Cruise fares: what are you paying for?

What exactly is included, and not included in your cruise fare?

Cruise fares: what are you paying for?

Jeremy Bourke loves planning travel experiences as much as he enjoys taking them. He reads a map in the way some people read a novel, and he prides himself on never having been lost – well, not for long anyway.

One of the joys of cruising is that, once on board, you don’t have to pay for anything, right? Well, yes and no. There is often a lot included in your fare, but the experiences and little touches that can make it the holiday of a lifetime usually cost extra.

What’s included in your base fare? First up is your cabin, which will have a steward to service the room and supply the necessities, such as towels or toiletries.

All meals are taken care of – that means breakfast, lunch and dinner, buffet or a la carte (there may be a surcharge for some restaurants) – and all snacks, poolside treats and even room service are included in your fare.

Most activities are also free, such as deck games, movies, Broadway-quality live shows, life classes, dancing lessons, guest lecturers and sessions in anything from origami to Scrabble.

older couple walking on the deck of a cruise ship at night

What’s extra?
Large ships have at least one signature restaurant with a cover charge to reflect its high-end cuisine, service, decor and dress code. However, prices aren’t exorbitant and are usually worth trying at least once.

But what’s not free in any restaurant or bar is a drink. And this isn’t just alcohol – soft drinks in restaurants, specialty coffees and bottled water all cost extra. So watch the price, as you won’t receive your bill until the final morning.

Shore excursions can be great experiences, so choose the ones that really interest you; and choose quickly, as the best ones fill up fast and can be expensive.

Other paid extras can include beauty treatments, laundry and dry-cleaning, babysitting, personal or small group fitness sessions, and cooking or wine classes.

An additional cost that can take you by surprise is the internet. Being able to contact home from the ocean isn’t cheap and most ships charge for connections. It can be a small daily fee, which is fine for email or Facebook but, if you want to Skype with the family or watch the Grand Final online, you’ll pay a hefty price.

Finally, tips aren’t included. Many lines add to your account a daily amount per person plus a gratuity for bar bills. And you may wish to tip your cabin steward directly. Either way, it’s important to check the cruise line’s etiquette.

How to save

  1. You don’t have to do shore excursions in every port – find your own way around when you can and save your money for the truly special experiences offered by your cruise line.

  2. Signature restaurants are worth it, but you can also eat extremely well in the less expensive dining rooms and buffets.

  3. Research comparable prices at home before you hit the onboard boutiques.

  4. A 24-hour or cruise-long internet package may be cheaper than a pay-as-you-go option.

  5. Tap water is fine – no cruise line would risk dodgy water in the confines of a ship – so don’t buy bottled water.

  6. Tips are discretionary, and you can adjust the amount at the guest services desk.


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    COMMENTS

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    Me Myself and I
    10th Sep 2016
    8:41am
    " And come back brand new"...usually with cabin cough,or some stomach bug....but that's the joys of cruising...:)
    roy
    10th Sep 2016
    7:32pm
    Why would one want to spend a week or two with a bunch of mostly obese people stuffing their faces.
    Blossom
    26th Sep 2016
    3:05pm
    Some ships have free hand sanitation supplies at many spots on each deck but many people don't use them.
    Mez
    26th Sep 2016
    3:33pm
    Fred....most of the Australian population are obese!
    Cruises have the same representation with families and also little kids!
    MICK
    10th Sep 2016
    9:03am
    Gratuities? These are pretty expensive and cruisers need to establish if included in price or otherwise BEFORE they buy.
    Yeah internet costs mean that you wait until you do shore excursion and then head for an internet cafe. Also, paid shore excursions are to be avoided like the plague. We did our own thing in Greece for Islands cruise and it worked fine. Only place that does not work is when you need transport to get to a venue. This was the case in Crete and we hopped a new Mercedes taxi for 100 euros because the guy had no other work for the day. Ended up at the same venue as paid people and paid less than we would have for 2 plus had the first class experience.
    Cruising is not our preferred manner of travel but good as we get older maybe. As with all things can be done the expensive way or rather cheaply if one does the homework. Sadly many people could not be bothered putting in the many hours to sort out and pay the price. Literally.
    Mez
    12th Sep 2016
    2:33pm
    As an Aussie one does not have to pay gratuities!
    Blossom
    26th Sep 2016
    3:09pm
    Malke sure you use reliable transport if not using a "cruise arranged one" on land. If the cruise booked ones are running late they have to delaying sailing. They will not delay if other passengers are late.
    Pammy
    12th Sep 2016
    11:08am
    Be careful. Full-page advertisements in major newspapers for our 14-day cruise with a major line stated clearly (in the small print at the bottom) that gratuities were included in the fare. They were not, and cost us over $US400 at the end of the cruise. They also had the nerve to place an envelope in our cabin on the final night so that we could tip our cabin stewards! Where did the $400 go?
    Mez
    12th Sep 2016
    2:45pm
    Pammy, I would chase that with the head office and if unsuccessful, check with Consumer Affairs.
    Mez
    12th Sep 2016
    2:41pm
    I am surprised that the article did not state that as an Australian we do not have to pay gratuities because we do not pay that in Australia!
    I had been informed by a wealthy Aussie who is perpetually cruising and then by a New Zealander whilst I was on a Mediterranean cruise in July.
    I did not believe it but all one has to do is go to the passenger service desk on the ship that as an Australian we do not pay gratuities and no questions were asked but we were informed that it will be cleared from our card account.
    Fantastic!
    Thought I would pass this tip on to save up to a few hundred dollars because the cruise companies do not tell you this and neither is it advertised, nor do travel agencies!
    vinradio
    17th Sep 2016
    5:43pm
    I'm not sure that is true about Aussies not paying gratuities. It depends whether the ship is in Australian waters or not, and if it is stated that gratuities are not included as a condition of booking, I don't think you could avoid them! It would be best to check with your travel agent or cruise booking firm beforehand, I think . I think it may also depend on the length of the cruise, too.
    Mez
    18th Sep 2016
    1:59pm
    We were on a Mediterranean cruise this year and YES, we did NOT HAVE TO PAY GRATUITIES & WE DID NOT!
    As I have stated before, I did not know that, nor did I believe it at first when a continuous Aussie cruiser informed me of this in the ship's laundromat then later when sharing a dinner table, a New Zealander said the same thing a few days later!
    No questions were asked at the passenger service desk and our already accrued gratuities were credited back into our accounts thus saving us several hundreds of dollars.
    Reason is that gratuities is not part of our tax system and we were on an American ship.
    We were not informed of this when I booked for obvious reasons.
    chocciefrog
    21st Sep 2016
    12:39pm
    The incredible work & attitude of the entire crew is surely worthy of recognition!!
    The hours of work & the length of contracts augers tremendous respect & they are working for the benefit of their families and their children's education
    Australians may be too mean to tip, but they would not work as hard and as long as the remarkable crew members. I thank them all sincerely for making our cruises so enjoyable!
    chocciefrog
    26th Sep 2016
    4:03pm
    A wonderful vacation for the "mature" couples to be "indulged" & be looked after, after a life time of looking after a family. It's such a pleasure to be looked after so well by the wonderful crew.
    If you do become ill..go to the medical centre..stay in your suite for 24 hrs...don't spread it ...& use the hand sanitizer as recommended. travel with some meds..& don't blame the cruise line! It's up to you to look after yourself!!


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