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Be Realistic With Cruise Budgets

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People’s spending habits can vary dramatically, so it is, of course, impossible to specifically quantify a budget that will apply to every individual.

Rather, in this article I’ll try and include a list, including all the actual and mandatory expenses, along with the incidental expenses you’re likely to encounter, and the optional expenditures you may encounter.

There are also variables from cruise line to cruise line which make it impossible to create a template where you could simply plug in numbers to come up with your total budget.

You should certainly research and explore to discover the policies of the cruise line you’ve booked with (or are considering booking with) which would affect your overall budget. In my opinion there is nothing more important to do in preparation for a cruise than to do the work necessary to create your own specific budget.

If you’re considering a cruise, it’s rather obvious that you’ll be required to pay the cruise fare. Included in the final total for your cruise fare are the gov’t taxes and fees, as well as port charges.

But that total is just the beginning of the calculation of the amount you’re actually going to spend by the time you disembark the ship, and return home.

For starters, you are going to have to expenses to get yourselves to and from the port (or ports) where the ship is sailing from, and returning to. Closed loop cruises, where the ship is leaving from and returning to the same place are common, but there are also itineraries where the ship leaves from one city, and ends in another city, or even country.

If you have to fly to reach those embarkation and debarkation ports the costs of those flights can certainly be considerable. But, aside from the actual costs of the flights, there are additional expenses to be added to your budget.

At times due to the embarkation port, and the ship’s sailing times, you may find you have to plan to spend an overnight in the embarkation city.  This means you are spending money on a hotel room for the night prior, as well as meals, and even an evening of entertainment if you choose, plus any transportation that requires. Some hotels offer a shuttle service from the airport, as well as to the ship; sometimes the shuttle if offered as a complimentary service, others offer it for an additional fee.

And even if you’re flying in on the day of sailing, there are additional expenses involved to get from the airport to the port (and back to the airport at the end of the cruise). The cruise lines offer “transfers”  (shuttle service) to and from airports, for an additional fee. Or you might choose a taxi or limo service for transportation. Whatever option you choose, there are going to be some costs involved.

People arriving a day prior to the cruise might choose a car rental, in order to have their own transportation for any plans they might want to make that evening. Of course, aside from the car rental costs, there will be expenses for gasoline used during your operation of the vehicle, as well as possible fees for parking at your hotel, and even the possibility of valet parking at the hotel.

If you decide to drive to your embarkation city you have to budget for the costs of the gasoline, and of course the fees for parking and leaving your vehicle for the duration of the cruise. And if the drive to the port city is longer than one day, you have to include the costs of a hotel or motel for an overnight stay, as well as meals, etc.

And of course, with whichever means of transportation you choose, there is always going to be tipping involved. Whether at restaurants along your route, or at hotels you stay at, there are times you’re going to find you are expected to tip. Even when you arrive at the port, and hand your luggage to the stevedores for transfer to have it boarded onto the ship, a tip of a dollar or two per bag is considered pretty standard.

Unless you are traveling on one of the luxury cruise lines, where gratuities are included in the cruise fare, you are going to faced with tipping. Even on the luxury lines the gratuities are not “free”, you are still paying them, they are just included in the fare costs. The other cruise lines generally have suggested tipping guidelines. These days pretty much all lines have some version of “automatic tipping” – where the gratuities are posted to your shipboard account daily. In most of those cases there is a means of reducing those amounts if you feel the service you’ve received doesn’t earn the full amount. You also have the ability, on most cruise lines, to prepay those gratuities before your sailing.

While there is always some discussion about the amounts of the cruise lines suggested tipping guidelines and automatic tipping amounts, I personally believe the crew work hard, and do earn those gratuities. As a result, I do recommend prepaying those gratuities, because you know they are paid, and done with as far as already being included in your budget.

The tipping doesn’t end there. Once on board there are tips automatically added to many of the purchases you make, on alcohol and other drinks you purchase, to service fees if you choose to dine in some of the alternate (surcharge required) dining venues. Then, if you choose to order in cabin room service, though there is no gratuity necessary, it is customary to tip ” a couple of bucks” for the person delivering it.

Though not dictated, you’ll also face situations where tipping is expected, on your visits to ports of call. There is certainly room for your own discretionary choices, but on tours and excursions, bus drivers and guides do expect to be tipped “something”. If you stop for a drink in a bar along the way, or lunch, the service people too are going to expect to be tipped “something”.

