Like any holiday, cruising can come with good and bad surprises. Finding out your favourite speciality restaurant is bargain-priced for lunch or that spa treatments are discounted on port days might make you feel like you've discovered buried treasure. On the flipside, realising you have to pay a $15 corkage fee to drink the wine you brought onboard or that the room service you ordered is saddled with a surcharge can be a real letdown.
Despite the "all inclusive" lingo commonly used to describe cruises, all lines have "hidden" cruise fees. Additionally, each cruise line has its own policy when it comes to tipping, room service and more. Ordering bacon and eggs from your cabin might be free on one cruise line, but cost you on another.
If you're under the impression something is included, having to pay can put a damper on your worry-free holiday mood and potentially leave your budget in a bind. So how do you prepare for fees that aren't as obvious? Here are 11 cruise fees that might take you by surprise.
1. Room Service
Most cruise lines offer free room service, but some have now implemented a service charge for each order placed. Expect to pay $7.95 per order on Royal Caribbean if you order from the All Day Menu and from the American Section of the breakfast menu. (Continental breakfast options remain complimentary.) Norwegian, too, charges $7.95 per order, although this charge does not apply to passengers in The Haven suite complex. Celebrity charges $4.95 for late-night orders: those placed 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Some lines like Carnival, Disney and Holland America offer free basic room service, though some menu items (like M&Ms on Disney) carry supplemental fees. MSC Cruises offers a free Continental breakfast but charges for all room service items. There is no delivery charge, however.
While gratuities are commonly included in the upfront rates on luxury cruise lines, that's not the case on the mainstream lines. Instead, tips are automatically charged to your onboard account. While these extra charges aren't too ruinous on UK lines (averaging around £7 per person per day on Fred. Olsen and CMV), they can really add up on the US lines -- averaging $13 per person, per day, on average for standard cabins; note that suite-level passengers usually pay a couple of dollars more each day). While this eases the process of tipping everyone who provided you service throughout your sailing, it can come as a surprise to new cruisers who haven't read the fine print. In addition, not everyone is covered under the auto-gratuity. For instance, spa and beverage service typically carries a gratuity surcharge of 15 to 18 percent. Two pieces of good news -- gratuities are not obligatory and you can have them taken off your account; and two, a number of UK lines are moving towards an all-inclusive product, including P&O Cruises Marella and Saga Cruises.
3. Select Menu Items
It's no secret that specialty restaurants -- which offer higher-quality food and a more intimate ambiance than the main dining room or buffet -- carry a fee on most cruise lines. But if you want to upgrade your dinner with, say, a dry-aged steak or Maine lobster, it could cost you, whether you're in a specialty venue or in the main dining room. For instance, filet mignon will cost you $16.95 in Royal Caribbean's main dining venue while lobster or the surf and turf combo will set you back 14.95 euros in Celestyal's. Note, too, that for refined palates, some luxury lines have caviar menus carrying staggering supplemental fees.
4. Corkage Fees
On most lines cruisers can bring wine and Champagne onboard to avoid paying inflated alcohol rates on the ship, or to simply enjoy a favourite label from home or to sample something new that they've found in port. But before you hit the off licence or local winery, know that most cruise lines limit how many bottles you can bring -- and often charge a corkage fee. (Most luxury lines don't apply the fee.) You'll pay $10 to $25 just to drink it in the main dining room, but you can usually curtail the charge if you opt to consume the bottle inside your cabin instead.
For parents in need of grown-up time, a number of cruise lines offer free group babysitting via their onboard kids' clubs, which are conducted during the day and are generally reserved for kids age 3 and up. For late-night sitting (usually after 10 p.m.), you'll be shelling out an hourly per-kid fee for "late-night parties" (aka, group babysitting). This varies in price -- MSC Cruises charges six euros per hour or 10 euros if you opt for the night (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); a handful of lines also offer in-room babysitting, which is paid by the hour. For an hourly fee, Disney provides nursery care for those ages 6 months to 3 years. (Note that many of the upscale lines -- like Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, etc. -- don't offer babysitting services at all.)
6. Soft Drinks and Bottled Water
Despite the fact that most iced tea, lemonade, milk, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and breakfast juices are complimentary on cruise ships, soft drinks and bottles of water are not (with the exception of some luxury lines that do include them; Disney also offers free soft drinks with meals). A soft drink will set you back around £2.50, and a large bottle of water closer to £3. The best way to combat these prices is by purchasing a soft drink package, or by bringing your own soft drinks and water onboard. (Just make sure it's allowed before you pack it.)
7. Speciality Coffees
Got a latte addiction? Free coffee can easily be found at the buffet or ordered in the main dining room, but anything higher quality or fancier than a plain cuppa joe will almost always cost you (on the non-luxury lines, at least). Most cruise ships have cafes serving up specialty coffee a la carte, where a cup will typically run in the £2.50 upwards range (note that many lines offer fancier and fancier coffees, with toppings, cream and alcohol on top where prices will start reaching the £6 mark).
8. Sauna and Steam Room
While use of the spa-area saunas and steam rooms are free on most ships that have them, some cruise lines charge per day or offer a cruise-length pass to their fancier hydrotherapy areas/thermal suites. For example, Marella charges £15 per day (£10 if you are having a treatment) or £77 a week for access to its thermal suite; Norwegian Cruise Line charges $199 per week to access the sauna, steam room, heated loungers, hot tubs, thalassotherapy pool and other spa extras in its thermal suite. (The line offers $20 off for packages booked online.)
9. Onboard Activities
Onboard activities, like salsa classes and towel-folding demos, are generally free, but you might find some attractive pastimes that cause you to spend extra. Noteworthy onboard splurges include Holland America Line's Koningsdam's wine-blending class ($99); Holland America Line's America's Test Kitchen cooking classes ($39); and specialty fitness classes on various cruise lines (11 euro yoga classes on MSC Cruises or $12 Pilates on Cunard, for example).