Darryl D. McEwen

Nearly every Atlantic City casino seems to be giving out complimentary cruises.

First, these cruises aren’t exactly free and, second, the casinos are just a vehicle for cruise lines to tap into the potentially lucrative market of individuals who are known gamblers, probably with some extra disposable income.

It makes sense. Ships all have casinos, and once passengers board, there are plenty of ways for the cruise lines to get their investment back.

Since I’ve taken four cruises over the past three years, let me share some information which might help you decide whether one of these cruises is right for you.

Yes, the cruise fare is complimentary, but you’re obligated to pay any taxes, mandatory gratuities and other fees. These are per person and will vary depending on where and when your ship departs, which ports you visit, the type of stateroom you book, and the cruise line itself.

Gratuities (sometimes called service charges) average around $15 a day and are shared among all the personnel — stateroom attendants, servers in the dining rooms, etc— who provide service to you. (Bartenders and cocktail servers share in an additional mandatory service charge automatically added to the charge for your beverage.)

During my latest seven-day voyage on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) the service charge was $94.50. Taxes and port fees were $120.58, and there was a mysterious additional $200 administrative fee called “Non Commissionable Fare.”

If the cruise line is advertising any specials, ask if you’re eligible.

For example, NCL was offering a choice of its Unlimited Beverage Package (valued at $553 per person), its Ultimate Dining Package ($84 per person), Internet access ($125 for 250 minutes), or an excursion credit ($200 per stateroom).

I opted for the beverages. Even though my drinks — excluding bottled water, fresh-squeezed juices, energy drinks and specialty coffees – would be free, I was still responsible for the 18 percent service charge ($86.94) on the total value of the package.

Ironically, water and energy drinks were complimentary if you played in the casino.

To determine your actual final cost, here are some other factors to consider. Are you:

•willing to pay extra to upgrade to a larger stateroom, or one with a view or balcony? (If you have several vouchers from one cruise line, some allow you to combine them and upgrade at no additional cost.)

•purchasing insurance in case you get sick or something else forces you to cancel after the deadline?

•taking any shore excursions? These sometimes can double the cost of your trip. Yes, you can save money by booking on your own rather than through the cruise line, but, keep in mind, if your excursion gets delayed and returns to the port after your ship departs, you’re on your own to get to the next port or return home.

Finally, there’s transportation to the port, parking if you arrive using your own vehicle, and, if necessary, hotel accommodations and other expenses the night before your departure. Even though most cruises begin in late afternoon, it’s probably not wise to fly in the same day.

Recreational gambler Darryl D. McEwen, a former professional journalist, is president of his own consulting firm that manages several small national and international trade associations, and provides public relations and fundraising services for a number of charitable organizations. Have a comment on this or a question specifically related to an Atlantic City casino, players club or other promotion? Email Darryl at MrACCasino@gmail.com and he’ll try to respond to you personally. Your question - without your name - may appear in a future column.

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