The Biggest Cruise Rip Offs (and how to avoid them)

The Biggest Cruise Rip Offs (and how to avoid them)

If you’re not careful on your cruise, your money could end up lost at sea. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Your cruise fare is paid in full. Your plane tickets home were purchased months ago. Your wallet, cash and credit cards are stowed away somewhere in your belongings, never to be seen again until your journey’s end. And with the words “all-inclusive” playing on a soothing, vacation-themed loop in your head, you step on board your cruise ship and leave behind all your trivial worries, like money or budgets.

It is then that cruise lines have you where they want you.

Cruise lines, like pretty much every other business out there, are devoted to getting as much of your money as possible. But unlike pretty much every other business out there, their customers are a captive bunch subjected to sales pitches for all kinds of expenditures — from souvenirs to shore excursions to even jewelry — without a means of escape.

And since you’re likely not carrying cash (on most cruise lines your ID cards serve as your on-board credit card) it becomes almost impossible to keep track of what you’re spending. That can lead to a “spend now/think later” mentality that really jacks up the total cost of your vacation.Cruise Market Watch estimates the typical cruiser this year will spend an extra $429 once they board a cruise ship. That’s on top of the estimated $1,350 spent on the typical fare. Increasingly for cruise ship passengers, the spending doesn’t end when you buy the ticket; it only begins.

Here are some of the ways cruise lines try to separate you from your money — and what you can do to thwart them:



The bar: one of the biggest moneymakers aboard any cruise ship. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The life blood of the cruise industry. The blog Ship Mate estimates that Carnival Cruises, the largest cruise line, makes up to half a billion dollars on booze sales alone per year. And vacation drinking is a terrific gateway to all kinds of spending: on food, souvenirs, jewelry and, of course, more alcohol. Cruise lines know this and protect their investment zealously. During embarkation, crew members search passengers for smuggled alcohol. And during the cruise, they’ll confiscate any discounted booze you might buy until the end of the trip.

The solution: Yes, you can try to sneak booze on board, but it’s so rarely successful it’s not worth the effort. If you’re that desperate, you can attempt something that worked for one cruiser we know. After crew members confiscated the booze she’d bought at a port’s duty-free shop, she appealed to the purser, telling him the brand of vodka she’d purchased was the only thing she ever drank and it wasn’t served aboard the ship. She got a nice note back (along with the vodka she’d purchased) which read: “Enjoy your trip.” Still, consider that a “Hail Mary” pass — one that’s unlikely to work. Your best bet is to not drink. Or if that’s not realistic, just keep it to a respectable limit.

Specialty Restaurants


Cruise ships are partnering with popular restaurants to lure passengers away from the “free” food. (Photo: MSC)

Cruise ships know that even with all the all-you-can eat buffets and dining areas on board, passengers will still shell out extra bucks to dine at the premium steakhouses, theme establishments and other kinds of specialty restaurants. With that in mind, cruise ships have entered into partnerships with popular land-based restaurants, like MSC’s recent partnership with the chain Eataly, to further entice people to dig deeper into their pockets for shipboard dining experiences

The solution: The amount and variety of free food (well, technically, it’s not free as you’ve already paid for it) on cruise ships is staggering. So there’s no real reason for you to spend even more money on specialty restaurants. Just walk past them. Avoid temptation and don’t even look at the menus posted outside.

Shore Excursions


Shore excursions are great. Paying a lot for shore excursions? Not so great. (Photo: Thinkstock)

There are cases when shore excursions arranged by, booked through and paid to the cruise line are the safest, most convenient ways to see a port of call. But plenty of times, they are not. And they are not cheap; shore excursions — be they bus tours, walking tours or snorkeling adventures — can easily run into the hundreds of dollars. If you buy enough of them, they could easily match and exceed the cost of your fare.

