17 of the worst ways people waste money on their cruise vacation

21 Oct 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

Wasting money is not on anyone’s agenda when planning a cruise, but unfortunately, thousands of passengers find themselves wasting money during their vacation.

Ways people waste money on a cruise

Whether you’re a first-time or veteran cruiser, it can be challenging to navigate the ins and outs of going on a cruise. There is a lot included in your base cruise fare, but most guests onboard end up spending extra on add-ons like alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, and spa treatments.

What is “worth it” to one passenger may seem like a waste of money to another, but there are a few sure-fire ways to spend more than necessary. From purchasing forgotten items at onboard shops to buying photo packages, here are 17 of the worst ways people waste money on their cruise vacation.

Buying drinks without a drink package


Let’s say, for instance, a Deluxe Beverage Package costs $80 per day with gratuities added. With most cocktails priced around $16 each with gratuity added, you would have to drink around five drinks each day to break even.

Five drinks may seem steep, but when you consider how easy it is to enjoy a few drinks by the pool followed by a few glasses of wine at dinner, it’s not an unreasonable amount. In fact, many passengers find they drink far more than five alcoholic beverages a day on a cruise.

Related: Royal Caribbean Drink Package Guide

If you plan on imbibing all day, every day of your cruise, it would be a waste of money to purchase each drink individually. In this case, buying a drink package will allow you to enjoy unlimited beverages without raking up a massive bill by the end of your cruise.

Purchasing toiletries onboard

Forgot your toothpaste at home or your favorite bottle of shampoo? You’ll be able to purchase these items on your Royal Caribbean cruise, but it won’t come cheap. It’s not unheard of to pay $10 for a small bottle of Advil or $8 for a tub of toothpaste onboard!

Unfortunately, shopping options are limited while in the middle of the ocean. Royal Caribbean knows desperate passengers will pay whatever price is listed if they find themselves in need of these items.

To avoid paying high prices for basic necessities, try to remember packing everything in the first place. If you do forget an important toiletry item, see if you can find it at a pharmacy or shop in port before buying it onboard.

Reserving specialty restaurants individually instead of purchasing a dining package


Planning to dine at several of Royal Caribbean’s specialty restaurants? From Italian fare to hibachi, New England-style seafood, and a Brazilian steakhouse, there is a wide variety of specialty restaurants to choose from while onboard.

Specialty restaurants come with an extra charge, and there are two ways to book these meals. The first is by making restaurant reservations individually on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website or in the app. By doing this, you can select the date and time of your reservation months in advance.

The second way to book specialty restaurants is by reserving a dining package. Royal Caribbean offers several dining packages, from the Unlimited Dining Package to the 3-night Dining Package. With a dining package, you cannot book dining reservations until you board the ship.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Unlimited Dining Package

Booking restaurants individually ensures you can better plan your dining times, but it comes with one major con: a higher price. In most cases, booking a Royal Caribbean dining package means you can save money at specialty restaurants, as the price of the package is cheaper than booking reservations individually.

Therefore, if you plan to dine at several specialty restaurants during your cruise, it’s recommended to purchase a dining package to save money in the long run.

Buying “local" souvenirs in port

Regardless of whether your cruise docks in Cozumel, Athens, or Phuket, you’re likely to see an abundance of souvenir shops once ashore. And while some souvenir shops may offer local, handmade artwork and trinkets, the majority will not.

Before spending $20 on a “handpainted” magnet or $50 on a piece of “local” jewelry, try to ensure the souvenir is actually worth the cost. More often than not, you’ll see every souvenir shop selling the same souvenirs that arrived in bulk from a factory in another country.

While you can find locally-made souvenirs in port, it takes some extra digging.

Losing a pool towel

Prone to forgetfulness? If so, be extra cautious with pool towels on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

While onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, passengers must scan their SeaPass card at a towel station to check out a towel. You are able to check out as many towels as you’d like, but there’s one catch: if you do not return a towel by the end of the cruise, each towel lost will incur a $25 charge.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to keep track of your pool towel onboard. We recommend returning your pool towels after each day of use. Having fewer towels checked out at once will help prevent any towel from becoming lost.

