19 Things That Are a Waste of Money On Cruise Ships

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Carnival Magic entering the Port of Miami Cruise Terminal with the miami skyline in the background

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While planning your next adventure on the high seas, you’re probably excited about the lavish buffets, dazzling entertainment, high-thrill activities, and exotic destinations. Cruise ships offer a truly unforgettable vacation.

With all the things to love about cruising, cruise vacations are expensive.

And it’s not just the cruise fare.

Cruise lines offer dozens of upsells, such as alcohol, WiFi packages, shore excursions, specialty dining, room service, and more. If you’re not careful, first-time and veteran sailors can easily waste money on cruise ships.

In this blog post, I’ll share some insider knowledge on purchases that are a waste of money on cruise ships. I’ve purchased many of the items on this list. Read on to hear my experience, and what to buy instead.

Drink Packages (if you don’t drink)

A pint of beer on a wooden table in a nautical themed bar on a cruise shipPin

One of the most common mistakes is purchasing a drink package when you don’t drink much. While drink packages promise unlimited beverages throughout your trip, they come with a high price tag and fine print, making it difficult to get your money’s worth.

If you’re not a big drinker, you’ll spend more money on the beverage package than purchasing individual drinks.

Drink packages typically cost around $60-$80 per person, per day. That means you need to consume 5-8 alcoholic beverages daily to break even. And the number is even higher if you drink non-alcoholic beverages.

For most people, cruise ship drink packages aren’t worth it.

If you’re not a big drinker, you’ll save money by not purchasing the drink plan. Instead, purchase drinks individually. Simply swipe your cruise card at the bar to buy drinks through your onboard spending account.

If you enjoy the occasional cocktail or beer, you can save money by being smart about your purchases. Look for daily drink specials and happy hour promotions. You’ll sometimes find free drinks at special celebrations like Captain’s Night or Sailaway Parties.

By being selective with your drink choices and taking advantage of these deals, you can indulge in a few beverages without overspending.

Buying Individual Drinks (if you drink a lot)

Close up of a wine glass as a waiter pours red wine in a restaurant on a cruises shipPin

On the other hand, if you enjoy drinking a fair amount during your cruise vacation, buying individual drinks can quickly add up and become a waste of money. A drink package can be a wise investment if you drink more than 6-8 drinks daily.

Consider the average cost of drinks on a cruise ship: cocktails can range from $10 to $15, beers around $6 to $8, and even non-alcoholic beverages like soda and bottled water can cost $3 to $4 each.

If you order several drinks throughout the day, your total bill can skyrocket without you even realizing it.

Although I don’t typically recommend purchasing the drink package, it is worth it if you’re a big drinker.

Consider your drinking habits to determine if a drink package is worth it. If you think you’ll order at least 6-8 drinks per day (including shore days), then not purchasing the package is a waste of money.

Plus, having a drink package can make your cruise experience feel more all-inclusive and worry-free, as you won’t need to track every drink purchase.

Not Bringing Wine or Champagne

Two bottles of wine on a carry on bag in a modern hotel roomPin

Most people don’t know that you can take alcohol on a cruise ship. Almost every cruise line allows passengers to bring a limited amount of wine or Champagne during embarkation day.

Not bringing wine or Champagne is a waste of money because you’ll be left to purchase alcohol from the ship’s bars. Sure, buying a beer or cocktail from the bar is a great way to kick back and relax under the Caribbean sun.

But cruise line drink prices are outrageously high, with markups of 200% or more than on land.

Don’t waste your money on bottles of wine. You can save significant money by bringing your own bottle and still enjoy your favorite drinks.

Editor’s Tip

Most cruise lines charge an uncorking fee of $15-$30. But that only applies when you consume your own bottles in public areas of the ship. But there’s no fee to drink your bottles in your cabin.

Even with the uncorking fee, bringing your own wine bottles is still cheaper than purchasing bottles of wine or Champagne on the cruise ship.

Check your cruise line’s policy when packing your wine or Champagne. Cruise lines limit the amount of alcohol you can bring on the ship. They typically require that wine be brought in your luggage, not a carry-on bag.

If you’re flying to your cruise port, comply with TSA regulations for carrying liquids. You cannot take wine or Champagne bottles larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) through security checkpoints, so you’ll need to pack them in your checked luggage or purchase them after arriving at your destination.

Before getting on the ship, I usually purchase wine at the departure port city. This way, I don’t have to worry about airline restrictions.

