Strictly speaking, you don’t need to bring any cash on a cruise. A cruise ship is generally a cashless environment, and all purchases are billed to your credit or debit card on record.
However, there are several reasons why you might want to take along at least some cash on your next cruise. Let’s explore the reasons why bringing cash on a cruise might be a good idea.
Can you go on a cruise without any cash?
One of the best feelings about stepping aboard a cruise ship is knowing that all your essentials are already paid for: your lodgings, meals, entertainment, and transportation to the various ports you’ll be visiting.
If you want to buy any souvenirs on the ship, enjoy a memorable meal at a specialty restaurant, or order a cocktail, you simply swipe your cruise card you’ve linked to a credit or debit card. No paper money needs to change hands!
So it’s entirely possible to cruise without taking any cash at all. But it’s a smart idea to take at least some cash on a cruise—even if you never end up using it!
Why would you need to bring cash on a cruise?
If you’re considering leaving all your cash in the bank before your cruise and relying on your credit or debit cards, here are three examples of when you might need to bring paper money on your cruise:
1. You may want to bring some cash on your cruise to reward your favorite crew members for a job well done. Although many cruise lines charge daily automatic gratuities to your cruise card (or you can prepay them), many cruisers also choose to hand out extra cash tips to their room steward, bartenders, and waitstaff in the dining rooms.
Of course, handing out cash tips isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture and is always appreciated by the hardworking crew.
2. If you have shore excursions booked, either independently or through your cruise line, it’s a good idea to bring some cash to tip your tour guide and driver. Most cruisers tip from $2-$10 per person (or the equivalent in local currency) to the tour guide, and a couple of dollars to the driver.
3. You may also want to bring cash if you’re cruising with kids. If you’d like to let your kids make some independent purchases with their cruise card, it’s a good idea to set a cash limit for them. You can do this at the Guest Services desk by unlinking your credit card and depositing cash into each child’s account.
Do you need to bring cash for shore excursions?
Whether you’re booked on shore excursions in your ports of call or you’re going the DIY route, it’s a good idea to carry at least a small amount of cash.
Although you might use a credit or debit card for just about everything in your home country, not every location is as plastic-friendly.
During your time in port, you may find that some restaurants and shops are cash-only businesses. Souvenir shops might advertise that they accept cards, but they actually won’t take them for small purchases.
If you’re planning on taking public transportation to get around the port—especially by city bus—you may have to pay the fare in cash to the driver.
Does your all-day shore excursion not include lunch? If you have an hour or so on your own and your lunchtime meal isn’t included in your excursion price, you might find yourself in an area where all the restaurants are cash-only venues. Having some local currency in your wallet lets you pick where you want to eat.
Are you stopping at European ports and you might need to use the toilet (let’s face it, we all do)? In many areas of Europe, toilet facilities aren’t free, even if you make a purchase! Having some local currency in coins or very small bills can make all the difference—toilet attendants won’t make change or listen to your sad story about how badly you need to go.
Which currency should you bring on a cruise?
The currency you bring on a cruise depends on a couple of factors: the official currency of the cruise ship and the ports you’ll be visiting.
Most US-based cruise lines have the US dollar set as the official currency on the ship. That means that your onboard account will be in USD, and the few cash-based transactions you might have on board will also be in US dollars (more on that later in the post).
If you’re sailing on a UK or Australian-based cruise line, the ship’s official currency will be GBP or AUD, respectively.
But when you’re off the ship and in port, the currency depends on the country you’re visiting.
In many ports in the Caribbean and Mexico that see a lot of cruise ship visitors, the US dollar is widely accepted. This is especially true of countries that tie their local currency to USD, like The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda.
Several other Caribbean nations and territories actually use the US dollar as their official currency, including the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, and Bonaire.
Just note that unless the port’s official currency is the US dollar, you’ll likely receive change in local money. So bringing smaller bills is key!
Outside of US, Caribbean, and Mexican ports, if you want to pay with cash you’ll need to use the local currency. Using an ATM to withdraw local money is often the cheapest way—machines located inside a bank usually have the lowest fees.
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Do cruise ships have ATMs?
Most cruise ships do have automated teller machines on board. You’ll often find them near the entrance to the casino or near the Guest Services desk.
But many cruise ship ATMs charge high convenience fees (and your bank back home might tack on an additional charge for using one). But in a pinch, a cruise ship ATM may be your only way of accessing cold, hard cash before you make your way into port.
Do cruise ships have currency exchanges?
Many large cruise ships do have a small currency exchange on board, as a convenience to guests. But the amount of each currency that a ship carries can vary, and fees can be high—so relying on the ship’s exchange service can be a mistake.
Ship’s currency exchanges also aren’t open all the time. If you’re planning on using the service, do it early in the cruise. If you leave it until the morning of your port visit, they’ll probably be closed.
For a better exchange rate, visit a currency exchange before your cruise. Or, plan on finding an ATM in port to withdraw funds from your checking account in the local currency.
Do you need to bring cash for the ship’s casino?
Many cruise lines with on board casinos will let you debit money from your onboard account using your cruise card. Most also allow you to insert cash at the slot machines, or buy chips with cash at the table games.
Some cruise lines will let you deposit money from your cruise card into your casino bank at any slot machine. Then you can withdraw the cash at the casino desk without a fee. This has long been smart cruisers’ best way to avoid hefty ATM and exchange desk surcharges.
However, in recent years cruise lines have caught on to our game, and many now charge a transaction fee (often around 3%) to transfer money in the casino via your cruise card.
Be sure to ask your cruise line about fees before trying this hack.
Is it safe to bring cash on a cruise?
The reason why most of us choose to use credit or debit cards is convenience. Many cards are accepted around the world, and you don’t need to deal with paper money or making change—it’s usually a simple and easy transaction.
But if you’re taking cash on a cruise, you’ll probably wonder if it’s safe to do so.
The vast majority of cruise ship staterooms have an in-room safe where you can lock up your paper money and other valuables when you don’t need them.
Out of all of the cruise ships I’ve been on, it was only my small-ship voyage on UnCruise Adventures where my stateroom didn’t have a safe—but I cruised in the Alaskan wilderness where paper money and credit cards are worthless.
In general, only carry as much cash as you’ll need—both for purchases and for emergencies. If you’re nervous about carrying cash in your handbag, purse, or wallet, consider investing in an inexpensive money belt to keep your cash safe.
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Not convinced yet that you need to bring cash on a cruise?
As a cruise travel blogger, I obviously travel a lot. In my decades of traveling around the world, I’ve had my share of travel mishaps! When you’re far from home, you never know what could happen next, so it’s best to be over-prepared just in case.
Here are a few actual examples of why I’m glad I always have a bit of local currency on me as a precaution against the unexpected:
- I had already eaten my meal at a restaurant when the electricity went out for the entire area (knocking out the restaurant’s credit card machines as well as the local ATMs)
- The taxi that was dropping me off at my pre-cruise hotel had a malfunction with its card reader and none of my cards worked to pay my fare
- The scheduled city bus I was relying on to get back to the cruise port in time never showed up, and the local taxis were cash-only
Do you bring cash on a cruise? How much do you think is the right amount of cash to bring? Let me know in the comments below!
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