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Are Cruises Worth It or are they Nickel & Diming us to Death?

You may wonder are cruises really worth it? It used to be that you could book one for under a hundred bucks per night. That was pretty much all in except for drinks, excursions, and of course casino losses. It seems by the time you get off the ship nowadays, it’s substantially more expensive than it used to be. 

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​Are cruises worth it? A cruise is like the smorgasbord of travel, experiencing new sights at a different port almost every day. Although you're only there for a few hours, you might decide that’s the place to re-visit for a longer stay. Often a ship is the most cost-effective means to see these many places. And, the good news is you only need to unpack your bags once.

If you’ve ever been on one that broke down or had a norovirus outbreak, you probably wished you stayed home. The coronavirus quarantine of several cruise ships is all over the news. Instead of having fun cruising to exotic Asian destinations, these passengers are restricted to their cabins. Many have likened it to a “prison ship” and are only able to leave their room for an hour or two a day. Even with a full refund, I’m fairly certain those passengers wish they never left home.

What Happened to the Cruise Industry?

Since 1980, the industry has grown, on average, 7% per year. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruise ships are the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel market with an estimated 30 million travelers in 2019 even though lots of people wonder are cruises worth it.

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As a result of this growing demand, all the major lines are building bigger ships with extensive amenities. The largest one in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, carries up to 6,680 guests and 2,200 crew members. Never a boring moment with activities such as 3-story water-slides, laser tag, a zip line, surf simulator and Central Park. Evening entertainment options include the Broadway quality production “Hair Spray”, Aqua shows, and ice-skating performances. The ship costing $1.35 Billion was launched in June 2017.

Our preference remains on the smaller boats without all the fanfare. Less kids running about and usually way more interesting itineraries. We also notice that you can find better deals on the older ships.

Are Cruises Worth It?

Value is obviously subjective, yet based on its continued popularity it seems most folks view it as reasonable value. Arguably, the cost of the basic fare seems to have remained the same over the past decade or so. What has changed are the levels of service, what's included, and what's now an extra cost. They've found ways to maximize their profits. Any long-term mariners will likely recall the top-deck midnight buffets complete with ice carvings and every imaginable chocolate delicacy. Not so much anymore.

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They've always been relatively expensive and considered semi all-inclusive so are cruises worth it. For instance, beverages, gratuities, Internet access, and excursions have always been chargeable. The industry has evolved with numerous extras each with a price tag. Your ship card is used for all on-board purchases which can rapidly add up. Many folks are shocked at their final statement as they disembark the ship. In some cases, what they paid for the trip is less than the costs they incurred during the trip.

Beverages Are Expensive!

It’s no secret that beverages are a main source of revenue. With a captive audience, all those waiters encourage their guests to enjoy a drink or two (or more). After all, you’re on vacation and a cold beer or cocktail tastes awfully good while relaxing by the pool. A nice glass of wine goes perfectly with the evening meal. Later at the show, another drink caps off a perfect day.

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Of course, all you need is your ship card to order a drink. It’s really easy to rack up those drink costs during sea days. Even on port days, you’ll often be aboard shortly after lunch time. The average cost of a beer is between $6.00 to $8.00. That daiquiri or glass of wine might be $10.00 to $12.00. And don’t forget the automatic gratuity of 18% or more. Again, you think are cruises worth it?

Most of us don’t want to keep track and will be in for a surprise. If you were to average 4 drinks a day, your bill could exceed $300.00 after a week-long adventure. Double that if your partner also drinks. To take the guess work out, each line offers a beverage plan.

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Other than water (not bottled), iced tea, coffee, and juice most other beverages will cost you extra. Your card will get billed for bottled water, a soda, or a specialty coffee. Again, they have packages for sale.

Internet / Wi-Fi Costs

Wasn’t it nice when you could, totally, be off the grid? That doesn’t happen often nowadays. When we're on vacation, we expect the internet reliability and speed to be, at least, as good as it is at home or work. Not so much on-board. It can be very slow or spotty due to poor satellite connections.  On top of that, it's not free and can be downright expensive! Once again, another profit center for the ship which could make you question are cruises worth it.

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Cell phones could be another way you might rack up a ton of charges. The best way to avoid this is to keep your cell phone in airplane mode. This way you'll avoid unexpected roaming charges. If you choose a Wi-Fi package on the ship, make sure you fully log out. The time keeps ticking away if you don’t – ask my husband! All we did was check a couple of emails and didn't log out all the way losing our 250-minute package. Another way to keep charges to a minimum, wait till you get to a port. Most have access to free hot spots or internet cafés where you can check emails, etc.

The industry continues to look for ways to improve the quality of this service to the levels expected today.

Specialty Dining

Dining used to be a 5-star culinary experience often with steak and lobster on formal nights. Needless to say, the “free” dining is nowhere as upscale as it once was. The specialty restaurants (chargeable) are where you need to go for that amazing meal. Naturally, dining packages can be purchased.

Automatic Gratuities

In no other industry that I’m aware of is there an automatic daily gratuity charge ($14.50 or more). Thus, for a one-week duration, you and your partner will be charged an additional $203.00. This isn't the case in other hospitality businesses such as all-inclusive resorts. The justification is that all crew are equally rewarded. In my opinion, gratuity fees should be discretionary based upon the service you receive and makes me question are cruises worth it.

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While it’s possible to contest these charges, the onus is on you to express how the service was unsatisfactory. This will likely get some under-paid and over worked staff member in trouble. It strikes me that the practice of automatic gratuity has become part of employee wages thereby saving the ship money.

Room Service

I used to love sipping my morning coffee and having breakfast on our balcony. What a great way to start another vacation day! No rushing or jostling crowds at the breakfast buffet, just relaxing and collecting our thoughts before beginning the new day. Almost every line now charges between $7.95 to $9.95 for room service, plus an 18-20% gratuity charge! Again, raising the question of are cruises worth it.

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Sometimes I tell my husband, jokingly, he's so cheap that he squeaks. Thankfully, I am as value conscious as him. Considering the cost of the trip, we agree these room service charges are a rip-off. For us, the appeal of a cabin with a balcony has diminished. Often the weather isn't conducive to sitting on a balcony and ocean view cabins are way less expensive. Our morning routine has changed and we’re quite happy with a table on the pool-deck.

Shore Excursions / Tours

Excursions are another area they gouge passengers. We’ve used viator.com on several occasions getting the same (or better) tour. The cost has been about half of what the ship was charging for a similar ship excursion. This has worked particularly well in Caribbean ports with a plethora of independent tour operators.

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The ship claims booking with them guarantees you won’t miss the ship. When you think about it, these local guides wouldn’t be in business long if they didn’t get you back to the ship on time. Moreover, the ship uses local people for their tours. The difference is they squeeze them on cost and then mark it up to a much higher cost for us.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is like a safety net you hope you never have to use. Without it, any unexpected setbacks could wreck your trip. A medical emergency at sea could cost thousands of dollars. When you book, inevitably travel insurance will be prominently positioned as an option you need. As a general rule, it’s usually about 5-7% of the cost of your vacation. While it’s convenient to accept, you might want to check with 3rd party travel insurers. For about the same rate, you might get a better plan with superior coverage.

In Summary

Are cruises worth it? We believe so and are already planning a Mediterranean adventure for next year. As long as you keep an eye on your ship charges on a daily basis, it shouldn't be too shocking. This trip will be one of a life-time where you could, potentially, cross a lot of things off your bucket list!

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