So, while you can choose not to tip in those situations, it is wise to give some thought to how much you’re likely to spend all those tips, and include that approximation in your cruise planning budget. A good starting point is to think back and take a realistic look at how much you spent on tips on a previous trip, whether it was a cruise or not. I think you’ll find those amounts to be quite significant, and definitely worth budgeting for.

On board the ship, aside from tipping, there are plenty of opportunities for you to spend money, in fact the cruise lines rely on you spending plenty of it on things that cost extra. One big area is drinks, both alcoholic and alcohol free drinks. There are some non-alcoholic drinks available which offered free of charge; normally in the buffet restaurants, as well as the dining rooms. Things like some selection of juices, iced tea, coffee, and milk are available free in those locations. However, if you order them at a bar on board there can often be a charge.  And pretty much every ship now has a specialty coffee bar on board, offering premium coffee brands at an additional cost (much like the trend on land).

Even in regard to food, while much of it is included in your cruise fare, on today’s cruise ship, alternate restaurants which require an additional fee are available, and a growing trend. Today’s ships offer anywhere from two to 10 of these types of dining establishments on board, with fees generally running in the $5 -$35 per person charge.

While it is possible to enjoy all of your meals at no additional cost, I think one needs to have a realistic look at how much you think you’ll partake in the optional facilities available. Because I enjoy the variety available when I cruise, I recommend at least budgeting for a couple of these experiences on a seven day cruise. In fact, because of the quality in food and experience available in these outlets, I recommend planning and budgeting for more, rather than less, use of those facilities than you might guess.

In today’s cruise industry there is a continuing growth of facilities and activities to offer passengers which cost extra, and drives more revenue. We can certain expect that trend to continue.

Recent changes on some cruise lines are the availability of private cabanas on deck; behind the scenes tours of the ship; some lines even have entertainment which is at a cost; some even offer the opportunity to pay for priority check in at embarkation.

It is very important to research the ship you may be considering to see what is available and take a serious look at which of those amenities you would consider spending extra to take advantage of, and budget for them!

During your days in port you are going to spend money. You might book ship’s excursions and tours; you may arrange your  own tours in advance privately; you may find a supplier at the pier; you may grab a taxi at the pier and negotiate a rate; you may walk into town or to the beach if that’s feasible in that port of call. But, whatever you might choose, the fact is you are going to spend money! It may be as little as a couple of bottles of water and a souvenir, or as much as a piece of costly jewelry, those decisions are entirely up to the individual. But the importance of budgeting ahead of time can not be stressed enough.

The economics of your cruise vacation is more important than choosing a ship, a cabin, or an itinerary.  The stress of not budgeting appropriately can linger much longer, and have much more of an affect on your life, than the fun you have during your cruise.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –










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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 15, 2013 at 5:09 am

If you hope to see your luggage again, tipping baggage handlers at the port prior to embarkation is not only wise, it is necessary, as well as at the end of the cruise after you clear the ship and claim your bags IF you use a stevadore

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 18, 2013 at 6:03 am

Juice , Kuki brings up juice and water – banal, expected, hmm?

Well. Celebrity for one now charges $2.50 in the MDR at breakfast for fresh squeezed OJ. Not the big glass full as one would receive in lets say Cracker Barrel, but the small less than 8oz size glass. This is pathetic to charge for this on a cruise. We just returned from a Princess cruise and only the “tinny” tasting canned OJ was offered free. The “tinny” canned pineapple was more palatable. Then there is the cheap variety of tomato juice as well.

Oceania and Holland America DO serve fresh OJ, you can see the juicer in action. Cunard also serves it, in the two Grills, and Britannia if asked for, at no charge.

In all due respects, the cruise lines are not the only ones bilking or deceiving in the “juice” area, I have noticed in the past 2-3 years in some very swanky and luxe hotels the “fresh OJ” was from Florida’s Natural or Tropicana and other supermarket brands, you know, the “not from concentrate kind” that I saw behind the scenes being poured into carafes, which were then passed off as freshly squeezed and charged for at breakfast. Maple syrup is also another gripe, with common high fructose laden table “slyrup” substituted for the real maple, and denied by the wait staff. And then the powdered eggs, save that for another sumptuous meal.

Water – many cruise lines now have the brass to charge for bottled water in the MDR and other venues, not Peligrino nor Perrier, how about Desani, purified sewage water made by Coca Cola, as well as other non classified purified waters. This is pathetic. Opt out, just say NO and take the ships desalinized water which is the same as the water in the cabin and the same water that coffee and tea are made with.

I have noticed that after the first nights meal nobody falls for the water charge again. As Barnum said, “There is a sucker born every minute”, exact quite? Hmm- you get the pint.

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