So you're going on a cruise you booked at a bargain price? Well, step right up and learn how you can virtually double your spending with hardly any effort.
True, nearly all cruises include meals and entertainment in their price. So what is there left to spend on? Let me answer by citing my most recent cruise, an 11-day sailing aboard the Norwegian Wind to the Hawaiian Islands and Fanning Island in the central Pacific.
Cruise prices began at an almost unbelievable $899 a person, double occupancy. With the choice of a better cabin, the addition of insurance and various fees, and the subtraction of a shipboard credit of $50 each, the price was still only about $1,350. Because we had a stack of frequent-flier miles, air fare cost nothing. Still, on any cruise ship, there's a whole lot of selling going on. So let's look at ways the cost could have mounted.
Service with a smile. Tipping for cabin stewards and dining room waitstaff is expected on all but a few cruise ships. On Norwegian Cruise Line, a hassle-free service charge is a substitute; on the Wind, the charge was $10 per person per day.
Additional per-person cost: $110. New total: $1,460.
Land, ho! With few exceptions, land excursions at the ports that a large ship visits cost extra. On the Wind, prices ranged from $25 for a walking tour to $399 for a ''Big Island Spectacular," which included a helicopter ride. Let's be conservative throughout this essay and say we spent an average of $50 for tours on each of the seven days that ports were visited.
Additional per-person cost: $350. New total: $1,810.
Here's looking at you, kid. The warm weather and convivial shipboard atmosphere seem to raise a thirst for a frothy cocktail or perhaps wine with dinner. Alcohol prices are comparable to those on shore, so let's suppose a relatively modest figure of $10 a day.
Additional per-person cost $110. New total: $1,920.
Cruising the Web. Most ships now have Internet cafes. At 75 cents a minute for a not-overly-quick satellite connection, costs can add up quickly. I don't have to be hypothetical about this one: I easily spent $60 on the Internet. My wife, on the other hand, spent nothing. So let's divide the expense. (Let's also note that at some ports there were Internet cafes charging as little as 8 cents a minute.)
Additional per-person cost: $30. New total: $1,950.
Shopping at sea. Although many passengers immediately head for the shops when they reach a port, there are abundant opportunities to buy nice goods (jewels, gold, watches, perfumes, collectible figurines, clothing, etc.) on a cruise ship itself. If one were to take advantage of a $125 special at the Colombian Emeralds Store, offered on the first full day of the cruise, plus make a few assorted other purchases, the cost could add up to $200 for two.
Additional per-person cost: $100. New total: $2,050.
Art for money's sake. Onboard art auctions have become a cruise-ship staple in recent years. Part of the pitch is that prices are cheaper than on land and that your purchase may appreciate in the years to come. Maybe so, but it really helps if you know your art and resist bidding on impulse. Many pay hundreds or even thousands for works up for bid. Although I didn't bid, I went to my first auction at sea on the promise that each attendee would be given an artwork valued at $95. The question is, valued by whom? After the cruise, I saw a half-dozen copies of my ''seriolithograph" for sale on
Additional per-person cost: $150. New total: $2,200.
Aaaah, the spa. Spas at sea are now fixtures, and there is no denying that a massage or facial can make you feel grand. Let us say husband and wife spent $75 each.
Additional per-person cost: $75. New total: $2,275.
Taking a chance. Here's a rarity: Casino gambling doesn't exist aboard the Norwegian Wind. That's because it is forbidden in Hawaiian waters. For most people, that means less spending. But there were bingo games almost daily, with various card combinations available for purchase. Since we're playing just suppose, let's add another $60 per person.
Additional per-person cost $60. New total: $2,335.
Using modest figures, we've nearly doubled our initial outlay, and while there are several other opportunities to spend (fees for specialty restaurants, professional photos taken onboard, the cost of soft drinks, and even special services like teeth whitening), let's stop here. The point is that although cruises include an awful lot for the price, they do not include everything you are likely to want. So it may pay to keep the word ''moderation" in mind as you go from activity to activity. As one member of the cruise staff told the audience at the final onboard show, ''We know you've had a good time. In a month or so [when you get your credit-card bill], you'll see just how good a time you had!"
Even more inclusive
Steve Perillo, president of PerilloTours, apparently agrees with the above assessment. ''You quickly learn that a seven-night cruise advertised for $599 is no bargain," he says in a press release, adding that ''you'll have plenty of extras. . . . In the end, you'll be paying $1,200 per person, and for the worst stateroom on board!" His alternative is cruises whose price includes port fees, wines, soft drinks, some shore activities, other amenities, and tips. Weeklong eastern Caribbean and western Caribbean trips aboard the Costa Mediterranea start at $1,099 for the eastern itinerary and $1,199 for the western one. Those prices are effective November-April.
Call 800-431-1515 or visit www.perillotours.com.
Savings by e-mail
Commercial e-mail can be a nuisance but sometimes it pays to sign up. For example, Grand Circle Travel has been e-mailing price cuts of up to $1,100 per person for certain sailings of its European river cruises.
Visit www.gct.com and look for E-newsletter sign-up on the home page.
The critics speak
If you're planning a cruise and want to learn what others have thought of a given journey or ship, visit www.cruisecritic.com, where passengers sound off. Keep in mind that the likes and dislikes of others might not jibe with yours.
For a worthy person
Princess Cruises will award 40 complimentary seven-day cruises to the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera to individuals who deserve to ''escape completely," which is Princess's current slogan. If you have a deserving friend, family member, coworker, or teacher, tell Princess their story by going to www.princess.com/escape. The entry deadline is Friday.
When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at email@example.com.