Don’t let this happen to you.  You have just completed an amazing cruise vacation and get your final bill.  You almost pass out when you see your ship board expenses.  When you see a great cruise deal that states “All Inclusive”, make sure you read the fine print.  Items usually not included are drinks, specialty dining, shore excursions, spa treatments and some special activities.  All these can add to huge increases in your overall cruise expense.  There are ways to greatly mitigate these expenses.

Specialty Dining

More and more cruise ships are offering specialty dining, but at an extra cost.  While most ships offer free dining in the main dining room as well as buffets, they will attempt to lure you with foods from around the world, special dishes and desserts.   Most of these will run you about $15-$45 extra per person.  If you want wine with your meal, costs could go as high as $100 per person.  There are a few ways to get around this.

One, DO NOT GO.  I went for specialty dining once, just for the experience.  However, I found that meals in the main dining room can be excellent or even better depending on your individual tastes.  If you have the means, feel free to indulge yourself.  However, if you are on a budget, you may wish to stay away and enjoy the many free options available on the ship.  It is also possible the get free specialty dining as a cruise bonus.

Shore Excursions

Shore excursions can be the highlight of any cruise vacation.  If you have ever gone swimming with the dolphins, or zip lining through a rain forest, you will know what I mean.  Cruise lines offer the services of booking these for you; however, they do inflate the prices above what the tour operators charge.

There are a few ways to get around this extra cost.  Check for the available shore excursions on the cruise website.  You can review and select the must do excursions and purchase them, in advance, at a lower cost.  Or you can try a self-guided tour ending up at some attraction you are interested in.

Drinks and Beverages

Most cruise lines these days charge extra for alcohol and wine.  Many are also now charging extra for soda and bottled water.  These charges can add up quickly as these charges are usually not store priced but restaurant prices.

Most cruise lines, however, offer a variety of drink packages to choose from depending on your specific needs and desires. Paying a little upfront could mean big saving in the long run.  In my experiences, I have found them to be cost effective.  Plus, you can always order a bottle of wine and save whatever you don’t finish for the next night, which can be cheaper than always ordering wine by the glass.


My Kryptonite!  I take my family on these cruises and cannot resist purchasing photos from the ships photo gallery.  While we do take much of our own pictures, there are certain photos that I feel I must have.  Be warned though, these photos can easily run you $20 or more each.  You have three options on this.  One is to stay away completely from the photo gallery as once you see the pictures, you may not be able to resist.  Two, set yourself a budget and stick to it.  There are almost always certain pictures you did not or could not get yourself.  These are lifetime memories and, if you can afford it, you should have them.  Your last choice is to just go wild and purchase all the photos you like.   In my experience, the second choice is the most reasonable.

Spa and Salon Treatments

Who doesn’t love a good massage, however, be prepared for sticker shock when you see what they charge.  You could wind up paying $120 to $180 for a massage and up to $200 to $500 for a more exotic treatment.  As most of the spa staff is paid by commission, they will try to give you the hard sell to buy their pricey products.

You can sometimes get big spa discounts on the first day of sailing or on port days.  Also, be bold; and tell the staff upfront that you do not want any product sales pitches.  If you do get sucked into one of these sale pitches all may not be lost.  This happened to me once and I went to the ships desk and returned the products for a full refund.


Internet rates on cruise ship can be very costly and have sometime slow connection speeds.  For me, aside from emergencies, there is not one person I absolutely must talk to while on vacation with my family.  However, if your situation requirements are different, there are some things you can do.

You can often find discounted rates in port if you are willing to spend the time.  Many ports have internet cafes with free Wi-Fi.  Many newer ships are starting internet service packages for one discounted fee.  Also some of the suites may offer free Wi-Fi.  Look into these if needed, or you can do like I do, “Hey, I’m on vacation, leave me alone”.

In order to get the most out of your cruise experience, you should plan ahead and put some money aside to make sure these incidentals don’t break the back.  Consider as part of the cruise cost.  You will be better able to relax and just have fun.

More to come on this.

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