First Cruise Ship? 5 Big Ticket Items To Watch Out For

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Nolan had a blast on his first cruise!

Have you ever wondered why you can get cruise ship tickets so darn cheap? I mean, just hop on over to cheapcruises.com and see all the awesome and ridiculously inexpensive deals you can get on Bahamas and Caribbean cruises. We were able to secure our 4 night cruise to the Bahamas for only $249 per adult. I know what you’re thinkin’, pretty flippin’ sweet, eh? (what am I Canadian now?) And though it looks good on paper, there were a LOT of expenses I didn’t really consider, so I want to tell you about them before you go on your cruise ship.

  1. Taxes and Fees and Fees and Taxes. Before we even stepped foot in sunny Florida, we were hit with our first BIG unexpected expense. Our taxes and fees to book the cruise added up to an additional $183.60! Not only that, but we were also unable to bring our child on the cruise without paying for him as a passenger, even though he was only 10 months old. Now, for veteran cruisers, you may have known this, but I had no idea. So now our $500 cruise was pushing $900. But hey, for 4 nights in the Bahamas, entertainment and food all included, we decided to go for it anyway.
  2. Shore Excursions. I know, I know, everyone knows that shore excursions are expensive. But honestly, I had no idea that they were THAT expensive. We decided to pass on most of them and just relax on the beach or ship, but my wife really wanted to do Parasailing. Sounds cool! So we pulled out the info packet and opened it up and found that it was $89 per person! GAH! If we both decided to go, that’s $178 gone for 5-7 minutes in the air. That’s like another 2 nights on the cruise! Since I like not dying in the ocean and wanted to save some money, my wife ended up going with her mom and sister-in-law instead.
  3. Alcohol. The cruise ship margin on alcoholic beverages has to be somewhere near 500000% because O.M.G. were drinks expensive! And how can you refuse? You go through the DMV waiting line, show 16 pieces of ID to get on the ship, lug your 200 lbs. of luggage over to the ship and then wait in another line to board. You step on board, sweatier than Mike Tyson at a spelling bee, and they hand you a fruity rum drink with an umbrella in a blinking cup. Good luck saying no to that. Now, I can count on 8 fingers how many drinks we purchased on our trip, but at $9 a pop, that puts at over $70 in beverages alone!
  4. Pictures. Now, being the proud owner of a Canon Rebel T3 digital SLR camera (and having no clue how to use it (typical, I know)), the thought honestly NEVER crossed my mind that we would need any kind of professional pictures on board the ship. We were well equipped to snap awesome photos of any precious memories that would occur. But as we entered the ship, I saw full on photo shoot setups with background pictures, professional lighting and photographers whisking the crowds through their setup, snapping a few shots and rolling more people in. In each port there were photographers taking photos, at dinner, out at the pools, virtually everywhere you turn, someone was snapping your picture. I felt like Justin Bieber at a high school prom. Every night, they had a growing display of 8 x 10 photos out in the ship, with some pretty awesome pictures of our family. I realized that we would not leave the ship without some photos, so I started to price them out. $20 for a single 8 x 10 photo?! UGH! Well, if we hit 5 photos, that’s $100 right there, and there were WAY more than 5 great pictures that we wanted. So I looked at their package deals to get the digital copies of the photos. $250!!! Well, at least we were able to split the cost up, but man that was expensive. We also opted to take all the prints home for another $50 (got over 50 prints). So $300 later, my budget is shaking it’s fist at me, but we have some awesome family pics.
  5. Gratuity. Yes, I believe that everyone in the service industry should get paid gratuity. Yes, I enjoy tipping well, especially for stellar service. But being on an “all inclusive” cruise, I was thinking that it was all paid up front and that would be the end of it. I had assumed it was part of the “taxes and fees” portion of the invoice. Nope. First, we were charged $12 per person per day for general gratuity. Yes, our son paid $48 in gratuity fees because he’s generous like that 😉 We were charged gratuity on every drink purchased, including lattes. We were also charged gratuity on the pictures purchased. So, overall, we paid $225+ in gratuity over the course of 4 days. And since I didn’t not plan on that amount, my budget picked up it’s things and moved out for the week.

I Did Not Budget Well, But You Can

I admit, I didn’t not expect a lot of these charges because I just didn’t know. I had done some research, but with conflicting information online, we were left wondering what we would be charged for and what would be included. Now, I know. I hope my experience can help you budget for these somewhat hidden expenses, and allow you to enjoy your first cruise ship! I recommend setting up a savings bucket for your vacation, putting away what you think you’ll need for the cruise, and then add an additional 20% more for other “hidden” expenses that might come up. Then, go spend your money guilt-free and have a great vacation!

Comments: Have you ever gone on a cruise? Me too! What are some unexpected expenses you ran across? Did you find yourself overspending on Bahama Mamas or Coco Locos? Does anyone else think sitting in a hottub with other cruises to be not only awkward, but also probably the biggest cesspool on the entire ship?

Oh, and look at me rockclimbing!


