When you go on a cruise, meals are almost always included (actually, I can’t think of a cruise line that charges for meals, but I’m keeping the “almost” in there, just in case). However, depending on the cruise line, there will be some things that could cost an upcharge:
- upgrading to a “better” or “specialty” restaurant and pay a premium for same (this isn’t the case on Virgin Voyages. There’s a lot of things Virgin doesn’t tell you before your ship launches, but they’re very upfront that all of their restaurants are available to everyone, without having to pay extra to eat there).
- If you buy a “special” meal, such as, say, a tomahawk steak.
- If you buy alcohol with your meal (unless you have a special drink package…which is, again, its own separate cost).
Different cruise lines also handle gratuities differently. Some, like Virgin, include gratuities as part of your initial cruise costs, so no tipping of cruise employees is needed; it’s already taken care of (of course, you can always add extra if you’d like, but that’s a YMMV situation). Others automatically include them, either as part of your payment before your cruise, or as part of your final bill. Before Covid, some cruise lines gave you envelopes for you to give cash gratuities to everyone before you disembark; those are probably still in effect on an “as needed” basis.
However, a handful of cruises give you the opportunity to tip at restaurants as you go along. And a Florida couple recently learned that a mistake with that sort of gratuity wound up being super expensive.
Alex and Alicia (no last name given) were recently on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas cruise ship. During their 7-day cruise of the Eastern Caribbean, they decided to splurge and eat at Jamie’s Italian, which is one of the ship’s “special” restaurants that require an upcharge.
From Cruise Critic (updated Feb, 2020):
Eclectic doesn’t do Jamie’s Italian Restaurant decor justice. A little bit rustic Italian trattoria, a little bit highway-side diner and school cafeteria, Jamie’s is decked out in a head-scratching assortment of plush blue booths, wooden and steel tables, armchairs, green and yellow metal cafeteria chairs, dried peppers and sausages hanging on the wall, industrial lighting and chandeliers. You don’t need to get all gussied up to dine here; jeans and tees are just fine.
The two reportedly enjoyed a great meal. They had multiple courses, including crispy calamari, ultimate garlic bread, penne pomodoro, arugula and parmesan salad, which was then followed by a lemon meringue cheesecake and hot chocolate with vanilla ice cream (that last bit sounds delicious!).
Symphony of The Seas offers an “Unlimited Dining Package” which includes multiple entrees and multiple specialty restaurants every night of a sailing. That could save them up to 40%, depending on the venues.
I couldn’t find current prices for Jamie’s Italian, but according to Prof. Cruise, you could expect to pay about $45 per person for dinner in 2021. So imagine Alex and Alicia’s surprise when they got the bill and the total amount was $98,638.93!
Of course, they didn’t eat THAT much. It turned out that someone entered an ID number into the gratuity box instead of the correct tip amount. Human error, could happen to anyone, and easily fixed, right?
Unfortunately, not really.
Royal Caribbean quickly reversed the erroneous charge but because of financial holds, the charge still appeared on their credit card. That resulted in a hold on their American Express card for the rest of their cruise.
The couple tried to work with Guest Services so the authorization could be dropped, but was told there wasn’t anything they (Royal Caribbean) could do – because the charge has been removed, the authorization would simply eventually drop on its own. That process can take as long as 5-7 days after the cruise was finished.
Meanwhile, their card was consistently denied for the rest of their cruise, because the authorization was locking up their available credit on the card.
The authorization was eventually dropped, just as the ship’s Customer Service rep had said it would. But it didn’t happen until after they got home.
Obviously, you should never, ever travel with just one credit card. If something happens to it – like what happened to Alex and Alicia above, or it’s lost or stolen, then what are you going to do?
You shouldn’t even travel with just multiple cards from the same bank. That way if your American Express card isn’t working for some reason, you don’t have to worry that another one of your Amex cards might be denied as well (it happened to me with my Chase cards, when they thought my purchases in Texas were fraudulent. Good times!). That way you can still use your Capital One or Barclays or whatever other bank’s card.
Most importantly – if you’re someone who uses a debit card, be very careful about situations like this. A hold like that on your debit card could mess up non-cruise auto-payments or other financial transactions you typically put on that card.
*** Thanks to Norman J. for giving us a heads-up about this topic!
H/T: Cruise Hive
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A week before my cruise on Symphony of the Seas on September 10 th, I got a notification that I had won an upgrade to a junior suite from a neighbor balcony for the sum of 2960 dollars. Immediately called Royal stating I never made any Royal up and to please put me back to my original room. Told needed to contact Royalup@rccl.com. Sent them 2 emails, no response. Day of cruise, call Royal again, told that they can straighten it out on the ship. Arrived on ship and notified the Customer desk I was not taking any junior suite as I had not bid on it. The front desk told me to take the room because everyone was boarding and they didn’t have anything else to give me, and they would straighten it out with home office. Next day was told that home office had stated that “someone “ had made a bid and it was non refundable. Asked the ship customer service to reach out again with all the documentation I had provided with my multiple request to give me back my original room and cancel the charge. Next day, informed that Royal up was not budging from their position and that I should contact Customer service in Miami when cruise was over. Contacted Chase sapphire card to dispute the charge and Chase stated that because I was in the junior suite during all this time, I had in effect paid for the service rendered even though Royal put me there even under protest. Chase suggested I should have left the ship and then filed a dispute claim.
So did they call Amex to explain the situation? They should have been able to make this go away.
Not surprising that this was Royal Caribbean, especially that the dinner prices were not available. Classic