Advertised cruise fares can often look like a bargain, but almost every cruise line has hidden costs buried in the fine print that can surprise you. Find out 26 hidden cruise fees you’ll want to know about before you book.
If you’re new to cruising or it’s been a while since you last sailed, you’ll want to read this post! It’s true that a cruise vacation can be a very budget-friendly way to travel. But there are so many extra costs (some avoidable and some not) that you might not know about.
Here are the 26 hidden cruise fees most new cruisers never consider.
1. Port fees and taxes
Local governments charge cruise lines taxes and fees each time they visit a port—and most cruise lines pass those charges on to their passengers. But these hidden fees often aren’t advertised as part of the sticker price of your cruise!
Port fees and taxes vary from one port to another, but they can add up to several hundred dollars (or more) per person for your voyage.
These fees aren’t based on the price of your cruise fare. They’re a combination of expenses that the cruise line pays to the port and the government to cover infrastructure and services. They then pass those expenses on to you.
I once took a last-minute bargain priced cruise where the port taxes and fees were higher than the cruise fare! (It was still an amazing deal.)
It’s a good idea to find out how much your added fees will be before deciding on a cruise. You can start a booking online (I like to use CruiseDirect) and follow the prompts until you reach the payment screen.
You’ll see the true cost of your cruise fare including port charges, and if they’re higher than you’d like, you can start over with a different cruise.
2. Daily gratuities
Most mainstream cruise lines charge a daily gratuity fee that helps supplement the wages of many of their crewmembers. This fee is an automated version of the old tipping system where guests would give cash tips to their room steward, dining room servers, and anyone else who helped them out.
Today, mainstream cruise lines charge each passenger a fee (usually between $15-20 per day) on your onboard account.
Cruises that cater to passengers from Australia and New Zealand are a notable exception. Since there’s not much of a tipping culture there, gratuities are built into your cruise fare.
3. Additional service charges + taxes
Although you’ll be paying your daily gratuities, those tips aren’t distributed to all crewmembers. Staff at the bars, spa, and salon also rely on tips, so most cruise lines add a service charge (usually around 18%) to drink purchases, spa treatments, and salon services.
You might also see sales tax for some purchases added to your account. Although there’s no sales tax in international waters, local governments will usually charge tax on purchases when the ship’s in port. So any drinks you order (even if you have a drink package) are taxed at local rates when you’re not out at sea.
4. Travel agency service charges
I always recommend cruisers to book through a reputable travel agency. You’ll often receive lots of perks (like free onboard credit) on top of any sales and promotions offered by the cruise line.
However, some cruise travel agencies charge a service fee per booking, and you might not realize it until you see your invoice.
It’s a good idea to ask upfront whether the agency charges a service fee. (The cruise travel agency I mentioned before, CruiseDirect, never charges a booking fee.)
5. Expected cash tips
Even if you’ve already paid for your automatic gratuities for the ship’s crew, there are a few more people who’ll expect cash tips during your cruise:
- Porters at the cruise terminal on embarkation day
- Room service delivery people
- Tour guides and drivers on shore excursions
The porters at the dock aren’t cruise line employees, so they don’t share in the tips that many crew members receive. Unless you’re traveling very light, you’ll need to use their services to load your luggage onto the ship. Plan to give them a couple of dollars per bag, and a little more if your suitcases are very large and heavy.
If you order room service, it’s customary to tip a couple of dollars to the crewmember who delivers it. On some cruise lines, crewmembers volunteer to deliver room service to earn more tips—they’re not paid extra for their time.
If you’ve booked a shore excursion for any of your port stops, it’s also customary to tip your tour guide, as well as the driver if it’s a coach tour. In general, you should tip your guide about $5-10 per person at the end of your tour, and about $1 per person to the driver.
Read more: Do You Need to Bring Cash on a Cruise?
6. Single supplements
The cruise fare you see advertised is based on double occupancy, meaning that the price per person is only valid if two people are booked in the stateroom. For solo cruisers, this means paying the extra cost of a single supplement, often 100% of the base cruise fare.
Occasionally, some cruise lines will offer a promotion with discounted single supplements—sometimes 25 or 50% off, but such sales are rare.
A few cruise lines offer a very limited amount of dedicated solo cabins on select ships. However, these studio staterooms tend to be very small (even smaller than the average inside stateroom) and sell out quickly.
