Recently I found a deal on a 3 Day / 4 Night cruise on Carnival Inspiration out of Long Beach CA for only $179 per person! This included one day in Catalina Island, one in Ensenada Mexico and one day at sea. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try a cruise, take a vacation with one of my friends, and it fits perfectly under the $200 guideline to share on this blog.
What I didn’t realize were all the extra costs on cruises!! These costs quickly added up and the trip ended costing me much more than I thought it would. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend going on a cruise, because we had a great time and really enjoyed the experience, but here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re planning your cruise budget.
1) Carnival Cruise Fees and Taxes
Cost: $330 (+$78 for insurance)
You’ll find your first set of extra charges on a Carnival Cruise when you make your purchase. While the cruise was advertised as $179 per person (or, $358 total for 2 people), we paid an additional $330 in various fees, including processing fees, cruise port fees, and taxes.
Plus, if you opt for travel insurance like we did that’s another $78!
2) Port Excursions + Beverages/Meals
Part of the appeal to the cruise was it’s ‘all in’ pricing structure. Meals and basic beverages are included in the price (more on beverages below), plus there’s lots of free activities and entertainment on the cruise. But in the excitement of booking, it’s easy to overlook that 2 of the 3 days of the cruise are actually in port and not on the ship. And there are costs associated with those days in port. You might elect to go on an excursion. You’ll likely get a meal or something to drink while you’re there. None of which is included in the cost of the cruise.
The cost of excursions on Carnival Cruise will depend on what you want to do. They have sponsored excursions with costs starting at $50 and going up to over $100 per person. The advantage of these are that they are guaranteed to make it back to the cruise ship on time and you don’t have to worry about planning or transportation, it’s all handled for you.
We were trying to keep costs down, so we elected to forgo a Catalina Island excursion and instead walked around on our own. We had researched ahead of time and knew that there were many things near where we docked and that there were plenty of things to explore right there. While we didn’t have any excursions costs, we did spend money on lunch during our day there.
However, we did decide to book one of the Ensenada excursions when we realized that the area around where we docked wasn’t as easy to navigate on our own and didn’t really have anything worthwhile to explore right there. So, we choose a bus tour that took us to the popular attraction known as La Bufadora, or The Blow Hole.
Of course, there is also a marketplace in the area that was bustling with folks trying to sell you their souvenirs, activities, and food. While they were usually polite for the most part, it was still a hard sell from every single person you encountered.
All in all, we ended up spending $75 on the excursions and meals for the two days in port.
3) Beverages and Alcohol
Much like excursions, what you will spend on beverages onboard a cruise will be a matter of your own personal preference. Unlimited coffee, tea, lemonade, and water are included in the price of the cruise and for some people that may be more than enough. So if you are one of those folks, you can get away with absolutely no extra costs for beverages and alcohol on your cruise!!
Most cruise lines will offer all-inclusive beverage programs you can pre-purchase. The Carnival Cheers program offers access for everything from alcoholic drinks (up to 15 per day) to unlimited sodas, juices, and specialty coffees. When we took our cruise, it cost $57.45 ($49.95 + 15% gratuity) per person per day, so on a 4-night cruise with 2 people, you’d pay $459.60 for this program. They also have a non-alcoholic version, their Bottomless Bubbles for $6.90 per person per day.
I’m not a big enough soda drinker to justify the Bottomless Bubbles option. However, I do like to have a wine or cocktail with my dinner. And, occasionally might prefer a latte in the morning at breakfast.
So, the question is: buy into their all-inclusive drink program or purchase drinks individually?
The answer depends on two questions: How much are drinks on Carnival Cruise? And, how much did I want to drink while on the cruise?
Some online research ahead of time showed that alcohol on Carnival Cruise costs approximately $6-8 for beer and up to $13 for wine or cocktails. Soft drinks cost around $3-4 and specialty coffees were about $3-5 each.
Considering we’d spend two days in port and off the ship, and that we didn’t expect to consume more than 2-3 cocktails or specialty coffees each in a day, we decided to purchase drinks individually.
In the end, we spent $250 on drinks. It was much cheaper than the drink package, but still, extra money added to the final cost of the trip.
4) Gratuities for Carnival Cruise
Gratuities are automatically added to your bill at the end of the cruise. While you can go through a process to have them removed if you really disagree with the concept, remember that there are a Steward and Crew dedicated to your cabin to clean it daily, keep you updated with activities and notices, and answer any questions or help you resolve any issues you have during your trip. On our cruise, we were very happy with the crew and all the service they provided. Plus, I especially liked the folded towel animals they left in the room each day!
The gratuities on our Carnival Cruise were $12.95 per person per night. Our cruise was 4 nights for 2 people, so our total gratuities were $103.
5) Parking or Transportation to the Cruise Ship
Cost: Parking $76
Finally, don’t forget you have to get to the cruise!
In our case, as we are local to the area, we parked at the Long Beach Cruise Center terminal and paid $76 in parking fees.
However, if you’re not local to the area, you would likely be arranging a ride from the airport or your hotel to the Cruise Center terminal and would need to account for that in your overall cruise budget.
Being on a cruise was actually a fun experience and one that I would definitely do again. But I would be much more aware of all the hidden costs and better able to plan my budget accordingly!
**All prices are based on a cruise taken in January 2018. If you are going on a Carnival Cruise soon, please be sure to do your own research ahead of time, as costs may have changed.
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