How much does a cruise cost?
Budgeting for a cruise can be complicated. The advertised cruise fare is really only the starting point, to which you must add port fees and taxes (which vary by individual port), gratuities for the crew, port parking if you drive to the port, airfare and airport parking if you fly, and transfers to and from either the airport or a hotel (yet another additional cost).
After you add those up, you can begin to add onboard extras like specialty drinks or drink packages, Wi-Fi and food options that aren’t included in the cruise fare. And then there’s the cost of port activities to consider. Add it all up, and you might be amazed at how much your total travel costs have skyrocketed from the base cruise fare.
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To demonstrate how much a cruise really costs, I’m going to break things down so you can add up the costs that you would likely incur. Because cruise costs vary widely, I’ll use real examples from my recent seven-night cruise on Celebrity Cruises to the Mexican Riviera, coupled with averages.
How much is a typical cruise fare?
Cruise fares can be as cheap as $179 for a four-night Carnival cruise or as expensive as $11,000 per night for the top Regent Suite on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ newest ships.
On the low end, fares for the cheapest inside cruise cabins average between $50 and $75 per person, per night. Anything you can find below those prices is a major steal; popular sailings will likely be more expensive.
Cabins with a window will cost a bit more, and a balcony room will be almost double the cost of an inside room. Averages across the major cruise lines for balcony cabins fall between $100 and $150 per night most of the year. Suites and rooms on upscale or luxury cruise lines cost considerably more, but you get more for your money.
All cruise lines provide basics like transportation, accommodation, food at select restaurants for all meals, and a selection of entertainment and activities in the fare.
My Celebrity cruise cost $2,700 for two people in an AquaClass Sunset Verandah cabin. That breaks down to $193 per person, per night. It was a rear-facing balcony cabin, which is typically a higher price. AquaClass includes unlimited access to the ship’s thermal suite, two bottles of water supplied daily in the cabin, afternoon canapes and access to Blu, an exclusive dining room with a spa-oriented menu for breakfast and dinner.
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What extra costs might I incur?
Cruise fares for extra guests
In most cases, unless there is a special at the time you book your cruise, you will pay extra for having any number of guests in a cabin other than two. Third and fourth guests (or more if you book a large suite) pay a fare that is lower than the fare for the first two guests. Some lines run specials offering free or $99 third- and fourth-person fares from time to time.
Solo travelers usually pay a single supplement to make up for the lack of double occupancy in the room. The supplement can be equal to the cost of a second guest, but some lines offer deals for much less or have single cabins that do not include a supplement.
Port fees and taxes
Extra fees and taxes are part of your final cruise fare, but they usually aren’t included in the first price shown when you are cruise shopping. (They might be there, but in fine print). The amounts are based on the specific ports you will visit. The more ports your cruise visits and the longer it stays in port, the more you will be charged.
Some regions (like Alaska) tend to have higher port fees than others. Fees are also higher on larger ships because the cruise line is charged docking space based on size. Fees are lowest when ships tender rather than dock.
Here are average taxes and fees for large ships on seven-night cruises, based on the destination:
- The Bahamas, Caribbean and Mexico: $140 to $200 per person
- Europe: $50 to $100
- Alaska: $250 to $350 (but can be higher)
Taxes, fees and port charges on my Celebrity cruise totaled $186.45 per person. The ship called at Catalina Island, Cabo San Lucas and San Diego.
For comparison, my most recent Alaska cruise was a five-night sailing with only two ports of call. The taxes, fees and port charges totaled a whopping $373.64 per person. I recently booked a 15-night transatlantic sailing between Rome and Tampa, with four stops — three in Europe and one in the Bahamas. My bill shows taxes, fees and port expenses of only $139.65 per person.
Related: 11 extra charges on cruise ships that will drive you nuts — and what you can do about them
Most cruise lines give you the opportunity to pay crew tips at the time of booking. If you choose not to pay in advance, the auto-gratuity will be added daily to your onboard bill.
The current average for standardized tips is between $15 and $20 per person, per night, depending on the cruise line and the type of cabin you book.
