How much cash should you take on a cruise?

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

Purchases on board are made with your cruise card that you get upon check in, on board. 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 one and 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 choose to 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 your 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 when on your cruising vacation.

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

Register your credit card before you cruise

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

When you check in online 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 in 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 it.

You can even check your account through the cruise ship app or on your TV in you 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 pre-pay 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 a budget you are comfortable with, and stick to it.

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 don’t yet know exist.

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

Here is our list of the top 10 most common extras you will pay for on board a cruise ship:

By extras we mean 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 eateries on board that are specified and being 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 should you 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. And by drinks we also mean hot and cold beverages, bottled water and sodas.

This applies to whatever drinks you order in the dining room, at specialty restaurants or at the 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%.

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

Keeping an eye on the cost of your 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 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)

The benefits of paying for gratuities in advance are that you do not need to think about tipping on board.

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

You can also choose to pay on board when you check out and pay your final bill.

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

4. Shore Excursions

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

Then decide if you want to book privately instead – perhaps at a better price. Just be sure to 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 just want to disembark the ships and do your own thing.

Alternatively stay on board and enjoy a quiet ship. Often specialty restaurants and spas will offer discounted rates whilst all the other guests are on shore!

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

Often ship organized 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 around $120 dollars per person (Royal Caribbean offer 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. It’s mesmerizing to see malls on board offers top class shopping and designer favorites.

But it can get expensive. Items are pricey and you may not be getting the best deal, and that’s just the truth of it.

On the other hand you may find one-of-a-kind items that you just want. Charge it on your cruise card and pay with your registered credit card at the end of your cruise. We bought baseball caps and jewellery gifts – but only at the end of the week when the sale started in a few small boutiques.

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 are just not able to get together that often and dress up like this.

Ask you cruise line before you travel for photography price lists so you know how much this will cost you.

Then it’s worth it. 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 is therefore very difficult to know the answer to how much cash should you take on a cruise for participating in auctions. If you want to join in you most likely are not on any kind of budget at all.

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

8. Specialty restaurants

Whilst standards of meals on board with different 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 you need to be aware that you will be paying for this luxury.

The popular Johnny Rockets fast eatery on board some of the Royal Caribbean ships comes and 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 cash to take on a cruise for these dining extras.

Better still, see if your cruise company has a special package price on specialty dining, or what 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?

What are the transport options 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.

You should be able to find all this information under the port descriptions on your cruise line’s website. Otherwise give them a call.

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 in case you do 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 in the even you need a ship doctor.

How much cash is enough?

Many cruise customers budget for around $50 to $100 per adult, per day. Personally we took $500 for a family of 4, on a 7 night cruise.

We have pre purchased a beverage package and an internet package. We ate at 3 specialty restaurants during our 7 day cruise. And we shopped for small souvenirs, tipped extra for room service and taxis. We paid for transport from and to the airport. And we 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, taxi to/from 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: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..