Cruise fares can be really enticing, with weeklong sailings routinely advertised for less than $75 per person per day, especially in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the advertised fare does not accurately represent total cost of a cruise. There’s still no doubt that a vacation at sea is a great value, but how much does a cruise really cost? To make sure you budget the right amount for your vacation, check out our tips to help figure out the total cost of your cruise before you book:
Note: These estimates are just that… estimates. You could end up paying a lot more (or a lot less) for each aspect depending on a variety of factors, your personal spending habits chief among them.
1. The fare
The size of the cabin is the biggest factor in the cost of your cruise fare. - Photo by Cruiseline.com
Three major factors will influence the cost of your cruise fare: the line you sail on, the cabin you book, and where you travel to. For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume you’re going on typical 7 night Caribbean cruise with a mainstream line like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, or Princess. It’s possible to find an inside cabin on a Carnival for $50/night, but a balcony cabin on the same cruise could cost $200/night, so there's a lot of range here.
Estimated Cost: $400 - $1400 per person
Tip: Unlike hotel prices, cruise fares are listed per person, not per cabin, with rates based on two people occupying a stateroom. Cruise lines offer single travelers the opportunity to book a double cabin for themselves by charging a “single supplement,” which is basically 1 ½ times the list price for one person. Some cruise lines even offer studio staterooms designed and priced for solo travelers. The bottom line: You’ll save a lot of money if you bring a friend!
2. Factor in the cost of flights and fees.
Be sure to arrive well before your cruise sets sail. - Photo by Shutterstock.com
Add in the cost of flights. Sometimes port taxes are included in the advertised fares, and sometimes they’re not; if they’re not, expect to pay about $100 to $200 per person, depending on the destination and length of the cruise. Government fees and taxes are rarely included in the list rate and can be an additional several hundred dollars per person.
Estimated Cost: $150 - $500 per person
3. Add in transfers between the ship and the airport on both ends.
The cost of the shuttle can vary depending on the length of the trip. - Photo by Cruiseline.com
Factor in the transfer costs of the bus or taxi to get you between the airport and the ship for both embarkation and disembarkation. The cruise line’s bus transfer makes sense if you’re traveling alone or as a couple; if you’re a group of three or four, a taxi may be your cheapest and quickest option. Driving to the port? Figure in parking charges instead.
Estimated Cost: $20 - $100 per person
4. Don’t forget about gratuities.
The excellent service on cruise ships is almost always worth the extra cost. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Unless you’re sailing on one of the high-end lines that include everything in the fare, tipping on a cruise ship is expected and will set you back about $80 to $90 per person per week — about $12 per person per day. On some cruise lines, the tip is required rather than optional, so read the fine print. Some lines discount this amount for children, and babies under age 2 aren’t usually charged at all. In addition, 10 to 15 percent gratuity is typically added to bar bills — for alcohol and soft drinks — and gratuities are applied to spa treatments as well.
Estimated Cost: $100 - $150 per person
5. Remember that drinks add up.
Expect to pay big-city prices for drinks. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
If you’re a drinker, beer, cocktails, and wine can quickly increase the cost of your cruise. Expect to pay $5 to $12 per drink, depending on your beverage of choice. A can of soda or a small bottle of water costs approximately $2. Most lines sell drink packages for alcohol, unlimited fountain sodas, or packages of bottled water; these make sense if you tend to drink a lot throughout the day. Deal or no deal, buying these packages makes it easier to figure out your budget for the week.
Estimated Cost: $50 - $350 per person
6. Expect to pay extra for some activities and specialty restaurants.
Teppanyaki on Norwegian Dawn - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Visiting the spa or taking classes in the gym on a cruise ship will cost you. And on some lines, aerobics classes and other sea day activities come with small additional fees. The cost of specialty restaurants and the myriad of options has also increased dramatically in the last decade.
Estimated Cost: $50 - $150 per person
7. Include the costs of shore excursions.
Ziplining in Belize - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Unless you plan on exploring independently, signing up for the ship’s group tours can set you back anywhere from $50 to $400 per person per day. The cheapest options are walking tours, and the most expensive are flightseeing excursions in helicopters and specialty tours that involve private meals, wine tastings, and adventures like hot air ballooning or watching the Grand Prix in Monaco. Sure, these may be once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and we’re not suggesting skipping them — just be sure they’re part of your budget from the beginning.
Estimated Cost: $150 - $1000
8. Add it all together
Cruises truly are the best bang for your buck. - Photo by Paul Gauguin
Once we add everything together, we have the following range:
7 Night Cruise: $920 - $3,650 per person
Yes, it’s a pretty big range. Odds are, most people will end up somewhere in the middle, between $1,500 and $2,000 per person. Now, it’s true that if you were to drink only water, explore ports on your own, and stick to the main dining room and buffets, you could easily knock a couple hundred more off the price. But, to be perfectly honest, that doesn’t sound like much fun to us.