The hidden costs of cruising
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What will your cruise
REALLY cost you?
My exclusive comparison of on-board prices of cruise holiday extras. Which cruise has the most expensive drinks? Which ships have the cheapest spa treatments? What is the real price difference between the major cruise lines? How to cruise as cheaply as possible.
Cruising is a brilliant way to have a holiday - BUT here's a word of warning to those who haven't been before. Those ticket prices that appear so appealing aren't all they seem...
It's easy to believe that you'll hardly need to spend any more than the price of the cruise. After all, the food, travel and accommodation is included... surely there's not much else to spend your money on while stuck on a ship?
Sadly, as anyone who has cruised before will tell you, there are always extras on a cruise. For most passengers it can be quite a battle trying not to overspend while you're on board.
Only a very few cruise lines offer fully inclusive trips - all the others charge for a wide range of things that you'd normally enjoy on holiday, from drinks to day trips. The ships try to tempt passengers with ‘official' photos and videos, boutiques, jewellery sales and art auctions. And because you're on board a ship with no competition they can charge whatever they like.
Passengers find it hard to keep track of their spending. On major cruise ships all passengers are given a ‘cruise card', like a credit card and plastic door key combined. It links to your individual on-board account.
They use this to pay for everything from an ice cream for a few pence to a family excursion costing hundreds of pounds.
On some ships you can check the status of your cruise account on the TV in your room, on others it's more difficult to keep track of your spending. You'll have to queue at the guest services desk to ask how much you've spent. You'll see plenty of worried faces in the queue each day wondering how much has gone from their cruise account already.
Cruise insiders say the only reason that cruise tickets appear so reasonable is that the ships know they will make so much money from all these ‘hidden' extras. One ship's purser told me: "We aim to make as much money from each passenger during the cruise as they have spent on the ticket."
So when a cruise passenger contacted me complaining about the wildly different prices of drinks on cruise ships she'd sampled I thought it was time to investigate. I contacted each of the major cruise lines to ask how much passengers were charged for each of a list of common on-board purchases.
The first thing I found is that the cruise companies do not have this information to hand, even for journalists' enquiries. No wonder that potential passengers find these all-important costs very difficult to discover in advance.
The prices are not published in cruise sales literature or on the companies' websites. In most cases their head offices had to contact an actual ship at sea and ask. Even after all this, one line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), was unable to find all the prices I asked for.
When I finally got the prices, the differences between them turned out to be enormous. Please note that the figures refer to prices at the time of writing. Some details may have changed but I suspect the differences between the cruise lines remain very much the same.
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Pint of draught beer
Fred Olsen £2.35
Small bottle of premium lager, like Budweiser
Fred Olsen £2
Glass of chardonnay
Fred Olsen £2.95
Bottle of house red
Fred Olsen £14.95
Gin and tonic
Fred Olsen £2.55
Glass of coke
Fred Olsen 55p
Small bottle of water
Fred Olsen £1.50
Price of an A4 print of a couple on formal night
Fred Olsen £12.95
Standard gratuities per head per day
Fred Olsen £2
Thomson included in ticket
Cost per head to upgrade to a superior restaurant
Princess £13.50 (varies with different ships/restaurants)
Fred Olsen - no restaurant upgrades
Fred Olsen £35
Fred Olsen £20
Wash and press one white shirt
Fred Olsen £3
Access per minute
Fred Olsen 40ppm
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