Cruise Ships Are Cashless Societies – Here’s Why


If you’re considering taking a cruise you may be wondering how you pay for onboard expenses and why cash isn’t accepted on cruise ships. I’ve been on a number of cruises and all of them have been cashless. In this article we will explore why this is and look at how making purchases on a cruise works today.

Why Are Cruise Ships Cashless Societies?

Cruise ships do not accept cash onboard because all onboard purchases are charged to passengers personal cruise accounts. Cruise accounts are usually connected to a credit or debit card which is much easier for the cruise lines to process. Not carrying cash is also much easier for passengers and encourages increased spending onboard. 

Despite being cashless societies it is still sometimes possible to pay for your cruise expenses in cash by charging purchases to your cruise account and then paying the balance in cash.

cash card payment

How do You Make Purchases on a Cruise?

When you check in for a cruise you’ll usually be asked to assign a credit card or debit card to your cruise account. The cruise lines prefer if you use a credit card and it is usually easier if you do but debit cards are accepted. If you put down a debit card an amount will usually be ‘held’ by the cruise line whereas this doesn’t happen in the same way with a credit card.

You are able to assign multiple peoples cruise accounts to the same card if you’d like to or each person can have a separate card attached. On almost all cruise lines your card will be assigned to your cruise card for you, on MSC cruises there are machines onboard where you attach your card to your cruise card.

To learn what cruise cards do (besides charging items to them) and why it’s important you don’t lose yours, check out the post below:

Cruise Keycards – Guide

Assigning Your Account to Your Cruise Card

Once you have assigned a card to your account you will be given a cruise card. The cruise card is the only thing that you really need when on a cruise, you use it to open your cabin door and all expenses onboard are loaded onto the card. When you purchase things onboard such as drinks or gifts in the gift shop these will be loaded onto your cruise account via your card.

Many people use lanyards to carry their cruise cards but I prefer a card holder stuck to the back of my phone. There are lots of options such as belt attachments or in a purse.

When ordering or making a purchase you simply hand over your cruise card instead of handing over cash or a credit card. It’s very easy which is the main reason why cruise lines do it.

Monitoring Onboard Spend

It’s INCREDIBLY important that you keep an eye on your onboard spend. It’s very easy to spend more than you mean to when you’re not using cash because it almost doesn’t feel like real money.

Cruise lines do make mistakes on occasion and catching these early makes sorting the problem much easier. On a recent Celebrity cruise which I took my soda package wasn’t assigned to my cruise card and it was charging me for soda even though I had already paid for a package. Luckily I noticed this pretty quickly as the poor lady at reception had to delete the drinks one by one! That would have taken ages if I’d left it until the end of the cruise.

Checking Your Onboard Account

There are a couple of ways that you can check on your onboard account. On most cruise lines you’ll be able to check your account on your stateroom TV or on an app on your phone, on older cruise lines you may have to go to reception to request a print out. This is very common so don’t worry about doing this if you want to check something. The cruise line would much prefer that you check it now rather than wait until the end of the cruise.

On the last night of your cruise the bill will usually be pushed under your cabin door. This is just a formality and the money will automatically be taken from your credit or debit card. It is important to check this carefully though as it’s much hard to sort out problems once you have left the ship.

Casinos and Cash

Theres always one exception to the rule and in this case it is casinos. On most cruise ships the casinos will take cash and they’ll also pay out your winnings in cash. There is usually an ATM located on the ship for guests to take out money but be aware these usually have very high fees and the exchange rates are usually not very good.

It is also possible to play in the casino using your cruise card, you simply insert your card into a machine and load an amount of money into your casino account. This usually requires a password which is more often than not, your birthday.

Scarlet Lady Casino Machines Games

Can You Load Cash Onto Your Cruise Account?

On some cruise lines you are able to load cash onto your cruise account at the beginning of the cruise. On MSC cruises there are actually machines on some of the ships where you can physically load money into the machine and onto your cruise card. This isn’t a very common way of doing things though so I would suggest against it. Not all cruise lines allow you to load cash onto your account in this way.

Can You Pay Cash For Drinks on a Cruise Ship?

You cannot use cash to pay for drinks on most cruise ships. Drinks are purchased using your cruise card and the balance is added to your onboard account. Cash is occasionally used to tip waiters but isn’t accepted as payment for drinks. 

Can You Pay off Your Cruise Account With Cash?

On the majority of cruise lines you are able to pay off your balance at the end of the cruise with cash. That said, in post Covid 19 cruising cruise lines are moving increasingly towards accepting only cash/cards and electronic payments. In the future cash may not be accepted and you may have to provide a reason why you want to pay in cash if you do.

Paying in cash also means lining up at reception which can take a long time, particularly on the last day of the cruise when other passengers have problems to sort out or bills to pay.

When Will You Need Cash on a Cruise?

On the cruise itself you will not need cash for anything onboard. Many people do bring cash to tip crew members but this isn’t mandatory. On most cruise lines automatic tips or ‘gratuities’ will be added to your onboard account.

To learn more about gratuities, including how they also affect drinks and spa treatments, check out this post so that you don’t have any nasty surprises on your cruise:

Cruise Gratuities: A Simple Step by Step Guide For First Time Cruisers

There are a few other things that you may need cash for such as spending money in ports, taxis, excursions and more. The amount that you’ll need is probably less than you think. To find out how to budget for a cruise, including how much cash you should bring for different expenses, check out this post:

How Much Cash Should I Bring on a Cruise? Budgeting Guide

Why Don’t Cruise Ships Accept Cash?

Cruise ships don’t accept cash because it’s much easier for them not to. A cruise ship would go through a LOT of cash if it acted like a traditional restaurant or bar on land. They’d have to carry, count and exchange this money.

Asides from this you may be traveling on an itinerary where you are passing through countries with different currencies, trying to accept different currencies, or convince everybody to use one currency, would be nearly impossible! That said, a cruise ship will have one currency which it uses onboard and all onboard expenses will be charged in this currency.

Not accepting cash does make it much easier for the passengers too. Only having to carry your cruise card makes the whole process much easier and it’s one of my favourite things about cruising.

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Emma Le Teace

Hey! I'm Emma. A cruise blogger, YouTuber and founder of the 'Cruising Isn't Just For Old People' Facebook community and website. You can learn more here: About Me.

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