Have you ever seen a commercial for a cruise? Everyone is frolicking in the pools on the deck of the ship while zipping down waterslides. There’s a quick shot of a couple eating a delightful dinner with white linen table cloths and expert servers unloading endless dishes of fanciful cuisine. Finally, a view of the couple visiting an exotic location taking in the splendor of a mind-blowing vacation. When the 30-second advertisement is over it looks remarkable and leaves you feeling guilty for not taking your family to go and explore the world by cruise. Or is that just me?
I just took my first cruise after enduring hundreds of television advertisements and countless people telling me how much my kids and I are going to love it! Since I view the world from a financial perspective (I can’t help it, it’s what I do), I thought I would break down the not so hidden costs of cruises. Here are the things I want you to know financially before taking the cruise.
Just know when paying for the cruise, that the cost you see flashing on your computer screen is not the whole cost. Cruise ships will advertise low rates to fill up their ships. The financial wizards behind the massive entities that own cruise ships know their bottom line and know what they must sell in order to keep the company running. Be ready, because the costs are just beginning to pile up.
Cruise ships will offer several choices for unlimited dining and then reserve certain restaurants listed as “adult-only” or “specialty dining” for extra. How much extra you ask? In some cases, brunch can cost $75 per person and dinner from $125 per person. So, if you grab a few specialty lunches and two special nighttime dinners, you can easily spend an additional $800 without trying too hard. Specialty beverages (soda, beer, cocktails) are not included as part of your cruise either and drink packages can be $30-$60 a day per person. So, for a 5-day cruise that could be an extra $300!
Spa services will very likely be advertised when you book before your trip and all over your ship. It’s easy to have the mentality of, “I am on vacation, so I am going to splurge!” A basic one-hour massage can range from $118 to $300. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that someone would get one of those services and for two people this could be up to $250 and after tip let’s round it up to $300.
Typically, there is a show or entertainment included in the cost of your cruise experience. But little things like candy, drinks, and popcorn can be extra and they can absolutely add up and it’s not cheap! I saw people spending $25-$75 on pre-show snacks so I figure there are some families spending extra over the course of a week especially considering most ships offer one show per night.
As I mentioned earlier your meals are mostly included. Yet the gratuity is not, so be ready for that hidden cost. The room you stay in has a team of professionals to clean and prepare your room every day. When dining out you will have a team of servers to help with your dining experience. Tipping is something you need to be ready for and it can add up. There are exceptions where gratuities can be automatically added to your bar tab or spa treatment. It is common that the total gratuity per person is about $17 per day. So, if you are on a 5-day cruise with a family of 4 that’s an extra $340! What I found surprising is those gratuities were automatically added to my credit card. I just wish I was prepared for this unexpected cost!
The Wi-Fi experience I endured was a disaster, so please heed my warnings! When I got onto the cruise ship, I knew it was going to be an extra fee and didn’t panic too much when I saw their largest data package was only $89 for 1,000 MB of data. However, I did panic when my data was gone in less than 24 hours! Yes, gone in less than one day. After talking to the ship services team, they explained you need to log in, get your information through Wi-Fi and then log out. Leaving your Wi-Fi on (as we do normally on land) will chew up your available megabytes of data with regular email checks, text messages or Wi-Fi based game applications. Be sure to log in and use sparingly! 1,000 MB without the kids or another partner to share it with worked for me for one week. If you have a few people using Wi-Fi it could be reasonable to assume that you will spend about $200 on Wi-Fi access.
The other costs most people are aware of include the excursions, transportation to and from the ship, and shopping/souvenirs at each stop. The average excursion per person can be anywhere from $50-$120. Typically, on a 5-day cruise, there are three stops. In this category, you can figure another added cost of $1,000 per family plus spending money for souvenirs at each stop.
If you look at all these hidden or added costs throughout this blog, it turns into an eye-popping $2,200+ in addition to the actual cost of the cruise! We always insist our client’s budget for their vacations. Part of the budgeting process is understanding the wide scope of costs that come with any trip as you plan it. Hopefully, this will help you think of all the costs involved with planning a big trip so you can plan for your family and still have a good time!
Michael Carlin, AIF®