I love cruising and contrary to popular belief I genuinely believe that a cruise offers great value for money as all major expenses – accommodation, meals, snacks, activities and entertainment (including quite often West End quality shows) are included. However, as my hubby frequently has to remind me when I get excited over an incredible cruise deal I’ve found, there are many hidden costs of cruising and they can quickly add up.
Below I’ve listed 8 hidden costs of cruising that we’ve come across and shares my tips for minimising these costs. This list is not exhaustive and so if you’ve got any tips for cruising on a budget I would love to hear them.
Like any holiday, it’s worth shopping around and spending time doing some research to ensure you book a good cruise deal. Two websites worth checking out are Travel Zoo and Iglu Cruise. Both offer incentives i.e. onboard credit and cabin upgrades if you book with them. To ensure that you book with a cruise specialist who is able to provide expert advice go via an accredited CLIA agent. And remember to sign up to the cruise line loyalty programme as it may save you money on future cruises.
We’ve been stung with high telephone charges when booking direct with cruise lines in the past as I’ve booked via their premium rate reservation number so this hidden cost is worth keeping in mind.
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – Shop around. Factor in the true value of ‘free incentives’. Keep phone calls to premium rate reservations short and instead ask questions via email or on live chat.
Compare exchange rates to ensure you maximise your spending money ashore
I’m really guilty for not maximising my spending money for when ashore. I’ll spend hours researching and comparing cruise and flight costs, yet I’ll sort out my currency exchange in a mad panic last minute. (And then be annoyed with myself for getting stung with terrible exchange rates!).
Of course when cruising you often need several different currencies depending on your cruise itinerary so it’s definitely worth ensuring you get the best deal on your currency by comparing exchange rates. Compare Holiday Money is Europe’s biggest dedicated travel money comparison service. It’s a quick and easy comparison tool which compares the UK’s top currency suppliers to find the best exchange rates, saving users 10% or more.
What I really like about the website is instead of having to check out the various exchange rates between banks, the post office and travel agencies you can log onto the website, simply type in how much you need in your chosen currency and within seconds it gives you a list of rates alongside a list of companies to purchase from. (And all important star ratings for each too). The rates get updated every five minutes throughout the day, so are always up to date so you know you’re getting the very best deal.
You can have your currency posted to your home address, or you can click and collect from over 15,000 stores, including airports, which is very convenient especially when pressed for time. Of course the savings on the exchange rates come in very useful for buying ice creams, cocktails and souvenirs when exploring the ports!
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – Don’t leave getting your currency until the last minute. Use Compare Holiday Money to shop around as they guarantee to offer you a better deal than what you would find on the high street. Also at the end of your cruise, if you have any left over currency log back onto the website to get help selling your money back online, again with better exchange rates than on the high street. (Compare Holiday Money is the only website in the UK to offer dedicated currency buy back comparisons; instantly showing you who will offer you the best price for your unused currency).
Generally, it’s worth booking your cruise and flights separately. Although of course it’s always worth comparing prices of booking all together via your cruise agent verses booking your flights with i.e. Kayak or Skyscanner.
Both flights and train fares are cheaper the further in advance you book and the more flexible you can be.
If you’re sailing from Southampton, you’ll need to weigh up the cost of travelling by car and paying to park for the duration of your cruise verses travelling by train and getting a taxi to and from the port (minimal cost only 1.5 mile). Also an option is travelling by coach from your home town i.e. with Eavesway Travel. (My parents and parents in law have booked by Eavesway many times and rave about the low cost and great service they experienced).
We’ve always travelled to Southampton in our car and organised parking via Park On My Drive. For example this driveway is located ten minutes away from the cruise terminals and only cost £4 per night compared to approx. £85 a week for parking in the official Port of Southampton car park with ABParking.
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – Although you may not be able to change the departure date of your cruise it’s worth pricing up arriving into port a day earlier or leaving a day later as it may save you money. Also avoid expensive car parking by not parking in the port.
