by Chris Owen

At some point, most of us have made the ultimate faux pas of accidentally leaving the wallet at home. There is nothing quite like the sinking feeling that you get as you reach into your back-pocket (or purse) and realize that all those groceries in your cart will have to be returned to their shelves by the miserable-looking teen-aged bag-boy.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you will have that same “sinking feeling” if you don’t properly budget for a cruise. Although cruise packages are a great deal, people tend to forget about all the things that go along with vacationing like cocktails, souvenirs, tours, etc. This is why I’m going to help you evaluate your vacation-spending habits and figure out just how fat your wallet should be when you board the ship.

While your cruise vacation is semi-all-inclusive (about 70% is covered in your cruise fare), off-the-ship activities, souvenirs, spa treatments, cocktails, and gambling are expenses you’ll want to plan for. You can go on a cruise and spend absolutely nothing extra on yourself; however, I strongly encourage you to have few bucks handy to tip the crew at the end.

So let’s begin the break-down:

An adult who drinks moderately, will want to go on a shore excursion, gambles a little bit, and wants to take advantage of some of the other premium services onboard should budget about $100 per day. Heavy drinkers, spa fanatics, obsessive internet users, and compulsive shoppers should budget a bit (or quite a bit) more.

Non-drinkers who like to spend the day relaxing on deck or on a beach within walking distance of the ship while it is in port and don’t have a lot of need for commemorative refrigerator magnets could get away with about $50 per day.

How did I figure this out? Let’s take a look at a typical day at sea/no port of call:

Begin by assuming $10 per day for gratuities. These will automatically be added to your account. You decide to have a beer while sun-bathing on deck ($5.00/drink). Before you know it, that one beer has turned into three and you’re out $15 (plus those gratuity charges, so $25). You check your email and make your Facebook friends jealous for a few minutes, and 20 minutes later, you’ve spent $7 more (35 cents/minute). A spa treatment seems like the logical next step on a lazy day! You decide to get your nails done–$20. On the way back to your room to change for dinner, you nab a  souvenir from the gift shop for the neighbor who’s watering your plants– $10. Gambling seems like a good night-cap, so you play some slots before turning in for the night–$20. But wait–all that gambling made you hungry again! You give room service a call and tip your attendant $2 for the delivery of your midnight snack. This fun-filled day leaves an $84 dent in your cash-supply. 

To be safe, it’s a good idea to leave “wiggle-room” for an extra souvenir or a pedicure to go with that manicure, so I think it’s fair to say $100 per person per day is a good estimate if your vacation routine is anything like the one I have depicted.

My point is that your on-board wad is really going to depend on what you do. If you’re content with a very low-key vacation, you could get away with just paying the tips at the end of the cruise. I wouldn’t though; it’s your vacation! It’s the small indulgences that make it memorable.

For some (me included), it’s easy to accrue a large shipboard account bill. I forget that the “all-inclusive” idea of a cruise package does not in fact include everything I desire on a vacation—and it’s a good thing! This focuses the cost-burden of the extra services only on those who use them, keeping packages reasonably priced for everyone.

If you’re still having a difficult time determining your personal budget, enlist the help of a travel agent or professional like myself. I can help you make a better estimate just by asking a few questions. It’s fun to find out how close (or not) I was when people return from their vacations.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one quick tip regarding onboard souvenir purchases: Go to the gift shop on the first day of your cruise and buy anything and everything you intend to purchase while on the ship. This will ensure that you get what you want in the correct sizes and colors. There are no FedEx deliveries via Coast Guard after that ship sets sail. When it’s out of an item, it’s out for the rest of the trip.

About Chris Owen

Chris Owen is a travel writer, blogger and agent from Orlando Florida charged with sharing frank, inside information on cruise vacations with travelers.  A graduate of Washburn University in Topeka Kansas, Chris moved to Florida after successful careers in the restaurant and newspaper business to focus singly on travel with a concentration on cruise vacations.  Certified a Master Cruise Counselor by the Cruise Lines International Association, Chris can be found via his popular cruise vacations column on, through his blog, and on his long-running cruise information website, 

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