Cruising is one of the best ways to take the family on vacation. There is something to do for everyone…all ages! Some of the highlights of cruising include: endless food choices (even for picky eaters), each day you are in a different city, and tons of entertainment.
Now there are a few things that the first time cruisers, even second and third time cruisers need to be aware of or need to look at more closely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ALL about cruising! However, I try to get the most bang for my buck! So here are few tips to do that:
1. Port fees / charges – The price that you view online for a particular cruise does NOT include the dreaded port fees / charges. These charges vary from cruise to cruise. What are they? Each destination city or port charges the ship to dock. So, of course they pass that fee along to the cruiser. Look, I don’t mind paying fees to dock at a city but sometime the port fees are just as much as the cruise itself! For example, I was looking to book an Alaskan cruise on a particular cruise line and the cruise was going to be $499 pp for an interior room PLUS $399 for port fees (for the whole week)! Whoa! I couldn’t do it! However, I’ve booked 7 day cruises and the port fees were only $98 per person. So look closely at the final cost. Some destinations are worth the extra fees, some aren’t.
2. Insurance – This is an expense that I also don’t mind paying but the price varies from company to company. Travel insurance, especially for cruising is a must have in my book. If you have a scheduled port, and the ship doesn’t stop there because of unexpected weather, you can usually file a claim and get reimbursed the port fees. The cruise line will usually provide some sort of onboard credit for missing a port too. Or, your ship might be delayed or arriving to the home port because of weather or other unexpected travel situations.
3. Gratuities / Tips – Each room (stateroom) is assigned a crew member who is dedicated to cleaning your room for the length of your cruise. I’ve always had friendly, happy, and helpful room attendants during my cruises. They deserve to be compensated! Some cruise lines will include a daily tip (around $12 / day per person) onto your final bill when you disembark (leave), and others won’t. The gratuity also pays the dining room servers, bartenders, cruise director, other crew members throughout the ship. When I’ve cruised, there are certain crew members that go above and beyond their level of service. For those folks, I try to give them cash. The reason: the $12 a day ship imposed tip, will also pay the captain of the ship too. Yes, he did help us get from point A to point B, but the captain didn’t provided the extra level of hospitality as the other crew members did.
4. Port Transfer – So, once your plane arrives at the airport, how do you get to the ship? Well, you need to get a ship / port transfer. Depending on where the port is, you could $25 – $100 one-way, per person, getting from the airport to the ship! Remember, you still need to get back to the airport! The cruise lines usually offer a rate that is lower that hailing a taxi cab at the airport. So, I try to do my research before I leave and see if there are transportation companies or shuttle buses locally that offer a flat rate to rent the whole van, etc. I’ve found this to be much cheaper. However, I must disclose that if you do book with the cruise line, and the ship is delayed arriving to port, they are much more flexible trying to accommodate than if you book privately.
5. Airfare – Most cruise lines now offer booking your airfare with your cruise package. You aren’t required to do this but it can be helpful if you aren’t comfortable booking these type of things on your own. The airfare with the cruise line is usually more expensive than if you book on your own. HOWEVER, if you flight is delayed or cancelled the cruise line will usually do everything it can do get you to the ship if the ship leaves port without you. In essence, the cruise line is taking responsibility for you not getting to the ship because they booked your plane tickets. So far, I have not booked with the cruise line airfare because I am comfortable doing it on my own. But, I always fly in a day BEFORE the ship. This helps to eliminate stress especially if my flight is delayed or cancelled.
When I plan trips for our travel club, My Family Guide Cruise & Travel Club, I try to include all the items above in our quotes. I’ve learned from early on that people don’t like surprises when it comes to money (unless you’re winning money of course)! No one wants to be digging in their pockets for extra money before the fun begins.
What are some things you have learned while cruising? Share your comments below!