Let's take a look at the basic components that make up the cost of a cruise, and what you should expect to pay.
BASIC CRUISE COSTS The "base" cost of your cruise will include your accommodations as chosen for the length of the cruise, onboard entertainment and activities, meals and use of the facilities aboard the ship.
Port Taxes and Fees These are the taxes and fees charged by the various government and port authorities at the ports where your ship calls, the cruise line passes these fees along to the passengers. These typically cover the cost of docking and use of the port facilities; "parking fees" for your ship if you will. And certain government authorities impose a "head tax" on cruise passengers, which is used to maintain and improve the ports infrastructure.
These days, these costs are simply referred to a NCFs, which is travel-agent speak for "non-commissionable fees". They will will listed in the cost of the cruise on almost all cases, so unless you see them listed separately, you don't need to worry about paying them.
Taxes, however, usually are added at the end of the cruise contract. These are US governement and state taxes, and generally run under 10% of the entire cruise cost.
Fuel Surcharges Almost all cruise lines are now charging a fuel surcharge on every cruise. The cost is about $5 per person per day. At somepoint it is believed this will simply be added into the advertised cruise price, but that hasn't happened yet. If you see a price and it does NOT say that it "INCLUDES a fuel surcharge of $__" below the advertised price, then expect it to be an additional fee.
Adding in the Air Cost Air "add-ons" are an option that you may or may not choose to utilize. This is the cost of your airfare from your home city to the port where you will join the ship and your return airfare home. In most cases, when using the cruise lines' Air/Sea program, this will also include baggage handling and transportation from the airport to the ship on the day you embark and transportation back to the airport on the day you disembark your cruise.
Transfers If it does not include air to ship transfers, those are available from the cruise line usually at a cost of $25 per person each way. The cost will vary depending on the distance. It is always a factor to determine whether a taxi is cheaper, and it often is since they do not charge by the person.
Your Stateroom Naturally, the size and location of your stateroom affects the cost of your cruise. You can get inside cabins (no windows or view at all), oceanview cabins (a window but it does not open for fresh air), veranda or balcony cabins (they have an open air porch you can sit on) or go even higher with a suite.
Mini-Suites and Suites will provide you with extra space, but that space comes at a price. You'll most likely get a separate sitting area, a sleeping area or separate bedroom and many come with a much larger bathroom, whirlpool tub and walk in closets. While suites tend to be closer in size to a hotel room, check out the mini-suites with caution. Many lines mini-suites are simply standard cabins with a balcony.
Cruise Insurance Yet another optional cost of your cruise. For example, your medical insurance probably will not cover you on the cruise ship because the ship is registered in the Bahamas or some other port of convenience. But cancellation insurance will cover most penalties incurred for canceling due to illness or death before the cruise. But, please note that all cruise insurance policies are different, and you must read them to assure you are covered for every contingency.
HOW TO READ A CRUISE AD You're perusing the Sunday Travel Section or surfing the Internet and see a fantastic price for a cruise. Is it too good to be true? What's not included in that price? What's hidden in the fine print?
"Lead-in" Pricing Chances are, you're dreaming of a stateroom with a verandah but the price in the ad is for the lowest category of inside cabin. This is what we call "lead-in" pricing. It's intended to catch your eye and it has.
Typically, but not always, the prices you see in the ads are for "minimum inside" or the lowest grade of accommodation unless it specifically states otherwise. The number of cabins available at these prices are usually extremely limited. The price may also only be available to residents of certain states or may be a senior citizen fare.
Reading the Fine Print Get out that magnifying glass and read the fine print. Check to see if the price includes port charges and taxes as this can easily add over $100.00 per person to the cost of the cruise if they are not included. Thankfully, recently enacted government regulations require the cruise lines to include the taxes in the advertised prices, or else make it clear that they are not included and display the additional costs plainly. However, regulations for travel agencies are different, and many do not include additional costs in the pricing and bury them in the fine print. In all cases, unless specifically stated otherwise, the price will not include airfare but will be "cruise only".
Cabin Selection This term usually does not apply to cruises. As the lead in price is usually for an inside cabin (no window or ocean view) you may wish to consider spending a little more to make your cruise that much more enjoyable. Whereas a 7 night cruise in an inside cabin may cost you $699.00 per person, upgrading to an outside or "ocean view" cabin can be as little as $150-200.00 additional cost per person. Or you may wish to upgrade to a stateroom with a verandah. This will usually cost you about $750.00 per person more for the week.
Personally, I never sail in an inside cabin unless I am forced to. The daylight makes the cabin seem larger, and I love to wake up and see where we are and what the weather is like. Let's be realistic, cabins aboard ship are not large to begin with so a little daylight can make them seem much more palatable. I always urge first-timers to take an outside cabin unless their budget absolutely prohibits. A stateroom with verandah will afford you your own semi-private place to watch the ship come in and out of port or just relax. These are especially desirable in Alaska, Panama canal and on longer voyages.
Onboard Costs Yes Virginia, you will incur extra costs once you board the ship. Cruise lines charge for drinks (soft and alcoholic), and then there are tips (about $75.00 per person for a one week cruise), shopping, gambling, shore excursions (touring in port), and meals while off the ship. And then even some other extras aboard ship which are not as readily apparent.
Many cruise lines will charge you extra for that ice cream cone in the afternoon, to eat in the alternative restaurant ($5 - $30.00 per person), for laundry or dry cleaning, use of the internet/e-mail/business services, the golf simulator and spa treatments.
Prepare to budget yourself for an average of $200-300 per person in spending money for a one week cruise, more so if you like to indulge in tours, spa treatments and gambling.
Here is a quick look at what all the little "extras" can cost:
Also bear in mind that most cruise lines automatically add a 18% gratuity to any drink purchase.
Tips You will usually be asked to tip the crew. This is something you should expect to do, just as you would in any restaurant. These days, most cruise lines make it easy to simply put the tips onto your onboard account which you pay at the end of the cruise. The usual total cost is about $11 per person per day. The cruise line will apportion the money between your waiters, room steward, Maitre D' and other service people on board.
All Inclusive Cruise Lines Do any lines include all or most of the "little" extras? Yes indeed, there are cruise lines that include a lot of extras and don't "nickel and dime" you to death. Silversea Cruises is truly "all inclusive" as they include all soft drinks, cocktails, and even some complimentary shore excursions. Regent Seven Seas, and Seabourn also include most of the extras.