A cruise is a fantastic travel option if you want to explore multiple cities on a single trip, without having to deal with long road trips or flights in between. Cruise ships also offer a wide variety of entertainment options from water parks to theater, casino to night clubs and lot more. Like a small floating city with an ocean view 24/7.
Aside from the convenience and the number of entertainment options you have, taking a cruise is a cost-effective vacation — probably the most economical luxury-class vacation you can get. But not if you fall for the classic rip-offs that companies offer their passengers. Yes, if you are not careful, you’ll be shocked by your bill at the end of the cruise.
Here are some of the worst rip-offs that I have personally observed.
1. Expensive Liquor
One of the biggest moneymakers on any cruise ship is the bar. They know that for many travelers, vacation equals drinking and vacation drinking is a gateway to more things to spend on – food, casino and of course, more alcohol.
So if you are expecting that there will be affordable liquor on board, sorry but you won’t. And no, don’t even think of sneaking a bottle on your luggage because it can be confiscated (or kept locked up “for you” until you depart).
If you cruise a lot (like I do), you will eventually get some additional perks which sometimes include free alcoholic beverages, but they will be limited to certain places and times. And don’t expect to be able to get your favorite alcoholic beverages.
If you just can’t stand to do without, your cruise is going to be surprisingly expensive. I typically just avoid drinking on the ship (well, except for an occasional glass of wine in the frequent-cruiser’s lounge), but I have known folks whose liquor bill was twice or three times the base cost of the cruise. Ouch!
2. Internet Rates
These days, you can access internet almost anywhere aboard a modern ship. Well, sort of. It tends to be much less robust and less reliable than what you are used to at home.
If you have a bad online addiction and you just have to have internet access wherever you go, you might find yourself paying a lot for internet access. This has actually gotten a bit better in the past few years, but for a week of medium-speed (what the cruise lines will call “fast”) internet, you will pay about what you pay for 3 or 4 months of true broadband internet at home. And even for the most expensive “high speed” plan, don’t expect to be able to have reliable Skype access, or be able to watch streaming video. That sort of access may even be deliberately blocked.
There are a couple of ways around this. The obvious is to take a vacation away from the internet. If that’s too painful, you can locate the internet cafes or other hot spots in the various cruise ports and use them. Unfortunately, that may preclude other on-shore activities. Often, the various on-shore restaurants will have “free” WiFi, but you will typically have to purchase a meal, or at least a drink (which will probably be much cheaper than the same drink on board the ship).
Here’s a hint that will help you get better cruise ship internet access: If you can do all of your internet access in the morning between about 5am and 7am, you will have almost all of the limited bandwidth to yourself, and the performance of the “2nd tier” Internet service is about the same as the most expensive plan. Since Mrs. BBTB and I are both “morning people,” that’s what we do.
3. Special Dining Venues
“All Inclusive” doesn’t include premium dining venues. You have to pay extra if you want to have a themed dining experience like Italian, Japanese, French or whichever you prefer. Personally, I just skip these. On our last cruise, we checked on the price of dining in the fancy Mexican venue, and decided that an extra $30 (each!) was just not worth it.
Unfortunately, I have noticed a trend on some cruise lines where things that were normally included (at least once in a cruise) in the regular dining rooms are now only available in the premium dining venues.
4. Shore Excursions
Although this is more convenient because the cruise line will do all the planning for you, prices can get really high. It’s a lot cheaper if you arrange your own port itinerary. So before your hop on a cruise, you might want to get a good guidebook and research on the internet for fun and more affordable port activities.
Note that there is a risk in arranging your own shore excursions, in that if the excursion is late returning, your ship will not wait on you. If you are on a ship-sponsored excursion, they will wait if it’s late returning.
Mrs. BBTB and I generally go on at most one ship-sponsored excursion on any given cruise (the visit to the Belize zoo is one that I heartily recommend!).
On board every cruise ship is a casino. If you think the casinos at Las Vegas or Reno are a rip-off, you will be amazed at how much worse a cruise ship casino is. In fact, if you have a gambling problem, I would advise you not to even consider cruising. Yes, it’s that bad.
Personally, I don’t even go into a cruise ship casino (although they are always placed so that it’s inconvenient to go around) simply because they always smell like an ashtray.
For more information on how to get the most out of your cruise vacation (shameless plug!), check out this Kindle book written by Mrs. BBTB.