7. Shore excursions
If you’re planning to get the most out of your days in port, you might want to book a shore excursion to tour the city and its attractions. But unless you’re on a luxury line, shore excursions are an additional expense.
Cruise shore excursions can run from about $35 per person for a three-hour walking tour, to a couple hundred dollars for an elaborate all-day tour that includes attraction fees and lunch.
If you want to save money and just explore the port city on your own, some cruise ports are located right near all the action. You’ll be able to disembark and walk downtown.
But you’ll sometimes have to pay just to get from the port to the city you’re visiting! Although some cruise ports are within walking distance of things to do, many are located in industrial areas miles from the actual city.
Whenever I cruise, I always have at least one conversation with a new cruiser who’s planning to “just get off the ship and walk around the city”—when the city is nowhere near the cruise port.
Cruise pro tip: If you’re not planning to book a shore excursion, look at Google Maps for walking and driving times from the cruise port to the city’s downtown area. You might need to budget for a taxi or rideshare!
8. Ground transfers
You’ll probably expect to pay for transportation between the airport, your hotel, and the cruise terminal if you’re flying to the port city.
Booking an airport transfer with the cruise line is usually hassle-free—but it can be expensive, especially if you’re traveling as a family. Airport transfers can be as little as $20 per person if the airport is nearby, and up to $100 or more if the nearest major airport is a good distance from the port.
Depending on how many people are cruising with you, you can often save money by using a rideshare service vs. paying for the cruise line’s per-person transfers.
9. Specialty restaurants
You can cruise without spending an extra penny on your meals and snacks, but not all restaurants on mainstream cruise lines are free. Most ships will offer at least one for-a-fee specialty restaurant, and new cruisers are often confused by which restaurants are included in their fare.
Check your daily planner (it’s either delivered as a paper copy to your stateroom each night, or you can find it on your cruise line app) to see if a restaurant is a free or paid option.
You can absolutely skip specialty dining (there’s plenty of free food to be had elsewhere), but many cruisers are tempted by the elevated service and cuisine you can find in these venues. Prices range from about $12 for a specialty lunch to over one hundred dollars for an ultra-luxe dining experience on some cruise lines. But most specialty restaurant entry fees range from about $25-$35 per person for dinner.
10. Corkage fees
Many cruise lines allow passengers to carry on a bottle of wine on embarkation day. This is an excellent way to save some money compared to the high cost of wine by the bottle on most cruise lines.
However, some cruise lines will charge you a corkage fee on that bottle of wine if you drink it in one of their restaurants, and sometimes even if you open it in any public area of the ship!
You can avoid the corkage fee by enjoying the wine in your stateroom (and yes, you can pour a glass in your room and walk around the ship with it.)
Read more: How to Bring Your Own Drinks on a Cruise
11. Room service
Free room service used to be a given on cruise ships. Some cruise lines still offer complimentary room service, but many now charge passengers a fee for this amenity.
Some cruise lines charge per item, and some have a flat service charge (usually about $7-8) for room service.
On most cruise lines, soda and alcoholic drinks are charged at regular bar prices (even if you have a beverage package) when you order via room service.
Tip: If you really enjoy free room service and your cruise line doesn’t offer it, many lines will still deliver a limited breakfast menu to your stateroom for free. Look for a stack of hangtags in your room, mark your selections, and hang it outside your door the night before.
12. Upcharges for select menu items
On most cruise lines, all the menu options in the main dining room historically were free-of-charge. However, in recent years some cruise lines have begun offering premium menu items at an additional cost.
On Carnival Cruise Line for example, if you’d like to enjoy a premium steak in the main dining room, it’s a $23 upcharge. On Royal Caribbean, ordering a Maine lobster in the MDR will set you back $29.95.
Tip: If your cruise line has formal nights, they’ll usually serve an elevated menu in the main dining room on those evenings. You’ll often find options like steak and lobster tail without an upcharge.
13. Soda and bottled water
Most mainstream cruise lines do offer a limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages included in your cruise fare. But the options are usually pretty basic—often hot coffee and tea, iced tea, tap water, and juice at breakfast.
Sodas and bottled water usually come with an added charge, often $2-3 per serving.
If you really love your fizzy drinks or won’t drink tap water (it’s safe to drink on a cruise ship, but doesn’t always taste great), many cruise lines will let you carry on a limited quantity of soft drinks. My post How to Bring Your Own Drinks on a Cruise details the rules for each cruise line.
Or, pre-order bottled water or soda to your room before your cruise to save lots of money compared to buying individual drinks.
14. In-room drinks
Much like in a hotel, you might find a selection of drinks in your mini-fridge, and some bottles of water on your desk or bedside table.
Unless you’ve ordered them, these drinks usually aren’t free, even if you have an all-inclusive beverage package!
Some cruise lines do offer complimentary in-room drinks to suite guests and those with elite loyalty status. But for most cruisers, you’ll see a charge on your onboard account if you drink any of these beverages—even the water!
Tip: Ask your room steward to remove any drinks from your room that aren’t free so no one accidentally drinks one.
15. Coffee drinks
Coffee fanatics who are new to cruising are often happy to see coffee included in the list of complimentary beverages on nearly every cruise line. But that’s often just the plain, hot brewed coffee served in the dining venues.
If you’re looking for iced coffee or specialty coffees like a latte or a blended frozen espresso drink, those will come with an extra charge. Coffee prices at cruise ship cafés are usually fairly comparable to what you’ll find in an upscale coffeehouse on land.
Many (but not all) major cruise lines include unlimited specialty coffee drinks when you purchase a beverage package. If you know you can’t live without a specialty coffee or two each day, you may want to consider a package that includes your favorite drinks.
Read more: Are Cruise Drink Packages Worth It?
16. Internet access
With free Wi-Fi available at many hotels today, new cruisers are sometimes surprised that internet access isn’t also complimentary on most cruise ships.
Unlimited internet charges vary wildly across cruise lines—it can cost as little as $10 or as much as $50 per day. Often, you’ll be able to get a deal on the lower end of the range if you book a package for the entire cruise.
If you know you’ll need internet access on your cruise, check with the cruise line or your travel agent for the Wi-Fi cost before you book.
You may also like: How to Text on a Cruise Ship for Free
17. Fitness classes
Mainstream cruise lines usually have a fitness center aboard each ship, and using the equipment is free of charge. Many will also offer a few basic classes like stretching or abs workouts (check your daily planner for times).
But if you want to take a specialty class like yoga, Pilates, or spinning, there are often extra fees involved. Costs for group specialty fitness classes will usually run you between $10-$20 per class.
18. Parking fees
If you’re driving to the cruise port, parking at the pier can be pretty pricey—especially for a longer cruise. When you’re cruising from a port in the US or Canada, expect to pay between $15 and $25 per day to park your car or SUV, and more for RVs and campers.
Depending on how far you live from the cruise port, it can often be cheaper to use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft to travel between your home and the cruise port.
If you’re driving to a hotel the night before your cruise, some hotels offer a park-and-cruise package. You may have to pay a slightly higher room rate, but you’ll be able to leave your vehicle at the hotel during your sailing and use the hotel’s shuttle.
One of the best parts of cruising for families is the complimentary kids club on most cruise lines. Kids love the range of activities, and parents get a well-deserved break to relax and enjoy the cruise.
But childcare on a cruise isn’t always free. Most kids clubs are only open during the day, so parents of younger kids who want to enjoy the nightlife are sometimes surprised that evening childcare either isn’t offered on the cruise, or it comes with an additional charge.
Royal Caribbean offers after-hours group child care for $7 per child per hour. Carnival has a late-night kids’ club available for $6.75 an hour, plus a 15% gratuity.
Babysitting for under-threes can also come at an additional charge on many cruise lines, even during the day. Expect to pay about $7-8 per hour for this service, if the cruise line offers it.
20. Sauna and steam room
Sauna and steam room privileges on cruise ships aren’t free for all guests. Usually you’ll need to purchase a thermal suite pass for the day or the entire cruise. Weekly rates for the thermal suite (if your ship has one) usually cost between $200-250.
On cruise ships with special spa staterooms, access to the thermal suite is usually included in your fare when you book these more expensive cabins.
21. Adults-only sun deck and pool
Many cruise ships feature an adults-only sun deck and pool, which can be a relaxing oasis far from the rowdy kids at the Lido Deck pool. Some cruise lines don’t charge an entrance fee for these peaceful areas, but many do, and it can be expensive!
Expect to pay about $40-50 per day to enjoy the adults-only area on some cruise lines, and that doesn’t include a cabana—those are an extra charge.
