So you’re on a tight budget, but you’d like to go on a fun and relaxing cruise vacation. At first glance, cruise line websites lead many to mistakenly assume that cruising is all-inclusive. In reality, cruise lines are ingenious at devising ways to separate you from your cash. Shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty restaurants, gambling, alcohol and more are additional out-of-pocket expenses that can add up quicker than you may think. But fear not, you can sail without breaking the bank just by employing a few savings tips in combination with taking advantage of what’s already covered in your fare.

Included in your fare

  • Lodging: Your shipboard cabin featuring a private bath, television, twice daily housekeeping, and other amenities.
  • Meals: Multi-course breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the full service main dining room or self-service buffet. Juices are complimentary at mealtimes, with coffee, iced and hot teas, and milk free all day. Also included is room service, 24 hour pizza (on most lines), and a variety of other eats such as ice cream, sushi, deli sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs.
  • Entertainment/Activities: Theater shows, stand-up comedy, karaoke, night club, piano bar, themed deck parties, pool side games, sports matches like table tennis or water volleyball, jogging track, miniature golf, guest-participated game shows, dance classes, cooking demonstrations, movies and more, depending on the line.
  • Gymnasium/Spa: Fitness machines, select fitness classes, sauna, and steam room.
  • Pools: Including hot tubs and water slides.
  • Youth and teen programs: Organized daily age appropriate activities (though fees apply for late-night babysitting).

Don’t go overboard with extras

The surefire way to save a bundle cruising is to not allow yourself to be nickel-and-dimed by the cruise line. However, with cleverly promoted spending opportunities lurking around every corner this can prove to be difficult, even with so much already included in the fare.

  • Research ports of call. Don’t spring for expensive shore excursions in ports with plenty of attractions, shops or beaches easily explored on your own in close proximity to the ship dock.
  • Don’t fork over up to $75 per person for specialty restaurants — remember there are plenty of dining options already included.
  • You have your own camera, so don’t get roped into posing for the ship’s photographers. It eliminates any impulse to buy later.
  • Spa treatments a must-have? Look for embarkation day or port-of-call day specials.
  • Resist the temptation to browse the ship’s duty free gift shops. Otherwise, do so only toward the end of the cruise when items are more likely to be marked down, or contribute to the local economy in ports of call by bargaining for inexpensive handicrafts from resident flea market vendors.
  • Refrain from gambling — including bingo, which can set you back a whopping $10 to $20 a game for notoriously small jackpots.
  • Keep tabs on your shipboard account balance by getting printouts periodically from Guest Services or from self-service kiosks.  On some ships, you can access your account via your cabin television.

Keep a handle on your beverage tab

  • Don’t shell out big bucks for bottled water when cruise ship tap water is quality, highly filtered desalinated sea water.
  • Avail yourself of complimentary juices available at mealtimes and all-day coffee, teas, and milk instead of paying for soda.
  • Carry on your own bottled water, soda, or juice on lines that permit it.
  • Check the cruise line’s policy on bringing personal bottles of wine or champagne aboard.
  • Pre-order spirits from the line’s gifts department for delivery to your stateroom. Prices are an arm and a leg by land-based liquor store standards, but usually less than paying per-drink at the ship’s bar.
  • Don’t even think of touching the in-cabin mini bar.
  • Die-hard soda lovers, specialty coffee buffs, or drinkers may want to investigate and assess the value of any all-you-can-drink plans available.
  • Attend events such as art auctions, captain’s cocktail parties, and past passenger parties for drinks on the house.

A word about gratuities

Major cruise lines automatically charge gratuities for dining, stateroom, and behind-the-scenes staff to your shipboard account. Expect to pay around $12 per passenger per day, including children.  While tipping is technically optional, this is not the place to scrimp and save, because the gratuities are the crew’s salary and they work very hard for it. For budgeting purposes, I regard the gratuities as simply part of the cruise fare and opt to pre-pay them when I make my booking so they’re not charged to my ship account.
Controlling out-of-pocket, back-end expenses can make the difference between the ability to go on a cruise or having to stay home. With so much already included in your fare, you can avoid spending extra money without depriving yourself!

This is a guest post by Deidre from Dania Beach, FL
Find out more about the KCL Contributor Network!


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15 thoughts on “How to Avoid Overspending While on a Cruise”

  1. Keri says:

    I love cruising with Disney. They are very accommodating with families. They allow alcohol brought on the ship as long as its carried on. Soda is included in the meals. They have a soda station on the ship. Room service is free. They do the tip addition but you can change the amount. No gambling on the ships (didnt really miss it). Rainforest Room is a great spa treatment at a good discount. I encourage anyone (child or adult) to have a cruise through them. My honeymoon was with them and we didnt have any issue regarding children.

  2. Kayla says:

    If tips are included on your ship account, are you also expected to tip cash by hand in any other encounters?

    • Steve says:

      No additional tipping required. As a matter of fact you can lock your cash in the safe and keep it there unless you plan to buy something in a port of call. There is a 15% gratuity added to alcoholic drinks but that is assigned to your cruise account.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great article and I learned some things that I can apply to my (I hope) future cruises. But I am confused about where the $12ish tips go, who do I give the other tips to, and do I tip daily or at the end? My budget is small and I also work very hard for that money.

    • Steve says:

      The average $12 per day is automatically added to your cruise account unless you prepay. That small amount is split between your room steward (maintains your cabin several times per day), wait staff for 3 plus meals per day and others. Considering you can easily tip that amount for one nice dinner on land it isn’t that much for all the good service you get. Don’t forget, just like land based waiters this is their livleyhood. After the $12 per day you don’t have to add anything more.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks, Steve, for your educational response. It is much appreciated. I certainly wouldn’t want to stiff anyone. Now I just need to find someone to cruise with as everyone I know claims seasickness.

        • Beckie says:

          Norwegian Epic, features 128 studio cabins targeted at and priced for solo cruisers.
          Special Extras: A full-size bed, flat-screen TV and private bathroom are all squeezed into these 100-square-foot accommodations. Although all the studios are inside cabins, they each have a window that looks out onto the corridor. Four different colors of ambient lighting jazz up the room. But the biggest perk is access to an exclusive, shared social space called the Studio Lounge. It’s a sleek hangout space, with its own large-screen TV’s, coffee-making facilities and a bartender at certain times of the day.
          Discounts Available: The studio cabins are priced for solo travelers, with no extra supplement to pay.
          ***Just a tidbit of info for you to chew on… go on the site & look at the studio cabins- they are beautiful! The plus side of solo cruising~ do what you want, when you want or do nothing at all!*** Honestly, you will meet so many social people you really will appreciate your “alone time”!

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks Beckie. I just looked at the site and it is nice. I don’t know if the lounge is for oldies like me, but the rooms look amazing. Will definitely look further into this.

        • LC says:

          Mid ship is a great place for sea sickness sufferers. My DH and I were married on Carnival and had 25 of our guests go with us on the cruise. Lots were worried about this. Mid level and as low as possible is the most steady. But honestly the ships are so massive that, unless the water is really rough, you won’t know your on the sea. All our guests felt fine the whole 7 days. Two told us they actually felt sick after getting home, and started swaying in the shower.We also had our friends take some good quality ginger pills. My DH gets very sick on small boats and swears by this natural cure for nausea. Hope this helps, and you get to experience the joy of being a cruiser!

  4. anna says:

    i was just thinking about going on a cruise and was not sure if it’s affordable? what are some reasonable prices for a 7 day?

  5. alma says:

    This article was perfect for me. I’m going on a cruise next week for the first time and this tips definitely will help me save tons of money. thank you

  6. Anonymous says:

    I was hoping for some tips here that aren’t obvious. These are all things I learned on my first cruise which I had won on the radio so the only thing I ended up paying for was the tipping.

    • LC says:

      Bring a bagged wine each, most have the amount equal to four bottles, but are considered one by the baggage dudes who check your luggage. Buy the insurance! We have seen 2 mid cruise helicopter evacs and those things are staggeringly expensive. Also a friend booked a cruise then found out she was pregnant. She got a full refund. Drink tickets are available for pre purchase.These are slightly discounted when you buy, and gratuity is not added when you use them. Buy a few. They come in packs of four. Tell the cruise line about any special events. Bottles of champ, and chocolate covered strawberries are left in your room as a special surprise. Watch the price of your ticket diligently. Places like expedia will give you on board credit if the price drops after you booked. This is how we paid off our grats the last two times we cruised. If your on a 7 day or longer cruise, Carnival offers a cruise voucher. These cost $100.00, but will earn you $100.00 off your next cruise, plus an extra $50-$150 in on board credit. The amount varies based on the amount of days the next cruise is. Hope these help, and happy cruising!

  7. CruiseW/Obooze says:

    Cruise lines expect the passengers to buy as much as they paid for their tickets on board so just be very careful. You can have a LOT of fun without spending one extra dollar. Don’t buy any drinks, including soda and put the key card that is used like an ATM card away. The on board “shopportunities” like the art auction are optional. You don’t need to buy anything in the overpriced shops. Your cell phone may be usable, just watch out for roaming fees. Tipping is NOT optional, the staff works very hard and rely on daily tips for their livelihood. You will be told who gets a tip before you embark. Put the cash gratuities in envelopes at home, bring them in your suitcase and hand then out during your cruise. You will receive excellent service. I have taken several cruises and I don’t ever buy anything. But I also don’t drink alcohol and don’t feel that I am missing anything by not drinking.

  8. guest24 says:

    Gosh, what a great article. I have never been on a cruise, so these tips will come in handy if I ever get the opportunity. Thanks for the article.