Photo Packages

Onboard photo packages are a common offering on cruise ships but are a waste of money. While purchasing a professional photo package to remember your cruise vacation is tempting, it’s not worth the money.

Cruise ship photo packages are expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars. The packages typically have several photos taken by the ship’s photographers, including formal portraits, casual snapshots, and images from various onboard events.

Great photos are worth the money. But the photos you get on a cruise ship are anything but superb.

The quality of cruise photos is hit-and-miss. You might find a couple you like, but most are photos you don’t want to keep.

But there’s one big reason that photo packages are a waste of money on cruise ships.

Smartphone cameras allow you to take high-quality photos for free. You can easily capture memories, snap pictures of beautiful destinations, and document your onboard experiences without paying a premium.

What if you want your photo taken?

Cruise ship passengers are always friendly and ready to take your photo. I’ve asked several passengers to take pictures of me, and I’ve taken dozens of photos for other cruisers.

If you want to purchase a few professional photos as souvenirs, consider buying them individually rather than opting for a package. This way, you can select only the images you truly love and avoid spending money on unwanted pictures.

Onboard Shopping

An art scupture on the Promenade with a sunroofPin

I know many people who love to shop. In fact, that’s one of the activities they look most forward to on a cruise ship. However, cruise ships apply large markups to the products they sell at their onboard shops.

Cruise ships often feature boutiques selling luxury items like jewelry, watches, and designer clothing. While these shops may offer duty-free prices, the base prices are almost always inflated, negating any potential savings.

The shops on Valiant LadyPin

However, the biggest reason cruise ship shops waste money is the fake sales and promotions they run. Cruise ship stores celebrate discounts of 75% or more. But if you look closely, the discount comes after the price is marked five times or more.

Don’t believe me. I feel for this once.

On my first cruise, I proudly spent $300 on a watch with a ticket price of $1,200. I couldn’t believe the deal I was getting.

A few years later, I had the watch appraised, and the appraiser told me he would only pay $300 if it were new.

At least I didn’t lose money.

I’m not telling you to avoid the shops. I almost always buy a souvenir or two to remember my travels. But it’s important to know that the deal you’re getting is almost always too good to be true.

Toiletries

Toiletries on the counter in a cruise ship bathroom with a sink and mirror in the backgroundPin

If you forget to pack your toiletries, you can purchase them from the cruise ship. Cruise ship stores often sell essentials like toothpaste, sunscreen, and over-the-counter medications. However, toiletry prices on board the vessel are significantly higher than what you’d pay on land.

Cruise lines know passengers may forget to pack everyday items or run out during the trip, so they charge premium prices for toiletries. A bottle of sunscreen or a pack of razors can cost double or even triple the price you’d pay at a drugstore back home.

Packaging everything you’ll need is essential so you don’t waste money buying expensive items from the cruise ship. But if you forget to pack toiletries, they’re a necessary purchase.

Editor’s Tip

Toiletries are usually cheaper in port. You’ll save money if you can wait to purchase essentials at the next port of call.

Bottled Water

Two bottles of water on a single bed with another bed in the background in a cruise ship cabin. In the background is an open balcony window with curtains and the ocean horizionPin

Buying bottled water on a cruise ship can be a waste of money as cruise lines charge up to $5 per bottle. While staying hydrated during your cruise is important, there are several ways to keep hydrated without buying water bottles.

Most cruise lines offer filtered water dispensers or fountains throughout the vessel, often located near the main dining areas, buffets, and pool decks. You can bring a refillable water bottle and fill it up without spending money.

A refillable water bottle is one of our top Amazon cruise essentials because you can take it off the ship and stay hydrated in port.

If you prefer the convenience of bottled water, consider bringing your own from home.

Many cruise lines allow passengers to bring limited non-alcoholic beverages, including bottled water. Check your cruise line’s policy before packing, and if allowed, take a pack of water.

When in port, you can also purchase bottled water at local shops or supermarkets, often at a lower price than on the ship. Just be sure to check the seal on the bottle to ensure it hasn’t been tampered with and is safe to drink.

Room Service

Room service on a wooden cruise ship balcony table. There is orange juice, coffee, and pastries.Pin

Room service is a convenient and luxurious perk on a cruise ship. However, cruise ship room service is a waste of money when you can find endless food just a short walk from your cabin.

Many cruise lines offer complimentary breakfast room service, which I always take advantage of on the last day of the cruise. It allows me to get up at my own pace and enjoy my breakfast before leaving the cruise ship.

