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Understanding Your Cruise Quote

A cruise is a major investment--not just of your money, but of you and your family's vacation time. Feeling like you don't understand what you're buying can make for an anxious experience.

Ultimately, you just need to know a few things to understand exactly what you are receiving for your money. While all of this may seem like a lot to absorb, it's really not as complex as it seems. And once you make your booking, most of your vacation, including where to eat, your entertainment, places to see--all are set out for you to enjoy.

Once you've chosen a ship and a sail date, the two most important things to understand are the cruise cost (and what it includes), and your cabin choice.

Note: The information below represents general guidelines to which there can be exceptions. Make sure to discuss all details of your cruise with your travel agent.

Cruise Cost.
  1. The total cruise price. Your cruise price consists of three elements: the cruise fare, port charges, and taxes.

    All CruiseCompete quotes show the total price: all of these costs bundled together. However, please note that other sites leave out the taxes, then add these on the final booking screen. When you compare quotes, make sure you are comparing total costs to get the best deal.

  2. Your cruise price generally INCLUDES:
  3. Your cruise price generally DOES NOT INCLUDE these categories of discretionary onboard expenses:
  4. Your cruise price generally DOES NOT INCLUDE these other vacation expenses:
  5. Extras: Getting the best deal. Experienced cruisers don't just look for the best cruise price. They look for the best overall deal. Cruise offers vary quite a bit based on what extras they include, and these can take a number of different forms. The key is understanding what each perk is worth to you based on your own preferences.

    • On-Board Credit. Whether called "OBC" or "Ship-board credit" this amounts to the same thing: money in your ship-board account to spend during your cruise. And you will spend it, whether on tips, drinks, specialty restaurant fees, or other onboard purchases. This one is easy: the value is exactly the same as cash off of your cruise price.

    • Free Cruise Insurance. It's always a good idea to have insurance in case problems arise. But understand not all insurance is equal: find out exactly what each policy covers when considering its value to you.

    • Cabin Upgrades. Cabin upgrades are usually within the same cabin type. In other words, you may get upgraded from an outside cabin on a lower deck to an outside cabin on a higher deck, but you usually do not see offers to upgrade you from an outside cabin to a balcony cabin. Take the time to understand the difference between the cabin offered and what you would get for the same cost without the upgrade. What is that difference worth to you?

    • Other onboard perks. These can range from free dinners at specialty restaurants to drink coupons to bottles of wine to onboard internet--really anything that can be purchased onboard the ship. To gauge the value to you, ask yourself--would I buy it anyway? If not, how much would I be willing to pay for it?

  6. How you pay for your cruise. An agent can generally put a "courtesy hold" on a cabin for you for one to three days at no cost, but bookings usually require a $500 per-person deposit. Final payment is due anywhere from 120 days from sailing to 6 weeks out depending on the cruise line and the cruise length. If you're booking inside these windows, you'll need to pay for the entire cruise when you book. It's always best to use a credit card when booking for the rare occasion that there's a problem, and also to maximize your credit card points/cash back.

    Note: cruise lines generally do not offer refunds for cruise cancellations after final payment.

  7. Cabin Choices.

    1. Your cabin. All Cruise cabins generally include beds, tv's, private bathrooms, and storage for your personal items. They are usually quite small compared to hotel rooms, but are designed to be very functional.

    2. Basic cabin types. Cabin types available vary by ship and cruise line. Here are some basic definitions:

      • Inside cabin. Located in the interior of the ship without windows. They are the least-expensive cabins on the ship and best for short cruises and for people who like to sleep late.

      • Outside cabin. Located on the exterior of the ship with a port-hole or window.

      • Balcony cabin. Located on the exterior of the ship with a balcony. Strongly recommended on any sailing of 7 days or longer.

      • Junior Suite or Suite. Terminology diverges quite a bit here based on the line and the ship. These can range from balcony cabins that are just slightly larger than average to multi-room suites accommodating larger families (family suites). CruiseCompete offers deck plans for most ships including detailed descriptions for all cabins.

  8. Cabin categories.

    Cabin categories are the letter and number designations a cruise line gives to classes of cabins. Categories are usually designated with number or letters, for example B4 or IS. These designations are specific to certain ships, and so the best way to understand them is to either check the deck plans or ask the agent quoting you.

    Cruise lines vary the prices of cabins based not only on the basic cabin type, but on where the cabin is located on the ship. Cabins on higher decks generally sell at a premium, as do cabins whose locations allow for a larger size or a larger balcony (usually toward the rear of the ship).

    Note: all cabins of a particular type (inside, outside, balcony) are pretty much the same. So while it's good to know exactly what you're getting, don't stress too much about the decision. It will rarely have any effect on your enjoyment of your cruise.

    The biggest exception to this is if you're an extremely light sleeper and don't like sleeping with ear plugs or headphones, you may want to avoid cabins directly under a ship's nightclub, running track, or near the elevator. Ships are usually well-insulated for sound, but if you're extra-sensitive please take this into account when choosing a cabin.

    When you make your booking, your agent will generally help you select a specific cabin on the ship with a cabin number, or you can choose yourself based on the deck plans.

    Two types of cabin categories to be particularly aware of:

    • Obstructed view. These cabins are exactly what they sound like: there will be something in front of your balcony or window (usually a lifeboat) blocking or partially blocking your view of the ocean. You may want to book one of these to save money vs. other cabins in the category, but still have natural light (vs. an inside cabin).

    • Guarantee. When you book a guarantee, you are selecting a class of cabin, but the cruise line will determine exactly which cabin you are assigned. When you book a guarantee, you get a better rate, but you give up your opportunity to choose a specific cabin. Your cabin will at a minimum be in the class you booked (usually either inside, outside, or balcony) but the cruise line will choose the location for you based on availability close to sailing. This is a good option if you're not picky about where you cabin is located. You will usually end up on a lower deck (good for people who are concerned about the motion of the ship), but significant upgrades do happen occasionally.
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