With the rising cost of everything – including travel – cruise fares, some as low as $25 per person per night (based on double occupancy), seem like an incredible bargain. And they certainly can be, but the fares you see advertised online often don’t include extras like taxes, fees, port expenses, gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, alcoholic beverages and more.
Cruise pricing can be confusing with so many variables; unless you’re sailing with a smaller luxury line that is all-inclusive, your bill on the day of disembarkation may be unexpected or even shocking. Small things like buying bottled water or renting noodles for floating in the ocean at a cruise line’s private island can add up quickly. To help you plan better for a cruise vacation, U.S. News has broken down some of the costs and add-ons you need to take into consideration before booking your next getaway on the high seas.
How much does a cruise cost?
A cruise can cost anywhere from about $120 per person for a two-night Caribbean cruise to up to $95,000 per person for a nearly 150-night world cruise and anywhere in between. Cruise fares vary based on itinerary, number of nights, cabin type and cruise line. Here are a few examples of base cruise costs on larger cruise lines for various regions:
- A seven-night Caribbean cruise in November costs approximately $300 to $1,250 per person.
- A seven-night Alaska cruise in May costs approximately $420 to $980 per person.
- A seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise in June costs approximately $730 to $1,430 per person.
- A seven-night Mexico cruise in January costs approximately $220 to $920 per person.
- A seven-night Canada and New England cruise in October costs approximately $590 to $820 per person.
What’s included in the base fare with a larger cruise line?
Mass market cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line – and more upscale lines like Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard Line and Princess Cruises – advertise “starting from” base fares, which are for inside cabins. These are the least expensive staterooms on the ship and they do not have windows. Staying in these accommodations still gives you access to all the complimentary dining venues, several types of nonalcoholic beverages (nonbottled water, iced tea, lemonade, juices, hot coffee and tea), the ship’s pools, the gym, kids clubs and onboard entertainment.
If you want a room with a view – or a larger stateroom – consider booking an ocean-facing room or cabin with a porthole, window, balcony or veranda. With these rooms, you’ll have access to all the ship’s included amenities and typically more spacious accommodations for the week. Of course, this option will come at a higher price point.
No matter which room category you choose, port expenses, taxes and fees are not included in the base fares, and they’re automatically added to the cost of your cruise. The amount of these charges will depend on the length of your cruise and where you’re sailing. Gratuities for the staff and crew are also additional.
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What if you want more amenities and perks?
If you splurge on a suite or a higher room category, such as Celebrity’s Concierge Class, you’ll have perks that feature priority boarding, complimentary sparkling wine, daily canapes, concierge service, invitations to exclusive events, pillow selection and more. And with Disney Cruise Line‘s Concierge Staterooms, guests have a dedicated concierge agent offering personalized assistance for planning port adventures and dining reservations. You’ll also get complimentary Wi-Fi, access to a private lounge and other perks.
You may opt to stay within an exclusive area of the ship, such as MSC Cruises’ Yacht Club, Norwegian’s The Haven or Celebrity’s The Retreat. These high-end private retreats offer an all-inclusive experience with additional features, while still including access to all the entertainment, dining venues and more on board. The accommodations can cost hundreds more dollars per day, but you’ll have an experience similar to sailing on a small luxury vessel.
For example, the MSC Yacht Club offers an intimate all-inclusive space within its larger ships. The private area is accessible with a key card and features luxurious suites, a dedicated concierge, 24-hour butler service, a private restaurant and lounge, and a rooftop pool. There are also additional dining and snack options throughout the day at the pool and lounge. You’ll find similar amenities in Norwegian’s and Celebrity’s private retreats, including priority boarding and disembarkation, exclusive sun deck areas and priority access when boarding tenders for going ashore.
What factors determine pricing?
Base pricing and the additional components vary greatly among the cruise lines, so you’ll need to determine what your budget is for the trip – and what you can and can’t live without when it comes to accommodations and amenities. Travelers may also find that one cruise line has a deal or promotion that includes specialty dining, a beverage package, free Wi-Fi or other perks in the advertised rate, while another line isn’t running any specials for a similar itinerary.
