How much cash should I take on a cruise?

When deciding how much cash you should take on a cruise, we are also talking about how much money you will need on your credit cards. As we all know, cruise ships are cashless enterprises.

Purchases on board are made with the cruise card you get on board upon check-in. At the end of your cruise, your credit card will be charged for all cruise purchases registered on your cruise card.

Tipping extra to cruise personnel

If you are a guest that likes to tip individual service personnel on board, then that is probably the only time you will need actual cash on the ship.

Don’t forget these days that cruise companies do offer the option of you paying for tips and gratuities before you leave on your cruise.

It is a fixed fee for adults and children. So whether or not you leave extra cash tips, you will still be expected to pay the fixed gratuity fee with your cruise line.

But you will also want to take some cash with you for small incidentals when on shore – think coffee, ice-creams, tips for restaurants, and even taxis.

So let’s take a closer look at the expenses you may incur while on your cruise.

That way, you can answer the question of how much cash you should take on a cruise. Plus, you can decide what available cash you need on your credit card.

Register your credit card before you cruise

We recommend that you travel with credit cards and not debit or bank cards d for your safety, protection against fraud, and peace of mids. Inform your credit card company that you will be traveling, so they recognize transactions from abroad and never put holds on available credit.

When you check in before your cruise starts, register the number of your credit card you want to use on board. The cruise line will charge any expenses incurred during your cruise.

Alternatively, register your card when you are on board the ship if you are uncomfortable putting these details online.

You never use your credit card on board to purchase anything. Purchases are signed for using your cruise card and charged to your credit card when you check out. You get a copy of your final bill the night before you leave the ship. Check through all your expenses before you sign anything.

You can even check your account through the cruise ship app or on the TV in your cabin.

Tip! You may want to check out if your cruise company offers a credit card. Be sure to compare fees, interest rates etc. when shopping around for a credit card. The benefit of having a cruise company credit card is that you can often earn points which can then be used as payment towards a free or discounted future cruise, upgrades or extra amenities.

Leaving cash tips for particularly helpful personnel is entirely at your discretion and not encouraged by the cruise line. Many guests take with them five and ten-dollar bills to do just this.

So what extra expenses can you incur after you start your cruise, and how much cash should you take on a cruise?

A cruising vacation is like any other holiday. No matter how much you plan and prepay from home, you will always need to budget for “spending money.” And cruise ship extras can get pricey.

The best way to avoid unwanted surprises is to plan well ahead at a budget you are comfortable with and can stick to.

For example, if you have booked and paid for a cruise port excursion before you leave home, you will still need to budget for spending on shore – souvenirs, gifts, meals out, and extra fun activities that you perhaps don’t yet know exist.

What are you comfortable with? $100 per day or $50 per person per day?

The top 10 most common additional costs on board a cruise ship:

Other costs include anything over and above the fare you have paid to the cruise company up until the day you leave home for your vacation.

Your base fare is the cost of your cabin, meals in the main dining room and buffet restaurant (and any other restaurants specified and included in your base fare), taxes, and fees.

On top of this, most entertainment on board is included, and some beverages, such as water, juices, tea, and coffee, at the self-service machines in the buffer restaurants.

Extras to be aware to help you decide how much cash you should take on a cruise will include:

1. Beverages

If you choose not to purchase a beverage package, you will pay for any drinks on board. In addition to alcoholic drinks, we also mean hot and cold beverages, bottled water, and sodas.

This applies to whatever drinks you order in the dining room, specialty restaurants, or buffet restaurants,. Or indeed, any bar on board.

In addition to the cost of the drink, you will also pay a mandatory service fee. Often this can be as much as 18%.

It can soon add up if you enjoy wine, cocktails, beers, specialty coffees, sodas, and juices.

Keeping an eye on the cost of the beverages you are ordering on board can be difficult and time-consuming. Having the freedom to order what you want, when you want, could mean a beverage package is right for you.

Do remember to purchase your beverage package before you start your cruise. It will be cheaper than if you wait until you are on board the ship. Choose the package that’s right for you. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic packages to choose from.

2. Wifi

There is no free wifi anywhere on board. You can pay for a wifi package depending on how much wifi you think you and your family will use. How many devices you use on board (cell phone, iPad, laptop, etc.) will also affect the price.

If you purchase a wifi package, do it before you leave home. It will most often cost more on board the cruise ship.

3. Gratuities (Tips)

Paying for gratuities in advance means you do not need to think about tipping on board. Alternatively, you can also pay on board when you check out and pay your final bill.

Gratuities are a fixed cost and are decided by the cruise line. The price varies for adults and children. It also depends on what type of cabin you stay in. Suites will incur a higher gratuity cost.

