Counting the cost of a cruise (Part 3 of 5)

Dining and sightseeing options: At what cost?

The all-in cost of a cruise will be greater than the price of the fare. In some cases, it can be significantly greater than the price of the ticket, taxes, fees and port charges. All this week, TheTravelPro is examining many of the options that add to the all-in cost.

Specialty dining

In addition to the restaurants that serve the meals included in the cruise fare, most cruise ships offers specialty dining venues. Our ship, Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess, offered three every night, and a pop-up restaurant once during the cruise. They were SHARE, created in conjunction with a celebrity chef; a premium steak, seafood and chop house; a gastropub; and a Southern-inspired crab shack.

Dinner at Curtis Stone’s SHARE carried a cover charge of $39 per person and included one item from each of five courses: appetizer, main dish, side dish, a cheese course and dessert. Beverages were additional but can be covered by the beverage package as long as the beverage costs remain within established limits. For guests with a beverage package, dinner at SHARE added another $78 to the cost.

The "Ernesto" burger

Dinner at the Crown Grill steak and chop house was a minimum of $29 per person or about $58 per couple. Beverages were additional if not covered by a beverage package. Dinner at The Salty Dog gastropub was $19 per person, or another $38 per couple. We thought both venues offered excellent value.

A fourth option was breakfast or dinner catered to our stateroom. Different than simple room service, which is included in the cruise fare, the catered dinner is a four-course meal that includes champagne and is served in courses at a table set up on our veranda if weather permits, or inside the stateroom if we prefer. That option carried an additional cost of $100.

Cruise lines will occasionally offer specials, and we were able to take advantage of one that included the all-inclusive beverage package and one specialty dining for two at one of the three venues.

Specialty dining is truly optional. The ship has a main dining room that caters to those who prefer “traditional” cruise dining: a set time each day at the same table and the same servers. It also has two “any-time” dining restaurants where passengers can dine whenever they choose during the restaurants’ opening hours, as well as a half-dozen casual dining outlets offering pizza, burgers and dogs, cafĂ© and bistro fare, and wine bars, all included.

Shore excursions

The biggest surprises to me as a new cruise patron was both the number of shore excursions available and their cost.

Our cruise called on Ketchikan, Endicott Arm Fjord, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska and Victoria, British Columbia. We simply got off the ship and followed our noses in Juneau and Skagway, while we engaged an independent tour operator who was waiting at the waterfront when the ship arrived. For those who prefer not taking pot-luck with such entrepreneurs, our cruise line offered 33 tour options ranging from $35.95 per person for a local walking tour to $369.95 per person for a six-hour halibut fishing tour...and that was just for our first stop, Ketchikan.

The only option at Endicott Arm was to explore the fjord in a 130-passenger vessel, which got much closer of the fjord and glaciers than did the cruise ship. That excursion was $229.95 per person.

Options at the other ports of call were equally overwhelming, with 46 tours to choose from in Juneau (price range: $33 to $1,999.95 per person), 16 in Skagway ($39.95 to $299.95 per person) and 13 in Victoria ($29.95 to $169.95 per person).

If a couple was to take the most economical shore excursion at each port, that would add almost $750 to the total cost.

A closer look at more available on-board features in our next installment.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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