All-inclusive? How to understand the price of your cruise
Updated: 5 days ago
Undoubtedly, whenever you've wanted to book a cruise, one of the things that has interested you the most is how much the trip will cost. It's very common to find many options and many prices that increase as you customize your cruise, and that's why today I'm here to tell you the keys to understanding each concept, know what you need to take into account and avoid ending up paying too much at the end of your trip for things you didn't know about.
1. Cruise base price
The first thing you'll find is the price of the cruise itself. Generally, cruises usually include accommodation, food and entertainment. There are five factors that will influence the price you will pay for this: the company, the itinerary, the dates, the duration and the type of cabin and its occupancy. Obviously, it's not the same to pay for a standard cruise around the Mediterranean for one week in an interior cabin as it is to pay for two weeks around the Greek Islands on a premium cruise line in a balcony cabin. The options are endless, and you can compare them on the pages of each cruise line by filtering for your preferences.
Something to keep in mind is that cruise lines generally show a price for double occupancy of a cabin. It's common to see that the price per person goes down if the same cabin is occupied by 3 or 4 people, in the same way that it tends to go up (except in some companies with special offers) if we travel alone in a double cabin.
It's also common to see that prices vary depending on when you book your cruise, possible offers that are launched or maybe you have a special price through each company's loyalty clubs, which reward frequent cruisers with discounts. In a future article, we'll talk about how to find a cruise at the best price.
2. Embarkation fees
Just like with flights, cruises also require paying embarkation fees. This is basically what the company is charged to be able to dock at each port. It's increasingly common to see that cruise lines offer the complete price with fees included, although many show you the base price first and then add the fees at the end of the booking. In any case, paying embarkation fees is mandatory and is a fixed price. The only reason some show it separately is to give you a more attractive initial price.
The only thing you have to do is pay attention to whether the price next to it specifies fees included or not. In any case, they will appear before you finish your booking, as they are always paid together with the cruise.
3. Tips, service charges, and taxes
From now on, we enter into concepts that are more common to be hidden or that maybe you don't take into account, and we start with tips. Every cruise is subject to a daily tip per person, which on average I would say is around €10 per night (depending on the itinerary and the category in which you travel). If we count a double cabin for one week, we're talking about an additional €140 that you may not have counted on, and the tip has several ways of being included. There are cruise lines that include them in the price, under the concept of "tips included". This usually happens in certain all-inclusive packages (with Costa Cruises, for example), or in companies like Virgin Voyages that ensure that "their ships don't ask for tips because they already take care of their staff". Generally, you'll find that the tip must be paid and you're offered to do it before or after the trip. It's usually exactly the same, and even if you prepay them and don't take the trip, they will always be refunded to you. Actually, once on board, if the service is not satisfactory or if you really like it, you can modify the amount you give, but it's common to pay them because it's part of the crew's salary.
Make sure you check in the budget if they are prepaid or, if you have to pay them at the end, what their total price will be. I'm in favor of prepaying them and thus having a more realistic budget of what the trip will cost me in total, forgetting about extra expenses at the end.
Something else to keep in mind is that generally, ships operate like a U.S. business. Let me explain. In Spain, it's normal to buy products or services with a total price. In the US, you pay for the product or service, to which you add the tax separately and the tip. That's why on board it's normal to see that you're charged €3 for an ice cream, and they add a 15% service fee, for example, and if the cruise line is American, a 10% tax, for example. In total, you end up paying almost €4 for that ice cream. I'm telling you this because it's important that when buying anything on board, you read the percentages that need to be added to the price you see. As I was saying, it seems strange to us in Spain, but in other countries, it's normal.
4. All-inclusive. Everything?
Let's get to the point that may generate the most debate, and that is the famous "all-inclusive" that almost all cruise lines offer. None of them offer everything completely, as there will always be products or services to pay for on board, and actually, all are pretty clear about what they offer and what they don't. The key is to know where to look for information and to know what's included and what's not, so you can also decide whether to pay for one of these packages or not.
The most common thing in an all-inclusive is that they provide you with an unlimited drinks package. This means that you can consume as much as you want within a selection. Normally, it includes coffee, beer, wine, and cocktails with and without alcohol. This depends on each cruise line. For example, Costa's all-inclusive doesn't include unlimited bottled water (they offer 1 small bottle per person per day) although they do include water in a glass; or Norwegian, for example, includes brewed coffee but doesn't include Italian coffees (espresso or cappuccino). It's also possible that while Costa includes options like Bailey's, it's not included in MSC. That's why it's best to ask about the drink selection, as this way you can consider whether to upgrade your package. An upgrade consists of paying an extra fee and expanding that selection to more brands and options.
In addition to drinks, some cruise lines offer more. Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, has the Free at Sea package, which includes drinks, €50 off excursions, 150min of WiFi, and up to 2 specialty restaurants. In a future article, we'll discuss each company's offer in detail.
It's also important to note that once the cruise is booked, you can always customize it with more packages. It's quite common to come across packages of specialty restaurants, WiFi packages, or also additional drink packages. For example, during my cruise with Norwegian, I added the Starbucks package to my all-inclusive to be able to drink specialty coffees throughout the week.
The important thing to keep in mind is that on board, if it's not specified as included or you don't have it in a package, drinks, specialty restaurants, WiFi, excursions, spa, and other services are paid for. And as I was saying, it's best to inform yourself exactly about what's included, as the term "all-inclusive" often leads to a lot of confusion and frustration when you're told that even with it, a paid restaurant is still paid.
5. Trip extras
You already have your trip booked, with your final price including fees, tips, and packages that interested you. Is that it? Well, there are a couple more things to keep in mind that, although they are quite obvious, some of them can be overlooked.
We start with an extra that is really essential: accommodations and transfers. You may not need to think about this if, for example, you live in Barcelona and depart from its port, but it will be essential if you have to travel to embark. I wanted to add this because there are times when you book a cruise and then realize that flights are more expensive than the ship, or that you even need a pre-night hotel stay to arrive on time. Whether you book it with the company or on your own, it's a point to consider as part of the trip budget, as if you travel far away, it will be a considerable part of the final price.
In addition to this, you're on a cruise, and this generally means visiting cities where you may need to add guided tours, monument tickets, or meals outside the ship, and you may even have to consider a currency exchange. This is very unpredictable, and perhaps you can't calculate it exactly, but planning what you want to see in each city will help you to add the expenses of each city to your initial budget.
Finally, although it's possible to travel without making additional expenses on board, you'll always want to try a special restaurant, buy something, or maybe try your luck at the casino. I don't think it's necessary to add this to your budget, as it will depend on what you feel like at the moment, but it's good to know that these are expenses that may appear.
Now we can consider a total price for our vacation, which is likely to be far from the offer you saw on the first day marked as "from", but will be absolutely more realistic and appropriate to what we need to know. I think the key to having a trouble-free trip is especially the information about what you've contracted, so as not to be disappointed about the expectations and reality of what's included on board.
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