Extra tipping on board is at your discretion but you will still have to pay the fixed gratuity cost.

4. Shore Excursions

Take time to read about all the shore excursions from your cruise line.

Then decide if you want to book privately – perhaps at a better price. Just check how long your cruise ship is in port that day. And get back to your ship on time.

Or you may decide that you want to disembark the ships and do your own thing.

Alternatively, stay on board and enjoy a quiet ship. Specialty restaurants and spas often offer discounted rates while all the other guests are on shore!

Either way, if you find an excursion with the cruise line that you want to do, then book in advance. It may sell out if you wait until you get on board.

Often, organized ship excursions come with a guide and are more expensive than booking with a private excursion company. City tours, for example, can start at around $30 per person, whereas swimming with dolphins can cost about $120 dollars per person (Royal Caribbean offers a fantastic dolphin swim experience for adults and kids).

5. Gift shop purchases on board

You find that shopping on board a cruise ship can be a fantastic experience. But it can get expensive. Items are pricey, and you may not be getting the best deal.

On the other hand, you may find one-of-a-kind items that you want. Charge it on your cruise card and pay with your registered credit card at the end of your cruise. Smaller items such as baseball caps and jewelry gifts often go on sale closer to the end of the cruise.

6. Photographs on board

Some guests never use a professional photographer; others use their cruise vacation as an opportunity to get great family portraits done. After all, sometimes families cannot get together and this is a great time to get professional photos.

Ask your cruise line before you travel for photography price lists to know how much this will cost you. But cell phones also take great photos too.

7. Jewellery and art auctions

Not your thing? Then move right along. But again, if you find that “must-have” item on board and are prepared to bid for it, then the sky’s the limit as far as extra spending goes.

It isn’t easy to know the answer to how much cash you should take on a cruise to participate in auctions. If you want to join in, you most likely are not on any budget at all.

The auctions can, however, be great fun to watch.

8. Specialty restaurants

While food standards differ between cruise lines, there is almost always something to suit everyone.

And some of the main dining rooms can offer fantastic menus and superb food, some of the best you will eat anywhere.

But all cruise lines have their signature restaurants and specialty restaurants that are not included in the price of your basic cruise fare.

Paying extra to eat in these restaurants can be a fun experience and a change from eating in the main dining room or buffet restaurant every night. But it’s important to realize that you will be paying for this luxury.

The popular Johnny Rockets fast eatery on board some of the Royal Caribbean ships comes at an extra charge; a sample menu can be seen here but remember prices are subject to change.

Check out each specialty restaurant on your cruise ship by logging into your cruise planner and reading the menu examples. Find out the prices before you leave home and know how much it is going to cost you for these dining extras.

Better still, see if your cruise company has a special package price on specialty dining or watch out for those cruise ship promotions where sometimes it is offered for free when booking a particular suite category.

9. Transport from ship to shore

If you are not joining a cruise ship shore excursion, do your homework in advance about each port of call you visit.

How close is the port to the town? Is it walkable? Some cruise ports are located far away from the destination you are visiting. For example, the Italian ports of Ravenna, Livorno, Naples, and Civitavecchia.

What transport options are available to get you from the cruise port if the town is not within walking distance?

It is not unusual that the cruise line has a transfer shuttle for cruise guests to get them into the town center, even if you haven’t booked a guided excursion.

10. Medical Services

Hopefully, you will never need the use of the medical facilities on board your cruise ship. Everyone wants to stay fit and healthy, especially on vacation.

But if you need to see the ship doctor, get a prescription or even get treatment, then this can be an unexpected and unplanned event.

Get travel insurance that covers sickness and illness before you start your vacation. Then you can get help and treatment when and where you need it and know that costs are covered.

You may have to pay for any medical treatment on board and claim it back later from your insurance provider. Check with your cruise line how it works should you need a ship doctor.

How much cash is enough?

Many cruise customers budget for around $50 to $100 per adult per day. We have spoken to some families who have taken $500 for a family of 4 on a 7-night cruise. They have a pre-purchased beverage package and an internet package already included in the price of the cruise.

For this, they ate at three specialty restaurants during the 7-day cruise, shopped for small souvenirs, and tipped extra for room service and taxis. They have paid for transport from and to the airport. And came home with a little bit of cash left over.

Small bills are handy. So $5, $10, and $20 notes. When speaking to regular cruise customers, tip seems common (even with prepaid gratuities).

Remember you may get help with luggage in the port, a taxi to/from the airport/hotel/cruise port, room service on board, etc. And all this extra tipping over and above prepaid gratuities is all at your own discretion and never a must.

However, you decide how much cash should you take on a cruise that suits your family vacation, make sure you take a credit card, and a spare with you, to cover all eventualities and those unexpected extras.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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