How much should I budget for a cruise?

In:
29Feb2020
By: 
Matt Hochberg

Like everything in life, money makes the world go 'round, and making sure you have enough money allocated for a cruise vacation is a responsible concern.

Luckily, cruise vacations are quite affordable and Royal Caribbean offers a variety of options at different prices that I think make it economical for most families.

To help anyone budget for their cruise, I have a breakdown of what to expect in terms of overall costs.  Keep in mind that cruises are global, and I cannot possibly account for every scenario, budget and cost.  After all, the cost of a cruise can vary greatly depending on the destination, ship and duration.

To help give everyone a ballpark idea of what to expect, I have a look at the add-ons and typical costs that come with a cruise, along with tips for keeping those costs low(er).

Base cruise fare

The price you pay for the basic fare is your starting point, and this is the price you would be quoted by a travel agent or the cruise line.  

The fare includes the cost of your stateroom, taxes, fees and port expenses.  If you prefer, it can also include gratuity and even trip insurance.  

Depending on ship, sail date, length of the cruise and the number of guests per stateroom, your cruise fare can vary wildly. On Royal Caribbean, the cheapest fares might come in at around $200-$250 per person, and can go up from there.  Typically, you should expect to spend closer to $50 per person, per night for an inside room and around $200 per person, per night for a balcony room.  

Keep in mind, there is a lot of range in prices, so it will depend on what you end up choosing.

To help get a lower price on the cruise fare, be sure to try one of these strategies for finding the best deal on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Shore Excursions

The cost of exploring the places you visit can also be a significant source of your budget. You could spend hundreds on a bucket list-worthy excursion, or simply walk around on your own.

The choice of shore excursions is quite varied.  You can choose between beach days, walking tours, zip lines, ATV rides, sightseeing and more.

When choosing an excursion, you have the choice of booking a tour through Royal Caribbean or going on your own and working with a third-party vendor.

In terms of budget, be sure to also carry some cash and a credit card with you when off the ship for incidentals and tips along the way.  Sometimes, tours will require final payment before the tour begins, so plan accordingly.

WiFi

Internet on a Royal Caribbean ship has become more and more important to guests as a means to stay connected with the world, and friends and family onboard.

Royal Caribbean offers unlimited internet packages (referred to as Voom), and onboard the ship, it is the only option if you want to connect. There is no complimentary or free wifi on the ships.

The price of an internet package will depend on how many devices you want connected at once.  Keep in mind that you will save money if you pre-book an internet package before the cruise on Royal Caribbean's website.

Drinks

While Royal Caribbean includes some drinks with your cruise, spending on alcohol, coffee, soda and more are a common expense that is part of most cruise budgets.

You have two choices when it comes to drinks not included with your cruise fare: pay for each drink a la carte, or buy a drink package.

If you will only have a drink or two here and there, paying for drinks as you go is likely the way to do.

Alternatively, a Royal Caribbean drink package can provide unlimited beverages for a fixed cost.  Not only is this a budget-friendly way to lock-in costs, it provides peace of mind and convenience for a lot of cruisers who prefer not to be bothered with trying to balance their costs and risk spending more than they anticipated by the end of the cruise.

The decision to get a drink package will depend on your drinking habits, but like the wifi package, you will save money if you book it before the cruise.

Specialty dining

Yes, there is plenty of food for every meal and snack included with your cruise fare, but some guests opt to spend extra for the specialty restaurants offered onboard.

Specialty restaurants offer cuisines and cooking styles not otherwise available onboard.  Steakhouses, Italian, Hibachi, sushi and more are available on many Royal Caribbean ships. Most specialty restaurants have a cover charge that includes all the food on the menu, although some restaurants are priced a la carte.

Think of specialty dining like you would going out for dinner versus staying home and cooking something.  You would be perfectly content with a home-cooked meal, but going out for dinner is a nice treat that comes with a higher cost. 

If you will dine at one or two specialty restaurants, you can simply pay the cost onboard or pre-book via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site.  If you know you want to dine at a few different specialty restaurants, you should book a dining package to save money.

Gratuity

It is important to account for tipping while on your ship, because it recognizes the hard work of the crew members onboard.

Royal Caribbean provides two simple ways to lock in gratuity: pre-pay or automatic gratuity onboard. Residents of certain countries (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) have gratuity automatically added as part of the cruise fare.

