Counting the cost of a cruise (Part 1 of 5)

Calculating the cost

With the summer cruise season just underway, it seems appropriate to share a series of article that will provide a more complete understanding of the all-in cost of such an adventure.

The Ruby Princess at Seattle's Pier 91
My wife and I took our first cruise in the summer of 2016, aboard Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess. While we did not expect the fare to be all-inclusive by any means and expected additional charges for optional events including shore excursions and specialty dining, some additional charges might be surprising, particularly to first-time cruisers.

While the examples I will cite are from our cruise line, they are by no means unique to Princess Cruises. Most of these options, choices and charges are quite common, though not universal, across the cruise industry today.

The fare may be just the starting point

We have all seen the “teaser” ads that say, “Cruise to Alaska for just $599 per person, double occupancy,” and the disclaimer that “Taxes, fees and port charges” are additional. Of course that low rate is for the ship’s least-expensive accommodation -- usually an inside cabin without a view – and often either toward the beginning or end of the season. Outside cabins, verandah suites, larger accommodations and more preferential sailings will come at higher fares.

In addition to higher fares for a better stateroom than an inside cabin and more prime-time sailings, there are numerous options and additional charges that will be added to the fare.

If you are not departing from the city in which you live, you will have to get to your departure port. That will involve some sort of common-carrier transportation, which will more than likely be an airplane flight, followed by a transfer from the airport to the port, and a transfer from the port to the airport upon your return.

Our cruise line offers transfers for $24 per person in each direction, or $96 for a couple for the round trip from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 and back to the airport at the end of the cruise. Passengers might also add a few dollars to tip the person handling their bags.

At the time of booking, our cruise line presented us the option of travel insurance. While its protection package was $190.30 per passenger, the credit card we will use to pay for the cruise includes travel protection, so for us it would have been an unnecessary purchase. Others may find value in the protection proffered.

A number of options are available on board the ship. One of the options is a beverage package. Our line offers an “All-inclusive beverage package” that includes “[A]ny drink up to $10 including cocktails, wine, beer, bottled water, sodas, specialty coffees & more [and a] 40% discount on bottles of wine (below $100 retail).” The cost of that package: $56.35 per person per day ($49 plus a 15-percent gratuity), or $394.45 per person for our seven-night voyage. The cruise line also offers soda, coffee, beer and bottled water packages.

Menu at SHARE aboard Ruby Princess
Specialty dining is another option. While meals are included in the cost of the fare, most cruise ships have at least one specialty dining option for which there is an additional charge. One of the three on our cruise is a restaurant created in conjunction with a celebrity chef. Dinner at that particular venue is a minimum of $39 per person, or about $78 per couple. Alcoholic beverages are extra unless a guest has purchased the beverage package.

Shore excursions are plentiful but organized activities come at a cost. Our ship will stop at five ports of call and guests can choose from over 100 shore activities ranging from $29.95 per person to $1,995.95 per person. Of course, passengers can simply disembark and follow their noses at no charge.

Internet connectivity is available for a fee. Internet access for those who just have to stay connected ranges from $72.95 for 120 minutes to $202.95 for 680 minutes.

On board activities include a fitness center, which is free, but a fitness class or a session with a personal trainer will carry an additional charge. Spa services also carry price tags which are comparable to those of a spa at a high-end resort. For example, a 50-minute couples’ massage is $259 and a 50-minute Swedish massage is $119.

There are also gift shops, professional photographers, child care, casinos, and other items not included in the ticket price.

Finally, many cruise lines add “suggested” or “recommended” gratuities for their passengers’ convenience. For our cruise and cabin class, the line is adding $13.95 per person per day, though guests can choose to tip independently in addition to the daily amount, or they can have the amount adjusted prior to disembarking if they prefer.

Are these expenses worthwhile? And how do you decide? More on that in upcoming installments.

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images