10 Hidden Costs On Carnival Cruises For New Cruisers

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Carnival Dream St. MartinNow that I’ve been on two cruises with Carnival Cruise Lines I feel like I should share with you what we thought were some of the hidden costs you can be surprised by if you’ve never been on a cruise before. While these hidden costs do add to the cost of a cruise, we personally think that cruises are still an amazing value for your vacation dollar.

We think they’re such a great value that we already know for a fact that we’ll be taking more cruises on Carnival in the future! If you’re planning your first cruise and you’ve just been looking at the fares you might be surprised at the total cost of a cruise. That said, here are the hidden costs that you might experience on a Carnival cruise:

Room Upgrade and Port Fees

If you’ve never made it to the actual booking screen on the Carnival website then you might be surprised that you’ll have to pay more than the initial price cruises advertise. All cruises have port fees and taxes that can easily be at least $100 or more depending on the number of guests. On top of that, unless you want to be in the lowest category room of the class you’re in, or Carnival is running a free upgrades sale, you’ll have to pay to move up to higher floors or to different areas of the ship.

Travel To The Port

Carnival Cruise Trip Cost Report

Photo By Tori

It is easy to think that the cruise only costs the price that you pay when you book the cruise. Unfortunately, unless you live really close to the port, you’re going to have to pay a significant amount in either airfare, car rentals or gasoline to get to the cruise ship.

Accommodations If You Arrive A Day Early

If you are travelling from more than a couple of hours away, chances are you’ll want to arrive a day early to avoid any travel snafus that would cause you to miss the cruise ship. After all, it won’t wait for you if you get stuck in traffic or one of your flights are delayed.

Arriving a day beforehand will result in additional costs. You’ll have to find a place to stay which will likely mean a hotel near the port. There is a bright side to staying a hotel the night before though. You might be able to save on the next hidden cost, parking!

Parking

If you’re driving to the port then you had better be prepared to pay parking fees. In general, it is most expensive to park at the port facilities, but they’re also closest to the cruise ship. Most ports charge $15-$20 a day. There likely will be remote lots owned by other companies that will charge half of the cost and shuttle you to the cruise ship.

The way I save on parking is by booking a hotel package near the port that allows you to leave your car at the hotel while you’re on the cruise. The hotel I stayed at last time even had a free shuttle to take us to the cruise ship.

Daily Gratuities In Addition To Cruise Fare

Tip JarCurrently, Carnival charges $11.50 per person per day for gratuities for the staff of the cruise ship. They automatically add these charges to your on board account while you’re on the cruise if you didn’t prepay them in advance. If you didn’t read the documents closely, you may have missed this expense that can add up quickly.

You can remove the tips, but the staff almost always provide excellent service and a good portion of their earnings come from the tips, so I would suggest against it unless you have a horrible experience.

Excursions

Just because the cruise ship stops in various countries and exotic destinations doesn’t mean that anything beyond stopping there and letting you off the boat is included. In fact, the ports that they stop at almost always have villages of shops that are either owned by the cruise lines or give the cruise lines a cut of their sales.

To get to the real experiences of the country, you’ll have to take an excursion (a guided tour or planned activity) that takes you into the more normal areas of the country you’re visiting. These can be relatively cheap if you book an independent tour (less than $50 per person) or expensive if you pick a Carnival sponsored excursion that is more involved (up to $200 or more per person).

Tips on Excursions, Before And After The Cruise

If you hadn’t picked up on it yet, tipping is a standard practice almost everywhere you go on a cruise. I tipped my hotel shuttle driver, the porters at the ship that take your baggage, any room service waiters that deliver me food to my room, excursion tour guides and the hotel shuttle driver when we returned. That’s a lot of tipping that can add up fast!

