Q: My friends just got back from a relaxing 2-week cruise. Swimming, sun, and relaxation for a single price sounds like a great deal. Are there any hidden costs or other things to take into account when designing a budget for a cruise vacation of my own?
A: It sounds so simple. Instead of paying for your hotel, your travel, food and fun extras separately, you pay one bill. Your hotel IS your destination! Many of these cruise lines even advertise themselves as "all-inclusive." It's tempting to look at that price and think that's all you have to pay.
Unfortunately, it's a little more complicated than that. Cruise fares typically include your room and meals in a buffet-style dining hall. If you want more than that, you'll need to budget a little bit more than the quoted price. Let's take a look at a few extras you might have forgotten about and how to budget for them.
1.) Tipping: You're surrounded by a virtual army of service workers, most of whom depend on gratuities to make a living wage. Most cruise lines know this. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian all include a $12 per person per day automatic gratuity. Most other cruise lines charge a similar fee. You pay these charges at the end of the cruise, and they can be quite frustrating if you're not expecting them.
The cruise lines add the same automatic gratuity to optional services. If you and your partner get cocktails each at a poolside bar, you can expect to see an 18% gratuity added to the bill. The same is true if you get a massage or attend a yoga class. This extra charge is on top of any tip you add to ensure prompt service or reward personnel who go above and beyond their job descriptions.
How much you should budget for tips on your cruise will depend upon how much you rely on the service workers on the cruise line. At the lowest, you should expect to pay $200 per person for a week-long cruise.
2.) Internet access: We've become accustomed to constant access to our e-mail and social media profiles. Many people experience a sense of anxiety if they're cut off for any length of time. If you actively manage your investments or have a high-pressure job, being out of touch can cost you quite a bit of money. 4G access isn't available on the open ocean and cruise lines charge a hefty premium for onboard Internet usage.
Expect to pay $0.75 per minute for data usage. If you know beforehand that you'll need some e-mail and web-surfing time, bulk packages can drop the price to $0.55 per minute. If you want 20 minutes every morning to check your e-mail and flip through your news sites, expect to pay $100 for a 7-day cruise.
You can cut down on this price somewhat by using Internet cafes during port excursions. The trade-off is that you'll spend your tropical island time in front of a screen rather than in the sand.
3.) Shore excursions: Cruise lines take advantage of the fact that their audience is usually unfamiliar with the locations the ship visits. They charge inflated prices for tours and other shore trips. You can save money by booking these trips on your own with local tour services. You can even save by taking self-guided tours or just wandering the port. Even so, you can expect to spend between $50 and $100 per excursion. Be sure to include the price of souvenirs, meals, and drinks in tropical locations.
If all this seems overwhelming, bear in mind that it's still worth it. A cruise is a fantastic way to get away from it all and see many different locations in a quick vacation. These are costs you'd have to pay with any other vacation; they're just hidden a little bit behind the price tag for the cruise.
Now that you have an idea of what your fantasy cruise vacation will cost, you might want to explore savings options. Destinations Credit Union offers a Vacation Club SavingsAccount. You can take your vacation budget, divide that by the number of weeks you have to save, and auto-withdraw the amount from your paycheck or checking account every week or pay period. You'll even earn some dividends on your savings.
So make a plan, do some math, and then call Destinations Credit Union. The adventure of your dreams is waiting!