One of the biggest draws of cruising is paying a single fare for accommodation, food and entertainment. But as cruise lines offer a growing number of optional add-ons, cruisers who want to try everything end up paying much more at the end.

“Prices and extra costs continue to rise. While cruising can still be affordable, it’s also easy to spend a lot of money if you want to have it all and do everything,” Tanner Callais, founder of the cruise site Cruzely told Skift.

“As cruise fares continue to drop, cruise lines are relying more on onboard revenue than the fare itself with clients starting to notice this more and more,” says Philip Smethurst, Director of Bicton Travel.

This includes sampling the ever-expanding specialty dining options, onboard activities like thrill rides and laser tag arenas, drinks packages, room service, spa, shore excursions, internet, priority access and the list go on.

There is also an additional 15 to 20 per cent service charge on average when using services like the spa and salon, beverage purchases and specialty restaurant dining.

In 2018, cruise passengers spent an additional 34 to 42 per cent of their cruise fare in on board spending, according to the financial reports of Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Both Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean also attributed an increase in onboard spending as one of the primary drivers of an increased total revenue in 2018.

Carnival Corporation revealed a 34 per cent on board spending, Royal Caribbean had 40 per cent and Norwegian Cruise Lines came out tops with 42 per cent.

How the charges add up

Apart from dining at specialty restaurants, certain entrees in the main dining room, where dining is normally included in the base fare, also attract an extra charge.

Guests can also easily add to their bill while enjoying on board activities. The charges depend on the line you sail with. For example, Royal Caribbean has announced that they will be charging for rides like Ripcord by iFly and North Star on Quantum of the Seas when sailing in Alaska and Asia from November. But their laser tag experience “The Battle for Planet Z” is complimentary.

Meanwhile on Norwegian Cruise Line, their laser tag costs $14.40 (US$9.95) for a 10-minute session, the Joy Speedway costs $21.75 (US$15) per single kart session and all games in their virtual reality arcade Galaxy Pavilion costs $10.15 (US$7) per play.

In terms of excursions, beyond the optional tours cruise lines are also building more private island destinations that feature many fee-paying attractions. In fact, Royal Caribbean just announced the region’s first private island destination in Vanuatu. For reference, entry to the water park at the line’s existing island Coco Cay costs $44 to $99 per person for a full day and the use of beach umbrellas, kayaks and snorkel equipment will also carry fees.

We do the maths

Cruise Passenger did the maths and found that cruising with a few basic add-ons on Norwegian Cruise Lines easily racked an additional spending of 25 per cent of a cruise fare.

Taking a 12-day Australia and New Zealand cruise from Sydney on the Norwegian Jewel, we included one specialty dining meal, one glass of the cheapest wine per night, the cheapest facial treatment at the spa and one of the cheaper shore excursions. The additional spend totaled up at $469.91 and came up to 27 percent more than the cruise fare of $1,734.

The rising trend of extra charges is also pushing cruisers to seek out more inclusive fares.

“We are seeing a noticeable shift from clients now looking for a more inclusive experience and recognising the value of such fares. We have seen a dramatic increase in bookings for cruise lines such as Viking where fares are simple and inclusive with very little opportunity for onboard spend,” says Mr Smethurst.

Furthermore, what is included in the luxury fare is often substantial — lines like Regent and Silversea include the shore excursions and the airfare as well.

Still, cruise lines maintain that all-inclusive fares are not necessarily the best choice or value for everyone.

Breaking down the charges also gives passengers more flexibility, Adolfo Perez, senior vice president of global trade sales and marketing at Carnival told Skift.

“With a Carnival cruise, we’re able to provide consumers with a variety of choices and not have them pay for options that they don’t want,” he said. “For instance, some guests would rather dine in the main dining room versus dining in specialty restaurants or opt not to purchase alcohol, so there is certainly a savings since they don’t have to purchase additional items if they don’t want to.”

The line’s newest and biggest ship Carnival Splendor which is debuting in December this year features four new dining experiences, two included and two at additional cost.

We worked it out below

12-day Australia and New Zealand from Sydney on the Norwegian Jewel from $1,734, departing January 23, 2020.

One Specialty Dining + 20%

$21.75 – 43.50 (US$15-30)

Average price plus service charge: $29 (US$20) + 20% service = $34.80

Wine (one glass per night) + 20%

Red/White: from US$7.95 (AU$11.13) per glass

Whole sailing plus service charge: $146.90

Mandara Spa +18%

ELEMIS Superfood Pro-Radiance Facial

50 minutes, $171 (US$122)

Price plus service charge: $171 (US$122) + 18% service = $201.78

One shore excursion

From $86.43 for highlights of Wellington (3.5 hours) or Akaroa sightseeing tour on 1960s double decker bus (2 hours)

Grand Total

Specialty dining + Wine + Spa + Shore excursion = $469.91

Additional spending is 27% of $1,734 base fare.