Although many cruise lines are currently offering drastically discounted rates to boost their bookings, extra expenses can make your overall tab seem less like a bargain and more like the cost of a government bailout. As seasoned passengers know, most cruise fares include the basic necessities: accommodations, meals in main restaurants and buffet venues, entertainment and transportation from port to port. But, indulging in extra-fee amenities -- such as spa treatments, fancy coffees, cocktails, alternative restaurants and shore tours -- can be costly.
That's where the Travel Budget Calculator comes in.
Overall, the calculator is extremely easy to use. It provides several categories of items -- including air travel, pre- and post-cruise accommodations, meals outside the ship (and dining at onboard alternative venues). It also reminds you to factor in other possible expenditures, from spa treatments to shore tours and from cocktails to gift shop buys.
Next to each item -- cruise fares, shore excursions, dining surcharges, fitness classes, spa treatments, private pool cabanas, Internet fees, cocktails and sodas, onboard gifts, and gratuities -- is an entry field for users to decide how much they're willing to spend on each. After entering costs, users can find their total estimated expenses by clicking a button at the bottom of the page. The calculator also offers options for printing and e-mailing the results.
How well does the Travel Budget Calculator work? Let's put it this way: After scoring a great deal -- a 12-night Caribbean cruise for just $399 -- I used the Independent Traveler's calculator to factor in taxes, tips, shore excursions, activities and tours, souvenirs, Internet access, and alcoholic beverages. The estimated cost of my trip jumped from $400 to more than $1,400!
Although that may still be a reasonable price for a 12-night getaway, my total amount did not include several key items, which would have significantly increased my trip costs. For instance, since I already have my passport, am not a parent and chose a port to which I wouldn't have to fly, costs for travel documents, child care services and airfare were not considered.
--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor