Some Hidden Costs of Cruising

When booking a cruise, you may hear the words “all-inclusive”.  While this is MOSTLY true, once you get on board there are a few costs that are not included.  This is pretty much the same industry wide, but this article will cover the extra expenses you will find on Disney Cruise Lines.  For the most part your snacks, meals, activities and entertainment ARE included in your cruise fare making cruises a wonderfully efficient use of your vacation funds.  However, there are a few things you will need to budget for.

Soft Drinks

A common option on non-Disney cruise lines is the soda card or the soda package.  If you are cruising Disney Cruise Lines, all fountain drinks are included!  Be aware that if you order soda from a bar or from room service, there is a charge for these drinks.  The free refill stations are up near the quick service restaurants.  Specialty coffee drinks, drinks from the bar, and all “drinks of the day” (both non-alcoholic and alcoholic) are also an extra fee.  An additional 15% gratuity is automatically charged to drinks ordered at the bars.  We like to bring a large cup onboard and use Disney’s cups to fill that cup (Disney prefers this for sanitary purposes) and then keep it in our beverage cooler in our room all day for easy access.  We found the refillable “coffee type mugs” to be a good bargain for us.  They were only $8 (instead of $15 at Disney World!) and you got a discount when you purchased the non-alcoholic drink of the day.

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Caption:  The souvenir cups for the drinks of the day will cost extra.


Gratuities are also not included.  For a 6 night sailing, Disney recommends a total of about $12 per person per night split between your Server, Assistant Server, Head Server and Stateroom Host/Hostess. You have the option of prepaying for these gratuities before your sailing or they will be automatically charged to your onboard account on the last day of the sailing.  (Contact your travel planner for more information).

On the last night of your sailing you will receive envelopes and a perforated printout of the gratuities (either the recommended amounts or the prepaid amounts) and gratuity instructions.  If you would like to adjust the amounts, you can visit guest services with the letter that is delivered to your stateroom.  If your service has been exceptional (which has been our experience, more often than not), you can add a personal note and simply add cash (in addition to the printout) in the envelopes.  It is typical to deliver these to your servers on your last evening meal, and you can leave the tip for the hostess

Your head server is the person in the main dining room who is in charge of your section and oversees all of the servers and assistant servers.  Your server is your server in the main dining room who takes your food order each night.  Your assistant server is your server who takes your drink orders each night.  Your stateroom host/hostess is the person in charge of cleaning your stateroom (and making your wonderful towel animals!).   The recommended gratuity amount per person depends on the length of your sailing.  Please remember that the bulk of the salary that the servers and room hosts make is from gratuities.


As with all Disney adventures there are plenty of opportunities for pictures and ample Disney staff to capture those magic moments.  When you board the ship, you will have your picture taken, typically with Mickey or Minnie, but the characters will rotate throughout the day.  There will also be photographers with the characters at each of the greetings.  Photographers come to each dining room table on Pirate Night and Formal and Semi-formal nights.  There will also be backdrops set up around the ship on different nights with photographers available to take your picture.

All professional photos will be printed and displayed in Shutters for purchase.  Single 6×8 photos are $9.95 each and 8×10 photos are $19.95 each.  There are photo packages starting at 10 6×8 photos or 5 8×10 photos for $84.95.  You may also purchase a CD with the images, starting at $249.95 for a 3 night sailing.  The ship photographers cannot take pictures with your camera, but if there is a regular cast member there, most are more than happy to take a picture with your personal camera.  If there is not a cast member, ask the next family in line!  If you would like to purchase ship pictures, check into the packages, as it may save you some money.

Port Adventures

The ship takes you to different ports, but what do while you’re there?  This is where Port Adventures (shore excursions on other cruise lines) come into play.  The Port Adventures offered by Disney Cruise Lines vary in price from inexpensive beach breaks to all day swimming with dolphins.  Please remember that tips are appropriate for most tour operators, so bring small bills into port with you.  You can sometimes find less expensive excursions by booking on your own, but I prefer the security of booking with the cruise line.  Many of the excursions do not include meals or drinks, so either budget for meals on shore (which tend to be pricy), bring snacks from home, or pack some of the cereal from the breakfast meals.  Remember that only sealed food (ie no fruit or pastries) can be taken off board, so plan accordingly.

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Caption:  My kids loved swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman

The spa onboard is not included in your cruise fare.  Services range from mani-pedis (starting at $25 for a manicure, $45 for a pedicure), shampoo/cut and style (starting at $52) to massages (starting at $81 for a half body/25 minute massage).  Take advantage of the spa during port days to get some savings.

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Caption:  The Spa is a great place to relax and unwind!