Gratuities on my Mexican Riviera cruise on Celebrity were $17.50 per night, for a total of $245 for two people.
Related: 10 times you do not need to tip on a cruise
You can argue the pros and cons of insuring your cruise, but my basic advice is to insure it.
There simply are too many variables when it comes to cruising to leave it all up to chance. The medical coverage outside the country alone is reason enough to include this in your cruise budget.
I bought a cruise travel insurance policy for my Celebrity cruise through Squaremouth. The total cost for two people was $231.18. It was cheaper than what the cruise line offered and provided better coverage.
Obviously, you’ll need to pay extra to travel to your port of embarkation, whether that’s airfare, a ride-hailing service or parking and gas. Don’t forget to budget for transfers between the airport, hotel and ship if you’re not driving to the port and parking there.
On my Celebrity cruise, extra transportation costs included ride-hailing service from the airport to a pre-cruise hotel, from the hotel to the port and from the port to the airport at the end of the cruise. The transportation total was $155.71.
The hotel itself was booked using Wyndham Rewards Points, but you should budget for lodging if you book a pre- or post-cruise stay.
Food on board and in port
All cruise lines include meals at several onboard restaurants in their cruise fares, but most also give passengers plenty of ways to spend money on dining and snacks.
The most common dining expenses are for eating at specialty restaurants. These either charge a per-person fee to dine or price menu items a la carte. Dining at these restaurants is voluntary, but it’s easy to get tempted, especially on longer itineraries.
Specialty restaurant charges start as low as $18 per person (select restaurants on Carnival ships) and climb beyond the $200 mark (such as the New York Supper Club on Royal Caribbean’s new Icon of the Seas at $200 per person and the Collection dining option in Enchante on Disney Wish at $205).
Other extra food charges can be as simple as a fee for special menu items when dining in a complementary venue. For example, lobster in the main dining room on Celebrity ships will cost you $16.99, while a gigantic 40-ounce, bone-in tomahawk ribeye at Windstar Cruises’ Candles (a complimentary specialty eatery) will cost $50.
You might also spend money on extra-fee gelato, ice cream sundaes, fancy snacks or baked goods at onboard coffee shops.
Room service is also not free on many cruise lines. The room service menu in your cabin or in the ship’s app will state delivery fees and/or a la carte prices. Examples include $9.95 per delivery on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Norwegian Cruise Line ships; Royal Caribbean and Celebrity offer continental breakfast for free. Other lines skip the room service fee but charge a la carte for specialty items like breakfast smoothies or steak and eggs ($15, Holland America). Snacks in the in-room fridge/minibar incur a charge on most cruise lines.
Related: The ultimate guide to cruise ship food and dining
One last thing that people spend money on is food in port. Some excursions include meals, but if not, add a bit to your budget for a few treats — either food or drink. It’s a nice way to experience the culture of the destinations you cruise to. How can you visit Italy without grabbing a slice of pizza?
On my Celebrity cruise, I booked a cabin category that included breakfast and dinner in an exclusive specialty restaurant, so I did not pay for any food upcharges onboard. I did, however, buy a cookie in port on Catalina Island, so I spent $5 on extra food.
By contrast, on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise, we opted to dine at two specialty restaurants. Both were spur-of-the-moment decisions because we didn’t see anything on the main dining room menu that sparked our interest. Most specialty restaurants can be booked pre-cruise for a slight discount. Our total for the two meals, with wine and gratuities, was $249.36. Fixed-price specialty restaurants typically include everything but alcoholic drinks.
Nonalcoholic drinks like drip coffee, hot and iced tea, some sort of punch, juice, lemonade, milk (at mealtimes) and tap water will be included no matter which cruise line you choose. All other beverages will cost extra.
Soda costs extra on all big-ship cruise lines except Disney Cruise Line and will run you $4.50 to $6 when ordered individually. If you’re addicted to Diet Coke or other soft drinks, budget for a soda package, which gets you unlimited consumption for a flat daily rate.
