Now 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
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!
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
Currently, 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.
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
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.
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
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.