7 hidden fees that will make your cruise more expensive than you thought

cruise ship workerAndrea Pattaro/AFP/GettyImages

  • Your cruise fare most likely includes meals, accommodations, and entertainment, but you will probably encounter some hidden fees and unexpected charges, too.
  • Surprise gratuity fees and drink packages with unexpected catches can quickly add up and make your vacation more expensive than you thought.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On an all-inclusive cruise, your fare will include meals, accommodations, and some entertainment options.

But that doesn't even begin to cover all the money you'll actually spend on your vacation.

While all-inclusive cruises can offer passengers great value, there are some hidden and unexpected fees that can catch cruisers off-guard and quickly make a dent in their wallets, including surprise gratuity fees and drink packages that come with a catch.

Whether you're a new cruiser or have sailed for years, be on the lookout for these fees which may surprise you at the end of your trip.

Here are some fees that you may not realize you'll have to pay on your next cruise.

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Gratuities

Gratuities

For US travelers, gratuities at land-based hotels and restaurants is often discretionary — expected, but your responsibility to add yourself.

That isn't the case on every cruise ship.

"On a cruise ship, because of the many people to have a part in making your trip extraordinary, gratuities are automatically added to your final bill at the conclusion of your trip, with the exception of select luxury lines that often include them in the base fare," Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, told Business Insider.

For the most part, McDaniel says, you can expect a mainstream cruise line to add around $14 to $15 in gratuities per person every day. For a family of four taking a week-long cruise, that can add more than $400 to the cost of your base fare. That surprising fee can catch you by surprise at the end of a seven-day voyage.

"Prior to booking, be sure to familiarize yourself with your cruise line's gratuity policy so you can more accurately budget your total costs," McDaniel said. You can see a list of the gratuity policies of several major cruise lines here.

Bottled water

Bottled water

Many cruisers are aware that soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not included and incur an extra fee, but many don't realize that bottled water is an upcharge.

"On many ships, this is true even if you have purchased a beverage package," Mia Burwell, co-owner and senior travel curator with Genesis Travel Group, told Business Insider. "Bottled water is often not included and can cost you $3 to $10 if purchased onboard."

If you want a bottled water package, see if you can take advantage of a pre-cruise discount to save.

Drink packages with sneaky fees

Drink packages with sneaky fees

One fee that will surely catch some passengers by surprise comes up when buying drink packages.

A typical drink package will allow passengers to drink their fill for a fixed price per day. However, most cruise lines make every adult in the cabin buy the package, even if they don't drink.

"This is to keep passengers from sharing the package, but it often means there's an extra fee of an additional drink package for many couples traveling together," Tanner Callais, founder and editor of Cruzely.com, told Business Insider. "The good news is that cruise lines will sometimes work with you on the extra package, especially if there is some circumstance like being pregnant or a health issue that means the other person can't or won't drink alcohol."

There are also unexpected gratuity fees, even on free food or drink by the cruise line. For instance, some cruise lines offer perks where if you book the cruise, you can select perks like free drinks or free specialty restaurants.

"What's in the fine print is that even if you aren't charged for these items, you will be charged the gratuity of their original cost," Callais said.

Take a drink package that costs $100 per day. A 20% automatic gratuity is still charged, even if the package is free. In other words, on a week-long cruise those free drinks would cost the passenger $140.

"Be sure to read the fine print on any free perk offer from the cruise lines," Callais recommends. "If you don't like the overall deal, you can often skip the perks altogether and save the extra cash."

Taxes, port charges, and customs fees

Taxes, port charges, and customs fees

You're on the cruise line's website pricing your cruise and that super low fare is enticing. But don't forget to tack on port charges and taxes and fees.

"In addition to your cruise fare, there are costs that include things like customs fees, government taxes and port charges — and can sometimes add up to hundreds per person," McDaniel said. "When shopping, keep in mind that you'll certainly be paying these fees."

There's really no way to avoid paying these fees, so just be aware they exist and be prepared to include the fees in your vacation budget.

Amusement activities

Amusement activities

Cruising is no longer just for subdued travelers whose idea of excitement is a night at the piano bar. Many modern ships are essentially floating amusement parks, with roller coasters, go-karts, laser tag, and more.

"Cruising has lots of entertainment included, but many of the newer, more exciting activities do come with a fee," Burwell said. "Many cruise lines do offer pre-booking discounts, or package pricing. For example, if you love laser tag, you may want to take advantage of the deep discounts that you get for booking multiple laser tag sessions."

Transfer costs

Transfer costs

Keep in mind that if you're flying into a departure port, you'll need to account for the cost of traveling from the airport to your cruise port — including hotels if you're staying overnight prior to your departure, McDaniel said.

"Cruise lines often offer transfers, but be sure to compare with other transportation options to see if there's any room to save a bit on the cost of traveling to your cruise port," she said.

Some ports are considerable distances from the nearest major airport. Florida's Port Canaveral, for example, is about an hour's drive from Orlando International Airport, so getting there is going to cost more than a 15-minute Uber ride from Miami International Airport to the Miami Cruise Terminal.

Room service and specialty dining restaurants

Room service and specialty dining restaurants

Burwell said fees for room service and specialty dining restaurants throw many passengers for a loop.

"Everybody knows that cruises are where you go to eat 24/7 with no extra cost. That is, in fact, 100% true — on almost every cruise ship, there is somewhere onboard that you can find food without paying an extra dime," Burwell said.

"However, cruise lines have found another way to earn ancillary income with their specialty restaurants and room service delivery fees," she said. "Many specialty restaurants are a la carte, with passengers paying just a few dollars for some items. Others can be $100 or more for some amazing meals, paired with wines and an opportunity to meet the chef."

Burwell said guests can have a wonderful cruise without the extra expense of specialty dining, but she highly recommends giving the specialty options a try.

"The quality of the meals is amazing, and the value far exceeds that of a fine dining experience at home," she said.

As for room service, many cruise lines have opted to charge a delivery fee, and some have expanded their room service menus to include free items, as well as items with a fee.

"I recommend just being aware of what you're ordering, but ultimately, live a little," she said.

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