10 Latest Cruise Rip Off’s And How I Avoid Them

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off’s And How I Avoid Them

I was reminded of the need to be on the watch out for cruise rip off’s when I got one cruise line to give me back $1,800 of the fare I’d paid when I saw what they were doing. I’m going to show you how I spotted it, what I did, and nine other rip-offs to watch out for these days and how I avoid or reduce them.

I’ve been on over one hundred and counting cruises, and using all that experience, it’s my mission to make it fun and easy for you to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations.

#1 Fares

Now, more than ever, cruise lines want to get us to pay as much possible for our cabin, and they have departments and clever computer dynamic pricing to make this happen. This is where I feel I’m often ripped off, as I book early.

They often penalise me by later charging people much less for the same cabin if the cruise isn’t selling that fast.

So, what do I do? I track fares and ask for a price reduction, upgrade, or on-board credit to match the new lower fare. It’s easy to do on cruisewatch.com where I input my cruise and they alert me when fares change. I also sometimes use Cruise Critic because Cruisewatch.com doesn’t cover all lines, particularly UK-based lines.

That’s how I got $1,800 back on my Azamara Quest Mediterranean sailing, as I saw the fare had dropped as they’d scrapped the solo supplement I’d been charged.

On my recent Viking Sky Adriatic and Oceania Marina Panama trips, I was upgraded from a balcony cabin to a suite when alerted to fares changes.

I’ve suggested this in other videos, have instructions on how to do it on my blog and I get messages every week from passengers around the world it has worked for.

In fact, as I was preparing this, Jason in Australia emailed to say following this, he’d got $1,800 slashed off a transpacific cruise he has planned for April.

While this is a big one, I found more rip-offs happen once I am on board.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#2 All-Inclusive Bundles

Many lines have introduced all-inclusive add-on bundles with supposedly large discounts of up to 50% versus buying the items separately.

Most bundle three on-board costs items such as Wi-Fi, gratuities, drinks, excursion discounts, or speciality dining. And come with names like Celebrity’s Always Included, Holland America Have-It-All, Princess Plus, Princess Premier, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea.

But I think they’re misleading and a cruise rip off, as they don’t really work for anyone.

For me, as they only include basic Wi-Fi, I end up paying to upgrade to streaming level. I don’t drink alcohol, so the drinks package is wasted.

Talking to passengers who drink, these bundles often fall short for them as they are usually the basic drinks package and have many limits, like only cover drinks up to $15, or exclude many brands or use house spirits, beers, or wines. Most seem to upgrade to a better package in the end.

I believe lines introduced these because they’ve worked out that they make more money this way.

So, what do I do? I don’t buy the packages any longer. Just the things I need and know I will use, like better Wi-Fi. And I often buy it online before the trip if they offer discounts – I found I am spending less now than buying the bundled package.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#3 Drinks

If going that package route, or on lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean that do not have those all-inclusive bundled deals, watch out for a cruise rip-off around drinks packages.

Again, remember cruise lines have worked out that drinks packages make them more money.

Drinks packages on Royal Caribbean or Carnival can cost between $400 and $600 per person for a seven-night cruise. And that is the price before they add an 18% gratuity, require everyone over 21 in your cabin to also buy that package usually, and have small print terms and conditions that limit number of drinks or cost of drinks that are included.

Before buying one, use an online drinks package calculator. The best I find are on Cruzely.com and CruiseMummy.co.uk.

You choose your line, input how many drinks you think you’re going to have per day and it calculates if it’s worth buying the package or not. Most people doing that tell me they find that it’s normally not – especially if you have a very port intensive cruise.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#4 Excursions

Talking of ports, another cruise rip-off in my view are cruise line excursions.

Cruise lines try to scare us with the risk factors of not using them. First, they say if a cruise line excursion is delayed getting back to the ship they will wait for it, but not anyone else. Second, they have screened operators and third the convenience.

However, I pay a premium for these benefits. The cruise lines don’t run excursions, they contract those out to local companies, and they are making a markup which can range, talking to insiders, anything up to 300%.

Also, I am limited to what they have. So, it’s a bit of a cruise rip off because there’s many more things that I could do in port.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

Here’s what I do: First, I look at self-exploring. If there’s something the line offers that I want to do, I check how close it is to the port or if it’s easy to get to. For example, in Bergen, instead of doing a costly cruise line excursion to go on the Floibanen funicular to the top of Mount Fløyen, I found it was a 10-minute walk from the ship and costs almost nothing.

I also look at hop-on hop-off buses. They normally go to all the main sites, leave from the port, and they’re more flexible and cheaper, especially if you are the sort of person who likes panoramic coach tours.

In the Caribbean instead of booking a cruise line beach excursion I use a site called ResortPass.com. As an example, for an upcoming Koningsdam Mexico trip they had stunning resorts in Puerto Vallarta for way less.

However, if I don’t want to self-explore, my go to alternative is using a third-party provider like VentureAshore.com and ShoreExcursionsGroup.com. I input my cruise line, ship, and departure date, and it brings up all the excursions for my ports.

They’re usually much cheaper than the cruise line option and have more variety of tours.

Excursions are not the only area I feel are rips offs where the line has contracted them out. There are things on board that I assumed were run by the cruise line but are contracted out that are rips off too.

#5 Spa

The Spa is run by contractors, and in my view horribly overpriced. Perhaps, as the contractor needs to make a profit as well as the cruise line on top of that.

There are three things that add to the cruise rip off. First, the high price rockets up after the treatment as there’s an auto added gratuity of 18%. Second, many miss that as the slip you sign at the end has a blank line for gratuity and many add it.