Voyages on older cruise ships tend to be less expensive, so if you’re on a tight budget, consider a ship with fewer bells and whistles. If you’re sailing on a short itinerary in the Bahamas and plan to lounge by the pool or on the beach all day, you may not be concerned about having high-tech onboard amenities, martini bars and several specialty restaurants. Save the money to splurge on more expensive fares when you’re planning to sail on longer voyages on larger and newer ships. You’ll have several days at sea to enjoy the onboard amenities, such as a three-level racetrack and a 10-story tall dry slide on a new ship like the Norwegian Prima.
Another significant factor to consider is the time of year you want to travel. Better deals are available in the offseason, but the offseason varies depending on what part of the world you’re traveling to. For example, May is a great time to find a deal in the Caribbean. The offseason – or shoulder season – in that market typically runs from May to November. However, keep in mind this is hurricane season. You also may be able to find last-minute deals in many other destinations if you’re flexible. Working with a travel agent is an excellent way to learn of last-minute specials and cruise deals that offer add-ons like beverage packages, specialty dining inclusions, shore excursions and other perks. You can also check out the online specials that change frequently.
Solo travelers may pay more
If you’re traveling alone, you may also need to factor in a single supplement, which can add up to as much as 100% of the cruise fare. To save money, bring a friend so you can access the lower double occupancy fare or consider lines that feature rooms for solo travelers; select Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Celebrity ships offer solo cabins. These smaller accommodations – around 100 to 150 square feet in size – are priced and designed for solo travelers. Key card access to Norwegian’s Studio Complex and Lounge is included and offers a place to relax and mix and mingle with other cruisers. Other lines that offer solo cabins include Holland America, MSC and Virgin Voyages. While the price may not be as inexpensive as the double occupancy fare when traveling with someone else, these accommodations offer some savings over a typical solo fare.
Some lines often feature special deals on select sailings where the single supplement is waived or reduced. A knowledgeable travel agent specializing in cruises can assist in finding the best offers for solo travelers.
Kids cruise free promotions can help families save
If you’re traveling with kids, many cruise lines – such as Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess – offer Kids Sail Free promotions periodically throughout the year. You can also find discounted fares for the kids on select sailings. Regent Seven Seas Cruises has fares as low as $999 for children 17 and younger on seven- to 22-night voyages during the summer and holiday season. This fare also includes unlimited shore excursions and all the benefits and perks of sailing with an all-inclusive luxury cruise line.
Food and beverage packages are another expense to consider
Once you determine your total cruise fare with the taxes, fees, port charges and gratuities, you’ll need to budget for the additional expenses you’ll have on the ship – and these extras can add up quickly. Meals at specialty dining venues, alcoholic drinks and other beverages may not be covered in the basic cruise fare. You’ll also have to pay for room service on most ships.
You can save money by purchasing specialty dining, beverage and Wi-Fi packages before or during your cruise rather than buying everything individually. Keep in mind, it’s best to buy them once you book your cruise, as they’re typically cheaper to purchase before you board the ship. For an example of the savings, Royal Caribbean offers up to a 40% discount with a dining package. This includes reduced pricing for children ages 6 to 12; kids 5 and younger eat for free. The cruise line’s unlimited dining package also offers discounts on bottles of wine.
In addition to specialty dining venues that charge a flat fee – usually between $30 to $60 for dinner – there are also restaurants featuring a la carte menus with sushi, bar food and even steakhouses that price out individual courses. Some of these may not include gratuity, so that’s another add-on. If you decide to dine at any of these spots – and they’re not included in your package – you’ll have to budget for them in the total cruise price. Enticing dessert items in the gelato and ice cream shops on some ships also come with a price, including Coco’s and Dolce Gelato on Norwegian or MSC’s Venchi.
There are endless options when considering beverage packages, too, so you need choose what fits best with your interests and budget. Some of the package options are only for nonalcoholic drinks like fountain sodas, sparkling waters and coffees, while premium or deluxe beverage packages cover beer, wine and cocktails, so they are more expensive. Depending on the cruise line, these packages will usually cover drinks up to $15, but many craft cocktails on cruise ships can be quite expensive, costing as much as $25 or more. If you have the premium package and want to splurge on the fancy beverage, you’ll have to pay the difference over $15.
