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How do I Pay for Things on a Cruise?

Paying for extras on a cruise is seamless with your room key card, acting as a charge card linked to your onboard account. Simply swipe for purchases, from cocktails to excursions. At the end of your voyage, settle the tab with credit, debit, or cash. Wondering about gratuities or hidden fees? Let's navigate the finer details together in the full article.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The method by which passengers pay for things on a cruise often depends on the type of ship and the amenities already included in the price of the ticket. Many larger cruise ships work like all-inclusive resorts, with almost all typical expenses (food, lodging, entertainment, shore excursions, etc.) included in the original ticket price. Others operate more like luxury hotels, with individual accounts opened for each passenger so they can charge things to their room.

While a charge account on a cruise ship may allow passengers to charge nominal expenses and pay the total with a credit card, it doesn't mean a cruise is a completely cash-less environment. Passengers who wish to gamble on board, for instance, must provide their own cash to purchase gambling chips or tokens. It is not unusual to find at least one Automated Teller Machine (ATM) on board a large cruise ship with casino-type gambling.

Group playing blackjack on a cruise.
Group playing blackjack on a cruise.

Depending on the cruise ship's food and beverage policies, passengers may also have to pay for drinks on a cruise, especially alcoholic beverages. Some cruise lines offer a separate beverage plan that allows passengers to consume unlimited amounts of non-alcoholic drinks like soft drinks, tea, coffee, and water for a nominal surcharge. If this plan is not available, then passengers may need a supply of cash to pay for non-complimentary beverages. Tipping the bartender or wait staff may also require some cash if the passenger doesn't plan on tipping all of the service staff at the end of the cruise.

People on a cruise may want to have cash handy to tip their bartender.
People on a cruise may want to have cash handy to tip their bartender.

Shore excursions may be included in the original ticket price, but this doesn't mean all of the expenses passengers may incur are covered. Cruise packages typically cover things that are provided on the ship, not the activities the cruiser may take part in in the countries the cruise liner may visit. Transportation not arranged by the cruise line for an organized tour may not be included in the ticket price. Passengers may be able to purchase food or gift items with their own currency, but they may also have to make arrangements to exchange their cash for local currency.

Many cruises allow you to charge things to your room.
Many cruises allow you to charge things to your room.

In general, passengers on a cruise ship should plan to carry some cash with them on the trip, even though most of the nominal expenses can be charged to an individual guest account and paid with a credit card at the end of the voyage. If a passenger plans on spending significant time in a port city, having a supply of cash to cover food, entertainment, and travel expenses may be especially important.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary method of payment on most cruise ships?

Most cruise ships operate with a cashless system, using a cruise card or wristband linked to your onboard account. This card acts as your room key and payment method for all onboard purchases. You typically register a credit card to your account at the start of the voyage for seamless transactions.

Can I use cash on a cruise ship?

While the onboard environment is predominantly cashless, cash can be used at the casino and to settle your account at the end of the cruise. However, for most other transactions, including dining, shopping, and activities, your cruise card will be the standard form of payment.

Are there ATMs on cruise ships, and what are the associated fees?

Yes, ATMs are available on most cruise ships, but they come with higher transaction fees compared to onshore ATMs. Fees can range from $5 to $8 per transaction, so it's advisable to bring sufficient cash or use your cruise card for onboard expenses.

How do gratuities work on a cruise ship?

Gratuities on a cruise ship are often automatically added to your onboard account. These daily service charges cover tips for the crew, including room stewards and dining staff. The amount varies by cruise line but typically ranges from $12 to $20 per person per day, according to Cruise Critic.

Can I track my spending while on a cruise?

Yes, you can track your spending by checking your onboard account through interactive TVs in your stateroom, visiting the ship's guest services desk, or using the cruise line's mobile app if available. This allows you to monitor charges and dispute any discrepancies promptly.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular WiseTour contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon335985

It is a long standing problem for people in the service industry. Workers are not well paid and tips are what make up a large chunks of their salary. On the other hand, not every client knows this and so the many workers in the service industry suffer.

feasting

@OeKc05 – I greatly prefer carrying cash to carrying a credit card on a cruise. If I bring cash, I can only be robbed of the amount of money I have on hand. If I bring my credit card, I could be robbed of thousands of dollars because the thief could charge things until he reached my credit limit.

Generally, credit card companies will not hold you liable for fraudulent charges, but think about this. If you are already on a cruise and the company sees that you are using your card there, it will be hard for you to prove that it wasn't you who made the charges. You could be held liable.

I took a cruise from Louisiana to Mexico last year, and I carried only cash. I felt much more secure than when I carried a credit card.

Oceana

My cousin went on a cruise to Mexico two years ago, and she told me that the cruise tips are what will break you if you are not careful. She didn't know until her travel companion told her that people are expected to tip everyone from the person who gives you clean towels to the person who brings you a drink at the pool.

She had brought along some extra cash to spend on shopping once the ship reached its destination. She ended up spending half of it on tips for the cruise ship staff!

I think that a better plan might be for the cruise line to pay its staff better wages so that they wouldn't have to rely on tips. Even though this would probably make the ticket prices go up, at least it would be more convenient than handing out dollars to every single person who waits on you throughout your trip, which is supposed to be restful and not full of obligations.

OeKc05

I've never been on a cruise, but the option to pay for everything with a guest account at the very end sounds like the best plan to me. I love being able to charge things and pay for them later, and I have enough self control to keep from getting carried away.

I hate carrying cash on vacation. It makes me feel vulnerable to thieves. Any time I have to pull out a wad of bills, I get paranoid and start to sweat.

That's why I love just using a credit card. It would be even better if I could just tell the staff to put it on my account and then only have to pull out the credit card once during the whole visit.

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    • Group playing blackjack on a cruise.
      By: Yuri Arcurs
      Group playing blackjack on a cruise.
    • People on a cruise may want to have cash handy to tip their bartender.
      By: Lulu Berlu
      People on a cruise may want to have cash handy to tip their bartender.
    • Many cruises allow you to charge things to your room.
      By: Riccardo Arata
      Many cruises allow you to charge things to your room.