While breakfast is complimentary, most cruise lines have implemented room service fees for daytime and nighttime orders. Cruise lines charge a flat rate per order or specific menu items.

Continental breakfast room service on a cruise ship with plates of fruit, pastries, a coffee, and orange juice on a wooden table. There is the balcony railing and ocean horizon in the backgroundPin

The delivery fees can quickly add up, especially if you rely on room service frequently throughout your trip.

Moreover, the menu options for room service may be limited compared to what’s available in the ship’s main dining areas. While you’ll typically find basic offerings like sandwiches, salads, and desserts, the selection may not be as extensive or varied as what you’d find elsewhere on the ship.

If you choose to use room service, be mindful of the portions and consider sharing with your travel companions to avoid waste and unnecessary expenses. I just don’t think it’s worth the cost when there’s so much variety at the ship’s complimentary restaurants.

Art Auctions

Passengers gather before a cruise ship art auction to look at the paintings lining the walls of the hallwayPin

Art auctions are a staple cruise ship activity. They are a popular form of entertainment that attracts many people, but they are a waste of money for passengers.

Cruise lines present the auctions as exclusive events offering unique pieces at attractive prices, but the reality is quite different.

Third-party companies typically run cruise ship art auctions. Auction companies partner with cruise lines and use high-pressure sales tactics to encourage passengers to purchase. Common tactics include offering “limited-time” deals, emphasizing the artwork’s potential value as an investment, and highlighting the “rarity” of the artwork.

However, the artwork sold at these auctions is often overpriced and low quality. Many pieces are mass-produced prints or reproductions rather than original works, and the value of the art is frequently inflated.

Passegers wearing formal attire while gathering on a cruise ship for an art auction. The room has artwork displayed on the walls and on easelsPin

Passengers may pay much more than the piece’s actual worth, making it a poor investment.

Additionally, there are many questions over the authenticity of the artwork sold at cruise ship auctions. Cruise lines have been accused of auctioning fake or forged pieces and artwork with unclear or dubious origins.

You often won’t even take home the art piece you bid for. Instead, you’ll get an identical or slightly lower-quality copy sent from the auctioneer’s warehouse.

If you’re genuinely interested in purchasing art, it’s best to do so through reputable galleries or dealers on land. This way, you can take the time to research the artist, the piece, and the fair market value before making a purchase.

You’ll also be able to view the artwork in person and ask questions without the pressure of a high-energy auction environment.

If you decide to participate in a cruise ship art auction, set a budget and stick to it. Don’t let the auctioneer or other participants pressure you into making an uncomfortable purchase. Remember that you can walk away at any point, and don’t feel obligated to buy anything just because you attended the event.

Tipping Twice

Tipping twice on a cruise ship is a common first-time cruise mistake. Many first-time cruisers are unaware of the automatic gratuity until they receive the final bill at the end of the cruise.

Most cruise lines automatically add daily gratuities to your onboard account, which the cruise line distributes among the crew members.

Cruise ship gratuities range from $12 to $20 per person per day, depending on the cruise line and your stateroom category.

Some passengers leave cash tips to show gratitude for exceptional service without realizing they’re automatically charged a daily gratuity. Tipping twice for the same services can unnecessarily increase cruise expenses.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with tipping extra to show your appreciation. But you’ll unknowingly spend more money if you don’t know about the automatic service charge.

Forgetting to Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode

A man sitting in a sunlounger on the cruise ship’s top deck using a cell phone with the railing and ocean in the backgroundPin

Don’t forget to put your phone on airplane mode before you embark. Forgetting to put your phone on airplane mode while on a cruise ship is a costly mistake, wasting money on unintended roaming charges and data usage.

If you forget to turn on airplane mode, your mobile phone may connect to the ship’s cellular network. Cruise ship cell networks use satellites operated by third-party providers. You can expect to pay significantly higher calls, texts, and data usage rates.

Roaming charges on cruise ships are exorbitant, with rates often exceeding several dollars per minute for calls and per megabyte for data.

Even if you’re not actively using your phone, background apps and automatic updates can still consume data, leading to unexpected charges on your mobile bill.

A blonde woman looking over the railing of a cruse ship to take a photo of the sunset over the ocean horizonPin

There are dozens of stories of passengers returning from their cruise with a $500 phone bill. One German family was hit with a $14,000 phone bill after their son watched videos on using their phone.