Laundry services are available on board for an extra fee.  You can send your laundry away to be done for you (dry clean or laundry) or you can take advantage of the self-service laundry rooms on board.   One nice thing about Disney Cruise Lines is that you don’t have to have a roll of quarters.  Simply swipe your Key to the World card, and you can wash, dry and even purchase soap.   (All is the detergent of choice on board.  If you prefer another detergent or would like to plan ahead to do laundry, bring your own.  The laundry room also has an iron and ironing board and a large utility sink. The ironing board is in high demand on formal nights, so plan ahead.  Dry cleaning services range from $2 for a tie to $9 for a 3-piece suit.  Laundry services range from $0.75 for a handkerchief to $3.50 for a pair of pants.

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Caption:  One of the laundry facilities onboard


Most of the activities on board ARE free but there are some exceptions.

BINGO: Bingo, of course, is an extra fee (there are packs starting at $20).  You might win back what you’ve spent to play – though I never do – but friends we met on board walked away a diamond necklace!  There are electronic packs as well as paper games.  Paper games are less expensive, though the number of “cards” is less, and the electronic cards will automatically keep track for you.  Once you purchase a game for that round of Bingo, your name is included in the raffles they do that session.  Raffles can be anything from free rounds of Bingo to Disney Cruise Line merchandise.

LIQUOR:  Any of the alcohol tastings (wine, beer, margarita/tequila, mixology, etc) are an additional charge, typically about $15.  The wine tasting we attended featured 4 wines, and totaled approximately 1-1.5 glasses of wine in total.  The tequila/margarita tasting had 3 shots and 3 spirits, with the potential for another shot and another spirit if you pay attention and answer questions properly (if you still can after 3 shots and 3 spirits!)

I make guest services my first stop after boarding to sign up for the tastings as they are limited in space.  While there I also make arrangements for Tea with Alice (NO CHARGE if offered on your sailing) and seasonal offerings (ie making gingerbread houses at Christmas time – also NO CHARGE!)  Please contact your travel planner for more information for specifics on the offerings.

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Caption:  The Margarita/Tequila tasting was wonderful!

Adult Dining Options and Other Snacks

If you choose to dine in Palo or Remy, the adult only restaurants on Disney Cruise Line, you will be charged an additional fee ($20/person for Palo and $75/person for Remy).  Please note that an additional 15% gratuity for your server will automatically be added.  Wine pairings are also available for additional fees.  The wines available are typically more expensive than those included with Disney’s Classic wine package, so if you have the classic package, you will receive a $28 dollar discount on the wine available.  Be prepared – at Palo, the cheapest red wine was $37, which we paid $9 for, but it was a great wine.  Also, the snacks (popcorn is popular – about $5 for the smaller bag) from Preludes (the snack bar outside the Walt Disney theater) are an additional charge.  If these are not something you want to spend extra money on, bring your own movie theater snacks (candy) from home or simply make sure everyone has a meal or snack before you head into the theater.

Caption:  Part of the Palo brunch offering

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Internet Service

If you must be connected with the world outside of your ship, you will have to pay for internet service.  You can pay as you go for $0.75/minute or purchase a package for $75 for up to 250 minutes on 7 night sailings or $150 for up to 500 minutes on longer sailings.  Please be aware that the service is via satellite and so it can be spotty and slow.   Plans cannot be upgraded once purchased and you will not receive a refund for unused minutes.  You can save some money here by locating a coffee shop or other location while you are in port and using free wifi.


Art is available, ranging from $125 to $6000 or more.  The options on board our last sailing included items from the Pixar Gallery, Thomas Kinkade interpretations of Disney princess castles, and more.  There were also multiple silent auctions throughout the cruise.


Of course, you will want to budget in money for souvenirs.  One nice thing about Disney Cruise Lines is that you can apply a gift card or your Disney Chase Visa rewards redemption dollars to your onboard account.  Ask for Disney gift cards for holidays or birthdays if you are sailing soon after.  If you let your children know that they have a set amount they can spend, and they know ahead of time, it can save some heartache in the shops.  On our last sailing, my children had one day to shop onboard to spend gift cards from family members (that I had applied on the first day onboard).  They never once asked to purchase anything else in port or onboard.

Remember, just because these things are an additional cost does not negate the wonderful value of a cruise vacation.  Your meals, drinks, activities and entertainment are all included.  On our first cruise, with the exception of some drinks, our excursions, and gratuities, we didn’t purchase much else onboard.  With a little planning, it’s not hard to stay within your budget on the ship!

If you would like to sail the seven seas, contact me today!  I cannot wait to help you plan your MAGICAL vacation on the Disney Cruise Line!  Contact me at, 1-800-670-4312, x129 or on Facebook (