First-time cruiser? If so, then one of the biggest questions you might have is figuring out exactly what’s included in the price you pay for a cruise.
Think of a classic cruise, and you might picture paying your fare and then enjoying everything the ship has to offer like an all-inclusive resort. That’s usually not the case.
These days cruising is big business. And while the cruise line’s ultimate goal is to provide you with a great vacation, they also want to maximize the revenue they earn while doing it.
As ships get larger, they become more elaborate with more opportunities to spend on the ship. And while most things aboard are still included in your cruise fare, the trend for cruise lines is definitely toward charging extra where they can.
While the list of items below should give you a good idea of what you can expect aboard most ships, keep in mind that each cruise line and ship can be a little different. So while this should cover most typical sailings, your specific trip might encounter something different.
What’s Included in Your Cruise Fare
For the typical cruise line, you can expect the following items included in your fare. Keep in mind that some lines offer more inclusive offers, which we explain in detail further below.
First things first, your cabin is what you’re primarily paying for on a cruise. The great news is that there are options for every budget. So if you want to save some money and just get on the ship, you can purchase an interior room to sail. Want to go high end? You can dish out the cash for a balcony room or suite and get more space and a nicer cabin.
But once you’ve paid your fare, there are no “resort fees” or other extras for your room like you might see in some hotels.
Is food included in a cruise? These days specialty restaurants that charge (covered below) are becoming more popular on cruises (at least for the cruise lines… maybe not passengers), but for many places to eat, the cost is included in your cruise fare. This includes the buffet (which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and the main dining room.
There are usually another handful of restaurants like Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival that are included. For all of these restaurants, if you want to eat just head up to the counter or the table and get your food. There’s no card to swipe or charge to pay.
You could definitely eat your entire cruise and never spend an extra dime on food, but it will likely mean eating in the same spots each day. Paying extra provides more variety.
Several nights of your cruise will have a show, usually with a couple of showtimes. There will also likely be comedians, movies, and musical performances. Meanwhile, during the day there are tons of activities from movies to belly flop contests to trivia that are put on by the crew. Entertainment will vary by cruise line. High-end lines won’t have belly flop contests, for instance.
No matter the time of day (except for early morning hours), there is some entertainment happening around the ship that you can enjoy. You won’t be nickeled and dimed when it comes to having a good time.
Pools? Hot tubs? Mini-golf? Rock climbing? Waterslides? The ship that you sail will have tons of activities to enjoy around the clock. This can include things you never even thought possible on a ship, including ziplining.
The good news is that most of them are free of charge. You simply get to enjoy them as part of the fare you pay for the cruise. So you don’t have to worry about running out of things to do on the ship… nor do you have to worry about being charged for many of them.
That said, some things to do will see a charge (more on this below).
Want to get in a workout on the ship? Cruise ships gyms are quite impressive. You might be expecting a small tucked-away room like you’d find at a hotel. That’s not the case. Gyms are fully-equipped and usually have a lot of space with amazing views of the water.
The gym is free for guests to use, just like you would expect in any resort. The funny thing is that the gym never seems too crowded on a cruise. Wonder why?
Tenders to Shore
When the cruise ship docks, it’s usually at the end of a long pier. But sometimes the water is too shallow to get close to shore. In those cases the ship anchors offshore, and small boats — called tenders — transport people back and forth from the ship to the land.
The boats run the entire time the ship is visiting the port, offering you the ability to come and go as you please. Tenders are free to use, so you essentially get a free ride.
What’s Not Included in Your Cruise Fare
Onboard spending makes up roughly 30% of what cruise lines earn. That means there is plenty to spend your money on once you are on the ship.
While many restaurants are included in your cruise fare, specialty (or premium) restaurants are an additional charge. These restaurants are typically anywhere that is a standalone spot on the ship where you’ll sit down to dine. So the grab-and-go burger joint will likely be free, or a spot to grab a slice of pizza. But the Asian or Italian restaurant or the steakhouse with waitstaff and sit-down dining will be an extra charge.
Most of the time these charges are affordable — $15-20 per person for an entire meal — and the food is unique and often a step above what you’ll find in the dining room. Charges do seem to be rising, however.
While cruise fares tend to be lower than a comparable land-based vacation, guests are expected to tip generously at the end of the cruise. Suggested tipping amounts come out to about $15-$20 per person, per day, for most passengers. That may not sound like a ton of money, but it adds up over the course of a trip.
These gratuities are charged automatically to your onboard account while sailing, or you can pay them with your cruise fare in advance. But they are an extra charge that you’ll want to know about.
Tea, lemonade, coffee, and water are free on a cruise. Any other drink you want is going to cost you. So if you want a soda, or an orange juice, specialty coffee (e.g. Starbucks on the ship), Gatorade, energy drink, or even bottled water, you’ll have to shell out some money.
As well, alcoholic drinks are also a charge. Beer, wine, and cocktails all cost money on the ship. You can expect to spend $7-9 for a beer and $10-14 for a cocktail. In addition, there is an extra gratuity charged on top of the menu price.
There are some ways to save money. Some cruise lines allow you to bring non-alcoholic drinks on the ship with you. If you plan to drink a lot of adult beverages, then drink packages include all you want to drink for one daily price.
While the gym is free, the spa is going to cost extra. For example, if you want a massage, plan to spend about $120 for an hour-long session. There are also a number of other treatments available from teeth whitening to acupuncture.
All of these treatments will cost extra as the cost of the spa is not included in the price of your cruise.
Many things to do on the cruise ship are included in your fare, but not everything. As cruise lines continue to push the envelope of things to do, the bigger and better activities do see charges.
For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines charge for their go-karts on their ships. Royal Caribbean charges for its RipCord by iFly (simulated skydiving) on some ships, as well as things like escape rooms. Carnival charges for its BOLT! roller coaster.
To be sure there is still plenty to do, but expect a charge for the more exciting activities onboard.
A big part of your cruise is visiting ports of call. But once your reach shore, it’s up to you to figure out what to do… and to pay for it. Shore excursions are not included in the fare that you pay. Prices will vary depending on what you want to do, but expect to spend between $50-$100 per person on most excursions in the Caribbean. Excursions elsewhere can cost more.
One exception is if you visit the cruise line’s private island, such as Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay. There, you will have to pay for extra things to do, but there is no charge for visiting pools or the beach. Food is also included.
Is Internet access or wi-fi included when you take a cruise? Not usually.
If you want to have access to the Internet while you are on your ship, then you’ll need to open up that wallet. Every cruise ship will have service available that allows you to do things like check email, surf the web, hop on Facebook, and streaming is available.
However, service is not normally included with your fare. Expect the cost to run about $15-$25 per day.
Just about any cruise ship you sail will have a casino strategically located in the middle of the ship. And as you would expect, it’s not there for charity. Any gambling you do will need to come out of your pocket. For that you’ll want to bring cash, although there are ATMs available around the ship, and you can also charge money to your onboard account to play.
Some Cruise Lines Going More All-Inclusive
The list of things included — and not included — applies to many cruises, but not all. Your specific sailing may offer some things with your fare that are a charge on other ships or for other passengers.
In fact, there has been a trend toward cruise lines offering more things with the fare, creating a trip that’s more all-inclusive.
Virgin Voyages, for example, offers basic drinks, gratuities, all food, and wi-Ff with all of its fares. Other lines like Princess, Celebrity, and Norwegian offer some fares that include these sorts of perks.
If you select one of these fares, then you will pay more for your cruise. However, the extra cost will be less than if your bought the included items individually. In you prefer, you can also book a cruise without the extras included for a lower cost.
Have a question about if something not mentioned here is included in your cruise fare? Let us know in the comments below.