Am I crazy for taking cash on a cruise ship? Do people even use the green stuff anymore?
Well, here are a few reasons why I still pack a few dollars before my voyage, and why you might want to consider it too for your cruises.
A common question from first-time cruisers is “How much cash should I bring on my cruise?” But for some, taking cash on a cruise isn’t even a thought.
I mean, come on, it’s 2023. No one even carries cash on land so why bring it with you to sea, right?
Strictly speaking, you can go cashless on your cruise and have a wonderful time. But I’ve regretted not having cash on me for a few reasons I listed below.
A cruise ship is a cashless society
One of the wonderful things about going on a cruise is a little thing called an onboard account. All the extra specialty dining venues, spa treatments, and excursions get charged to your account.
And you can put these charges out of your mind until after the cruise is over.
Almost anything you can imagine that costs extra is paid for with that onboard account. Things like drinks, items in the gift shops, and even haircuts are all charged to your room.
No cash needed there.
Even most gratuities are payed with that onboard account.
So, it’s true you don’t need cash to pay for things around the ship. You just whip out your card and move on with your vacation.
Then why bring cash?
A few uses for cash on a cruise
Here is why I still include cash on my packing list before a cruise vacation. The first few are about tipping, but don’t ignore the rest of the list. A lot of this gets overlooked or forgotten by new cruisers.
Tipping the porters
The very beginning of your cruise starts by carrying your luggage to the terminal. Porters will be waiting to help you with your luggage, and I always recommend letting them take your large bags for you, while you keep your carry-on.
Not only will this make it easier for you to navigate the ship before your cabin is ready, but it also keeps elevators from getting too cramped with those behemoth bags.
I usually recommend tipping the porters $2 to $3 per bag but you can tip as much as you would like. Just make sure you do. This is where having some small bills on hand can be useful as well.
Cash is the only currency a porter will take and will be glad for it.
Tipping for room service
While some cruise lines still offer free room service — not many do these days — you still should tip the person bringing you that delicious breakfast.
(Incidentally, breakfast is my favorite thing to have delivered to the cabin because mornings are hard enough. Also, there’s nothing like eating breakfast from the balcony of a cruise ship and watching the sun rise over the ocean.)
So how much should you tip? Again, this is somewhat subjective, but here’s a good rule of thumb I like to follow. If it’s a small order $2 is fine. If it’s a large order somewhere around $4 or $5 should be enough.
Either way, handing over cash to your room service attendant is always appreciated.
Tipping room steward or waitstaff
$15-$20 per person per day is typically what is added to your bill for gratuities on a cruise. This gets divided up among room stewards and dining staff.
While most of the major cruise lines already include gratuities in your final bill, you can always go the extra mile for exceptional service.
Keep in mind this is not required, but if you were really happy with a certain crew member it’s a good idea to let them know with a good old-fashioned cash tip.
This is especially true if you visited the main dining room every night of the cruise and had a fixed dining time.
I often like to leave a cash tip in the cabin as well, along with a note of appreciation.
Related: Biggest tipping mistakes made by cruisers
To avoid fees and fraud in port
Most of the ports to which cruise ships travel are very safe. But any high tourism area can face issues with credit card theft and other petty crimes.
I like to carry and use cash for those smaller items I’m buying when in port. Areas like the Caribbean and Bahamas almost always accept U.S. dollars, so this makes it easy for small transactions as well.
Some credit cards now have perks with no foreign transaction fees. If you don’t have one of these cards it will be better to use cash when off the ship in port as well.
1% – 3% in foreign transaction fees might not sound like a lot, but if you do a lot of shopping in port it can add up fast.
Buying local souvenirs
Along with the last point, cash can come in very handy when shopping at those straw markets or local downtown markets in foreign countries. Not only is it great for bargaining but it also might be the only form of currency the seller will take. Most vendors at these markets will not have credit card machines.
Using local taxis
A lot of taxis will prefer, or only take, cash as well. Some of the bigger taxi services that you can book at the cruise port will accept credit cards, but that can come with a small risk. I have a friend who booked one of these and had some credit card issues afterward.
Either way, it’s nice to be able to both pay and tip your driver in cash if you have it.
Using other forms of public transportation
I enjoy taking various types of public transportation when in port, whether it be bus or light rail. It’s an affordable way to experience a city and meet with locals to really engage in the culture.
In many cases, especially if you are traveling by bus, you will have to pay the driver in cash, so it’s always good to keep some of those small bills handy.
Eating at local restaurants
One of my favorite things about cruising is trying the local food. Sure, the food on the ship is paid for, but I’ve been to some amazing restaurants in port. And one thing I always did was pay in cash.
Some of these local cafes and restaurants didn’t even have credit card processors, so having some cash on hand is a great idea if you want to try some local cuisine.
Related: 10 ways rookies waste money on a cruise
Booking local excursions
Again, once you get off the ship it can be useful to have cash on hand.
There are many wonderful tours and excursions that will not be available on the ship. And if you book a local tour guide or attraction off the ship you will want some cash to pay for it.
What about tours booked through the ship, since you already payed for them with your onboard account?
If you booked a tour of some kind it’s recommended you do tip the tour guide or driver a few dollars. It might be anywhere from $2 to $10 and it’s not mandatory, but it’s a good way of thanking the local workers for their expertise.
Taking a restroom break in Europe
It comes as a surprise to many first-time visitors to Europe that many of the restrooms are not free to use.
Have some local currency to pay for a restroom break just in case. You will only need a few coins or small bills in most cases.
Most restrooms in Europe that charge for use of the facilities will be around €0.50 to €1, but this can be higher in larger cities.
Making donations to the casino
If you want to show the cruise line a little appreciation by gambling in the casino, cash can be a nice thing to have as well. Yes, you can have it charged to your onboard account in most cases, but at least with cash you have a finite amount you are working with.
Related: When are the cheapest weeks to take a cruise?
So where should you get cash if you didn’t bring any?
Most cruise ships do have ATM machines in various places around the ship. Usually there is one right near the guest services desk.
Whether you use the ATM on the cruise ship or the one in port there will be fees associated with it. If you are worried about security you can use the cruise ship ATM instead.
On one occasion in Cozumel, Mexico I used my ATM card and my account was hacked shortly after, so be careful with ATM machines in high tourism areas.
Note: If you use an ATM in a foreign port you will usually get the local currency.
I still find using a local ATM is cheaper than using a currency exchange office if you want local currency, as their fees can be ridiculously high.
How much cash should you bring on a cruise?
This largely depends on you, but let’s look at a basic breakdown of potential cash uses and see what we come up with.
- Porters – $6 for 3 bags
- Room Service – $10 for a few deliveries
- Extra tips for staff – $20, but depends on you
- Souvenirs – $30 – $50
- Taxis – $50
- Restaurants – $40
- Excursions – $100
- Gambling – The sky is the limit
This is very subjective and depends on what you will actually do on your cruise.
On average you should bring anywhere from $150 to $250. But you might just bring $50 and be totally fine as well.
One thing I do recommend is bringing small bills so you don’t have the awkward moment of asking for change for a $20 when tipping the porter $2.