The automatic service gratuity is $14.50 USD per person, per day for guests in Junior Suites and below, or $17.50 USD per person, per day for guests in Grand Suites and above, applied to each guest’s SeaPass account on a daily basis. The gratuity applies to individual guests of all ages and stateroom categories. 

Guests can pre-pay gratuities by calling 866-562-7625 or logging into www.royalcaribbean.com at least 48 hours prior to sailing. For guests booked through a travel agent, your agent can add pre-paid gratuities to the booking at least 48 hours prior to sailing. If gratuities are not prepaid prior to sailing, they will be automatically added to the folios once onboard.

A 18% gratuity is automatically added to all beverages, mini bar items, and spa & salon purchases.

Transportation to the cruise

Not everyone lives within driving distance of the cruise, so another aspect to your cruise budget may be the cost of getting to and from your ship. 

Airfare, car rentals, taxis and hotels should be checked prior to booking a cruise for a ballpark estimate of what to expect.

Royal Caribbean does offer cruises from a great variety of cities around the world, but it seems most people have to travel to some extent to meetup with the ship.

I am not an expert on finding the lowest airfare prices, but you should try a few airfare tips and tricks to bring down the cost.

Costs onboard

Like any vacation you take, there is almost always going to be other incidental costs that come with vacation.

These are costs that should not be something you will be necessarily hit with, but they are costs that you may incur depending on your vacation style.

Common extra costs onboard include:

• Photos

• Casino

• Bingo

• Fitness Classes

• Souvenirs

How to save money on your next cruise

If you read all of this and are concerned it will cost a fortune, fear not, because there is a tremendous amount of value in a cruise vacation.  In addition, there are a lot of easy ways to save money on your cruise.

Book early

If there is one mantra I advocate the most, it is to book your cruise as soon as you can.

 If you can book your sailing 12, 18 or even 24 months in advance, you will very likely pay much less than someone that waits to book their sailing just a few months before the cruise.

The simple reason why booking early gets you the lowest price is that when a sailing is put on sale, all the staterooms are available to book, and thus, demand is at its lowest.  As guests start to book rooms, supply goes down, which inversely drives prices up.  Over time, we typically see prices for a sailing go up.

Moreover, if you live in a country that allows re-booking prior to final payment date (United States, Canada, Australia, etc), you can always take advantage of price drops, if they were to occur, and get the new lowest price.  If you book early enough, you may find regardless of the deal or promotion Royal Caribbean publicizes, the rate you had booked early on is still a better deal.

Use credit card points

Assuming you use credit cards responsibly, credit card reward programs with cash back bonus are popular options.

Regardless of which card you use, if you can manage to pay off each month's balance on time, you ought to be rake in the credit card rewards quickly, which can go towards paying for the cruise, or the various costs associated with the cruise (new clothes, airfare, hotels, etc).

Use a travel agent

The best way to ensure you are getting the lowest price on your Royal Caribbean vacation is to use a travel agent. Regardless of if this is your first or fiftieth cruise, a travel agent is a worthwhile "investment," and the best part is they are free to use!

Travel agents provide great service to folks looking to take a Royal Caribbean cruise because they are keyed in on the latest promotions and they can be your best advocate for finding promotions that help you, not just the day you book but every day until final payment.

A good travel agent will be able to assist with the booking process, and give you every single permutation of pricing to figure out which itinerary, stateroom or promotion makes the most sense for you.  I cannot count the time I have saved by having the travel agent jump through the proverbial hoops for me to figure out what is the best deal for my family.

Plan shore excursions on your own

While Royal Caribbean's shore excursions offer convenience and reliability, they tend to cost more and (arguably more importantly) involve larger groups that move at a slower pace.  Instead, consider booking shore excursions on your own.  This will likely save you money, or at the very least offer you more variety in options available as well as customization in what you see and do.

In many ports, you can skip booking an excursion all together and simply walk off the ship and start exploring the port.  Taking a taxi into town, walking the streets and discovering things around you are at the core of what makes port days so much fun. 

Bring your own soda, water, juice or wine

Royal Caribbean allows its guests to bring a limited quantity of wine or non-alcoholic beverages on their cruise.

Guests may bring up to two bottles of wine per stateroom on embarkation day. Each bottle of wine may be up to 750ml in size. 

In addition, you can now bring small quantities of non-alcoholic beverages in a carry-on or hand luggage onboard only on boarding day.  Non-alcoholic beverages brought onboard may not exceed 12 standard (17 oz) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom.