10 Hidden Costs On Carnival Cruises For New Cruisers

Cruising is a great value for your dollar as far as vacations go. However, if you've never been cruising before (or even if you have) you need to be aware of these 10 hidden costs of a Carnival cruise vacation. Find out what they are in the linked post on MoneyManifesto.com. They can be well worth the cost, but you need to know about them to budget for them in advance.My wife and I have taken a few cruises with Carnival Cruise Lines.

From our experience, we feel like we should share what we thought were some of the hidden costs.

You may be surprised by some of these costs, especially if you’ve never been on a cruise before.

These hidden costs do add to the cost of a cruise.

That said, we personally think that cruises are still an amazing value for your vacation dollar.

In fact, we think cruises are such a great value that we already have booked future Carnival cruises.

Here are the hidden costs that you might experience on a Carnival cruise:

1. Room Upgrade Fees, Port Fees & Taxes

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 cruise lines advertise on their sites.

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, you’ll have to pay to move up to higher floors or to different areas of the ship . The exceptions are when you want to be in the lowest category room of the room class you’re in or Carnival is running a free upgrades sale.

To find the best deal on your next cruise, check out the exclusive deals at Cruise Direct.

2. Travel To The Port

Carnival Cruise Trip Cost Report

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.

3. 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, the cruise ship 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.

4. 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 parking lots owned by other companies that will charge roughly 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.

5. Daily Gratuities In Addition To Cruise Fare

Currently, Carnival charges $12.95 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 cruise contract documents closely, you may have missed this expense that can add at least $100 to the price of your cruise cabin for two people.

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.

6. 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. These shops may be 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 or go exploring on your own.

Excursions can be relatively cheap if you book an independent tour (less than $50 per person). They can also be expensive if you pick a Carnival sponsored excursion that is more involved (up to $200 or more per person).

7. 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 delivered us food to our room, excursion tour guides and the hotel shuttle driver when we returned. That’s a lot of tipping that can add up fast.

Unfortunately, in other countries, some people will be very rude and basically demand a tip for doing almost nothing.

It helps to research where you will be headed in advance to be prepared for these types of people.

8. 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 cruise fare. Sodas are around $2 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.

9. 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. You may even see some eateries you recognize from home.

These specialty restaurants can cost just a few dollars extra per person each time you dine at them up to $40+ per person for the fancier options.

Personally, we like the free food just fine so we never opt for these fancier eateries. Of course, we aren’t food snobs, either.

10. 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.

Related: How To Cruise For Free Using Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

Even With The Hidden Costs Cruises Are A Great Value

Honeymoon Cruise Trip Cost Report

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.

When you’re looking to book your next cruise, check out the exclusive deals at Cruise Direct.

Many of the hidden fees are easily avoidable. You just have to plan ahead. Alternatively, you can skip out on them while you’re on the ship. However, others cannot be avoided.

The more you’re prepared, the less you’ll be surprised. You’ll enjoy your vacation more, too, just like we do every time we cruise.

Save Hundreds On Your Next Cruise

Want $400 off your next cruise? Consider signing up for the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.

All you have to do is spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership.

Capital One will give you 40,000 points worth a $400 statement credit for travel expenses, including cruise charges.

You’ll also earn 2 miles per dollar on all of your purchases.

The annual fee is waived the first year, but there is a $59 annual fee each year thereafter.

Apply for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card today.

Want a card with a lower spending threshold and no annual fee? Check out the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®.

This card offers a $200 cash rewards bonus when you spend $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all your purchases, too.

Apply for the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard® today.

How sweet is that?

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.

Main photo by: Lisa Brewster Text added by: Lance Cothern

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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.


  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. Emily @ Urban Departures says:

    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.

  16. This is not accurate about Carnival. Carnival does not make you arrive a day early. Carnival does not make you pay for parking. Before I ever went on a cruise, I knew you had to pay for a shore excursion. That’s not hidden at all. Neither is the fact that they charge you to eat at a specialty restaurant. Airfare and all that other stuff does not go to Carnival. That goes to the airline. Carnival does not force people to book a cruise and then make them use Carnival airlines. So, in all actuality, this article should be called 5 hidden fees. And even those aren’t hidden. If you do your research, all of that information is very easily found on their website

    • Hi Robby! Thanks for sharing! I agree that many of these fees are not 100% necessary and they don’t all go to Carnival. However, my very first cruise was a Carnival cruise and I wasn’t aware of many of these before I did a lot of research. Most people would incur many of these costs. Rather than find out about them after they book their cruise, I thought I’d share every cost I could think of so people aren’t surprised. Sorry you feel they shouldn’t be listed, but I’d rather help one person who wasn’t aware by listing something rather than leave it off. I have been on many cruises now so these are common sense to me now, but they weren’t on my first cruise.

      • Lance THANK YOU for even taking the time, this is very helpful to many. It is to me !!!! By the way. do they allow us to bring mineral perrier water instead of the 12 please of sodas?

        • Glad to help! The cruise lines are constantly changing their rules of what is and isn’t allowed, so I’d give them a call and ask directly to make sure whether your cruise line will allow Perrier water or not.

        • Sorry, for the typos…. trying to type and feed

        • Carnival now allows 12 pack of “canned” drinks only, 1 per person. I think the 12 pack bottled water is up to $3.99 now, no biggie. I bottle of wine or champagne per 21 yr & up adult. Carnival also has a Faster to the Fun program which costs extra, many people love using that and they are limited in #. If you get a Suite, you get priority embarkation. Spa Treatments are extra but they often steeply discount on port days when few people are on the ship. Some entertainment on certain ships is extra as well, 4 D thrill ride, Imax movie… The candy store sure ain’t free.

          • Gary thanks for sharing all of this. It has been a while since I’ve been on a Carnival cruise so I’ll have to do some research and update this post accordingly in the near future 🙂

    • Fred Roberts says:

      Robby, Lance wasn’t suggesting that all of these extra costs go to Carnival! He was just pointing out that the brochure (or web) price does not reflect the ACTUAL TOTAL COST of the vacation. Unless, you live in the cruise embarkation port, there are going to be additional costs.

      In addition to the gratuities charge from the cruise line, taxi driver, porter, etc.; we normally leave an envelope with cash for our stateroom attendant of about $5/pp/pd and we tip our dining room waiter similarly.
      Royal Caribbean provides a list of suggested gratuity amounts.
      Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest
      Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest
      Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest
      Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest
      Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest
      These are suggested rates. Basically, if you feel the service you received was within your expectations tip the staff, they depend on it and really appreciate it. Talk to your room attendant you will be surprised by what they are paid and the hours that they work. The ship gratuities are shared among all of the Hotel Staff (rooms, wait, food services, laundry, etc.).

  17. Freida Dobbs says:

    If you do your homework before you cruise, you will find all of these so called “hidden” fees and will be prepared. My husband and I recently went on our first cruise and I was aware of all of this before we left home.

  18. I went on my first and only cruise in 2014 and it was by far the best vacation I’ve ever had! It was with Carnival and I booked through a friend that is a travel agent. She told us about all the “hidden” fees and looked for great deals that include free onboard credits. I think the key to a great price is to be flexible with your dates and destinations. Instead of searching and searching through all the cruise deals, we just gave her our budget, approximate dates and then she gave us some options. Would do it again in a heartbeat! Of course we don’t drink alcohol, except maybe a glass of wine with dinner and ordered soda or special drinks sparingly.

    • We really enjoy cruises, too. I think they’re a great value, I just want to make sure people know what to plan for. I’m glad you enjoyed your cruise and hope you get to go on another one at some point!

  19. Rebecca says:

    Perhaps, the title should not say “Hidden Fees”. Gratuities are now $12.95 per person per day, they just went up. Yes these items are not hidden, but should be a consideration factor in any cruise you take.
    Someone mentioned Norwegian had free parking…I don’t think this is true. All cruise lines use the ports and the parking areas are all associated with daily parking charges.
    This article enforces the idea that people should use a Travel Agent. They can help you find the best fares for air, pre and post cruise hotels(even the free parking and shuttles hotels) the travel agent will look out for your best interest, not the cruise lines profit.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll make sure to update the gratuity cost, I didn’t realize they went up again! If you’re new to cruising and just looking at the base price listed on their website, many of these costs do seem hidden. However, experienced cruisers should be well aware after their first cruise.

      Travel agents can save you time in finding deals, but thanks to the internet you can do a lot of that hunting yourself if you enjoy it and like spending time doing research.

      • Shannon Horton says:

        Curious about the drink packages. Do they charge 15% on every drink or add it to the entire purchase of the package? We are going on a cruise in July, and trying to have all the fees.. We prepaid gratuities already.

        • Last time I was on a cruise they added it to the price of the package on carnival. So if it was $50/day for the drink package, the cost would be $57.50 with 15% gratuity. On carnival, they also make everyone in the cabin of drinking age buy the drink package last I heard.

  20. Do people not read any more? I wouldn’t call these hidden costs, they are additional costs. If you read the materials from the cruise line, before you book, you will find information on all of these.

  21. Love love love cruising! Its way cheaper than a condo on a beach… food, drinks and entertainment included! I check back all the time on the price, this cruise went from 1200 for 3 of us down to 850 for the 3 of us…I can’t even rent a condo for that

  22. Great info. Thanks for sharing. We will be going on our first cruise and feel prepared for the extra charges. However, I’m looking for advice for drinks. We both drinks lots of bottled waters (6-8 per day) and enjoy alcoholic drinks when we are away. I’d say we drink 4-6 per evening and 4-6 per pool day. Should we get the beverage package of $50/pp/pd? Seems like a waste of money for port days. Does that include the water as well or is that a separate charge? Can we preorder 4-6 packs of water to cover our 7 day cruise? Thanks for your advice!

    • As far as your bottled waters, you should be able to order them here before you leave for your cruise (https://www.carnival.com/FunShops/in-stateroom-beverages/water) They will be delivered in your state room when you arrive or shortly thereafter from my last experience.

      As far as the drink packages go, it really depends on how much drinking you do. If you figure an average drink costs roughly $10 (unless you’re a beer drinker, then they’re cheaper) then you just have to estimate how much you’re going to drink and go the cheaper route. If you don’t drink at all on port days and you have multiple, it may be cheaper just to pay for individual drinks. If you drink a lot every day regardless, the drink package is probably cheaper.

  23. Thank you for the information. It was very helpful! Can you tell me anything about a workout room or gym?

  24. princesstissue says:

    Exciting. We are planning our first cruise in Oct. We live in NC so now we are trying to decide if we are flying or driving. If go down a day earlier it will be cheaper. If we drive down and fly back that might not be so bad. Then again by the time we rent a car, a hotel room and all that it’s probably the same. I didn’t know all these at first but after looking and researching I see.

  25. Be sure to check out smaller ports. I live in NC and booked cruise from Charleston SC. No hotel cost and short driving time. Best way for this mom and three teens to vacation.

    • We just booked our first cruise in a long time and it will be on the Carnival Fantasy out of Mobile, Alabama. Should be a nice trip because it is super close to us compared to other ports.

  26. As far as Soda – Carnival allows you to bring on one 12 pack of cans per person. We never buy soda, bring it and get cups of ice!! Also don’t forget one 750ml or less bottle of wine or champagne is allowed to be brought on board per adult.

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