Skip to content

5 ways cruise lines are nickel-and-diming worse than ever

Jan. 20, 2023
8 min read
US dollars as a background
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

This year, you can expect to pay more for just about everything on your cruise. With travel back in full swing, cruise fares are increasing, as are other onboard expenses including daily service charges, drinks and Wi-Fi.

With costs for everything — but particularly food and fuel — on the rise, it's not surprising that cruise lines are raising prices. They are also facing billions of dollars of debt following the pandemic shutdown. Still, it's disappointing when one of the world's most economical vacation types becomes less so.

Below, you'll see the areas where TPG has noticed the most added fees and the most significant increases in price. Pay attention, so you can adjust your travel budget accordingly and not be surprised by a higher-than-usual bill at the end of your cruise.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter.

Service charges

Automatic gratuity charges at Princess Cruises are distributed among the crew. PRINCESS CRUISES

Call them "gratuities," "crew appreciation" or whatever new buzzword the cruise industry has coined to refer to the automatic service charges paid to the cruise line. Regardless of the terminology, the fact is that many lines have increased these daily fees recently.

In September of last year, Royal Caribbean passengers saw the line raise its daily auto-gratuities by more than 10% across its fleet. Prices are now $16 per person, per day, for cruisers in standard cabins and $18.50 per person, per day, for anyone staying in a suite.

Effective April 1, Carnival Cruise Line passengers will pay $16 per person ($18 in suites), per day, and Princess cruisers can expect to see the same increased amounts on their onboard accounts daily. Holland America also plans to increase its daily charges on Feb. 1, raising them to $16 and $17.50 per person, per day, depending on cabin type.

The worst offender, Norwegian Cruise Line, has raised its daily gratuities by 25% to $20 per person, per day ($25 for passengers booked in suites). That means each passenger staying in a standard cabin can expect to pay an additional $140 — or $560 for a family of four — on a weeklong voyage.

Despite the higher daily gratuity charges, Norwegian will cut back stateroom cleaning to once a day and decrease pay for some of its room stewards by eliminating a higher pay tier.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Drink packages

Six drinks from Royal Caribbean's cocktail menu. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

The only thing more important than food to many cruisers is alcohol. Fans of cruise line drink packages will want to note a few eyewatering price increases that went into effect at the start of the new year.

On Jan. 1, Norwegian hiked the price of two of its alcohol packages to a staggering $165 per person, per day, for the top tier and about $120 per person, per day, for the second-highest. These prices factor in the 20% gratuity the line adds on top of the base package price. The new pricing works out to more than $1,159 or $840 per person, respectively, on a weeklong sailing — enough to book another cruise.

Similarly, Carnival drove up its drink package prices by more than 15% in May of 2022. That increased the overall cost by $8 per person, per day, to about $71 if purchased in advance or $77 if added to your account after boarding, including an 18% gratuity.

That means an additional cost of nearly $500 per person for a seven-night sailing — again, enough for another cruise fare.

Wi-Fi

DAVIDGOLDMANPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES/IMAGE SOURCE

Anyone who can't or doesn't want to stay disconnected during their cruise should know that two major lines have recently increased their Wi-Fi pricing.

Carnival, which has improved the quality of its connection on some ships, began charging more for Wi-Fi on Jan. 16. It increased the price by 25% for a single device, from $10.20 per day to $12.75 for the line's Social plan. Other plans, which offer faster speeds and connectivity for additional devices, include the Value plan (now $17 per day) and the Premium plan (now $22 per day).

That means passengers should plan to pay an additional $89 to $154 per seven-night voyage for internet access.

If you thought Carnival's increase was lofty, wait until you hear how much Princess Cruises will charge for its Wi-Fi beginning Feb. 20.

The cost of the line's one-device plan will jump by 50% to $15 per day. Even worse, the line's four-device plan will set you back $40 a day — a staggering 167% increase in price.

You'll end up paying anywhere from $105 to $280 for Wi-Fi on a seven-night voyage. The good news is that Princess has dramatically improved its connectivity in recent years. That's due in part to its need for a connection that can support the line's Ocean Medallion wearable technology, which serves as a passenger room key, charge card and interactive tracker.

Room service

Room service on a cruise ship balcony. KIRK FISHER/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Room service charges are nothing new for cruise lines, but as of mid-January, all Celebrity Cruises' ships — some of the last mainstream vessels to offer complimentary room service — are charging a fee for room service orders.

Previously, Celebrity charged a $4.95-per-order fee for late-night orders between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Now, all orders (regardless of the number of items per order) will incur a $9.95 fee at any time of day. Add in a mandatory 18% gratuity, and each room service order will cost $11.74. Exceptions include Continental breakfast between 6 and 11 a.m., orders from Zenith-level members of the line's Captain's Club loyalty program and orders from passengers staying in suites.

Celebrity is not the only line taking away complimentary in-cabin dining. Effective Oct. 1 of last year, Carnival no longer offers free room service on its cruise ships. (Yes, even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will now cost you $5.) The only exception is Continental breakfast, which all lines offer on a complimentary basis — except Norwegian, which began charging for it on some vessels last year.

Alternative restaurants

The steakhouse on Carnival Magic. CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

Twice in a six-month period last year, Carnival boosted the supplemental charges for travelers wishing to dine in the steakhouses on board its vessels. The first time, in May, the cost jumped 11% from $38 to $42. The second time, in November, it rose from $42 to $48 per person — a 14% lift. In total, that accounts for an increase of more than 26%.

That's not the only specialty eatery for which the line now charges higher prices. It also began levying steeper fees to dine at its Bonsai Teppanyaki and Cucina del Capitano Italian restaurants. The former saw a climb of more than 9% in May, and the latter increased by 20% at the same time.

Bottom line

IGOR GOLOVNIOV/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES

Cruising still remains one of the most inclusive, value-driven and logistically headache-free vacation choices for travelers. However, many lines have recently begun charging more for onboard purchases.

Cruise lines are looking to increase fees wherever they can, from specialty dining to drinks packages. They wish not only to make up for nearly two years of lost revenue and pay off debts but also to eventually turn a profit, even in the face of rising costs.

The worst offenders are Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. In the coming year, you can absolutely expect to pay more when you set sail, especially with those three lines. We also anticipate additional price hikes and new fees will be announced throughout the next year.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by YEVGEN ROMANENKO/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees