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Many cruise advertisements feature images of plentiful cocktails, tables heaped with food and all variety of entertainment and excursions. But does that mean that all cruises are all-inclusive? While food, some drinks, entertainment and lodging are part of the package — there are often more costs once you’re on board.
Some cruise lines specifically advertise themselves as all-inclusive, and you’ll likely encounter fewer add-on opportunities on these ships. On other cruises, however, expect to pay for anything above and beyond the basics.
So are cruise ships all-inclusive? Here’s a breakdown of what most cruises actually include in their base price and what you’ll likely need to pay for once on board.
What is included in a cruise?
As you look at the hospitality offerings provided by various cruise lines, you’ll likely notice they promise a lot — and in most cases, they deliver. However, it’s important to understand exactly what they’re offering to keep your expectations — and budget — in check.
Cruises include onboard accommodations in your chosen stateroom category, and the price will vary based on the type of cabin you choose. Options can range from an inside cabin without windows to a balcony cabin with ocean view to a large, multi-room suite. Each has its own price point with varying levels of benefits.
Food and beverages
Cruises promise tasty food and lots of it — this can come in the form of large dining rooms, buffets and snack stations by the pool. As part of the cruise price, there is always complimentary food of many types and flavors. Drinks included are tap water, some juices and iced tea on most lines; everything else typically costs extra. Coffee and tea are complimentary, but you’ll need to pay for specialty coffee beverages.
Live music, crew performances, Broadway-style shows and musical revues are generally free on cruises. Some cruises may charge extra for certain shows, but in most cases, entertainment is included in your ticket.
» Learn more: The best cruise lines
Many cruise lines have children’s clubs with supervised activities, and the use of these is often included in the overall cruise fare. In-room babysitting, however, will cost you extra.
Fitness centers, swimming pools, jogging tracks and sports facilities like a basketball court or putting green are usually free for all passengers to use. Sometimes cruise lines offer workout classes or health and wellness consultations for free, too.
Some cruise lines — but not all — include complimentary room service as a perk. Companies that offer free room service include Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Silversea, among others.
» Learn more: The guide to cruise insurance
What is not included in a cruise?
The fact is that cruise lines make money charging passengers for additional services onboard. Some may be worth paying extra for, depending on what kind of experience you want. Here are some of the items you’ll typically have to pay extra for during your cruise.
While all cruises provide complimentary food, many also offer passengers the opportunity to dine at specialty restaurants. These can include steakhouses, Italian, Mexican and Mediterranean venues, hibachi grills and specialty ice cream shops. The cost of your food in these restaurants may not be included in your ticket — often you’ll have to pay extra.
Alcoholic drinks and sometimes even soft drinks are a big source of revenue for cruise lines. Many provide the option to purchase a beverage package, which is a chance to bundle together drinks at one set price. This makes sense if you plan on having many per day rather than paying one by one. Specialty coffee, tea or other drinks from onboard venues are also usually not part of the fare.
Casino and entertainment
While this is not much of a surprise, playing in the casino will cost you extra. Additionally, on ships with attractions like surf experiences or race tracks, some carry an extra cost while others are free. Arcades and simulator games also typically have an extra cost.
If you want to venture off-ship in an organized excursion, it will usually cost extra. Of course, you can always go it alone and explore without paying more, but you run the risk of missing the ship if you return late. (If you are on a ship’s shore excursion, the ship will wait for you before leaving.)
Some cruise lines do offer free excursions. These often include river cruise lines as well as Viking’s ocean cruises.
Most cruise lines do not include tips in the base fare — these are typically paid separately and go to servers, stateroom attendants and other onboard staff. Suggested tip amounts are usually provided by the cruise line. Some cruise lines, alternatively, incorporate gratuities in the price. These include Azamara, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea and Virgin Voyages.
Passengers will have to pay extra if they need medical care while on the ship, although if they pay for travel or cruise insurance, any cost incurred may be reimbursable through that policy.
» Learn more: Is cruise travel insurance worth the cost?
While some cruise lines like Azamara do provide free access to laundry facilities as part of the fare, most do not include this in the rate. Self-service laundry may require a fee for detergent or to use the machine, and sending laundry away for professional cleaning also carries a charge.
Relaxing in the spa with a massage or beauty treatment will cost you. Each cruise line has its own menu of services, and even the most all-inclusive cruise lines will typically require an additional payment.
Staying connected with friends, loved ones or the office is a requirement for most people when traveling, and cruise lines know it. However, most provide it for an additional cost. A handful of cruise lines, like Silversea, Seabourn and Viking, do include complimentary Wi-Fi.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
What can cruise elite status get you?
Much like airlines and hotel companies, cruise lines have elite status programs where repeat customers are rewarded for their loyalty. Among the benefits that elite status can bring are cabin upgrades, free laundry, free or discounted Wi-Fi, complimentary drinks, concierge lounge access and priority boarding or disembarkation.
» Learn more: How to earn and redeem points on cruises
All-inclusive cruises aren’t the whole story
The variations between cruise lines are vast — some do offer robust packages while others unbundle costs for you to pay as you go. If you want a true all-inclusive cruise, luxury lines like Seabourn and Silversea are the way to go. But, even all-inclusive lines like these still charge extra for things like spa treatments and specialty excursions.
Some of the most important inclusions to consider are Wi-Fi, alcoholic drinks, room service and destination excursions. All of these are commonly included on the best all-inclusive lines, including many river cruises. Mainstream cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Carnival, tend to include less upfront and instead charge you as you go.
If you have elite status with a cruise line or hold one of its co-branded credit cards, you may be able to avoid having to fork over additional fees. Otherwise, you can choose one of the cruise lines that are truly all-inclusive to avoid any extra surprises on the high seas.
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