Not bringing their own drinks onboard

Galveston, Texas terminal security

Each guest on a Royal Caribbean cruise can bring a certain number of drinks with them on embarkation day. By doing so, passengers can save money by avoiding purchasing these beverages onboard.

Each guest of drinking age is permitted to bring one 750ml bottle of wine or champagne to the cruise terminal on embarkation day. Passengers may also bring up to twelve standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles, or cartons of non-alcoholic beverages per stateroom, such as soda and sports drinks.

Related: 30 Do’s and Don’ts for the first day of your cruise

If you enjoy drinking wine or soda but did not purchase a drink package, you’ll almost certainly waste money by buying these drinks individually. Plus, if you prefer a certain type of wine or soda, there’s no guarantee your preference will be available on the ship.

Spending too much time in the casino


It goes without saying, but you’re more likely to waste money than win money in the casino on Royal Caribbean. Although there’s nothing wrong with spending a few evenings gambling onboard, it’s better to go in with the mindset that you may lose money.

Of course, there is always the possibility of winning money onboard. It’s not unheard of for passengers to win thousands of dollars gambling on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Like any casino, though, you shouldn’t expect to strike it rich.

Only booking tours through the cruise line

Shore excursions are among the most popular add-ons to purchase for a cruise vacation, but keep your options open. Even though booking tours through the cruise line is convenient, booking a similar excursion through an independent tour operator can be a lot cheaper.

Related: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

Before booking the first shore excursion you see, do some research. Browse websites like GetYourGuide, Viator, and TripAdvisor to see a wider range of tours available. Although booking through an independent tour operator will not offer the same protections as booking directly through Royal Caribbean, many passengers prefer the lower prices and wider range of options.

Thinking a shore excursion is always necessary

Skagway, Alaska, pier with Serenade of the Seas docked

Speaking of shore excursions, another way people waste money on their cruise is by booking an excursion in every port.

When planning a cruise—especially as a first-time cruiser—it can be tempting to book an organized tour in every port of call. After all, if you’ve never been to a particular destination, a shore excursion is an easy way to visit the area’s highlights.

Nonetheless, shore excursions are not always necessary, and some passengers almost never book tours in port. Depending on where your cruise ship visits, it may be easier to explore on your own rather than book an excursion.

This is especially true in smaller ports, where the main attractions are within walkable distance to the cruise port. Skagway, Alaska, as an example, boasts more than enough to do without spending anything extra on a tour or ground transportation, and you’ll find similar scenarios in many European cruise ports.

Related: 16 cheap and free things to do on an Alaska cruise to avoid spending hundreds on shore excursions

Before spending hundreds on a tour of every port, research low-cost activities instead. You may be surprised to find enough to do without an organized excursion.

Using the ATM onboard

All Royal Caribbean cruise ships are equipped with an ATM, but withdrawing money from the machine can come with a hefty $6 fee per transaction.

One way to combat this is by using a debit or credit card that does not charge for ATM fees. In many cases, these cards will initially charge you and then reimburse any applicable fees at the end of the month.

While an ATM fee isn't huge, those small amounts can quickly add up.

Purchasing art at art auctions

Think twice before bidding on that $5,000 piece of artwork on your cruise.

Art auctions are a notorious activity on cruise ships, and they are extremely controversial. They promise a stellar investment on an original piece, and many passengers fall for the trap of spending way too much money on these paintings.

Related: What should you not buy on a cruise ship?

Although browsing the artwork can be fun—and the free champagne at the auction is a nice touch—bidding on artwork is arguably one of the worst ways people waste money on a cruise.

Forgetting to put their phone in airplane mode

As soon as your ship sails away from port, be sure to put your phone into airplane mode. Even if your cell phone coverage includes international service, it will not include roaming coverage from a cruise ship.

A simple call to friends and family back home while at sea could quickly result in a $100+ phone bill. Additionally, if you don’t have any international coverage at all, taking your phone off airplane mode while in port can see similarly high charges.

Avoid wasting money on this unnecessary expense and remember to always put your phone into airplane mode while onboard. If you need to connect to the internet on a cruise, purchase a wifi package instead.

Read moreThe simple trick to avoid thousands of dollars in cellphone charges on a cruise ship

Buying professional photos

It’s impossible to miss the photographers onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise; they walk around the ship and set up backdrops hoping to capture that picture-perfect image of your vacation.

These photographers will, more than likely, ask you to pose for a photo. Having a photo taken does not cost anything extra, but purchasing the professional photos comes with a steep charge.

An individual, 8x10 photo print on a Royal Caribbean cruise costs around $20. Photo packages are available to reserve in advance, but these aren’t cheap either, with a package of twenty photos priced at over $160.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a professional photo by which you can remember your cruise vacation, but modern phones can take pictures with excellent quality. If you’re cruising on a budget, it’s best to just use your phone’s camera instead.

If you're a Diamond member or above in Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society, however, you get one free photo.

Only reserving massages on the ship


You’ll find the Vitality Spa on every cruise ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. While offerings may vary slightly from ship to ship, you can expect to see services such as standard massages, stone therapy, thermal suites, and facials available to reserve.

Spa treatments on Royal Caribbean are not cheap, with most 70 minute massages priced at over $200 per guest.

Depending on your travel style, a spa treatment may or may not be viewed as a waste of money. That being said, weigh your other options before booking a massage on the ship.

At some ports, you may be able to find massages priced much lower than onboard. Plenty of beach clubs in popular ports like Cozumel and Costa Maya, for example, offer in-house spa treatments for around half the price as onboard offerings.

If you’re flexible with massage options, booking a treatment in port can help you avoid wasting extra money onboard.

Buying bottled water onboard

Some cruisers may swear by drinking the bottled water on a cruise ship, but in most cases, this is not only a waste of money, but worse for the environment, too.

Water on a Royal Caribbean cruise is safe to drink, and the cruise line provides unlimited glasses of water free of charge. Yet instead, plenty of passengers choose to purchase water bottles on the ship, which cost around $3 each.

Not only is drinking from plastic water bottles worse for the environment, but it’s a waste of money when considering you can enjoy unlimited water onboard anyway. And, even though bottled water is included in a drink package, it’s more environmentally friendly to bring a reusable water bottle and fill up the bottle from complimentary glasses of ice water instead.

Tipping twice

Certain onboard purchases come with an automatic, 18% gratuity charge, including drinks and spa and salon treatments. When you reserve a $167 spa treatment, you will pay around $30 in gratuities upon checkout.

Likewise, 18% gratuity is added to drinks like cocktails and coffee beverages, too—each $14 cocktail will actually cost over $16.

Related: Tipping on a cruise ship: what you should and shouldn’t do

Because you are already paying tips with these purchases, you shouldn't feel the need to tip extra once onboard for drinks, spa treatments, and dining. If you would like to give something extra to crew members, you’re always welcome to do so, but remember that you already paid gratuities for these services.

Waiting too long to book flights and hotels for the cruise

Airplane in the clouds

The last of the worst ways people waste money on their cruise vacation is by waiting too long to book flights and hotels before the cruise.

If you are not within driving distance of a cruise port, odds are you’ll be flying to the departure city. It’s best practice to buy flights as far in advance as you can to ensure you have the most options and see the lowest fares.

Far too often cruisers wait too long to purchase flights for their cruise and see that prices have raised dramatically. No one wants to pay hundreds of dollars more than another passenger on a plane, so booking flights early can, in most cases, save you money.

Hotels are another pre-cruise expense that should be booked early. You may be able to find cheap last-minute hotel deals, but this isn’t always guaranteed. To avoid spending more than necessary for a pre-cruise hotel, book the hotel as early as you can, especially when traveling during peak season.

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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