I know I look manly and fearless, but I was a bit shaky once I got above about 3ft. high…
Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

48 thoughts on “First Cruise Ship? 5 Big Ticket Items To Watch Out For”

  1. We have never been on a cruise but want to in the future….so I appreciate the tips! I knew that there had to be added expenses since it appeared to be so damn cheap. I figure that I should just go ahead and double the cruise budget just to account for the alcohol budget itself. I also want to do some shore excursions- they all sound so awesome!

  2. I have been on many cruises in my day so I will share a few tips:

    1. Each adult can usually (depends on the cruise line) bring one bottle of wine aboard when you depart. If you drink it in your state room it is free, if you want to drink it somewhere else it is usually a $10 corking fee. This can save your some serious money.
    2. Each adult can usually bring one case of water (20oz bottle I believe), again this depends on the cruise line, but it can save you from having to purchase one when you are leaving the ship for the day.
    3. Arrange your own excursions, this can save a TON of money. If we speak the local language we do this all the time. Many times the trips are cheaper and not as hurried. the only risk you run is they won’t hold the ship for you if you are late.
    4. You can adjust the automatic gratuities if you don’t feel the service was very good. I typically don’t do this since $12/day/person is pretty fair in my opinion.
    5. If you really want to sneak alcohol on board, the smuggler’s flash line works pretty well, or you can get a bottle of Smart Water (or any bottle of water that has a white lid and tamper ring) fill it with vodka and super glue it closed. I know that works becuase my friends do it.
    I have more tips, but it would be enough for entire post!

  3. I’ve been on a number of cruises as well. The port fees and taxes can add up quickly but many of the cruiselines are now including that fee in the upfront price. As well there are nice cruise lines that will allow children to cruise free with 2 paying adults in the cabin. Celebrity Cruise Line does include all tips in their upfront price too. Does that make it any better? Not really except for the fact that you know upfront what it will cost.

    Yes drinks and excursions are pricey. I use to go for the fancy drinks but they are so full of sugar and I found I was always tired. I do buy bottled water because the water on the ship, although it goes through a filtering process, it is still high in salt and made me feel weird.

    I tried parasailing once in Europe and absolutely loved it!!

  4. Ahhhh, your post took me back to my first (and only!) cruise. We’d been warned about alcohol and gratuities ahead of time, but excursions and photos really shocked me. We actually looked better in almost ALL the photos the cruiseline took than our own shots, so we did order quite a few – what a waste, we displayed them for about ten minutes and then put them in our photo albums. We did two excursions, and at our third port, just did a DIY excursion – it was the best (and cheapest!) of the bunch! Great tips here!

    • The photos were so great, especially with our little man in his cute outfits (check out the first pic in the post). I need to look into DIY excursions, looks like the way to go in the future.

  5. I’ve never been on a cruise before yet I am learning some pretty awesome tips. Sicorra wrote a guest post for me a while back that detailed about ways to save. I’m not sure I’ll be jumping on a cruise any time soon but before I do I’ll certainly take all the tips I’ve learned and put them to good use. Mr.CBB

  6. I went on a Royal Caribbean cruise with my MIL (before she was my MIL, actually), and managed to stay pretty true to budget. My MIL had warned me about the tips beforehand, and she treated me to one shore excursion and one after dinner drink (for the souvenier shot glasses!)

    But if you want soda, that’s also a charge… I think it was $8/day for a soda bracelet that let you drink all the coke you wanted. I opted for iced tea and lemonade which were free =)

  7. All of these are awesome tips – I wouldn’t know what to expect either! I’ve never been on a cruise but these are all good points. What was really surprising was that you had to pay for your baby. As if he ate/drank nearly as much as an adult would?!

    • He didn’t really eat anything except a small fruit cup at dinner. He’s barely old enough for solids and doesn’t really take up any space, not sure why we have to pay so much for him…I know other cruise lines will allow > 2 years old free.

  8. I really want to go on a cruise but I find that I can get sea sick on occasion so I have never been game to do it :s

    On a different note – How did you find the Cannon camera? I just bought a Cannon EOS 650D and am eagerly awaiting it in the mail. I feel sorry for my dog who has volunteered to be my model 😀

  9. We’ve been on three cruises and love it! We were surprised as well on our first cruise how everything just added up so quickly. As has been said, you can arrange your own excursion through other companies and save a good bit of money. We also love just going to the beach to relax and finding somewhere local for lunch.

  10. I also have never been on a cruise, although my wife and I have been thinking about doing a “Disney Cruise” with our little girls one day. I will definitely budget for all the little extras. (never thought of the gratuity portion – although I agree with tipping well :))

  11. I don’t ever plan to go on a cruise.. partly because of the reasons you list above where they charge you!! A lot of cruise companies have bought vast areas of land on the islands they visit… you end up spending money here thinking it is ‘local’

  12. I guess you have to look at it like the ship is your hotel and meals, and everything else is like the adventures you would take on a land lover vacation. Otherwise, you’d be setting in the hotel and eating all day. Good to know that all inclusive isn’t really that. I have never been on a cruise, but will plan accordingly if it ever happens.


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