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Money Matters (Fares & Discounts)

Except on rare occasions there is no need to pay full price for a cruise.  Cruise lines will publish full and/or discounted prices in their brochures.  The basic cost of your cruise will depend on:
Cabin grade   Categories range from the smallest inside cabin in the least desirable (but still habitable) location (least expensive) to the Owner's Suite with all the appropriate amenities (and a surprising price tag).
Season    Weather will dictate the prices in seasonal cruising.  Alaska, for instance, is visited only in summer, with the "off season" in the cooler months.  The Caribbean's weather is gorgeous all year, but you'll find the slowest season (off season) to be October and November (except Holidays), and the most desirable (high season) to be February thru April.  During hurricans season (June thru November), you must understand that the ship may need to change itineraries at the last minute to avoid the bad weather. 
Luxury level    You'll pay more in any category on a newer, more luxurious ship which offers haute cuisine, all suites, adults only, exotic ports, etc.
Duration    Comparing apples with apples, it makes sense that a longer cruise will cost more.  On the other hand, if you want to take a 7-night cruise in May, it may be cheaper to go to Alaska than to the South Carib.
Itinerary    The number of ports visited in any cruise will affect the overall cost.  Port charges and costs of excursions add up fast.
Inclusion of Air/Sea package   (see below)
Number of people in your cabin    The brochure rates listed are per person, double occupancy.  Third and fourth occupants are charged from $125 to $499 each.  If you are traveling alone and do not want a cabinmate, the fare is 125-200% of the brochure rate.
Ask your agent for the options.  The published per-person fares may be offset by a number of situations, such as:
  • Discounts     Early birds, alumni, last-minute travelers, senior citizens, residents of certain states, certain credit card holders and travel agents are often awarded discounts.
  • Guaranteed Rate     Pick a cabin grade that is the minimum level of accomodation (or the least expensive) you will be comfortable in, and be guaranteed a cabin at at least this level or, hopefully, better. 
  • Upgrades     Sometimes a cabin grade will sell out, and the earliest-booked passengers will be given a more expensive cabin to make more lower-priced cabins available.
  • Single Supplement     This charge can be from 125-150% (more for suites) of the double-occupancy rate if you are a single passenger desiring a private cabin.  Some lines will find you a cabin-mate and only charge the double-occupancy rate.
    • Guaranteed Single Rate - You pay a set price, but do not have a choice of cabin.
    • Flat Rate - You pay one price for sole occupancy of the cabin. You pay more but you do have a choice of cabin.
    • Guaranteed Share - You pay the per person double occupancy price for a cabin, and the cruise line matches you with a cabin mate of the same sex and smoking preference). If they cannot find one, you get the cabin to yourself without paying an
              extra premium, but you cannot choose the cabin.
      Single Cabin - Very few  ships have single cabins at a set price.  You may be allowed a less desirable cabin (like an inside room with upper/lower berths) at a better price.
Once you have made your deposit, the rate will never be raised.  Some lines, in fact, will refund part of the fare should the price be lowered subsequent to your deposit.  Ask your agent to check might be surprised, but don't count on it. 

Best advice: Do not book the least expensive cabin that you really do not want, hoping for an upgrade.  You may not get the upgrade and be very disappointed.

Best Time to Book

In general, to find the very best cruise price try to stay flexible as to ship and date until 60 to 90 days before departure. Most ships, but not all, will be marked down around this time, and most of these prices will ultimately prove to be the lowest ever offered for that departure--lower than early-bird discounts, and lower than prices available within the last couple of weeks prior to departure.

Cruise lines offer these additional discounts if it appears that they will not fill the ship otherwise. Usually, these (90-day) markdowns are effective, and as the lowest categories sell out, the starting price for the cruise actually rises as departure date approaches. Much less frequently, cruise lines must drop the price again for a few cabins.

There are times when you should book more than 90 days in advance. For example, if you are committed to a specific ship and travel date, I recommend booking early. Some sailings fill early without ever really going "on sale". The only way to guarantee availability on a particular ship and date is to book early, in which case you might as well book 6 months or more in advance to take advantage of the early-bird discounts.

You should also book early for long, one-of-a-kind itineraries, such as world cruises or Holland America's 46-day cruise in October 2006 with stops in Africa and South America . I can't recall ever seeing a last-minute discount on a cruise of this length. I'd recommend putting down a deposit at least 6 months in advance on cruises longer than 2 weeks (9 months in advance for World Cruises), so you're guaranteed to sail. If the price drops between the time you book and the time cancellation penalties kick in, your Travel Agent may be able to re-ticket you at the lower rate.

If you are traveling with a group, and will need more than 3 or 4 cabins, try to book at least 6 months in advance. If your group will consist of 50 or more passengers, book at least 9 months in advance. If you're planning a group cruise of 8 or more cabins, your agent can offer you some unusual incentives.

Book early if you prefer or require cabins of a specialized nature, such as wheelchair-accessible cabins, cabins that can accommodate 5 or more passengers, adjoining cabins with a private connecting door, or Owner's Suites. These cabins are very limited in number and sell out early, especially for peak-season summer sailings.

Book early if you're taking an Alaska cruise tour or a Europe cruise tour, which combine a cruise with an escorted land tour or 3 or more days. These vacations are rarely discounted as departure dates approach and most sell out more than 90 days prior to departure. In fact, many cruise tours that depart early in the Alaska cruise season this year, which runs from May through September, have already sold out.

Finally, Disney Cruise Line's summer sailings are always a hot commodity and sell out earlier than other summer cruises. If you're thinking about a Disney cruise to the Bahamas or Caribbean or one of Disney's Bahamas-cruise-plus-Disney-World combos for your family, you'd be wise to book it 6 months ahead.

For those who don't fall into one of these "exceptions" categories, I recommend checking prices daily starting about 100 days in advance of departure and moving quickly to book when a great markdown occurs.

When you make your calculations, please be very careful to include the following add-ons that may or may not be included
  • air fare 
  • taxes
  • transfers
  • port charges (subject to change)
On the other hand, if you can drive to the port,  you may be offered a credit for not flying.  This process can be most confusing to the novice, and can mean several hundred dollars in unexpected expenses.

What you get...

  • Accomodations of your choice, as available
  • All meals, including main meals in any dining room, buffets, snacks, hors d'oeuvres, coffee, tea, juices or milk; buffet on a private island, most room service
  • All entertainment and activities
  • Air fare and transfers (sometimes)

What you pay extra for...

  • Trip cancellation insurance (highly recommended)
  • Alternate dining is about $5-20 pp
  • Alcoholic beverages and sodas (except maybe Silver Seas)
    • Carnival offers discount coupons
    • Sample NCL beverage extras:
Domestic Bottled Beer 
Domestic Draft 
Imported Beer 
Specialty Beer (such as Grolsch) 
Frozen Cocktails 
Scotch, Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka, Rum and Gin 
Fountain Drinks 
Canned Soft Drinks
$ 2.95 
$ 2.50 
$ 3.50 
$ 4.50 
$ 3.95 
$ 4.50 
$ 3.95 
$ 1.00 
$ 1.50

On any line the cost of wines will depend on what you choose to drink. 
  • Excursions (except maybe Silver Seas)
    • Most shore excursions start at around $30.00 per person, but some shore excursions can be pricey  (see the Excursions page)
  • Gift shop purchases
    • on purchases over the family limit.  Karen Selwyn reports that stores report large purchases to US Customs. Why?  Because the stores get a "finders fee" if the purchaser fails to declare a purchase for which duty should be paid. By doing this, the store wins two ways: they have gotten the money from the sale of item and they earn a percentage of the money recovered by the US Customs office.
  • E-mail at sea 50-75¢ per minute on Norwegian Sky, RCI and HAL ships
    • Computer lab sessions is complimentary on Crystal
    • Private instruction is $75/hour
    • Laptops rent for $10/day
    • Digital postcards on RCI are $5 to multiple recipients
    • Video E-mails on the Norwegian Sky are $10
  • Salon treatments and massages
    • Body treatments $20-50
    • Thalassotherapy pool $12/day on Mercury or Galaxy
    • 25-minute massage under a cabana on Disney's island $60
    • Session with personal trainer on Crystal $45
  • Photographs
    • select an unusual custom background for your portrait at the digital studio on the Grand for $19.95
    • purchase photos taken by the ship photographer
    • have your film developed before the cruise is over
  • Gambling
    • Casino chips charged to your onboard account may incur a 3% service charge
  • Video Arcade
    • Games and rides from 25¢ (on the Voyager you must first purchase the "Voyage of Discovery" card for $20)
    • Virtual Reality simulator for $5 on the Grand
  • Somewhat vigorous on-board activities:
    • Rock-climbing wall on the Voyager $8 for 90 minutes
    • Ice Rink or In-line skating track on the Voyager for $6/hour
    • Skeet shooting
    • Golf driving (the Grand's golf simulator is $20 for 30 minutes)
    • Snorkeling equipment ($25/day on the Disney Magic)
    • Beach floats $8/day on Princess
    • Sea Kayak $26 for 30 minutes
    • Mini-golf is $3pp on the Voyager
  • University at Sea (an in-depth talk on the history and culture of visited ports, $39-149 includes printed materials
  • Laundry service
  • Medical service
  • Internet access
  • ATM charge $5
  • Weddings $49-1,400
  • Haagen Dazs ($1.90 on the Grand)
  • Juice at dinner ($2 on Celebrity)
  • Cigars $4-20
  • Souvenier menus are $5 on Celebrity and RCI (my HAL menus were complimentary)
  • Phone or fax service $6-16 per minute. 
  • Babysitting $6-8/hour
  • Tux Rentals $65-115
  • Tips 
    • taxi drivers and baggage handlers at the pier... $1.00 per bag
    • in the Casino (hopefully you'll be able to tip green and black chips)
    • room service (if not your regular steward)... $2.00 per tray
    • in the alternative dining room...$5.00 per person
    • in the lounges...15% if not already added to tab
    • in the dining room...the Sommelier should get 15% as above
    • at the end of the cruise ~ For example, RCI recommends: 
        Cabin Steward $3.50 per day per person
        Table Waiter $3.50 per day per person
        Assistant Waiter  $2.50 per day per person
        Head Waiter  $1.00 per day per person
        Maitre D' Your call

    • In some cases a 15% gratuity is added to cocktails and room service.
    • On Princess you may prepay tips by adding them to your shipboard account
    • On Premier and the QE2, customary gratuities are "conveniently" added to your shipoard account.  I'd find a way to have it removed and tip according to performance.
    • If your waiter is not someone on this list, you can estimate the 15% as best you can and tip at the time of service.  Tips for the Maitre d', sommelier, headwaiter, etc. are optional. 
    • If you are charged the 15% and you don't believe you received appropriate service, take the receipt to the bar manager or Purser's office to have it removed.

...and how to pay for the extras

Because a cruise is a nearly perfect "cashless society", almost everything you do on board except gambling, laundry and some tips, can be charged to your house account for your convenience.  As you are waiting in the terminal for boarding, there may be a table set up so that you can set up your shipboard account by giving the Purser's office:
  • your credit card imprint or
  • your debit card imprint (use varies with cruise line, but they process your charges daily so that you won't be in a situation where you have charged more than they can take from your account each day) or
  • a cash deposit 
You can also do this anytime during the trip at the Purser's office.

That's all.  From then on, all you need do is say your name and cabin number or present your boarding card (or some other such thing) and sign for your purchase.  On the last night you will receive an accounting of all transactions on your account.  If there is a discrepancy, you must discuss it with the Purser before debarkation.  If not, you will find the total charges as one item on your next credit card bill.  Cool. 

About the Euro

Of course, as in the past, American Dollars are welcomed in Caribbean ports, even though some islands have switched over to the Euro as the official currency.  I'm still researching, but so far I have read in and other sites that the French islands (St. Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Barts) are on the Euro.  I'm not sure about the Netherlands Antilles (Sint Maarten, Bonaire, and Curacao), and Aruba. ...more

If anyone has any further knowledge about the Euro, please E-me.

Air/Sea Packages 

This package will (sometimes) include free or reduced-rate round-trip air fare and transfers between major airports and the port of em/debarkation.  You will be met by cruise line representatives who will guide you through the embarkation process. 
  • There have been some complaints lately about the inconvenient air bookings being made by the cruise lines.  Sometimes flights are booked for an individual passenger without regard to his travel companions, distance, or time necessary to make connecting flights.  Also, if your ship departs from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, they reserve the right to fly/bus you to either airport. 
  • On the other hand, with the air/sea package, even though you have no control over the airline, route or flight times, the cruise line is notified of your whereabouts, and the ship's departure may be delayed until your arrival.  If you actually miss port departure, the cruise line can fly you to the next port of call and provide hotel accomodations, if necessary.  If you have serious concerns regarding air travel, particularly on embarkation day, there are two options: 
    1. Have your travel agent book your air separately.  This way you can select any schedule you like, and have the most control.  Keep in mind, though, that you will be responsible for your own ground transfers.  Travel insurance can be added.
    2. You can pay a small fee and try the cruise line's air deviation plan.  At least 60 days before sailing you can select any available schedule with any airline with whom they have a contract. 

Frequent Flyer Miles

When you first check in at the airport, simply ask the agent to add your frequent flyer number to the ticket information and you will receive proper credit. 

  © 1996-2006  Candy Brock