Third, the therapists are trained, incentivised, and required to push treatment series and sell products.

My partner Mark often falls for this rip off despite my best efforts, often buying a series of treatments for a supposed issue identified in his first massage, like dry skin or tight back, and he too buys costly products.

Here’s what I do: I either only go to the spa if I’ve got leftover on board credit and go a port day. There are big reductions on port days because it’s less busy.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#6 Photographs

Most cruise lines also contract out the photography department.

Personally, I think this is a big cruise rip off, as photos have remained incredibly costly despite the shift to digital.

It was going to cost me $40 for just 2 I had taken on my recent Disney Magic cruise.

Although I spoke to several parents, and they were happy paying around $300 for the photographic package as they had around 200 photographs taken of their kids posing with all the characters. So, they were saying, “It’s only costing a couple of dollars per digital photograph.”

But on most lines, it is still working out at $20 – $30 per photograph.

What do I do? I never buy photographs. I keep an eye out on the locations where they’re taking the photographs as they know the best locations and may use that when the ship is quiet to take or get another passenger to take a photograph with my camera or smartphone.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#7 Art

One thing that baffles me, and experts seem to agree is a cruise rip off, are the art auctions and sale. This is another contracted-out service, and it’s normally either Park West or Clarendon Fine Art.

The art auctions and sales are pitched as an investment, with free champagne-hosted auctions and prize draws to entice people in.

Many of the pieces offered are prints or part of a limited series, and I feel unlikely to be investment or collector grade. To avoid being ripped off, don’t go into it thinking that it is an investment, but if you like something pay what you feel it’s worth to you to have.

What do I do? I don’t buy art, but as many people who run the gallery and auctions are knowledgeable on art and art history, if they give enrichment talks about well-known artists I do go to those. Like on my recent Cunard Queen Elizabeth Western Mediterranean cruise.

#8 Cruise Line Insurance

I get asked a lot about cruise line insurance, particularly cruise line trip protection, and if this is another cruise rip off.

I’m not an expert on finance, so I’m giving you my personal perspective.

I found cruise line trip insurance policies don’t usually give me the same, or as good cover, as I can get from a third-party specialist insurer. They also don’t always cover my pre-existing conditions.

Medical cover limits are often lower and coverage starts and ends with the cruise and so if I’m doing flights, pre- or post-stays, I’m not covered. And if the line goes under the policy seems to go too.

What do I do? I never buy cruise line cover and use a third-party travel insurance provider and I take out an annual policy, so I am always covered if I must cancel a booking.

I use a company in the UK called AllClear, I’m not recommending it, I’m just telling you who I use. In the US, I hear lots of people using Allianz or tripinsurance.com to price compare. So, while I can’t recommend any specific insurer, I would recommend at least comparing that to the cruise line one.

#9 Solo Supplements

I cannot talk about cruise rip offs without mentioning one that affects me a lot as 9 out of my 10 trips are solo. And it’s really the struggle with the large supplements. I often pay the same as I would if my partner Mark was also coming along.

It’s quite a complicated area and so I have another blog around this, called “Here’s How I Cruise Better, Cheaper and Smarter” where I go into this much more detail. So, if that affects you, check that out.

10 Latest Cruise Rip Off's And How I Avoid Them

#10 On-Board Shopping Advisors

I also think the on-board shopping advisors are a rip off. I mostly find them on my Alaska and Caribbean cruises, where they hold events recommending shops, deals and incentives.

As all the stores in the program have paid fees to be in there, and the advisors are funded ultimately by the shops through fees and commissions, I remain sceptical.

They recommend the same old chains, Diamonds International, Effy, Del Sol and so on. But bear in mind that there is a hidden agenda and money changing hands and I feel they are not necessarily going to direct me towards the shops that perhaps have the best deals.

What do I do? Go to the talks to be entertained and for the freebies often handed out, and make sure anyone I am with are at least checking the prices online if they do want to buy anything in the port shop area.



Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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6 Responses

  1. Scott J. says:

    Gary, great post. Thanks for all the great tips!

  2. Antoinette says:

    I also question whether to accept NCL’s Free drink package, which requires passengers to pay a hefty gratuity up front. While we enjoy red wine with dinner, we don’t care for the free offered wines by the glass. We would rather just buy a nice bottle. The Free packages provides for a bottle discount. The Free package covers soda by the glass and not cans, which we prefer. It’s a close call whether the Free drink package is worth paying the gratuity for us.

  3. Jeanine McKinney says:

    Gary- I’ve taken 142 cruises, and your advice is spot on!

  4. Robin Milburne says:

    Hi Gary, l’m 87 we booked a cruise with Siverseas and paid a big deposit late last year. In December l was seriously ill.My cardiologist advised us not to go. We asked for a refund or travel credit. can you help please. We are in Brisbane, the cruise was in U K.

    • Sorry to hear about your health and recommendation. This will depend on a few things if you get a refund or credit. I am not sure where / how you booked and will hinge on of your deposit was refundable or not in the T&Cs. For example, booking in the UK it is not refundable and so travel insurance is where one has to get a refund from (assuming travel insurance is in place). I have an annual policy to cover that. In the USA when people book they have the choice of a non-refundable or refundable deposit (the latter costing a bit more). So, key will be to check what the T&Cs you booked with are. If you booked with a travel agent rather than direct they will handle all this. If direct then you need to obvious call and have that discussion with them. I hope they are flexible. Please keep me posted. I hope you are on tip top health soon. Gary

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