Travel – The Unexpected Costs of Cruising

I don’t know why, but I hesitated to post this as I was a little concerned about any potential backlash for what is essentially quite a negative post about cruising. The cruising community seems quite tight knit, and the general consensus seems to be that cruising is amazing, and I felt that saying anything to go against this might not be taken too well. But, as always, I want to be 100% honest with my readers and, although there were definitely plenty of positive points when it came to our recent cruise with MSC, there were downsides too.

One of the main negatives was how expensive cruising was. Yes, before anybody says it, I did indeed win the cruise we went on. I was very grateful to have been given such an amazing opportunity, one that allowed me to take my family on our first cruise, something we certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to afford otherwise. However, in a way it was the fact that we had won the cruise which highlighted even more the additional costs that are involved with a cruising trip and I have been wanting to talk about it ever since we got back.

Please don’t get me wrong, as I say, we were all very pleased to have been able to go on a cruise and this isn’t in any way an attack on MSC. As we haven’t been on another cruise line, we have nothing to compare our experience with, which is why I would like you to take this post with a pinch of salt and not let it put you off cruising in general, but to use it as a guide if you are planning your first cruise and would like to know what to expect financially.

Without further ado, these are the additional costs that we came across when going on our first cruise this summer.

Drinks Package 

Our competition prize included the cruise travel, accommodation and meals, to be eaten either in the a la carte dining room or buffet each day. It didn’t include any of the drinks packages and, after a little research on the Facebook cruising forums for our ship the MSC Magnifica, it became apparent that adding one of these onto our booking in advance was a very good idea and would ultimately save money in the long run.

The general consensus was that MSC’s drinks packages were very affordable, and a lot better value than other cruise lines. As I say, we haven’t cruised with other lines ourselves so can’t compare, but I still found the price we paid for the all inclusive drinks package to be fairly expensive. We paid around £500 for the four of us (Benjamin was not charged as he was under three years old), and this allowed us to have a fairly extensive list of drinks from cocktails, mixers, soft drinks, bottled water and hot drinks for the duration of our cruise.

All passengers in a cabin had to be on the same drinks package, which is why we had to also pay for the all inclusive package for the older two children, but this did also allow them to have unlimited milkshakes and ice cream during the cruise, so it wasn’t too bad.

Having been on the cruise, I do agree that it is worth paying for the drinks package in advance, as it all does add up otherwise and is more expensive if you did decide to upgrade once on board. I don’t think it is worth paying for the premium package, as there really wasn’t much extra and we were able to get all the drinks we would have wanted in our package.


Fortunately we didn’t manage to get stung by any internet charges from our phone providers as we would put our phone onto airplane mode as soon as the shore was out of sight, but I have seen horror stories about phone bills going into the thousands when people haven’t realised they have actually connected to the internet without realising and the roaming charges have been extortionate.

MSC do offer internet packages, but we really didn’t think it was worth doing this and at the end of the day, it’s just a further expense. As we were cruising around Europe, our phone provider (O2) allowed us to use the internet and to make calls within our data plan with no additional costs, which meant that at every port and in fact when we were cruising away and still close to land, we were able to just use our phone as normal and go on the internet, access our emails and make calls and texts.

I would definitely recommend giving your phone provider a quick call before you go to find out what they advise you do, and to see what the costs would be for using your phone/the internet whilst away as this could be a costly extra charge on your return otherwise.


We didn’t actually go on any excursions during our 10 day cruise and I will admit, I regret this a bit. Some of the ports were incredibly boring, especially in the wind and rain, and walking around the shops can only keep you amused for a short period of time. Obviously you can choose to stay on the ship when you are in port, but due to my anxiety I wanted to get off.

We had opted against excursions for a couple of reasons, one being that neither myself or the kids would cope well to being cooped up on a coach or bus after getting off the ship, but also due to the sheer cost of an excursion for our family of five.

I do think it would have been a good idea to have booked one or two of the trips in the ports that didn’t have much to do but that’s the luxury of hindsight for you. If you are planning on going on excursions, bear in mind that these can be costly and may bump up the price of your cruise.

We didn’t do this, but others on our cruise looked elsewhere and booked excursions through other tour providers rather than direct with MSC and this may be an option if you are looking to keep costs down. The only risk is that the cruise line generally won’t wait for you if you are out on a trip which wasn’t booked through them so make sure you do your research properly and plan to get back to the ship with plenty of time to spare.

Formal Evening Wear 

Ok, MSC do not enforce their formal evenings and therefore you don’t necessarily have to splash out on any fancy clothing for your trip but it does feel a little bit awkward on the more elegant or themed evenings if you are there wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

You could argue that new clothes are something you might feel the need to buy for any holiday, but I felt that with a cruise, there were extra items we felt obliged to purchase in advance of the trip such as white clothing for the white night onboard. It just all adds up, so perhaps bear it in mind and do a little research on the cruise forums available for your particular ship and cruise before you go.

Medical Charges 

Most passengers are unlikely to require a trip to the onboard doctor but if you do require medical attention, be prepared to pay in excess for this service. I visited the doctor for my anxiety and we were charged 80 Euros plus the fee for the prescription.

