By Michael Akana at Nov. 7. 2007.
      Child counting coins

      Cruises Are a Great Value

      Cruising is a great vacation value. Many meals and services that would cost extra on an land based vacation are often included in the price of a cruise. Cruises tend to be more “all inclusive” than most land based vacations. In fact, higher end cruises may include gratuity, beverages and even shore excursions. Everyone has their own style. Some are high rollers and big spenders, rewarding themselves with extravagance because they deserve it.Other cannot enjoy themselves if they feel that their hard earned money is wasted.Whatever your approach is, if you want the best value from your vacation, it doesn’t hurt to do some advanced planning. Have a Plan.


      Start your planning with a full quote of the cruise fare and taxes. Don’t try to develop a budget from an advertised lead-in price. Get a full quote from an agent that can explain the detail. This is the starting point.

      When I budget my vacations, here are some of the expenses I take into consideration:


      Gratuity.Some cruise lines will say that gratuity is included in your fare.In general, though, allow for a minimum of about $10 to $11 per day gratuity.Whether the cruise line automatically adds the amount to your onboard account, you prepay the gratuity or you hand cash over in little envelopes to the service staff at the end of the cruise, service staff rely on (and deserve) gratuities.Gratuity of about 15% is generally added to each beverage order.

       Flight, transfers, baggage handling:Airline flights are often offered by cruise lines as part of a package.If you purchase a flight from the cruise line they will generally provide transfers to and from the port as well.However, there are exceptions.Be sure to check.Transfers can sometimes be purchased separately if you are providing your own air.Hotel and shore side meals:Plan to arrive at the embarkation port city at least a day before the cruise. I might fly into town early the day of embarkation if there is a short commuter flight, but even that is risky. How disappointed will you be if you miss the ship?Even if you purchase your hotel as part of the cruise package, you will likely have additional shore side expenses such as meals. Read and understand the price of services. Most charges to your account require that you present your onboard charge card. Don’t be afraid to ask about the cost. Ask the price of ship to shore calls before using the phone. Stateroom to stateroom calls aboard ship may be included, but Ship to Shore calles can be expensive.

      Check your folio.Ask the purser for a printout of your on board account early into the cruise to help manage expense.


      Cellular at Sea is highly promoted by Carnival.It can be a great convenience to call home using the speed dial on you own phone.Be aware that roaming charges at sea can be much higher than roaming charges back home.Check with you cellular provider for the costs of international calls and the cost for Cellular at Sea.Passengers are reporting charges of $5 to $10 per minute.


      Surprises on a phone bill are not unique to cruises. I was very careful not to use my cell phone when in Ensenada.Yet I came home to charges from phone service inMexico.I’m not sure if the foreign phone service charges me for calls that rang on my phone (which I did not answer) or if they just added minutes on to my account when my cell phone registered it’s presence in their service area.Fortunately my cell phone service reversed the charges. Be aware that charges from a foreign country may take a few months to finally catch up to your account.


      Good travel insurance can minimize the impact of unexpected events. Check for insurance options with you travel agent. Insurance purchased through a cruise line might be underwritten by a reliable third party insurance company or it may be “insured” by the cruise line itself.What does it cover?Perhaps you do not need medical coverage that duplicates your existing policy.On the other hand, does your policy cover the services you may need in foreign countries? Some “insurance” is really just cancellation protection.The cruise line may offer some kind of credit if you cancel for specified reasons.Many policies have a “pre-existing condition” clause and various other exclusions.Understand exactly what the insurance covers and what it does not cover.

      Read your cruise contract. Most contracts allow for increased Taxes and Fuel Surcharge. My cruise in Alaska went up by $50 when Alaska passed a new head tax on all cruise passengers.Cruises after February 2008 were notified by Princess that there is a $5 per day per passenger fuel surcharge. These increases affect your cruise price even if paid in full. The increases are rare and generally are a fairly small percent of the total vacation cost.  Massages, Specialty Restaurants, Shoreside Purchases, Internet Packages…A visit to the onboard spa is a wonderful treat. If you are budgeting for your vacation, be sure to allow for those extra purchases. Yet, I have found that I can have a wonderful time on a cruise without paying for much more that the cruise fare and gratuity.I can have great meals, a variety of beverages including coffee, tea, and juice at breakfast.Movies, lounge acts, comedy shows, musical productions and other events are usually included as well.


      Cruising is a great value. Good information and some advanced planning can help minimize the surprises and make your vacation be an even better value.



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