Purchase cruise extras in advance to benefit from discount
Extras such as WiFi and drinks packages are generally cheaper to buy before you sail when the cruise line offers them at a discounted price. Whether you need to purchase these extras is of course a personal preference…
Minimise cost of WiFi whilst cruising
You may opt to just catch up on email and social media with free WiFi when in port, or you could pay an hourly rate and use the computers in the ships library if you don’t wish to pay for a WiFi package. I recently paid $10 per day for a basic (non streaming) WiFi package whilst onboard the RCI Navigator of the Seas, saving myself $6 per day if I had booked the WiFi package when onboard.
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – For the best free WiFi in port ask the crew or just follow their lead as you disembark the ship!
Minimise cost of drinking whilst cruising
Drinks packages are generally around £50 per adult per day (each adult in your cabin has to buy a package to prevent people from sharing drinks). To be honest I’ve never booked a drinks package as I’ve either been working onboard or travelling as a guest of an officer (and so received discounted drinks) or travelling with kids and therefore been unlikely to drink 5+ alcoholic drinks a day to make it worth the money. This is an excellent guide to drinks onboard Royal Caribbean if you want to work out whether it’s worth buying a drinks package.
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – Take a look at the cost of individual drinks onboard to see whether you would save money purchasing a drinks package. If not, it’s generally better value for money to purchase a bottle of wine (which can be enjoyed over a few days at your dinner table) than it is to purchase by the glass. It’s also worth taking some alcohol onboard with you although cruise lines do have restrictions. Checkout this comprehensive list of alcohol policies for the most popular cruise lines by Cruise Critic to see how much alcohol you can take onboard. Also make sure you attend the Captain’s welcome onboard party where they serve free wine!
Minimise the cost of shore excursions
I worked onboard P&O Cruises in the Shore Excursions department for three years, first as assistant and then as manager. Hand on heart I genuinely believe that shore excursions are a safe, convenient and fun way to explore ashore. They can however be expensive. I’ve gone into more detail and provided tips on saving money on shore excursions in this post – Booking Shore Excursions v’s Exploring Ashore Independently.
Minimise the cost of buying new cruise clothes
I apologise in advance for any ladies reading this who were hoping to convince their partners that they need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes for your upcoming cruise! For the last couple of cruises I’ve been on I haven’t bought any new formal evening dresses, although I have very much wanted to. With the amount of weddings we’ve attended in the past few years and cocktail dresses that I’ve had for years still fitting me I found that I had a choice of 20+ outfits to choose from. Cocktail dresses can cost upwards of £250 so I couldn’t justify buying anymore especially as they are classic dresses which really don’t go out of fashion.
Tip for minimising hidden cruise cost – Take a look at the dresses you already have, consider wearing past wedding outfits, even bridesmaid’s outfits. Borrow cocktail dresses from friends or failing that look on Ebay. TK Maxx often have cocktail dresses in stock at a bargain low price too. For men consider hiring a tuxedo from onboard the ship to save on the cost of buying your own tux. For more tips on packing for a cruise check out my guides – What to pack by an experienced cruiser, Cruise packing guide for adults and Cruise packing guide for kids).
Summary: Hidden costs of cruising and how to minimise them
I hope you’ve found this guide to minimising the cost of cruising useful. From saving money on currency by using Compare Holiday Money, (which compares the best exchange rates for over 80 currencies from the biggest suppliers in the UK) to avoiding costly port car parking fees and reducing the amount of formal clothes you need to buy you can significantly save on the overall cost of your cruise.
If you have other hidden cost tips to add please do pop them in the comments section below. I’m always looking for new ways to save money on cruises. (So that we can afford to go on more!)
Disclaimer – This is a paid for collaborative post with Compare Holiday Money. All opinions are, as always, my own.
Pin for later – Hidden costs of cruising (and how to minimise them).