Other lines have packages that cover top-shelf beverages of up to $18 each and include discounts on wine, large bottles of water and soda, and other perks. You’ll need to budget around $80 per person per day for this option – and an additional 18% gratuity. This type of package can add up to quite a bit of money on a seven-day cruise or longer.
For additional savings, look into bundle pricing that includes specialty dining, Wi-Fi, photos and more. Purchasing them together may be more cost-effective. For example, Holland America offers a “Have it all” package that encompasses one shore excursion, a signature beverage package (including the service charge), one evening of specialty dining and Wi-Fi. If you’re sailing on longer cruises of 10 to 21 days or more, the benefits increase. The line estimates savings of 50% when you purchase this bundle.
While these packages may not always work out in your favor, you’ll at least know what your dining, imbibing, excursions, Wi-Fi and even additional activities on the cruise will cost.
Additional costs on a cruise ship
Excursions, fitness classes, spa treatments, access to thermal spa rooms, babysitting services, ship tours, wine tastings, cocktail demonstrations, cooking classes, laundry services, and some entertainment venues and activities on the ship – such as Norwegian’s racetrack and Carnival’s first roller coaster at sea, BOLT – also incur additional fees. See some of the more popular added costs you’ll want to consider below.
Wi-Fi access: If you need Wi-Fi during the cruise, that’s another cost to factor into the total price. Here are two examples of pricing for internet plans. Carnival offers three options for Wi-Fi, including a basic social plan (just to access certain social media channels like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, etc.) at $8.50 per day per person. The cost increases to $14.45 per day per person with the premium plan. This option gives you three times the internet speed of the value plan should you need access to Zoom or Skype during the cruise. You can save 15% off the total price if you book in advance of your trip.
Celebrity’s “Always Included” fare includes basic internet, a classic drink package and gratuities. If you don’t book that fare, Wi-Fi plans range from $20 per day for basic service to premium Wi-Fi at $35 per day.
Shore excursions: If you’re traveling to far-flung or new destinations, you’ll want to book shore excursions. Cruise lines recommend that you book excursions directly with them rather than hiring an independent tour company or operator, but it can be more expensive to book tours through the cruise line.
However, if there was a delay on an independent tour and you couldn’t get back to the ship on time, there’s a chance you could get left behind if you’re not on a ship-sponsored tour. If you decide to go with a private tour guide, be sure to book an excursion where you’ll arrive back at the ship with plenty of time to spare before the vessel departs for the next destination.
Some trips last an entire day or are once-in-a-lifetime adventures like dog-sledding on a glacier in Alaska or taking a helicopter ride in Iceland. These types of excursions can be costly, ranging anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of dollars.
If these types of experiences are not in your budget, then look for historic walking or panoramic driving tours. These excursions are shorter in duration and typically the least expensive tours available on the cruise. Most of these types of tours will cost less than $100. And, of course, there are always other options available that range between the lower and higher price range of excursions.
If your ship is docked directly in the town or city, then you’ll be able to explore off the ship on your own for free. Some cruise lines also offer complimentary shuttle buses into town, or a round-trip ride for a nominal fee, if it’s not within walking distance of the ship. That’s another less expensive option for you to sightsee, shop or grab lunch in town.
Transportation: Transportation is another expense that’s often overlooked in the total cost of a cruise. Consider if you’ll be driving or flying to the cruise port. If you’re driving, you’ll have to pay for gas and parking at the port – and maybe a hotel the night before the cruise, depending on when you arrive and when your ship is scheduled to set sail. Don’t forget the meals or beverages you’ll purchase on the way.
If you’re flying to the port, especially on a long-distance flight, it’s best to come in a day early. In that case, you’ll also have to pay for a hotel, transfers from the airport to the hotel and then a transfer (private hire, Uber or cab) to the ship’s terminal. There will also be meals to budget for while you’re in town before the cruise and a ride back to the airport after the cruise.
- Souvenirs or forgotten items: Don’t forget to account for purchases on the ship. Items that you forgot to bring from home will be more expensive on the ship. It’s also easy to run up the bill when buying souvenirs for yourself or the kids. It’s a good idea to periodically check your bill online or with guest services to see the current balance. You can keep a running tab of what you’ve billed to your stateroom – and also make sure that the charges are correct.