The moral of the story: Put your phone on airplane mode to avoid wasting money on roaming charges while on a cruise.

If you need to stay connected while on your cruise, consider using the ship’s Wi-Fi network instead. Cruise lines offer internet packages that allow you to browse the web, send emails, use messaging apps, and stream movies at a fraction of the cost of cellular roaming.

Starlink’s internet service has drastically improved cruise lines’ internet. The speeds aren’t as fast as I get back home, but they’re more than enough for working or chatting with family.

If you absolutely must use your phone while at sea, check with your mobile provider before your cruise to see if they offer special cruise ship packages or discounted rates. Some providers may partner with cruise lines or offer plans tailored to maritime travel.

Cruise Line Shore Excursions

Marcello De Lio standing at the top of a Myan pyramid in Costa Maya Mexico while on a Western Caribbean cruisePin
(Photo by Marcello/High Seas Cruising)

I’ll admit. This one is a little controversial for me.

While cruise line shore excursions can be a convenient way to explore ports of call, they are much costlier than booking tours independently or exploring independently.

One of the best ways to explore ports of call is through guided tours. Shore excursions allow you to hear stories from locals, experience new activities, and enrich yourself in the local culture.

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You can purchase shore excursions through the cruise line, independently through third-party platforms, or directly through the tour provider. However, it’s much more expensive to buy shore excursions through the cruise line—often double the price of booking directly or through other platforms like Viator.

Some people believe buying shore excursions through the cruise line wastes money when you can book directly for a fraction of the price. I agree with them to some extent.

But I still buy cruise line shore excursions for a couple of reasons.

View from the ground of a Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway tram car riding up the side of the mountain with fog above the treesPin
(Marcello De Lio / High Seas Cruising)

When you purchase torus through the cruise line they provide assurance that you’ll be back on the ship in time for departure.

You don’t have the same assurance when booking tours privately. If you book directly and the tour runs late, the cruise ship will leave without you.

Another nice benefit is that cruise lines only offer shore excursions that begin and end while the cruise ship is in port. That means you don’t need to worry about missing the start of the tour or the all-aboard time.

If the ship’s itinerary changes, the cruise line will adjust the shore excursion time or provide a full refund.

Maybe I’m a bit paranoid about missing the cruise ship. But shore excursions are one expense I don’t mind wasting money on.

Specialty Dining

Vintages specialty dining restaurant on a cruise shipPin

Although most restaurants are included in your cruise fare, you can pay extra for an upscale dining experience. Specialty restaurants on cruise ships are a tempting way to add variety to your onboard dining experience, but they can also be a waste of money.

With so many good restaurants on your cruise vacation, you do not need to spend extra on specialty dining.

The painted mural outside of wonderland specialty restaurant on Symphony of the SeasPin

I know some people who spend every dinner at a specialty restaurant. Maybe the upscale atmosphere, the exclusive feel, or the food attracts them. But I think specialty dining is a waste of money when so much good food is available for free.

I’ll occasionally splurge for a night at a steak house, sushi bar, or Italian restaurant. But not often.

Close up photo of a steak taken at a specialty restaurant on a cruise ship with a cherry tomato on a white platePin

Specialty dining is a nice way to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy a more intimate dining experience, but I won’t go more than once on a cruise.

If you visit multiple specialty dining venues, check if your cruise line offers a discounted package. Packages like Royal Caribbean’s Unlimited Dining Package provide a discount when you dine at multiple specialty restaurants during your cruise. You still pay for the upscale experience, but the bundle saves you money.

Spa Treatments

A woman dressed in yellow gives a hot stone massage to a passenger on a cruise shipPin

Cruise ship spas offer the ultimate relaxation. But their sky-high prices make them a significant waste of money if you’re not careful.

Cruise ship spas charge premium prices for their services, often two to three times more expensive than what you’d pay for similar treatments on land.

Cruise ship spas offer massages, facials, body wraps, and salon services. While these services are tempting, the costs can quickly add up, with some treatments costing hundreds of dollars.

I visited the Freedom of the Seas spa for a hot stone massage. I had massages in the past, but never a hot stone massage. I thought, what better time to try it?

The massage was incredible, but I quickly realized I had paid more than double what it would have cost me back home. At the end of the massage, my masseuse tried to persuade me to purchase bath salts, creams, and self-care items at inflated prices.

If you decide to indulge in a spa treatment, have realistic cost expectations.

