Shore Excursions Some of the priciest additions to your overall cruise cost are the shore excursions sold by the cruise lines. Expect to pay about $30 to $99 per person for a comprehensive walking or bus-based sightseeing tour, $30-$50 per person or thereabouts for a beach break in the Caribbean, and between $199 and $699 or more for high-profile tours like flightseeing and dog sledding in Alaska, or going for a swim with the dolphins in Mexico. By and large, Caribbean-based excursions tend to be the cheapest, while Alaska and the Mediterranean duke it out for high-cost supremacy.
Of course, you don’t have to take a ship-sponsored shore excursion in order to enjoy your cruise. In many ports of call, passengers can simply step off the ship and explore independently; this form of travel offers a more authentic sense of place than simply seeing the destination through the tinted windows of a motor coach can. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for cruise lines to try to scare passengers away from solo exploration, saying they’d be left behind if they got back to the port late and weren’t on a ship-sponsored tour. Our advice: Check your watch or phone periodically, and take a copy of your ship’s printed Daily Program with you: It will have the ship’s telephone number and the Port Agent’s telephone number on it, along with your scheduled All Aboard and Departure times listed.
Between going off on your own and taking a cruise ship-sponsored tour, there’s a middle road, particularly doable if you’re travelling with three or more people: arranging an independent shore excursion. You may be able to save by booking your tours through such private companies as Viator (www.viator.com ) , ShoreTrips (www.shoretrips.com ), or Cruising Excursions (www.cruisingexcursions.com ), a UK company. All three act as clearinghouses for local tour operators. Because the latter two work exclusively with tour passengers, each offers guarantees that if you arrive back at port after the ship has set sail, they’ll get you to the next port free of charge. Most of Viator’s vendors offer the same guarantee, with the exception of those tours that are offered to both cruise passengers and land tourists.
Fancy Dining Choices for a Fee
As if multicourse dining room meals and endless buffets were not enough, cruise lines have added premium restaurant venues where, in most cases, they charge a fee to cover especially attentive service and a menu featuring extra-special cuisine. These alternative restaurants tend to be small venues done up in fancy furnishings just the kind of place you’d want for a date night or special celebration. In most cases, the spaces are reserved for adults only. Prices vary from line to line and restaurant to restaurant. For example, you can dine for $20 per person at Disney Cruise Line’s impressive Northern Italian-themed Palo, a classy (and delicious) venue designed just for adults. Carnival’s steakhouses serve extravagant prime aged cuts for $35, along with surf-and-turf options. Norwegian Cruise Line charges $75 and Royal Caribbean $95 for a Chefs Table experience where multiple courses are presented by the ship’s executive chef and accompanied by specially paired wines. On some of the luxury lines, a meal at one of the specialty restaurants is included in the cruise fare (but does require advance reservations).
Beyond the extra costs, is there a downside to these specialty restaurants? Some cruisers feel that the quality of the food in the main dining rooms, on some ships, has slipped to encourage people to take on the extra fees. We’ve noted, in our reviews later in the book, when that seems to be the case.
Tips comprise a good percentage of what you’ll pay overall for a cruise. We’ve broken down the expectations on p. 104 .
Most ships charge extra for alcoholic beverages (including wine at dinner) and soda. Non-bubbly soft drinks such as lemonade and iced tea and hot drinks such as coffee and tea are usually included in your cruise fare. On Disney ships, soda from fountains and at meals is free, but you’ll pay extra if you want a can from a bar. A can of soda will cost about $2.50, beer $3.50 and up, a glass of wine or mixed drinks $6 and up. Bottled water is extra, too, from $2 per bottle. Bringing your own re-usable bottle of water is a good idea, but some lines may frown on refilling it from the water taps in the buffet, due to the risk of spreading germs. Filling it up with a glass of water from the lido or from your stateroom tap (it’s perfectly safe to drink unless otherwise noted) is fine.
If you’re a big soda drinker, you’ll want to consider buying a soda package that offers unlimited refills. Prices vary by cruise line, but start at around $42 for adults ($28 for kids) for a weeklong cruise. You may be required to book the package in advance of your cruise; check the info sent from the cruise line.