COVID-19 testing: Depending on the cruise line and destination, you may be required to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding, so you’ll need to budget for the test – and time it properly for your arrival at the ship. Most cruise lines require that the test be taken no more than 24 or 48 hours before boarding, so you might need to arrange for the test close to the cruise port, which could be more expensive than doing it at home with a local provider.
You may also be able to order a testing kit ahead of time through the cruise line and take a proctored virtual test, which could be done at a hotel the night before the cruise, so see if that’s an option. Again, it will be at an additional cost.
Cruise pricing checklist
To sum it up, here’s a checklist of major items that will help you to compare costs across cruise lines and tally up the total cost of a cruise:
- Base cruise price
- Taxes, fees, gratuities and port expenses
- Specialty dining
- Beverage package
- Optional activities
- Shore excursions
- COVID-19 testing
- Miscellaneous expenses
- Air or ground travel to the port
- Hotel prior to embarking
If you don’t want to budget for all the individual expenses related to a cruise – and you don’t need the over-the-top entertainment of a larger cruise ship – consider booking a mostly all-inclusive or a fully all-inclusive cruise with a luxury cruise line. These cruise lines include almost everything in your cruise fare.
Mostly all-inclusive cruises
One option for a mostly all-inclusive cruise is Viking Ocean Cruises. The line’s nine all-veranda ocean-going vessels accommodate 930 passengers – and all of Viking’s ships feature the same categories of staterooms and suites, dining, lounges and entertainment venues across the fleet. The ships offer an immersive cultural curriculum on board with regional dishes, destination performances and enrichment lectures.
Viking’s fares include veranda accommodations, port taxes and fees, free Wi-Fi, access to The Nordic Spa and fitness center, 24-hour room service, ground transportation (if you book airfare with Viking) and one complimentary excursion in each port. You’ll also have complimentary alternative dining options and free beer, wine and soft drinks with lunch and dinner on board the ship. Specialty coffees, teas and bottled water are available 24 hours a day at no extra charge. Guests are also invited to a welcome cocktail party and farewell reception.
If you like to have an aperitif before your evening meal or an after-dinner cocktail, those beverages will be at an additional cost. You’ll also need to budget for any optional shore excursions that are not included in the fare.
Keep in mind that Viking is an adults-only cruise line, so children younger than 18 are not permitted.
Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn Cruise Line boast all-inclusive luxury experiences with shipwide amenities such as ocean-facing suites, butlers, premium spirits, fully stocked in-suite bars, no tipping and complimentary dining at world-class restaurants.
Additional perks with Regent Seven Seas include complimentary shore excursions, free two- or three-night land programs, a free one-night hotel stay before the cruise departure, transfers from the airport to the ship, and business class or economy airfare, depending on the destination.
Silversea offers door-to-door arrangements where everything is handled by the cruise line. You can also opt for a port-to-port all-inclusive rate if you prefer to make your own travel arrangements. If you’re on one of the cruise line’s expedition cruises, fares will include a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay. All Silversea fares cover a selection of complimentary shore excursions in each port.
If you’re interested in an even smaller ship – and are sailing to the Caribbean or Mediterranean – SeaDream Yacht Club features an intimate luxury experience on its two 56-stateroom yachts. The fares also include top-notch cuisine, open bar and gratuities, complimentary daily yoga, access to water sports activities and nightly movies under the stars.
The average cost of a cruise is all over the map – and there are many variables to consider. Hiring a cruise specialist to navigate the rough waters may be your best option. Cruise specialists are also privy to special deals and incentives that you may not be able to access on your own.
Travel agents can also advise you of promotions that may include free specialty dining, beverage packages, complimentary Wi-Fi, shore excursions, discounts on solo and family travel, and more. This approach will save you the hassle of searching online or calling the individual cruise companies to check on what specials are available.
If you’d rather have one price with everything included so there’s little room for surprises at the end of the trip, consider a mostly all-inclusive or all-inclusive cruise fare. If you don’t need waterslides for the kids, big Broadway shows and high-tech entertainment, opt for a cruise on a small luxury line.
When doing the math and comparing the costs, you might be surprised how similar in price cruising with a larger mass market cruise line and a smaller luxury line can be. In the end, your decision will come down to your personal preferences and what you value most for your cruise vacation.