Fitness Classes

TechnoGym fitness equipment on a cruise shipPin

Cruise ships provide plenty of opportunities to stay active on vacation but can also be a waste of money if you’re not careful. Many cruise lines offer a variety of group fitness classes, such as yoga, Pilates, spinning, and Zumba, but these classes often come with an additional fee that can add up quickly.

Classes range from $10 to $25 or more per class, an unnecessary expense, especially if you take several classes throughout your cruise.

My advice is to workout in the gym for free, hit the walking track, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

I really like that Virgin Voyages includes fitness classes with the base cruise fare. You can try new activities and meet new people in a fun environment. I hope other cruise lines begin offering their classes as a complimentary activity.

Seminars and Classes

Cruise lines offer seminars and classes, an enriching way to learn new skills or gain knowledge on various topics while on vacation.

Your cruise ship might offer cooking classes, wine tastings, language lessons, photography workshops, health lectures, and fitness seminars. Many seminars are free, but some come at an additional cost.

Unfortunately, many of the seminars are a waste of money.

I’ve attended a few free and paid seminars but didn’t find the information worth the cost.

More than that, there are so many free things to see and do on a cruise ship that I don’t want to spend my day sitting in a seminar.

If you want to learn about a topic, evaluate the cost of the seminar or class against the potential value you’ll receive. It may not be worth it if the price seems excessive compared to the class’s length or the content’s depth. If possible, read reviews from previous participants or ask fellow passengers who have taken the class for their feedback to get a better idea of the quality and value of the experience.

Editor’s Tip

When you check the cruise ship activity guide, you’ll see plenty of free classes, including shopping guides, port talks, and gemstone information. Many of these classes are cleverly disguised ways for cruise lines to sell you on upscale shopping tours, jewelry, and other purchases.

You might get a coupon or discount book, saving you money on purchases you would have made anyway. But don’t get caught in the excitement and make excessive purchases.

Casinos

Slot machines and table games at the casino on Scarlet LadyPin

Cruise ship casinos offer passengers the excitement and glamour of Vegas-style gambling at sea. Cruisers flock to the casinos on cruise ships, which are packed with slot machines, blackBlackjacklette, poker, and craps.

People fill the casinos at night, but spending money in cruise ship casinos is a waste of money if you’re not mindful of your gaming habits.

Here’s why cruise ship casinos are not worth spending money on a cruise:

  1. Higher House Edge: The odds in cruise ship casinos are much worse than in land casinos. A higher house edge means you have lower odds of winning. For example, BlackBlackjack cruise ships pay 5 to 3 instead of the usual 3 to 2 on land-based casinos. Cruise ships get away with higher house edges because there are no gaming commissions at sea regulating the payouts as they do in places like Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
  2. Atmosphere of Impulse: The cruise ship environment encourages more impulsive spending. The festive atmosphere and the fact that you’re on vacation mode leads to spending more money than you would normally.
  3. Charges to Room Account: Cruise lines charge gambling expenses to your onboard spending account, making it feel less like real money and more like a part of the overall cruise expense. With the convenience of swiping your cruise card, spending more than you intend is all too easy.
  4. Alcohol Consumption: The abundance of alcoholic beverages in the casino impairs your judgment and encourages riskier betting. All making you waste money on your cruise.
Row of slot machines and table games at Casino Royale on Serenade of the seasPin

To avoid wasting money in the cruise ship casino, consider the following tips:

  • Set a Budget: Before you start gambling, decide how much money you will lose, and stick to that budget.
  • Take Breaks: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Regular breaks help you maintain perspective and make better decisions.
  • Keep Track: It’s important to keep track of your spending as you go so you don’t lose track of how much you’ve spent. Check your onboard spending account regularly to track your spending.

Onboard ATMs

Onboard ATMs are a waste of money because of the high withdrawal fees. Cruise ships charge hefty fees for ATM transactions, including a flat fee per transaction and a percentage of the amount withdrawn.

These costs are in addition to any fees your bank may charge for using an out-of-network ATM.

You can bring money on the cruise ship to prevent wasting money using the onboard ATM.

Hotels Without Parking or Cruise Terminal Transfers

Choosing a hotel without parking or cruise terminal transfers is an oversight that leads to additional expenses like parking and taxi fees. Ensure you book a hotel that includes transportation to the cruise terminal and parking for your car.

By carefully selecting your pre-cruise hotel and considering the availability of parking and transfers to the cruise terminal, you can avoid unexpected costs and ensure a more seamless transition from land to sea.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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