Alcohol, Sodas and Their 15% Gratuities Not Included In Fare

Carnival Alcoholic Drinks

Carnival Alcoholic Drinks

Something many first time cruisers don’t realize is that sodas and alcohol are not included in the cost of the cruise. Sodas are $1.95 per drink and they don’t even give you the can. Alcohol is even more expensive. Alcoholic rinks range from $5 for simple drinks to over $10 for some of the fancier ones. Beers start at $5 and get more expensive for the specialty beers.

Don’t forget that, in addition to the prices for drinks, there is a automatic 15% gratuity added to all drink orders that you can’t remove unless you go to guest services and have a specific reason.

Specialty Restaurants

If you haven’t been upsold enough at this point, the cruise ships have another upsell option for you. Most cruise ships have specialty restaurants such as steakhouses, fancy Italian restaurants and even some eateries you might recognize from home. These can cost just a few dollars extra per person each time you dine at them up to $40+ per person for the fancier options.

Specialty Coffees and Other Drinks/Foods Not Included

You’ll be glad to know this is the last hidden cost I could think of. Specialty coffees (anything other than straight coffee), drinks other than water, teas and juices and specialty foods (think milkshakes and specialty deserts not served at meal time) all cost extra! These are just a few dollars a piece, but they can add up fast if you don’t watch out.

Even With The Hidden Costs Cruises Are A Great Value

Honeymoon Cruise Trip Cost Report

Photo By Tori

Even with all of these potential hidden costs, cruises are still a great value. If you’re smart and budget for them ahead of time you’ll have more than enough money to have a great vacation. Many of the hidden fees are easily avoidable if you plan ahead or can skip out on them while you’re on the ship.

Are there any hidden Carnival cruise costs that I have missed? Is there something on this list that you’d pay for no matter how much it cost? Do you think any of the fees or costs are unreasonable? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Psst! If you want to get an idea of how much a cruise cost in full, you can read our detailed cruise cost reports for our 7 day honeymoon Carnival cruise or our cruise cost report for our first ever cruise, a 5 day Bahamas cruise.

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

Comments

  1. What! Booze is not included?? This is why I love the all inclusive’s in Mexico and the Caribbean. Anything you want is free!

    I did not know about the port fees or (obviously) that the alcohol is not included. Some cruises I’ve looked into have seemed reasonable. But when you factor in the airfare and some of these other things you’ve mentioned, it seems like the overall price tag can add up pretty fast.

  2. Great article. I went on my first cruise three years ago and was not prepared for the gratuities, the debit card holds, and paying for activities on board. While I also still think cruising is a great value it is definitely something to consider when you see those extremely low prices advertised. Another pointer I have is call to see if the price of your cruise has ben lowered.

    I booked my cruise in April (departs day after Thanksgiving) and recently found out that it was about $60 cheaper per person since ships drop prices as the days come closer to fill up the ships. I called in and requested a price adjustment. The amount of the adjustment covered the $60 pp gratuities for my boyfriend and I and we had a $65 credit leftover any on board purchases. I will be calling again a few days before our departure to see if has dropped any lower.

  3. I used to work on Regent cruises and pretty much everything was included for guests. Alcohol, tips, and most shore excursions. Though I think the standard room was something around $1,000 per day, so obviously a bit different from carnival.

  4. I just returned from my first Carnival cruise experience and we had to pay extra for drinks. They offer a deal that is all you can drink (like the food) for $50 a day. Thankfully, I live in the port city which significant reduced additional costs.

  5. I would be terrified to see my diet coke and alcohol bill after a cruise! That’s the main reason that I’ve never been on a cruise.

  6. Well, I suppose its not all puppies and roses as the cruise companies would have us believe. I guess one does need to thoroughly research the companies they intend to take the cruise with and find the best options for their pockets. I don’t think its all of them that come with sneaky hidden charges.

  7. We just got back from a Carnival cruise a couple weeks ago. Parking was $75 at the Jacksonville port, which was a shock. Our last cruise was with Norwegian and parking at the port was free!

