Meals, cruise options, excursions and more

Travelers dreaming of a five-day vacation aboard a cruise ship have plenty of decisions to make before boarding, unpacking, and heading to the pool deck. Choosing the right cruise to suit a traveler’s budget can be difficult, given that all contemporary lines, such as Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, offer specialty restaurants, which are not included in the cruise fare. cruise, and a wide range of port call excursions, also uncovered.


Cruisers also have to decide whether it makes sense to pre-pay for drinks or the specialty restaurant meal plan, and then there’s a daily per-person tipping charge that’s automatically added to each guest’s onboard account. Cruise fares vary widely depending on the accommodation chosen, such as windowless interior staterooms, ocean view staterooms, balcony staterooms, and a host of suite choices, some large enough to accommodate multiple people.

In the end, the net result is usually significantly higher than the advertised base cruise fare. This is why anticipating the total cost is one of the what cruise passengers need to know before booking a cruise.

Related: 12 Best Cruise Lines, Ranked by Their Reviews

Cabin and dining choices help set the budget

Using the example of a Norwegian cruise line 5-day cruise aboard Norwegian Encore, round-trip from Miami in January and visiting Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, and Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, guests choose from several cabin categories. An inside stateroom costs $399 per person, an ocean view $769, and a balcony $819. Suites start at $919, and inside The Haven, Norwegian’s luxury accommodation decks, a suite is offered with a cruise fare of $3,289. The exclusive Haven experience, in fact, is among the most flattering facts about norwegian cruise line.

Cruise fares always include three meals a day in the ship’s main dining room or in the breakfast and lunch buffet areas. They do not include meals at specialty restaurants, which are usually a cut above the kitchen in the main dining room. Norwegian has a host of such venues, including American Diner, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic, Le Bistro, Los Lobos, Moderno Churrascaria, Pincho Tapas Bar, Q Texas Smokehouse, and Teppanyaki.

Customers can dine at any of these venues and pay for their meals, which are usually a la carte. Or they can pre-pay for a specialty dining plan based on how many specialty restaurants they would like to experience. A 2-meal package costs $89 per person, three meals, $119, 4 meals, $145; and 5 meals, $169. Anticipating these deals in advance will help a cruiser stay on budget.

Plan ahead for drinks and excursion fees

Norwegian Encore, they say the best norwegian ship sailing, offers several beverage packages that can save the traveler money if they plan to drink multiple alcoholic beverages each day. A rule found on most cruise lines requires all passengers booked in a single cabin to purchase a drinks package. This means that, for example, one person cannot purchase the package if the other passenger in the same cabin does not purchase it as well. This is a case where travelers literally have to add up the number of drinks they plan to drink each day to see if it’s a good deal for them.

On Norwegian, a beer is around $7.50, a glass of wine around $9, mixed drinks around $10, and specialty cocktails around $12. If a guest intends to have, say, a beer with lunch and two glasses of wine with dinner, they can expect to pay a total of around $26 per day, not including tips.

Norwegian’s Unlimited Open Bar package costs $109 per day, plus 20% gratuity on every purchase. A customer should plan to order a combination of around a dozen drinks per day for the package to really pay off.

Shore excursion costs also vary depending on the activity offered. Guided island tours with time reserved on a beautiful beach are almost always the cheapest excursion on Caribbean cruises, usually costing well under $100, but more adventurous outings will be much more expensive. For example, a Dolphin Adventure to Puerto Plata costs $249.

Related: Cruise travel: should you work with a travel agent or book directly?

The cruise aboard Norwegian Encore calls at Norwegian’s private island, Stirrup Cay, and while many activities there are free, guests will pay for some things, like kayak rental, $74, or gear dive, $37. A clamshell rental, which is a large clam-shaped umbrella that provides shade for two lounge chairs, will cost $49.

Add All for Low, Moderate Luxury Experiences

Using the 5-day Norwegian Encore voyage as an example, here’s how three budget tiers, for low, moderate and luxury experiences, might look like with each guest sharing a double cabin:

Small budget

  • Cruise fare inside the cabin: $399
  • Drinks (2 per day, no package): $100
  • Meals: included in the main dining room
  • Excursions (1): $80
  • Private beach fees: none
  • Tips ($16 per day): $80

Total: $659

Moderate budget

  • Balcony cabin cruise fare: $819
  • Drinks (3 per day, no package): $150
  • Meals: (3 meal plan, specialty restaurants): $119
  • Excursions (2): $150
  • Private beach fees: Clamshell umbrella $50
  • Tips ($16 per day): $80

Total: $1,368

Related: Are you looking for a cruise ship? Here are the 10 best options

High budget

  • Cruise fare spa suite: $1,049
  • Drinks per day (all-you-can-eat drinks package): $119
  • Meals: (5 meal plan, specialty restaurants): $169
  • Excursions: Swimming with dolphins $249
  • Private Beach Fee: Kayak and Clamshell Umbrella Rental $124
  • Tips ($16 per day): $80

Total: $1,790

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