For example, Royal Caribbean’s soda package is currently $12.99 per person, per day but can fluctuate during peak travel times. Carnival’s is $9.50 per day for adults. It may only take a few sodas per day to make the package cost-effective.
Bottled water (on lines that don’t include it) typically costs $3-$5 when purchased individually or as low as $9.95 for a case of twelve bottles delivered to your cabin (Carnival). The bottle of water left out in your cabin is likely not free unless you receive free water as a perk for being a member of the cruise line’s loyalty program or are in a cabin class that includes it.
Unless your cruise fare specifically states there are alcoholic beverages included, you’ll pay extra for beer, wine, cocktails and spirits in any venue onboard. You have the option to either purchase drinks as you go or buy a package. Beer prices are $7-$10 on most ships. Wine by the glass can be as low as $9 or as high as $25. Cocktails average between $10 and $17 on most ships but can be higher for specialty drinks or with premium call liquors. Wine by the bottle (which you can take to your cabin or finish at subsequent meals) starts around $25 and climbs steeply from there.
Most lines offer drink packages that cover alcoholic beverages up to a set amount per drink. Package prices can vary dramatically, depending on the itinerary and sailing dates. Expect to pay around $100 per person per day for a full cruise package, including tips. Carnival’s Cheers package will be a bit lower, and Norwegian’s Premium Plus Beverage Package is higher.
Lines that include some alcoholic drinks in the cruise fare usually offer a package to upgrade to premium drinks, which may have a broader choice of drinks or venues where they are available. An example of that is on Viking cruises, where the fare includes house beer, wine and sodas during lunch and dinner. If you want drinks other than at meals or that include call liquors, you can purchase a package for $25 per person, per night for the wider selection available at any bar at any time they are open.
An additional beverage cost to keep in mind is corkage fees for bottles of wine you bring onboard (within the cruise line’s limits). The fees run between $10 and $25 per bottle. On most ships, the fee is only charged if you take the bottle to the dining room or a bar to be opened and served there. NCL charges the corkage fee at embarkation, regardless of where you plan to consume the wine.
Related: How to get free or cheap drinks on a cruise
Other extras include smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices (often available at breakfast, either in the buffet or at eateries near the spa or solarium.) Costs for these can average nearly $10 on some lines but may be included in some beverage packages.
I carry my own water bottle that I fill at the drink stations, plus we had two bottles delivered each day in AquaClass, so I didn’t pay for any water on my Celebrity cruise. Also, because of our cabin class, smoothies were served daily at no charge in the exclusive Blu dining room.
I’m a happy tea drinker, so I don’t spend extra on specialty coffees or sodas. Celebrity allows you to bring two bottles of wine onboard per cabin. We drank those in our cabin to avoid the corkage fee (you can ask your cabin attendant for a bottle opener and two glasses). Celebrity offers free drinks in the casino while gambling, so my extra drink cost was zero.
Entertainment and attractions
While most onboard entertainment is free, you can expect to pay extra for a handful of over-the-top activities. Carnival Cruise Line’s rollercoaster, Norwegian Cruise Line’s go-karts and Royal Caribbean’s iFly skydiving experience are examples of extra-fee activities.
Also, expect to pay extra for video games, bingo, casino gambling, fitness classes and spa and salon treatments and services.
Spa, fitness and salon
You can easily run up a bill in the spa on most ships. Most mainstream cruise lines charge extra for access to their thermal suites, which include heated loungers, saunas, steam rooms, mood showers and sometimes pools or hot tubs not accessible to the public. Daypasses start at $30 per person (Carnival) to more than $40. Full-cruise passes are often available.
Services like massages, scrubs and wraps can soar well into the $200 per treatment range, and medi-spa offerings like acupuncture or teeth whitening are even more. Use of fitness equipment is complimentary, but classes or private time with a trainer will add to your bill.
Salon charges are likely to be higher than most of us pay at home, but a little cruise pampering never hurt anyone.
