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CRUISE VIEWS

Sail price can be tip of iceberg

January 19, 2003|Harry Basch | Special to The Times

Cruise ship passengers expect to pay one all-inclusive price. Although the major items -- cabin, most dining and entertainment -- are part of the package, there are extras -- air fare, tips, shore excursions, visas, travel insurance, even snacks -- that can increase your costs. When you calculate the price of a cruise vacation, remember to factor in the extras.

Most shipboard expenditures (except casino) will be billed to your shipboard account, which you can settle at the end of the cruise with cash, check or credit card. For a speedy checkout, register your credit card at the beginning of the cruise.

Here are some items that carry extra charges:

Air fare. Most cruise lines offer cruise/air packages, which can save you the trouble of arranging your own flights. But you may be able to save money through a discounted fare on the Internet or by using frequent-flier miles. If you arrange air transportation, you will be responsible for transfers between the airport and ship and hotel stays before and after the cruise.

Beverages. Bar drinks typically start at $2.50 for beer, $3 for wine, $4 for spirits. Wine at lunch or dinner in the dining room can average $30 a bottle. You can buy drinks by the glass, or the waiter can save your bottle from one meal to the next. Sodas and bottled water cost anywhere from $1.25 to $5, although some lines include both.

Casinos. Shipboard casinos are often well run and usually have a high ratio of payoffs. Casino chips and slugs for slots must be purchased with cash. Slots take coins too. Casino purchases can't be charged to your shipboard account.

Food. You can eat yourself silly in the dining rooms, cafes or room service at no extra charge on almost any ship. Newer ships have alternative dining areas that feature special menus, ethnic or gourmet, for $5 to $25 per person. These special dining rooms have limited seating and fill fast, so make reservations when you board.

On some ships, brand-name ice cream stands charge for cones or sundaes, but you can usually get free ice cream in the dining room and buffets. Specialty espresso and cappuccino stands also charge, but again, free coffee and tea are usually available in the buffet.

Gratuities. This is one of the most controversial aspects of cruising. On some luxury lines, such as Radisson Diamond, Seabourn, SeaDream and Silversea, tips are included. Holland America states, "Tipping is not required." Gratuities are reflected in the prices of those lines.

Although tipping is your choice, many lines suggest a guideline of $3.50 per person per day for your cabin steward and dining room waiter, $2.50 for your assistant waiter and other tips for butlers, maitre d' or concierges if they did something special for you.

Some lines automatically attach tips to your on-board account, which makes it easier to calculate but gives you less control on how much to tip. If you want to give more or less, you have to contact the purser.

Internet. Many new ships have Internet connections. Charges run 55 to 75 cents a minute.

Laundry. Many lines have self-service coin-operated washers $1), and most have one- and two-day laundry and cleaning services, but the charges are similar to rates charged in shoreside hotels. Upper suites on some lines, such as Holland America and Silversea, include free laundry service.

Shopping. Ships offer shops with jewelry, T-shirts and dress-up wear as well as duty-free liquor and cigarettes. And what they don't offer you can find at every port of call and on nearly every tour. Some ships will recommend certain shops onshore where they guarantee satisfaction, but remember that these shops have paid to be included in the list.

Shore excursions. These can add big bucks to the price of a cruise, so choose carefully. Excursions can range from a half-day bus tour around a city for $50 to jungle walks, helicopter tours or flights over glaciers that can cost $200 per person and more. Some shore excursions are cheaper if you arrange them yourself when you get to a port. (But you will not be covered by shipboard insurance, and you'll have to make arrangements to get to the ship if you don't get back on time.)

Cruise lines provide a booklet detailing excursions before sailing. You can book ahead online (a good idea for tours that have limited numbers or that sell out early) or you can wait until you get on board.

Try not to book too many tours up front. You may find yourself exhausted midweek and stuck with tickets that are nonrefundable.

Some expedition cruises include shore excursions in the basic price, so you can relax and do what you want.

Spas. Big ships have large gyms with treadmills and all kinds of exercise machines available without charge. Free too are general aerobics classes, but some special classes and personal instruction cost extra.

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