Hidden Costs of Cruising: 2008 Update -part 3

| September 8, 2008

A cruise includes your stateroom, meals, itinerary and entertainment, but today there are many new onboard options -- for a price.

Onboard the Cruise Ship Onboard the ship you get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks whenever you want them with certain beverages included with each meal. You can even get room service delivered to your room for no additional charge, a service I have always thought justified the cost of a cruise in its own right. You also get free admission to all entertainment facilities, children's facilities, sports activities like rock climbing or miniature golf. When the ship docks you are free to walk off the ship and explore the destination on your own or book a tour with a local operator. Or you can purchase shore excursions from the cruise line with the confidence that they will get you back to the ship on time.

When you check in, you are given a magnetic strip "key card" which gives you entrance to your stateroom. It also becomes your onboard "charge card" that will get swiped anytime you want to charge something onboard -- a cocktail, for example. During check-in they will take an impression of a credit card to cover your onboard account expenses and charge this card the day you leave the ship. The night before you leave you will receive a copy of your onboard charges. Be sure to read it carefully. If you need to dispute any charge go to the passenger services desk immediately.

What kinds of charges can you expect to pay for at the end of the cruise? Briefly, you will pay for alcoholic beverages and soda pop, your gift shop purchases, any gambling you may do, small charges for special treats like gelato or espresso, service charges for the gourmet restaurants onboard and spa services like massage or haircuts. You will be strongly urged, and in some cases required, to pay gratuities, unless the cruise line specifically states they are not expected.

Gratuities: The policy on most contemporary cruise lines is that tipping is optional but expected. Most will automatically charge about $9.50 per person per day for gratuities to your onboard account. These fees are broken down as $3.50 for your room steward, $3.50 for your waiter, $1.50 for your busboy and $1.00 for your Maitre 'D.

The policy of charging tips to your onboard account came about in the early 2000s to replace the practice of leaving envelopes in your stateroom. You were expected to fill these envelopes with cash on the last night and hand them directly to your wait staff. This was an admittedly clumsy and inconvenient practice. Either you kept aside some $300 in cash for the entire cruise or you had to find dollars someplace during the cruise, which could be challenging when sailing in the Caribbean or Europe.

Adding gratuities to your onboard account makes the whole practice of tipping much less complicated -- unless you want to dispute the amount. If you are truly unhappy with the service of a specific individual on some cruise lines you can elect to go to the front desk and have the amount of your tips reduced.

On some cruise lines this is no longer an option -- they are service fees, not gratuities. If this is important to you, you should double-check the policy with the cruise line web site before you book. We don't generally advocate that people reduce gratuities, so we are not going to list cruise line policies here. The truth is that your graIf you are unhappy with a certain individual tell his manager and state it in your comment card, but don't reduce your tips unless you truly think the entire service experience was abyssmal.

Beverages: When it comes to what you drink, your cruise fare includes lemonade, some fruit juices, regular coffee and iced tea. If you order an alcoholic beverage you will pay anywhere from $4.25 to $7.50 plus a service fee of 15% to 18%. A soda might be $2.50.

Some cruise lines offer alcoholic drink "setups" for your stateroom where $60 gets you a bottle of spirits and six cans of your preferred mixer. Some cruise lines offer wine packages where one price gets you a different bottle of wine served with every evening meal. Some cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine onboard, but if you want to drink it at the dinner table you will be charged a corkage fee from $10 to $25 depending on the cruise line. For more details see our article on cruise line alcohol policies.

The good news is that if you drink the wine in your cabin you will not be charged the corkage fee -- a good reason to spurge on that veranda cabin. Some people have suggested filling your wineglass in your cabin and carrying it to your dining room table. You won't be charged if you do this, but you are limited to the one glass since getting up with an empty glass and coming back with a full one in the middle of dinner will attract attention.

Poolside, you can save a little on beer by buying a "bucket o' beer" which is literally six bottles on ice in a pail. This will generally get you six bottles for the price of five.

If you love soda pop then children and adults can get unlimited soda passes for fees that vary by the length of your cruise. Adults generally pay $6.00 per day and children are charged $4.50 per day. This is good if you are not supervising your children 24-hours/day. Some kids have been known to spend hundreds of dollars just on Cokes.

Most cruise lines do allow you to bring a 12-pack of your favorite soda or water onboard. Not Beer! This varies by cruise line and once again that information is in our article on cruise line alcohol policies.

Continue Article >> Other Little Pleasures (Part 4)

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