    Also Carnival allows you to bring on one 12 pack of soda per guest in your cabin. We took two 12 packs to avoid the high soda costs. Worked out great. They also have an unlimited alcohol pass, which is $54 per day per person, but you have to pay for it the entire trip and for everyone over 21 in your cabin, which stinks if someone isn’t a drinker.

    I think your list covers it all. Oh and be sure never to visit the medical office if you think you (or your kid, in our instance) have sea sickness. Their rates are expensive – $150 visit, only to be confined to our cabin for 24 hours and they wouldn’t “release” us early unless we got a $200 follow up doctor visit.

    Overall it was a great trip, and very affordable for a family. We couldn’t plan a vacation for 7 days for $1200 including lodging, food, and entertainment anywhere else.

  8. Now that’s something we never did yet, but I do have my mind on some cruises. This will help us, when we decide to take the plunge. All this info can make a huge difference when having to deal with various specialized companies.

  9. As a South Florida resident who can’t swing a cat without hitting a cruise ship I’ve been considering going on a cruise for a while, and some of the offers I’ve seen have been so good I definitely suspected there had to be hidden costs. Definitely going to have to factor these in to the equation. Great post.

  10. I have been on about 5-6 cruises. I like certain aspects of cruising, but not all. I hate the extras and the fees. Cruising has distinct advantages when traveling overseas because it is based on U.S. dollars and you can hedge your costs and lock it in way in advance. The best way to get the best price is to be available in the off season and when the ship does not fill up, you get the best price. All the extras are the profits for the cruise line so watch out.

  11. My uncle went on a cruise to Alaska that had a pre-paid unlimited soda pass… but you had to pay ahead of time. Was there anything like that on your cruise?

    Also, how do they check you for wine? If you were really sneaky and hid a wine bag in a hidden compartment in your bag, would they find it? I’m just curious how thorough they are. Not that I’d need to do that!

    Also, you should really look into all-inclusives. Mexico has prices with airfare and resorts that rivals the per-day cost of cruises, especially if you go in September. My husband and I went to Jamaica to an all-inclusive booked through Costco travel and airfare, 7 nights of hotel, airport transportation from Montego bay to resort, a $100 credit for an excursion, plus free access to the Club Mobay airport lounge when we left for just under $2,400 for two people. Gratuities were included in that trip although we still did tip the bus drivers a few bucks. But tipping drinks was not the norm!

    • Yes, they do have the soda pass. The price varies by cruise line, but currently it is $6 per person per day for adults and $4.50 per person per day for kids. Plus 15% gratuities of course!

      You have to have the wine in your carry on. You can try to sneak wine/alcohol on in your checked bag but they screen pretty well for it and they’ll take it away if they find it. They may or may not return it at the end of your cruise. They also check water bottles to make sure they’re sealed and not alcohol.

      I’ll definitely check out all inclusive resorts, but we really like the entertainment/comedy clubs on the carnival boats. They’re a ton of fun!

  12. Thanks for this post, it’s coming at a perfect time for me. We’re in the process of planning a trip for the family (bf, me and my grandparents). A cruise is at the top of our list since they leave right from NYC and include everything (well except alcohol, but my grandparents don’t drink and we’re not huge drinkers either).

  13. I’ve never been on a cruise, but it doesn’t surprise me that there are hidden fees. There are a whole bunch of hidden fees even at all inclusive resorts, and I gather cruises are like that only on a boat instead of land. Tipping actually gets pretty expensive!

  14. I’ve been on a few cruises before, I they are amazing in value! The delicious food alone is worth the modest cruise fare, though it does encourage gluttony. I just booked a cruise yesterday. I am going with a toddler under two, but we’re paying adult price for him; while cruises do have great value, maybe not so much for a kid that barely eats and takes up minimal space.

  15. Wow, I really should think twice before booking a cruise. You have to take into account the various expenses required for the fun you’ll be having OFF of the ship, as well as when you’re on it.

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