03 September 2018

What are cruise fares, port charges and tips (or service charge)?

Port charges

Whenever a сruise ship docks at a port of call, the local authorities require a fee. Before a cruise starts, the cruise line will add up the port charges from the different ports of call on the cruise itinerary and will pass the cost of these port charges on to the passengers. Different places charge cruise lines different amounts and the total of your port charges will depend on what ports of call the cruise is visiting and how many stops are included in the itinerary. The more places you’re visiting, the higher the port charges should be.


Not only do cruise lines pay a fee to the local authorities for docking at a port of call, they also have to pay taxes to the government. As with port charges, the amount charged varies greatly and it’s passed on to the cruise passengers. Sometimes you’ll find that taxes are grouped together with port charges.

How much are port charges and taxes?

You should usually find that port charges and taxes together come to around 10–20% of the base cruise fare. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule — some cruises have been known to have port charges and taxes totaling nearly half of the base cruise fare.

All reputable travel agents should include port charges and taxes in the price they quote you for the cruise and they should advertise cruise prices as including these two extra charges. When booking online, it’s always worth double-checking exactly what’s included in the price you see listed on the website. Sometimes, this is only the base cruise fare and the port charges and taxes are only revealed after you’ve completed several stages of the booking process, for example creating an account and selecting a stateroom. Some cruise lines include port charges and taxes in the price listed on their website and will clearly state that the listed price includes these.

Are port charges and taxes necessary?

Yes — in order to cruise, you have to pay them and there’s no avoiding them. Just as you have to pay your base cruise fare, you also have to pay port charges and taxes. These are necessary even if you don’t actually get off the ship when the ship’s docked at a port of call.

Tips on cruise ship

Tipping practices vary greatly among the cruise lines today, ranging from a required added service charge to no tipping at all. It is very important that you know the policy of the cruise line before you cruise so you can budget accordingly. When planning your cruise, check with your travel agent or the cruise line about the tipping policy. Often the recommended tips, which run from about $10 to $20 per passenger per day, are published either in the cruise brochure or on the cruise line web page. 

The cruise director will also remind passengers about how much and whom the cruise line recommends you tip.

Most tips on cruise ships are really service charges, which is one of the reasons why cruise lines seem to be moving towards adding a flat fee to your onboard account rather than make the tip amount entirely optional. New cruisers need to realize that most cruise lines do not pay their service staff a living wage, and tips or service charges make up most of their compensation. In order to keep the advertised price down, passengers are expected to subsidize the service staff through these added service charges or tips.

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