Summer vacations have begun and cruises are becoming popular among families in India. And cruise companies have been rolling out several offers and discounts to lure in travelers for a cruise in India or abroad.
Within India, there are several operators across the country carving a niche for themselves by offering cruise travel on various routes. Locations include the backwaters of Kerala, the Sunderbans in Bengal, the Lakshadweep islands, and more. Internationally, you can go on a cruise to Australia, the Bahamas, Europe, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, etc.
But before you book a cruise ticket, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Because cruise tours are fairly expensive and charge for every little thing. From that ocean view, from your cruise room to a balcony, shore, and land excursions, alcoholic beverages, dining at specialty restaurants, or a leisurely massage and spa on the cruise, everything comes with a price. Simply put, cruise companies have found ways to charge you over and above what you pay for your ticket.
“One can minimize additional costs on cruise holidays by booking well in advance, and keeping an eye out for early bird offers and deals with free cabin upgrades,” said Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India). MICE stands for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions. Customers can also utilize their cruise credits on board for WiFi or shore excursions, he added.
We browsed through the websites of various domestic and international cruise lines and ran through their ticket booking processes, and terms of price inclusion and exclusion to get a sense of what each cruise would charge you over and above the ticket.
Room preference: Ocean view, balcony, or suite?
At the time of booking a ticket for a cruise, you have the option of selecting a preferred room. This usually comes at an extra cost. “Suites usually are the priciest as compared to ocean views. Interior rooms are an affordable way to cruise without leaving out the comfort,” says Vishrut Gandhi, Founder of Udaan Holidays.
For instance, the room charges on a Carnival cruise for Moreton Island from Sydney, Australia, are USD 285 (Rs 23,300) for an interior room, USD 358 (Rs 29,300) for an ocean view, USD 450 (Rs 36,800) onwards for a room with a balcony and USD 812 (Rs 66,400) onwards for a suite. These charges are per guest in a room. The cruise cost includes selected onboard activities, and a variety of dining options, including breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, in the full-service main dining room and/or a quick-service restaurant.
If you are planning to take a cruise from Singapore to Australia and New Zealand in March 2024, Celebrity X cruise has bundled a range of amenities, including beverages, shore excursions, gratuities, etc. in the cost. A room with an ocean view charges USD 2,401 (Rs 1.96 lakh) and a suite charges USD 5,125 (Rs 4.19 lakh) per guest in a room. “This is a promotional offer to book a cruise holiday almost a year in advance,” says Gandhi.
“Be on the lookout for deals and offers like companion free/children free on the cruise websites or with the tour operators,” said Daniel D’Souza, President & Country Head, Holidays, SOTC Travel.
Visa fees, port charges, and taxes
Travelers also have to pay mandatory charges, such as the visa fee to the country they are traveling to.
A cruise website may show a deep discount on the fare to tempt you but don’t book the cruise right away. Check the port charges, government taxes, and additional fees. Taxes and port expenses include all fees, charges, tolls, and taxes imposed on the cruise by government authorities, as well as third-party fees and charges arising from a vessel’s presence in a harbor or port.
“In addition to your cruise fare, there are other charges, including government taxes and port expenses on the cruise booking charges,” said Gandhi. These charges add up to hundreds of dollars on the total bill, he added. There’s really no way to avoid paying these fees, so include these fees in your vacation budget while planning it.
Shore visits: Cruise liner or private tour operator?
Shore excursions play an important role in making your cruise memorable. One of the deciding factors in choosing a cruise is the destinations or ports that you will be exploring. This will add to the cost of your holiday, so be alert while planning a cruise and booking it.
Once you reach a destination on your cruise holiday, you have three choices to see the destination. First, explore the destination on your own by walking around, hiring a cab to visit popular sights, or taking public transport.
Second, pre-purchase a shore excursion from the cruise liner. “We always recommend our customers book shore excursions that are planned by the cruise liner as this guarantees assistance by the cruise company in the face of situations like a breakdown of a vehicle or passengers going missing,” said D’Souza.
However, booking shore excursions from the cruise liner will be expensive if there is a family of three or more members traveling. To reduce this cost, you can pre-purchase shore excursions from reputed tour operators at popular cruise ports. This option is cheaper for families.
Gratuities on each service
Gratuities are service charges for cabin housekeeping, restaurant services, access to the gym or pool, spa and massage services, etc. “Gratuities on cruises can vary — depending on the cabin category selected by the customer — between USD 10 to USD 25 (Rs 820 to Rs 2,050) per person, per day,” says Kale. Cruise liners automatically add this charge to your total bill. A family of four taking a five-day cruise will thus need to add more than USD 400 (Rs 32,700) to the cost of the cruise fare. This additional expense can give you an unpleasant surprise after a five-day cruise. So, prior to booking, familiarise yourself with your cruise line’s gratuity policy.
Opt for alcoholic drink packages
Cruise liners don’t allow you to carry beverages. So, travelers have to rely on alcoholic beverages at the price offered by the cruise. “One can minimize their additional costs by opting for beverage packages instead of paying per tab on board,” said D’Souza. A drinks package allows passengers to drink their fill for a fixed price per day. For instance, on Cordelia Cruises, the drinks package starts from USD 55.99 to USD 79.99 (Rs 4,600 to Rs 6,500) per person, per day.
“A traveler will not be charged for drinks if they have not opted for the same as part of their package,” says Kale.
Specialty dining restaurants
Specialty restaurants are for travelers who like to indulge in different cuisines outside the standard buffet menu that is part of the itinerary. “Dining at these restaurants comes at an additional cost and can be skipped by the customer,” said D’Souza.
Avoid Cruise Now, Pay Later schemes
A cruise is expensive. So, cruise operators such as Cordelia Cruises have partnered with fintech lenders and are offering Cruise Now, Pay Later (CNPL) schemes to make the trip affordable. This is catching the attention of millennials looking to go on a voyage. Travelers with good credit profiles are eligible to apply for this scheme. The fintech lender charges interest. You can repay in EMIs over one to 15 months after traveling. “The major drawbacks of the CNPL scheme are lender charges, interest cost, and penalty in case of a late payment,” says Harshil Morjaria, a Mumbai-based certified financial planner, who works with ValueCurve Financial Solutions. If you default, your credit score will take a hit, and frequent defaults on EMIs will affect your prospects of getting a loan in the future, he added.