10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked
We challenged prevailing cruise wisdom and found that some basic beliefs—when to book, where to get the best deals, when to tip—don't always hold up. Here are the most costly misconceptions.
Still feel like it costs too much? Steam and sauna facilities in the gym are often included in your fare. Or do your research and see if there's a spa in port that has better deals.
Myth: Drink packages save money
Fact: This one is tricky. A drinks package or pre-paid soda card can be a huge money saver for a family, or if you're cruising in a hot climate where you go through countless bottles of water. But if you're on your own with your honey, you're better off bringing your own sports water bottle that you can fill up during the day.
Another tip for the cost-conscious: Many lines do let you bring your own sodas or bottled water on board. Pack a small soft-sided cooler and pick up six-packs when you're in port. All lines frown upon customers packing in their own beer, wine, or alcohol, however; expect it to be confiscated. If you like to tipple, look for happy hour and drink specials, or buy a bottle of wine with dinner and save it for the next night.
Myth: Tipping is optional
Fact: Just as tips make up a large portion of a waiter's wages on land, they're also important to cruise ship employees, and many lines now include a service charge on their final bill, usually $11–$12 per person per day (which can come as a shock to customers from non-tipping cultures, such as England or Australia). If you're ordering a drink at the bar or pool, check your receipt so you don't tip twice; often a 15 percent gratuity or service charge has already been added.
Myth: A balcony room is a necessity
Fact: While the extra space of a balcony room can be nice, cruise lines have worked to make inside cabins more appealing. On the Disney Dream, for example, inside cabins come with "virtual portholes" that insert animated characters into real-time ocean views. Norwegian Cruise Line has designated some inside cabins for solo travelers, eliminating the need for a single supplement. And if you're prone to seasickness, an inside cabin, particularly one on a lower deck in the middle of the ship, may keep you upright.
That being said, there are some areas of the world where a balcony—or at least a room with a view—is well worth the splurge (Alaska's Inside Passage, for one). And people who hate pool crowds might appreciate an outdoor space where there's room to breathe (just realize that you might have smokers next door; if smoke really bothers you, choose a line, such as Princess or Celebrity, that bans smoking in staterooms, even on private stateroom balconies). But if you're taking a cruise where you'll be spending most of your time on shore or the weather will be too breezy, then that strip of land might not be worth the extra money. Cruiser, know thyself.
Myth: All on-board activities are free
Fact: When you board the ship, you might be dazzled by the wide array of activities. But chances are, you'll be paying extra for that Zumba or wine-tasting class, usually between $10–$15 per person (similar to what you'd pay at home). The ship's daily bulletin usually lists the classes that are being offered, and whether or not there is a fee. Some lines allow you to make reservations, as well as sign waivers, before you board, so take a thorough look at your ship company's website to do some advance planning.
The good news is that cruise ship entertainment, which usually is included in the price, has stepped up its game in the past few years. Some of the mega-ships such as Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, have brought in Cirque de Soleil-style shows and versions of Broadway musicals, and lines such as Disney have made original shows a focal point. Movie theaters, some with 3D, 4D, or 5D special effects, are also popular. Or use the time to relax and read.