March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009
What Does It Really Cost to Cruise?


Thanks for stopping by to check out another day in my life. It has been a beautiful Monday here in north Florida. The sun has been shining all day yet it is still cool enough outside to not sweat to death.

I had to take another down day. My back and legs are still killing me from being on them all day Friday and Saturday for our first Jacksonville Women's HIV Conference. So I spent most of the day resting and relaxing while trying to get caught up on project and other business.

Anyone who has been my friend for long knows one of my favorite ways to travel is taking a cruise and Celebrity Cruiseline is my favorite. You only have to unpack once, most of the basics are included in the price and you do not have to worry about driving or flying to multiple locations.

But everything is not included in the price so I thought I would write a blog entry about how to figure your total cost while they cruiselines are offering what seem like great deals.

There is no denying there has never been a better time to cruise if you can spare the cash. Prices are low and the incentives are aplenty, from free on board spending credits to cabin upgrades. But of course there is the proverbial fine print. Once you are on board, the many extras add up faster than you can say "$499 per person for a 7 night Caribbean cruise." You can double or triple that amount depending on your drinking, spa, and touring habits (if you are a gambler, then add that much more on to the tab). If you think cruises are all inclusive, think again. The most inclusive are the luxury lines (Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, and SeaDream Yacht Club), as they throw booze, tips, and typically these days a shore excursion or two into the fare. Otherwise, the upfront cruise price includes meals and entertainment, but little else.

It seems the mass-market lines with the lowest prices (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and NCL) are also the ones who go overboard pushing extras.

"We get our greatest number of complaints about these lines nickel and diming passengers to death and hustling something all the time, even over the PA system," says Charlie Funk, co-owner of Just Cruisin' Plus (tel. 800/888-0922; www.justcruisinplus.com)

Of course you can always just say no. Ways to save include cutting down on the consumption of beer, wine, cocktails, and soda (at meal times, coffee, tea, milk and juices are free and typically ice water and tea are offered 24 hours a day). If you are addicted to the stuff, many lines offer soda discount cards, but be sure to understand the fine print, sometimes the deal is not as good as it seems.

"As for spa treatments, I have found massages to be terribly overpriced and the quality oft times inferior to shore side. Plus, on some ships the massage therapists are very assertive about a gratuity," says Funk.

To Eric Maryanov, president of All-Travel (tel. 866/565-3214; www.all-travel.com), the most offensive supplemental charges are those levied to use spa pools and special relaxation areas, public spaces that should be free for everyone to use. One of tackiest product pushing moments I have had of late was on a Royal Caribbean cruise in Europe, when staff members hawked cruise videos (the ships' photo crews take a video of the cruise and ports all week) by parading up and down the aisles of the show lounge before curtain call...it was like the they were selling peanuts and Cracker Jacks at Shea Stadium. It was a new all time low.

"Onboard spending is a far greater revenue component for cruise lines than 20 years ago. Then, the ticket price represented perhaps 80% of the money the cruise line collected for the cruise, today it's as little as 40%," says Funk.

Big surprise then that the cruise lines are coming up with more and more ways for you to spend your money once on board. Hey, no one is forcing you to buy stuff, but just be aware of what you will really spend for that 7vnight bargain cruise of your dreams.

To illustrate my point, I did a little case study. Here is what my family of two typically spends on a week long cruise once we walk up that gang way and join the conga line.

Spa

I usually sign up for one or two treatments -- my little (err, big) indulgence of the week, considering cruise ship spa prices are obscenely high (and this coming from an ex-Californian)

$149 ($119 massage + $30 tip) $119 ($89 discount combo treatment + $20 tip)

Dining

If there is an alternative restaurant, my partner and I will definitely try it at least one evening if not two to enjoy the more intimate surroundings and usually better cuisine than the main venues.

$120 ($30 per person per night)

Drinks

We are water drinkers. While we drink the free tap water in the restaurants whenever possible, we avoid it in the cabins (even though water from the cabin bathroom tap is the same as what is offered in the restaurants, it just does not seem as palatable!).

$40 ($4 per bottle of Evian times 10) $50 ($5 per coffee -- 7 specialty coffees for my other half and 3 for me)

Booze

If you like your drink, ca-ching ca-ching, you will pay the price at the end of your cruise when the bill comes!

$466 ($200 for 4 bottles of wine + $224 for a cocktail or two each before and/or after dinner at about $8 a pop on average Â…plus the 10% service charge added on to the bills)

Shore Excursions

We prefer touring solo in port whenever possible for the flexibility and usually cheaper cost. However, in some cases it does make more sense to go with the organized tour, for example in Alaska or when you really want the services of a guide narrating what you are seeing)

$600 (8 tours at $75 each. This is a cheap tour, by the way; if you spring for pricey tours in say 4 ports, expect a family of four to spend more than $2,000!)

Gift Shop Purchases

I do not know about you, but I am not a big shopper. Still, since I never seem to have the time or inclination to do it at home, when I am on a cruise lulling about on a long, slow sea day, well I do find myself hitting the shops to pick up things for Christmas, birthdays and well, just for plain 'ole me.

$175 ($100 for t-shirts and caps for friends back home; $75 for impulse buys -- flip flops, Christmas ornaments and magnets)

Tips

They are not mandatory on most cruise lines, but considering the hard working waiters and cabin stewards rely on tips for the vast majority of their salary, ethically, you gotta fork over the dough if you were satisfied with the service.

$140 ($10 a day times 2 people; note: on some lines kids under 12 can tip half)

Total: $1,999 for extras + $998 for a bargain-basement $499 a person cruise ticket for two.

Grand total: $2,997

So while the initial price offering for the cruise might sound like a great deal, you have to add in all the little extra costs to get your true price.

Just something to keep in mind when booking your next cruie.

Wishing you health, hope and happiness.



Big bear hug,





Daddy Dab