On my Celebrity cruise, our AquaClass stateroom granted us access to the thermal suite — one more bonus of choosing that room class. Spa staterooms are available on several other cruise lines, including Carnival and Holland America. I did not partake in any other spa or salon services on my Celebrity cruise, but for comparison, on a recent Windstar sailing, I had a Fire and Ice mani-pedi. The cost was $159 plus tip and included a delightful hand and foot massage.
Related: The 7 best cruise ship spas
Shore excursions and tours in port
Shore excursions are an extra charge on most cruises, though upscale, luxury and most river cruises include a selection of both complimentary excursions and extra-fee excursions. Pricing varies widely based on type of tour, duration and age of participant. You can book through the cruise line or arrange your own tour or excursion independently.
In most destinations, you can easily spend $100 or more per person for an excursion. Excursions in Alaska are considerably pricier than in the Caribbean. Activities involving airplanes or helicopters cost more, as do private tours arranged exclusively for your group. (Splitting a private tour with newfound cruise friends with similar interests can be a great way to save.)
Also watch out for destinations where the ship docks some distance from the city you are expecting to see. This happens frequently in Europe — Rome, Athens and Venice, for example. Some cruise lines will supply complimentary transfers between the port and the primary destination city, but others expect you to either find your own way or pay for an excursion to the destination city.
Related: Avoid these 10 mistakes when booking cruise shore excursions
Here’s my shore excursion tally from my Celebrity cruise:
- Whale Watch Cabo (booked independently): $180 for two people with a tip
- 5-hour private Jeep tour of the island with Catalina Taxi and Tours, including a stop at the island’s famous Airport in the Sky for spectacular island views: $875 for two people (this was comped for us by Love Catalina)
In total, I would have paid $1,055 for excursions (including the Catalina tour that I did not have to pay for), which is a modest budget for two people on a seven-night cruise. For example, on previous cruises in the Caribbean, I have spent over $400 per port for two people for activities like scuba diving, snorkeling or zip lining.
Onboard Wi-Fi is generally included in the cruise fare only on luxury lines and is offered in a variety of packages on all other lines. Be prepared for sticker shock: Onboard Internet packages, with or without streaming access, are expensive compared to what you pay for home Wi-Fi.
Premium Wi-Fi is a must for me. The cost during my cruise was $35 per device, per day. The cruise line provided it at no charge, but the total would have been $490.
Related: How can I get Wi-Fi on a cruise for free?
Cruise ships will do your laundry for you — for an extra fee, of course. You’ll find a laundry/dry cleaning bag in your closet or in a drawer. Charges for cruise ship laundry services range from $6 per piece for washing and ironing shirts to $15 for a dress. Some cruise lines have a fill-the-bag special that allows you to stuff a laundry bag with as much as you can and pay a single price, often around $35.
You might be entitled to free laundry services if you’re staying in a specific type of suite or have reached a certain status of the cruise line’s loyalty program.
During my Mexican Riviera cruise, I took advantage of a status offer on Celebrity and had them launder a full bag at no charge.
How much does it cost to go on a cruise?
For my seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise in an Aqua Class Sunset Verandah cabin on Celebrity Solstice, here’s my total for two people (including charges that were comped):
- Cruise fare: $2,700
- Port taxes: $372.90
- Standard gratuities: $245
- Trip insurance: $231.18
- Extra transportation: $155.71
- Food: $5
- Shore excursions: $1,055
- Wi-Fi: $490
Add all those expenses up, and the grand total was $5,254.79.
The thing that jumps out at me is that the total cost is almost twice the cruise fare. And that’s without any airfare. I ran the numbers on several other cruises by shopping online and found that to be true in most cases. The exceptions are cruises with lots of inclusions. Those mostly fall into the upscale and luxury categories.
You can find ways to lower the cruise fare itself — as I did by earning a comped cabin through gambling on a prior cruise — or by booking a cheaper cabin category. Places in the budget where you can skimp a little include extra food and beverages and shore excursions (especially if you’ve previously visited the ports or can walk around town independently). You can also utilize credit card points and airline miles for some of your costs.
The bottom line, though, is that in most cases, your total cruise vacation will cost considerably more than the cruise fare alone.
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