The solutions: 1.) Pick your excursions carefully; only consider splurging on the must-see/must-do excursions. 2.) Organize your own shore excursions by arranging a taxi, booking a boating tour with a reputable company before the cruise, or even renting a car and exploring by yourself. 3.) If you’re not consumed by a burning desire to see the port of call, consider just staying on the ship. With FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) leading many, if not most, of the passengers to trudge off the ship every time it docks, you’ll be able to enjoy smaller crowds in the dining areas, the bars, the pools, the gym, etc. You might even be able to book a spa appointment. Speaking of which…

Spa Appointments


“Are you relaxed? Good — I’d like to show you some of our beauty products…” (Photo: Thinkstock) 

We get it; you’re on vacation, so you’re tempted to pamper yourself. And modern cruise ships come equipped with tons of luxurious spas that appear to be the ultimate in pampering. But beware: some cruise lines use their offers of discounted massages and spa treatments to goad you into buying various creams and beauty products.

The solution:  If you go in for a massage, just get a massage. Some spa employees are more insistent on hawking beauty products than others so be prepared to say “no” — repeatedly, if you have to.



The casino: where many vacation budgets go to die. (Miss Shari/Flickr)

They’re bright and loud and lots of fun. Plus, shipboard casinos are tempting ways to pass the time during long days at sea.

The solution: Do we really need to tell you that casinos are a money-losing proposition? Whether you’re on a cruise ship or the Vegas Strip, remember: a casino’s a casino and you can lose your shirt at sea just as easily as you can on land. Standard casino rules apply here too: set a limit and stick to it; don’t gamble more than you can afford to lose; and, for Pete’s sake, quit while you’re ahead.



Beware of crew members baring these. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The cruise ships are really subtle about this one. Right before you board, crew members steer you to a festive looking backdrop and offer to take your photo. Once on the ship, camera-toting staffers attempt to take your photo. Plied full of vacation good cheer (and drinks), many people say “yes” — and gladly fork over the money cruise ships charge them for copies of their vacation memories.

The solution: The really skilled crew photographers almost make it seem like not having your picture taken just isn’t an option. Well, yes, it is. From embarkation through the rest of the cruise, politely decline any photo requests so you won’t be tempted to splurge on a picture. If you really want a photo that bad, take one yourself. You have your phone with you, remember?

Bottled Water


If you don’t mind tap water, you needn’t spend an arm and a leg for a bunch of these on your cruise. (Photo: Thinkstock) 

They may be floating luxury hotels, but cruise ships are still vessels. And many of us have been conditioned by warnings that tap water aboard trains and planes isn’t fit for drinking. Fears that the same goes for cruise ships lead many passengers to buy expensive bottled waters aboard the ship.

The solution: Former cruise ship doctor John Bradberry confirms to Yahoo Travel that cruise ship tap water is safe. “Bottled water may taste better, though,” he adds.



On-board Wi-Fi and Internet cafes might as well come with the URL: (Photo: Jasperdo/Flickr)

Whether you pay for it by the minute or purchase one of those “discounted” block plans, Internet/Wi-Fi access aboard cruise ships is incredibly expensive.

The solution: You can seek out (slightly) cheaper Internet cafes in port. But the cheapest and best solution is to use your cruise as an online detox. Ask yourself: “Do I really need to be checking email during my cruise?” Generations of cruisers made do without Wi-Fi during their journeys and most of them survived. So try unplugging for a day or two, if not your entire trip. Who knows: maybe you’ll come to enjoy the feeling.



Here there be stores — lots of `em. (Photo: mrkelleher/Flickr)

That watch in the jewelry store: I must have it! The sweatshirt with the cruise line’s logo on it: get in my bag, right now! The keychain in the shape of the ship: bring it! Cruise ships are chock full of stores where, again, your festive vacation mood can entice you to spend more than you’d planned on stuff you’ll never use again.

The solution: Window shopping often turns into window buying aboard cruise ships, so don’t risk temptation by browsing the stores. There are so many free activities aboard cruise ships, you can find one that doesn’t threaten to lighten your wallet.

Not that we’re saying you should be a oceangoing miser; part of the fun of vacations is spending money. But few things ruin that post-vacation high than getting socked with a massive bill full of costs you didn’t need to or mean to incur. So have fun but spend carefully; the money you save could go toward your next cruise!

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