We won’t lie: The cruise itself will be very relaxing. Booking the cruise? Not so much. There are a number of factors, which we’ll go through below, that you need to understand so that a) you don’t get taken and b) you end up with the cruise you want.

First issue: What are the costs involved in a cruise? As in any venture, it’s important that you understand the overall price of what you are buying. The truth is the base price for cruises constantly fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including the number of available staterooms left, the amount of time remaining until sailing day, your past passenger status (if any), and your residence (localized specials can often be found). Some lines give discounts for those with active or past military service. Rates are heavily influenced by the volume of travelers interested in cruising to a particular region, how long the season is, and how many individual departures are on offer.

Generally speaking, though, the various lines fall into three budget categories, though we’ll note that sometimes fares at some of the cruise lines marked moderate below like Celebrity and Princess can fall into the budget category and every once in a while, starting fares on Holland America, The price you pay for your cabin represents the bulk of your cruise vacation cost, but there are other fees to consider.

Are you getting a price that includes the cruise fare, port charges, taxes, fees, and insurance, or are you getting a cruise-only fare? Are airfare and airport transfers included, or do you have to book them separately (either as an add-on to the cruise fare or on your own)? One agent might break down the charges in a price quote, while another might bundle them all together. Make sure you’re comparing apples with apples. Your total price should include an itemized analysis of your total cruise fare, much like the breakdown you’d see on an airline ticket. Read the fine print.

It’s important when figuring out what your cruise will cost to remember what extras are not included in your cruise fare. While the high-end luxury lines will throw in everything but the kitchen sink, you need to be prepared to reach into your wallet while on board in order to enjoy some fun diversions on most cruise lines. A big misconception about cruises is that they’re all-inclusive; with the exception of the top-end lines, that just isn’t the case.

Having said that, none of these costs are deal-breakers if you know about them in advance. Here’s a look at what you can expect to have to shell out money for on board if you’re booking a mainstream, big-ship cruise:


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