Over the past decade at CruiseMates I've been asked all sorts of questions about cruising, both via message board posts, and private emails. Do you know what the most difficult question to answer is?
No, it's not how much are hookers in Paris?.... Though I really don't know the answer to that either. It's how much money should we take on our cruise?.
To even begin to discuss this question we have to decide if the question is addressing both ship expenses (those normally paid for using the ship's onboard charge card) as well as any expenditures one will actually use cash or their own credit cards for.
Onboard the cruise lines model is set up as a cashless society. That certainly doesn't mean you don't spend money onboard. It means they offer you the convenience of a ship's charge card to make spending your money onboard much more convenient, and no doubt to assure you have a tool to make spur of the moment purchases without having to dig in to your pocket for actual currency. These charge cards purchases are guaranteed by you during the embarkation process, either by presenting a credit card or by leaving a cash deposit on hand. And should your charge card purchases come close to exceeding the credit available on your credit card, or the amount of cash deposit you've left, you'll be called to Guest Relations to present a manner of further guarantee. Indeed, if you have no other means of available funds you can find yourself cut off from making any further purchases.
Here's a laundry list of things you'll be charged for onboard using your ship's charge card:
- Gratuities for staff (can run from $10-$15) per person, per day (varying by cruise line).
- Drinks- all alcohol, soft drinks, specialty coffees on some lines, some types of juices
- Spa treatments
- Alternate restaurants (on ships which offer this option)
- Shore excursions - if purchased from the ship for tours in ports of call
- purchases from in suite mini-bars on ship equipped with them
- all purchases made from ANY of the ship stores, or sales; weather it's logo wear, clothing, jewellery, sundries, or duty free liquor
These days many ships will display their wares outside of the shops, either in the hallways or on the pool deck to encourage sales, but wherever the purchase is made onboard, you're BUYING it from the shops.
- art auctions - if you decide to indulge
- It's also becoming more common to see some forms of the ship's activities coming with a surcharge to participate - eg. Wine, beer, or martini tastings, palates classes, some craft classes, etc. The ship's daily newsletter will note which activities come at an additional cost.
- some cruise lines now also charge a fee to use some spa areas, as well as Serenity areas on deck.
Shipboard casinos are generally the one place onboard where cash is used, but many cruise lines allow you to charge a limited amount of playing chips or tokens to your shipboard charge account (but most charge a service fee on those transactions).
Above we've listed a multitude of things that you'll have to pay for, above the cost of your cruise fare. However, it should be obvious that much of it has to do with how much you buy into to. There is no answer. There is no average expenditure. Most of the charges are optional, and strictly determined by you deciding how much you're going to buy, and what you chose to pass on, attempting to stay within your budget.
If you think that list seemed long, now we have to talk about how much you'll spend off the ship, in ports of call, during your cruise.
If you book ship's tours in port the actual excursion will be charged to your shipboard account, but you could need cash (or credit cards) to buy drinks, souvenirs, food, and tips for servers and guides.
If you pass on taking ship's tours in port, then you have to account for transportation expenses (taxis or rental cars), food and drink expenses, attraction entrance fees, and any shopping purchases.
In some ports of call cruisers have been known to organize their own private tours with local tour operators. If these aren't paid for in advance, then you have to remember to take into account the money you need for payment, as well as tips for guides and drivers. And you must be sure to note whether your tours include attraction entrance fees in the cost.
There's truly no way to quantify what might be the appropriate amount for people to budget for their extra expenses on a cruise vacation. Some will spend only few hundred more, others will spend thousands of dollars more.
Here's the one thing each of us needs to consider:
HOW MUCH CAN I AFFORD?
Then we MUST budget accordingly!
Don't go on a cruise vaction because you want to, or because you feel you deserve it, UNLESS you can afford it! It's not pleasant at all coming home with a financial hangover; they can last a very long time.