The hidden costs of cruising

Lorna Cowan / 25 July 2016

We highlight some of the potential hidden costs when booking a cruise, and how you can avoid them.



Cruises can be exceptionally good value for money, and as a result are becoming increasingly popular. However, when looking for a cruise that best suits you, it makes financial sense to know what is and isn’t included in the price before you book. Here are the hidden extras to look out.

Flights

If your cruise sets sail from a port outside of the UK, check to see if your flights are included in the advertised price. Most cruise companies will offer to book flights for you, but they may be an additional cost. Look for Fly Cruises that include a flight from a choice of regional UK airports. Transfers from the airport to the port, and back, will be included.

Discover fly cruises from Saga

Alternatively, you can organise the flights yourself, which may prove better value for money if embarkation is in Barcelona or Palma where many no-frills airlines fly to regularly. However, give yourself plenty of time, and factor in additional time (and the cost) of getting from the airport to the port. The cruise ship won’t wait for you if your flight, or a transfer bus or train, is delayed. Also be aware that your luggage allowance on a no-frills flight can be considerably less than your cruise allowance.

If you’re heading to the US or Australia to begin a cruise, it’s wise to book a flight (with the cruise company or independently) for a few days before embarkation. It’ll give your peace of mind, and you’ll have time to acclimatise to the weather and get over any jetlag.

Tipping

When, who and how much to tip cruise staff is among one of the most debated subjects among cruise-goers, regardless of whether it’s your first cruise or your 50th - and with good reason. Some cruise companies, especially those operating large ships, will automatically add on around £9 per person per day to your account, so at the end of a week a couple could be faced with an additional £126 to pay, just for tips. A gratuity of 15% may also be added to your bill - regardless of good service - every time you buy a drink from the bar, order a coffee or visit the onboard spa.

Tipping is, of course, voluntary, but few people ask for it to be removed or reduced at disembarkation. As a result, cruise gratuities can cause us Brits a great deal of stress - not the best way to end a relaxing holiday.

The easiest solution to banish those worries is to book a cruise, such as those offered by Saga where all gratuities are included in the price, and all staff – including those working behind the scenes – receive a fair share. You may still, however, want to tip individuals who have been particularly helpful - it’s always worthwhile tipping your cabin steward at the start of your cruise.

Meals and drinks

On holiday it’s nice to indulge and enjoy a little more to eat and drink, and while all cruises include meals and drinks, what’s included in the price can differ. On some ships, only meals taken in the main restaurant, which can be buffet-style, are included in the price. If you want alternative dining options, expect to pay extra. A couple may not quibble over £12 for a change of scene and menu for the evening, but dine in the à la carte restaurant and you could pay nearly £100 extra. Enjoying fine wine will add on even more.

As for drinks, watch out for that welcome cocktail offered on embarkation – it may have a price tag attached. The same applies to the bottle of mineral water in your cabin. Many cruise companies will charge for alcohol, fizzy drinks and bottled water. And while complimentary tea and coffee will be available at certain times throughout the day, if you fancy a speciality drink, such as an espresso or cappuccino, this will be added to your bill (often with a 15% gratuity charge). Service charges may apply if you want drinks delivered to your room, especially late at night.

If you enjoy a tipple or two, it may be worth considering paying for a drinks package offered by some cruise companies. Or book a cruise where a choice of wines with lunch and dinner – and free 24-hour room service – comes included.

All-inclusive cruises are also an option if you want all your meals and snacks, as well as unlimited selected drinks, included in the cruise price.

Excursions

A cruise allows you to explore different destinations on one holiday, or enjoy new experiences, but these excursions are rarely included in the price – unless you’re on expedition cruise, perhaps on an adventure to the North Pole.

If you fancy a guided tour around the Acropolis in Athens or the chance to swim with dolphins in the Caribbean, it’ll be an additional extra. A three-hour sightseeing tour can add on between £30 and £75 per person. Expect to pay almost double that for a full day’s excursion, especially if lunch is included, which may not be to your choice or represent good value for money.

An alternative option is to visit your port of call independently. Try to plan ahead and know how big a city or island is, so it’s not a mad scramble trying to get back to the ship before it departs – you don’t want to be on the opposite side of the island in a taxi stuck in traffic. Some cruise lines allow passengers to use a free shuttle bus service, taking you from the ship to the nearest town or city centre.

What to expect on a shore excursion.

Onboard activities and entertainment

It all depends on the size of the ship, but there will usually be plenty of activities and entertainment for you to enjoy. Much of this, such as watching a movie or attending a tea dance, will be free. However, if you attend an iPad workshop or want a photography lesson, you may have to pay a fee.

On many ships there’s a fully-equipped gym on your doorstep, so you’ve no excuse not to exercise. But while there’s no cost to swim or use the treadmill (although you may be limited to 30 minutes), a spin class or yoga session may be an additional extra.

Prefer a spot of pampering? Perhaps a sports massage or hot stone treatment? Before you’re tempted to unwind, check out the prices – they can be similar to those in a top UK spa. Ask if there are offers when the ship is in port. Deals are sometimes available when the majority of passengers are off sightseeing.

Activities to expect on a cruise.

Mobile phones and the internet

Be aware that using your phone or tablet onboard may incur hefty charges. At sea, your mobile may automatically lock in to the ship’s expensive digital network, so calls will be expensive, as will using wi-fi – and connection can be slow.

To avoid paying over the odds for the internet, wait until you go ashore and find a cafe with free wi-fi, or cheaper fees. If you have other friends or young family onboard a large ship and want to be in contact during the day, consider using a walkie talkie.

Port fees and taxes

If you’re sailing from a UK port, you’ll need to factor in the cost of parking your car there – which could add on £75 to a week’s holiday. One option to avoid it is to find a cruise company that includes port parking in the price, or better still, a cruise company that offers a chauffeur service.

Imagine being picked up from your home and taken to the port, without any stress or hassle? That’s the chauffeur service offered by Saga. Port fees and taxes, charged by certain country’s governments and cruise ports, are also included in the total price of Saga cruises.

 Travel insurance

Regardless of the type of holiday you book, always buy travel insurance. Remember though that age, destination and pre-existing medical conditions will affect the premium, sometimes adding a substantial cost to your trip. If you already have annual travel insurance or own a bank account that provides you with cover, check this includes cruise holidays.

A specialist cruise policy usually offers more cover for emergency medical treatment, as your cruise ship could be miles away from a hospital. Policies also often cover you if a prepaid excursion is cancelled or if the onboard doctor confines you to your cabin due to an illness or infection.

Saga offers optional comprehensive travel insurance and additional cancellation rights with all of its overseas holidays. If you already have insurance, they will offer you the holiday at a lower price.

Find out more about Saga Travel Insurance.

Cabins

If cabin size and where it’s located (inside or outside) is important, note that the larger the room and higher the deck, the more expensive it will be.

Solo travellers are also often penalised when on all types of holiday, not just cruises. Saga is one of a few companies that treat solo travellers more fairly, and doesn’t charge more for a single cabin on a river cruise on many of the Saga-inclusive ships.

Discover more about river cruising for solo passengers.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.