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How Cruise Pricing Works

Home > Special Features > Tips for First-Time Cruisers > How Cruise Pricing Works

A first-time cruiser might think that when they see a cruise price listed in an advertisement that it's the total cost for everything, including all food, taxes and fees. Well, bad news...although a cruise is without a doubt one of the best values as far as vacations go, most of the time when a price is listed it's just the cruise fare including port charges. You do get a lot of free food, drinks and entertainment in that price, but there's also a lot of extra charges possible, depending on what you want to do and what you want to eat.

If you're pricing over the phone be sure to ask the agent if the price they've quoted you includes all taxes & fees. If you're on the internet make sure that you go to the very end of the booking process and that no hidden fees will be charged after you book.

Here are the main aspects of a cruise price, along with some extras that you should know about:

Standard Charges

Cruise Fare:
This is the actual "cruise only" cost of your trip. It is where cruise lines make a lot of their money and is what travel agents make their commission off of. It can fluctuate based on what ship, date and category stateroom you book. This cost cannot increase after you've booked, and can sometimes be adjusted if it drops after you book (usually as long as you haven't paid in full, and as long as the new cost isn't for new bookings only).

Port Charges: These are a charge that the local governments of each port of call that you visit during your cruise charges the cruise line. The cruise line passes this cost to you, their passenger. This cost can increase or decrease even after you've paid in full for the cruise. If it does change, it's not the cruise line or your travel agent doing it.

Government Taxes & Fees: These are charged by the government and are passed on to cruise line passengers. This cost can increase or decrease even after you've paid in full for the cruise. If it does change, it's not the cruise line or your travel agent doing it.

Fuel Supplement: This is a charge that had been implemented during 2007 by all cruise lines in response to the then-increasing cost of fuel. This charge did not exist prior to 2007 and varies by cruise line. In response to the recent decrease in fuel costs some cruise lines will be removing fuel charges or giving passengers an onboard credit in the value of their fuel charge, if the fuel prices meet a certain price level during a certain period of time (check with the cruise line for their specifics).

Total Standard Price

This is the sum of the cruise fare, port charges, government taxes & fees and fuel supplement (if applicable). Included in this price is all standard meals, select drinks (such as water, juice, tea and coffee), your accommodations and (usually) 24-hour room service (from a select list of complimentary items, not the entire menu).

Additional Costs

Certain Beverages: Not all drinks are included in a typical cruise. Certain luxury cruise lines do include soda and alcoholic beverages in their pricing (known as all-inclusive pricing), such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line. However, most cruise lines charge additional for soda, alcoholic beverages and premium coffees.

Gratuities: Most cruise lines charge a 15% gratuity fee on top of whatever spa treatment and premium beverage costs you incur. There is usually also a per person gratuity charge automatically applied to your onboard account. The cost of this charge varies by cruise line, but is generally between $9.75 to $12.50 per person, per day. This fee covers most of the crew that services you during your cruise, including the wait staff and room stewards. This automatically charged fee can usually be increased or decreased, at your discretion, by going to the front desk and explaining that you'd like to do so. Many cruise lines allow you to pay for these fees prior to your cruise, to avoid having to do so while on your vacation. Some cruise lines refer to this fee as Service Charges. In most cases tips for room service are not included and can be made at your discretion.

Specialty Restaurants: Many cruise lines have optional dining venues that are a step up from their normal cuisine. Typically they have a per person cover charge for those that would like to dine in one of them. For example, most of Norwegian Cruise Line's ships have a ton of specialty restaurants, including an Asian fusion restaurant, a French restaurant and a steakhouse. Depending on the cruise line the cover charge usually ranges between $10 and $35 per person.

Shore Excursions: These are optional trips offered by cruise lines (and independent tour operators) where you can pay a per person fee to participate in a number of tours and activities. Examples of popular shore excursions include city tours, swimming with the dolphins, all-inclusive beach breaks and nature hikes.

Ground Transfers: This is transportation, usually via a coach bus, between the airport and pier. They are charged per person and are available in either a one-way or round-trip form. Some cruise lines also offer ground transfers from select areas nearby where the cruise ship departs from.

Hotels: Most cruise lines offer pre- and/or post-cruise hotel stays. The charge is per person and often includes complimentary ground transfers to or from the pier, depending on if you're doing a pre- or post-cruise stay.

Airfare: Air is not typically included in cruise pricing. Certain cruise lines offer reduced air pricing on select dates, from select gateways. Many cruise lines include complimentary ground transfers between the airport and pier when you purchase airfare through them. Select luxury cruise lines (such as Azamara Cruises and Oceania Cruises) run "free air" promos, where they give you complimentary airfare from select gateways.

Casino Gambling:
Not all cruise ships have a casino onboard, but most do. Keep in mind that all cruises in US waters (including those of Hawaii and Alaska) cannot have a casino in operation due to US laws.

Souvenirs & Boutique Shopping: Most cruise ships have nice boutiques in them, selling various duty-free items. Examples of items typically available on a cruise ship include select hard liquors (such as rum, gin, scotch and whiskey), jewelry, clothing, cruise line memorabilia and perfume.

Laundry: Although having the cruise line do your laundry will cost you money, it's a convenient way to allow yourself to pack lighter than normal (by repeating certain outfits). Some cruise ships have self-serve laundromats onboard.

Spa Treatments: This is a well-worth-it expense that's sure to make your vacation all-the-more relaxing. Most cruise ships offer a wide range of spa treatments, including acupuncture, facials and a variety of masssages.

Traveler's Insurance: It's quite risky to travel without insurance. Most people don't realize that many standard health insurance policies do not offfer coverage while their policy holder is in international waters or in another country. In addition to that, around your final payment date you go into the penalty period with the cruise line, where they keep a percentage of your money if you cancel. Traveler's insurance will protect your investment if you cancel for a covered reason. Traveler's insurance is available through the cruise line or through third-party insurance companies.

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