We were travelling with European Health Cards but apparently these do not cover when you are on a cruise as you are technically not in Europe but out at sea. We could have claimed back the money on our insurance but the excess on our policy would have been more than the fee we paid, so there was no point.

Additional Entertainment Costs 

Most of the entertainment onboard was included at no additional cost, but there were a few things that would have incurred a charge such as indoor bowling and the casino (obviously).

We didn’t opt to use any of these and didn’t feel we missed out from avoiding them but it is always worth considering that you or your children might want to take part in activities which would incur an extra charge, especially as with MSC you don’t ‘pay’ onboard for anything but charge to your cruise card, which is then billed at the end of the trip to the credit card you authorised when first boarding. Little things here and there can certainly add up.


This is something I touched on in my main cruise post as it is where we got stung. There are photographers set up around the ship offering to take your photos either as you walk around, or during meal times and on the themed and elegant evenings onboard. They are a little pushy in general, but can be avoided or politely declined quite easily. The main issue occurs if you do have your photo taken and you haven’t planned ahead for it and purchased their photo packages in advance.

We had a few photos taken over the course of our 10 day cruise, as I thought it would be nice to have a memento of our trip and to have some nice shots of us taken together. The problem is, without the advance photo package, the prices for prints are extortionate. We ended up paying 250 Euros for around 12 shots of us. This included prints in a variety of sizes (we weren’t able to choose these as we ordered on the day of our departure from the ship) and a digital copy of each of these provided on a memory stick.

Although I like the prints and they do provide a nice souvenir from our cruise, I felt ripped off and it certainly added on to the cost of our cruise for us! I would definitely recommend looking into the advance photo packages if you are cruising with MSC, apparently there are some excellent deals at affordable rates, and it would have saved us a small fortune.

Service Charges 

This is a bit of a taboo topic on cruise forums, but I will mention it here as it can add a huge cost to your holiday. MSC add a service charge onto your final bill. This is meant to be in place of individual tips during your cruise, and is divided out amongst the staff on the ship. They actively discourage tipping your staff with cash whilst on the cruise, instead preferring passengers to pay the set charge either in advance or on the day you disembark.

Something to bear in mind is that those not on a drinks package will be charged an additional service charge for each drink as well, which can really add up. You pre-authorise your card when boarding, but the service charges can be seen on the itemised bill at the end of your cruise and you can ask for these to be removed if you would prefer not to pay them.

As I said at the start, although this post comes across as a bit negative, we honestly did enjoy our cruise for the most part and we would consider going on another once I have a better hold on my anxiety and after a lot of saving has been done! I just wanted to write about the costs that sometimes aren’t considered when booking a trip, but certainly add up to make cruising a fairly expensive way to travel.

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6 thoughts on “Travel – The Unexpected Costs of Cruising

  1. AK Cunningham

    I think this is a great post to show what other costs there are when booking a cruise because you most certainly can’t compare it to a All Inclusive Package Holiday. Its a very interesting read and certainly something to bear in mind before booking a cruise! We are only a 4 headed family but a cruise is something I really would like to try once the kids are a few years older so we can go on excursions without them getting bored of coach travelling etc!


    1. Emma

      Thank you, I’m glad it was useful for you. We certainly hadn’t considered all of the extras before we won the cruise and went away x


  2. CruiserGirl

    Hi! Great to get a total newbie view of a cruise but from what I gathered lot of your negatives were down to not researching your choice/ options in advance. The ‘service charge’ on MSC is one of the lowest, but it’s not really a gratuity. Much like resort charges in the US. Same with their drinks package. It starts at 21eur per person(adult) per day but most American ships charge about $60-70 per day! No wonder I opted for soft drinks only on my Carnival cruise 😁 Sure, there are some ships that offer full AI but those are either luxury lines or likes of Marella and NCL who build it into the fare.. so not free, essentially prepaid. So, whatever cruise you are planning to do – do your homework! Same applies for EHIC too. It doesn’t even cover you in Europe as in most countries there is no free-to-use national healthcare like the NHS. There is government provided cheap healthcare vs private. And your EHIC for now (until Brexit) gives you access to the cheaper one. But it is does not mean free. Not on a cruise and not in a resort somewhere either. As for cost of clothes, isn’t that the case for every holiday? New wardrobe, regardless 🙂


    1. Emma

      Thanks for your comments. I totally agree that we clearly hadn’t researched enough, which is what my post is for, to give a few pointers to others who haven’t gone on a cruise before, discussing parts of the cruise we hadn’t thought of in advance. I’ve heard that MSC is good value in contrast to other lines and don’t dispute that, but for us, the extra costs would have bumped up the price of the cruise quite a bit (had we not have won it). Agree regarding clothes, although as I mentioned, it was more the themed nights which are generally not something you get on another kind of holiday.


  3. Maria

    This was so interesting to read. All of our neighbours are big into cruising (two of them are off to one this weekend). My partner and I got curious about it but when I looked into it, it did seem quite expensive for what it was. I didn’t delve much further but from your post, it seems like there are a lot of extra costs you don’t think about. I think every holiday, cruise or not, has additional costs but I don’t think going on a cruise is for me just yet.


    1. Emma

      Thanks for your comment and I’m pleased to hear that you found it interesting. I think going on a cruise is definitely an experience and I am glad we went on it, but it definitely has additional costs to consider when booking.


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