. Extra activities like cooking or fitness classes don’t come cheap, and it’s easy to spend more than you meant to in the cruise ship souvenir shops, mall, or casino. Families with young children may also need to budget for babysitting services or kids activities. Shore excursions are also rarely included.

Here’s the breakdown on shore excursions and tours:

  • Free: Explore on your own. Most port cities have plenty to do within walking distance from the ship, though it’s best to remember that if you want to pick up a souvenir or a meal, you’ll have to pay for those.

  • Most budget-friendly: Guided walking tours. Nothing beats touring a new city with a friendly and knowledgeable guide to share insights and show you the best spots. If you’re traveling on a multinational cruise, these tours will typically be in English, or will offer English translations.

  • Most expensive: Adventure tours like helicopter rides, hot air ballooning, or Grand Prix racing, or tours that include meals or wine tastings. 

How much do extra activities and shore excursions usually cost?

As always, it depends on what you want to spend your time doing, and how much structure you want doing it. On average, walking tours cost around $50 per person, while luxury or adventure tours cost an average of $400 per person

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Costs that add up while on the cruise ship

Category Mainstream Cruise Premium Cruise Luxury Cruise
Beverages $3.65 $4.48 $5.03
Beverage Packages $56.86 $38.58 $34.35
Tips (per person/per day) $13.61 $13.50 $13.83
Specialty Dining $36.00 $36.00 $33.00
Shore Excursions $75.00 $57.97 $74.33
Spa (50 mins) $113.00 $137.00 $144.00
Fitness Class $12.00 $11.67 $12.00
Photo $22.98 $26.98 $22.98
Additional expenses that increase the cost of a cruise

In short, you can see that the average cruise price per person depends strongly on the cruise itself and the personal on board preferences. But with a little planning you can easily calculate your individual cruise cost. 

Cruise cost visualized in a world map surrounded by money
Cruising around the world, you can easily save some money with our cruise price tips | Author: Christine Roy

How to save more on your cruise

Here are four of our tips on how to save the most on your cruise:

1. Choose the right time to book your cruise

Timing your cruise right can save you thousands of dollars, and can give you a better all-around experience. Booking early will give you more options at the same price point. Don’t worry - if fares drop later, you may be able to save some of your money by canceling and rebooking your cruise. 

2. Choose the right region for your next cruise

It’s possible to save up to 71% on your cruise based on the region you’re sailing and when you book. Repositioning cruises (when a cruise ship sets sail from one port and arrives at another) also tend to be cheaper. 

3. Take advantage of perks and rewards from cruise lines

Signing up for rewards or loyalty programs with cruise lines can also offer discounts or extra onboard credit. Some cruise lines may even offer “cash back” rebates on the price of your cruise ticket. 

4. Consider an agent to book your next cruise vacation

Occasionally, booking directly through the cruise line can mean paying a premium. Booking through a travel agent can offer not only more personalization and cruise expert tips, but also money-saving cruise hacks to keep you and your wallet happy.

Check out these articles for more information on the costs of cruising: