Counting the cost of a cruise (Part 2 of 5)

Assessing the options

The all-in cost of a cruise will be greater than the price of the fare. In some cases, it can be significantly greater. In the next several installments, TheTravelPro examines many of the expenses that go beyond the price of the ticket, taxes, fees and port charges.

Getting there

The Alaska cruise we took in 2016 departed from Pier 91 on the Seattle waterfront. Because we live in the Seattle area, getting to our ship required only a car ride. Those who don't live in the departure city must fly into a nearby airport and must then transfer from the airport to the ship.

Celebrity Solstice at Seattle's Pier 91

While it is fairly common for passengers to fly in to one’s departure city the day the cruise departs, doing so carries the risk of encountering flight delays that could cause you to quite literally miss the boat.

To reduce or eliminate that possibility, passengers may want to fly in the day before departure, spend the night in their departure city, then make their way to their cruise ship the next day. All of that, of course, comes at a cost that will vary depending on the airline, length of flight, and the type of hotel the traveler prefers.

In addition to the air fare from home to the departure city, there are transfers from the airport to the pier. Our cruise line offered transfers for $24 per person in each direction, or a round trip of $96 for a couple. Other options were available, including taxi cabs, Uber, Lyft, shuttle buses and car services. According to the web site, a cab from SEA to Pier 91 would cost about $56 including a 15 percent tip for the driver. Car service from the airport to the pier would cost around $90 including a 20 percent gratuity for the driver. Double those amounts for the cost of a round trip.

Each option has its pros and cons. Some “pros” of the cruise line transfer are that they know where they’re going, they know the schedule and they are in touch with counterparts on the ship. Independent transportation does not offer that benefit but it offers more personalized service, the ability to leave when you are ready instead of cooling you heels waiting for others, and perhaps a bit more luxury, often at very little additional cost.

Cruise insurance

To mitigate against the possibility of a flight delay and other mishaps, most cruise lines recommend that passengers purchase cruise insurance.

No matter what type you want to name, insurance is simply “risk transference;” the purchaser pays a fee - the premium - to transfer the risk from themselves to the insurer. In the case of cruise insurance, paying the premium may protect the passenger against losing a significant portion of their fare if they have to cancel the trip. If their connecting flight is delayed and their ship sails without them, the travel insurance may help them catch up with the ship. It could help pay for replacement necessities if their luggage is “misdirected,” or cover their costs if they become so ill they have to be evacuated from the ship midway through the cruise.

Our cruise line offered its basic protection package for $190.30 per passenger. Because we live in our departure city, airline delays would not be a factor for us, nor would the possibility of baggage delays. We are generally healthy without any chronic problems that could rear their ugly heads, and we were not at all tentative about our desire to take the cruise. But unexpected things can happen, so it was an option to be seriously considered.

However, passengers should carefully review the things that would be covered – and, as importantly, things that would not – before purchasing any policy. Further, many credit cards include travel protection benefits as one of their “value-adds,” and a quick phone call to the issuer of the airline affinity card I used to pay for the cruise confirmed that my card had protection that at least equaled and possibly exceeded what the cruise line was offering. For us, therefore, the cruise line’s protection package was not necessary but it is well worth considering if you do not have protection available through another source.

Beverage packages

In what Cruise Critic says “Just might be the year’s hottest trend,” beverage packages have become quite popular in the cruise industry.

At the time we booked our cruise, the cruise line was offering a special promotion that included an “All-inclusive beverage package” and, because we’d chosen a mini-suite, one specialty dining for two. The all-inclusive package 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),” according to the cruise line’s website. If purchased without the promotional package, that beverage package would cost $56.35 per person per day ($49 plus a 15-percent gratuity), or nearly $800 additional for our trip.

Wine aboard the Ruby Princess

The value proposition of an all-inclusive beverage package has many facets. One is not having to keep mental track of how much you have spent; it’s all included. Another could be a monetary savings depending on what and how much a guest consumes. Remember, it covers both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages; everything from one’s morning latte to the bottled water they take to the gym to their nightcap.

Of course, guests can always pay by the drink or select smaller beverage packages that more closely meet their personal habits and needs.

Guests can also bring their own wine if they choose. Guests were allowed to bring one bottle per adult without charge. After that, there is a $15 per bottle “corkage fee” which, in a restaurant, is intended to cover the cost of a waitperson opening the wine and for the use of the wine glasses. While wine brought aboard can be brought to the dining venues to enjoy with meals, in this setting I view the “corkage fee” as a tariff for the privilege of bringing your own wine. Guests who bring wine to enjoy in their stateroom will open the bottles themselves and likely use glasses that would be replaced daily by housekeeping no matter what their use, so no additional expense is incurred.

However, even with the service charge, it can make economic sense for guests who choose not to buy a beverage package. Our favorite “every day” Sauvignon Blanc retails for about $11 a bottle. Deducting a volume discount of 10 percent for six or more bottles and adding corkage fees for the bottles that would exceed our allowance, our total cost would be a about $25 per bottle. Purchased on-board at retail, similar wines retail for around $30 for those guests without a beverage package.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at specialty dining and shore excursions.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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