22. Access to top onboard attractions
Are you tempted to book your next cruise on a certain ship because of its onboard attractions? Some of the newer mega-ships have some pretty cool features like rollercoasters, skydiving simulators, and go-kart speedways.
You might expect your cruise fare to include these attractions, but often they come with an additional charge.
23. Attractions at cruise line private islands
Many cruise lines including Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean own private islands with gorgeous sandy beaches, snorkeling spots, and the chance to relax at an exclusive location.
If you’re planning to just make it a beach day, you likely can do it without spending any money. At most private destinations, the cruise line provides complimentary beach loungers and a buffet lunch.
Tip: At some cruise line private islands, your onboard drinks package won’t work. Check with the cruise line or your travel agent to find out if this applies to your cruise.
But if you’re looking for more of an adventure, plan to shell out more money. Water sports, bike tours, and even floaty mats all come with an additional charge.
If your private island has a water park, entry might not be included in your fare. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Thrill Waterpark on CocoCay costs almost $100 per adult per day, and even more if you want to try the zipline.
24. Fuel surcharges
With rising oil prices, daily fuel surcharges might soon become common. Although cruisers haven’t really seen widespread mandatory surcharges for over a decade (the last time was in ’07-’08 when oil prices spiked), some cruise lines are implementing them, and I have a hunch that more will follow.
In spring 2022, Celestyal Cruises and Disney Cruise Line have already begun assessing this extra cost to passengers, at the rate of $8-9 per day per person.
And yes, even if you’ve already paid your cruise fare in full the cruise line can still charge you this fee—it’s included in the fine print of your cruise contract.
25. Errors on your bill
Although not technically a hidden cost of cruising (at least if you catch it in time), erroneous charges on your onboard account happen all the time! I can’t remember the last time I cruised without finding at least one error on my bill, usually a charge for a drink that my beverage package should have covered, or a double charge for something I bought.
Just before the end of your cruise, it’s a good idea to comb through your onboard charges to make sure it only lists items you’ve purchased. You can often find an itemized list on your cruise line app or on your stateroom TV. Some ships also feature self-service digital kiosks that let you pull up your account.
You’ll usually receive a paper copy of your bill the night before disembarkation, but you can go to Guest Services at any time for an itemized printout.
If you find an unexpected charge on your account, go to Guest Services before disembarkation morning (the lines will be super-long then) and explain the error.
Tip: Don’t make the mistake of waiting until after your cruise to contact customer service about errors on your bill. The staff on board are far more likely to help you when you’re standing right in front of them!
26. Travel insurance
Whether you’re taking a short cruise close to home or an extended journey around the world, you should really purchase a good travel insurance policy.
Even if you have excellent health insurance at home, it likely won’t cover you if you’re sick or have an accident on the ship or in a foreign port.
Travel insurance is a hidden cruise cost that can really pay off if the unexpected happens, and can save you thousands of dollars in bills if you need to use it.
Read more: Do You Really Need Cruise Travel Insurance?
Tips to avoid many of the hidden fees on a cruise
Some hidden fees on a cruise are inevitable—on most cruise lines, you won’t be able to avoid paying port taxes and fees or fuel surcharges (if your cruise line assesses them). But there are some ways to avoid paying any additional costs you weren’t expecting.
Reading this post thoroughly to find out what unexpected fees you might encounter is an excellent first step! Here are more cruise pro tips to help you control the cost of your cruise:
- Look for cruise line sales and promotions that may include extras like free drinks, Wi-Fi, or shore excursions.
- Consider an ultra-premium or luxury cruise line if you want many of the amenities without feeling nickel-and-dimed. Many are much more all-inclusive than mainstream and premium cruise lines.
- If a luxury cruise is out of your price range, some cruise lines offer packages and special fare types that include many of these expenses. Ask your travel agent for details.
- Read your daily planner to find free activities each day. The planner will also usually detail the cost of any paid activities.
- When you’re unsure if an activity or venue is free or for-a-fee, just ask! Crewmembers on cruise ships are usually super-friendly and won’t judge you for inquiring about costs.
- Ask Guest Services to place a spending cap on your onboard account, especially for kids traveling with you.
Have hidden cruise fees ever surprised you? Or have you been charged for any other unexpected cruise costs? Let me know in the comments below!
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