We tend to think of cruise ships as all-inclusive resorts on the water. At least that is the way it used to be. Before sailing on the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship from Seattle to Alaska last month, it had been 20 years since my last cruise.
What we quickly discovered is that while the boats have gotten larger and offer more options for dining and activities over the years, these changes have come with quite a few hidden (or at least unexpected) costs.
For our Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Bliss, we had selected the specialty dining package and the unlimited beverage package for two as our included “add ons” to our package. So my expectation going into our cruise was that it was going to be a fairly all-inclusive experience while on board. I was wrong!
The rule in the hospitality industry these days seems to be a decoupling pricing strategy. The airlines have lowered their flight price, only to decouple fees for baggage, seat selection, entertainment, and food. It seems as if the cruise industry is going in a same direction, at least that was our experience on the Norwegian Bliss.
The Norwegian Bliss is one of the newest ships on the water, debuting earlier this year. To continue to raise the bar on amenities, the Bliss offers laser tag, water slides, and even a go-kart race track. All of these upgrades cost money.
I remember taking a Princess cruise with a friend in my twenties and we did a wine tasting for free. And when Glenn and I took a Royal Caribbean cruise while we were dating, I don’t remember paying extra for mini golf or to use the rock climbing wall. So I’m not sure if this phenomenon is endemic to the cruise industry or to Norwegian in particular.
Still, all the add-on expenses made our Alaskan cruise deal not such a steal after all. When I posted about this on Instagram, I got a number of surprised comments about the non-all-inclusive nature of our experience. So I figured I’m not the only one who would be surprised.
That is why I wanted to provide a list of add-on expenses on the Norwegian Bliss so that others can budget accordingly. I didn’t include the obvious ones like spa or salon services and shore excursions, because I think most people are aware that those are additional. The others may or may not surprise you.
Added Costs on the Norwegian Bliss Cruise Ship
Note: prices are from August 2018 and subject to change. Check with Norwegian for current pricing and policies as these may change.
The Laser Tag is an elaborate maze offering 30 minute sessions, which must be reserved in advance. I would recommend scheduling these as soon as you board with guest services or through the online touch screens near the elevators because the sessions book up quickly, especially for days on sea.
The cost is $9.95 per person. Tip: if you have a teen, the Entourage teen club offers one night activity with unlimited laser tag – for free!
If you would like to take a spin on the two-floor race track, you will also need to reserve a time slot early.
The cost is $9.95 per person. Tip: the track is behind the smoke stack so you may get dirty!
Next to the Kids’ Clubs and Teen Club you will find a small arcade. Games are a la carte by swiping your room key or you can purchase a package for $10 per person, per day, which will give you unlimited games on certain machines with a green swipe.
However, it must be purchased for the whole cruise and for everyone in the cabin. It can really add up fast either way!
In The Local restaurant, you will find two small duck pin bowling lanes. It costs $6 a game.
Specialty dining packages can be purchased for the number of meals that you desire, or you can pay either a cover charge at some specialty restaurants (e.g. $14.95 at Margaritaville) or a la carte pricing.
However, even if you have a specialty dining package, that doesn’t mean your meal will be free. For example, Ocean Blue charges an additional $10 per person over and above the dining package. And, a mandatory 20% gratuity is additional, even though you pay the standard ship service charge separately that covers service in the main dining room.
Unlimited Beverage Package
The unlimited beverage package also included a few catches. It only includes drinks under $15. Order something above that and you pay the difference. It works out well for mixed-drink and beer drinkers, but wine and Scotch drinkers often encounter a surcharge.
And the package only includes wines by the glass. If you want a $40 bottle of wine (which includes four glasses at $10 each), but it isn’t offered by the glass, then your only option is to purchase a bottle at a 20% discount.
The Unlimited Beverage package also doesn’t include gratuities on drinks. So every drink you get racks up a 20% gratuity that is over and above the mandatory service charge you pay for the cruise staff. Also, when you are in Seattle, you still need to pay state tax on the drinks included in your beverage package. And, there is also a wine station in the Garden Cafe buffet that is not included in the drink package.
If you like a morning cappuccino or after-dinner espresso, you will need to pay extra, even in the complimentary dining rooms. Only regular coffee is included (even with the drink package). The on-board Starbucks is also a la carte.
You can get dessert at the buffet or main dining rooms, but if the macarons, gelato, cupcakes, or chocolates at Dolce Gelato or Coco’s catch your sweet tooth, they are only available a la carte. And they aren’t cheap!
The Norwegian Bliss offers multiple alcohol tasting experiences. These include wine tastings, American whiskey tastings, and Alaskan beer tastings. These are all for an additional fee (cost varies), even if you have a drink package (but you will get a discount.)
Spa Thermal Suite Access
In most resorts, when you book a spa treatment, it includes a day pass to use the other spa facilities. Not so with the Norwegian Bliss. A treatment does not include access to the thermal suite, which includes a salt room, snow cave, dry sauna, whirlpool, and heated tiled loungers.
You need to purchase a week-long pass for $269 per person ($249 if you purchase online in advance.) Day passes are not available.
They advertise that the NCL app for the Norwegian Bliss includes on-board messaging and calling. This is true, if you purchase a messaging package for $9.95 per person for unlimited on-board messaging.
Otherwise, you can purchase the on-board wifi (even pricier) or do things the old-fashioned way, leave each other notes in the cabin. (See my Alaska cruise packing list for ideas on how to do this!)
Most of the entertainment is free but if you want to see “Happy Hour Prohibition- the Musical” it is $35.98 per person.
Adults-only Sun Deck
Vibe is an adults-only area on the pool deck, which is access only by purchasing one of a limited number of passes.
Maybe there are other additional expenses on the Norwegian Bliss but in our one week on the ship, these were the ones that really jumped out at me. It became a running joke on the number of things that were additional. The feeling of being nickel-and-dimed put a bit of a damper on the trip as we felt the need to watch the budget and avoid extra add ons like espresso after dinner or a nicer glass of wine, which we had expected to be included.
To hear my full review of the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship, be sure to tune in to our Vacation Mavens podcast on the Bliss:
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