Are Cruises All-Inclusive?
Updated on: September 2022
Endless buffets. Star-studded entertainment. Luxurious spa treatments. There’s no shortage of ways to treat yourself when you’re on a cruise. There’s just one important thing to know before you sign up for that well-deserved massage: it may cost extra. Even on an all-inclusive cruise, some things may incur extra fees.
Think of buying a cruise like you would a new car. There’s the base price, but if you want extras like, say, a great stereo system, you’ll have to pay more. While the base fare for your cruise will be all-inclusive of the cost of your cabin, most meals and entertainment (which is usually top notch, by the way) add-ons like gratuity, excursions, and spa treatments usually are added on top of the all-inclusive price.
Find What You Need
What Is Included in All-Inclusive Cruise Pricing?
First, it’s important to pay attention to the details any cruise offering and remember that what we think of as “free” on land can incur hefty charges when you’re on the open water. Of course, what’s “all-inclusive” and what isn’t will vary from cruise line to cruise line. It may even vary by the type of cabin you choose.
In general, you can count on the following to be included in your base price for cruises on most U.S. cruise lines.
What’s Included in All-Inclusive Cruise Pricing:
- Most Food
- Some Drinks
- Live Entertainment
- Gym & Fitness Classes
You can be sure the cost of your cabin will be included in the base price of your cruise. Inside cabins are usually the least expensive, as they’re often the smallest and don’t include a view of the ocean, while suites cost more but come with space to spread out (remember, cabins can be tiny!).
Many cruise lines offer all-inclusive packages that include the cost of all your meals but as a general rule, some – but not all food – is included in the all-inclusive fare. The epic buffets, meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in the main dining room and some snacks at the poolside bar or lounge are usually covered.
Most all-inclusive cruises include coffee and tea at mealtimes and water, usually served in a pitcher. You’ll have to pay extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, however.
It’s worth noting that some cruise lines include a selection of juices, complimentary, during breakfast, but it’s best not to assume this is the case. If you start your day with a glass of OJ, check before you go.
Cruise ship entertainment isn’t just stellar, it’s usually included in the cost of your cruise. Most ships are large enough to house at least a couple of large theaters that feature a myriad of live entertainment – from aerial and dance shows to standup comedy to full musicals. During the day, you can take in a poolside concert or enjoy a spirited game of trivia at the bar.
Gyms and most fitness classes.
If you end up craving a little exercise after a few days of buffet dining, you’ve come to the right place. There’s no shortage of free fitness options on most cruises, from daily Zumba classes to a relaxing yoga session.
You’ll also find at least one gym and a running track on most ships. These are also usually covered in the cost of your cruise.
What Doesn’t the Cost of My Cruise Include?
If the cost of a cruise you’re interested in taking seems too good to be true, you probably just haven’t read the fine print yet. Dive a little deeper and you’ll see there’s much more (or less) that meets the eye. From gratuity to day trips, you’ll incur additional charges on the cruise, and these can add up.
What’s Not Included in the All-Inclusive Cruise:
- Day Trips
- Certain Restaurants
- Many Beverages
Plan on paying a service gratuity charge, per person, per day during your cruise. Service gratuity on most U.S. cruise lines starts at about $14 per day. This fee covers services by crew members including room attendants and the culinary team and is usually divided amongst them at the end of the trip.
Note that this gratuity is separate from another gratuity charge for mini bar items, spa services and other extras.
If you want to check in with friends and family via email or social media, it will cost you. Rates vary by cruise line, but in general, you can expect to pay around $20 a day for enough bandwidth to check websites and share all your amazing cruise pics on Facebook.
As for cellphone coverage, most cruise lines offer an app that lets you keep track of your cruise schedule (like dock times, for example). You should also be able to make phone calls and send texts, but check with your phone carrier for rates, as roaming charges can add up.
Cruise lines usually arrange several types of excursions that cater to various interests, from horseback riding to a day at a secluded beach (Royal Caribbean, for example offers “flightseeing” tours that let you view waterfalls and mountains from the sky). While these day trips on the days you’re docked can offer incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they’re rarely included in the base price of your cruise.
To save money, you could book adventures with third party companies either before you depart for your cruise or when you dock, but use caution, as some aren’t insured, and many are owned and operated by locals who may have knowledge of the area but little experience operating a travel venture.
Not only could you risk missing the boat (literally) if you’re late returning to the port, but you may not receive a refund or much help if you do.
In addition to the main dining room and cafes where food is included in the cruise, many cruise ships also feature popular restaurants, like Johnny Rockets, for example or exclusive high-end dining experiences. Expect to pay extra to dine at these establishments, whether it’s a cover charge to get into the restaurant or a hefty price for the meal itself.
Although coffee, tea and water are usually complimentary during meal service, plan on paying extra for these and other beverages at other times of the day unless you’ve purchased a package or otherwise upgraded. There’s nearly always a charge for any and all alcoholic beverages, as well as for carbonated drinks, including sparkling water and sodas, fruit juices and bottled water.
A glass of wine usually costs around $10 a glass on a cruise, while a mixed drink will cost you about $15. Can’t do without your daily red? Many cruise lines allow each adult passenger to bring one bottle (no larger than 750 ml) on board with them to consume.
We recommend checking out your cruise line’s various drink packages that can range from deluxe to cover all drinks to a package that delivers bottled water to your cabin every morning.
Is It Worth It to Pre-Pay for Add-Ons Before a Cruise?
Cruise lines make it easy to pay for everything under the sun ahead of time. Not only can you contact the cruise line to prepay your daily gratuity charge, but you can also choose from a variety of packages depending on your interests and how you plan to spend your time on and off board.
While packages might cost you more overall, they can be beneficial for a number of reasons. First, paying ahead may save you money as some cruise lines will charge you less for some add-ons if you purchase a package or otherwise pay up front.
Many cruise goers prefer to pay ahead so they can avoid carrying a large amount of cash or extra credits card with them. Prepaying before a cruise is also a great way to monitor your daily spending because you’ll have a clear idea of how much the trip will cost, even before you set sail.
And, perhaps most importantly, prepaying might just offer you peace of mind. The last thing you want to worry about while gazing out at the beautiful ocean is how much that snorkeling trip or special dinner is going to cost you. If you prepay, you’ll already know.
How To Cruise on a Budget
Is it possible to take a cruise if you’re trying to save money? Absolutely! Below are five simple ways to cruise for less.
Look for promotions.
Cruise lines are always running promotions that can save you money, especially if you’re flexible with your travel dates.
Cruise from the closet port.
Skip the airfare and cruise from your nearest port instead. Even if you have to drive, you can still save money, especially if you park your car in a safe, monitored lot with reasonable long-term parking rates.
Choose an inside cabin.
As a general rule, you’ll pay a lot less for an inside cabin than one with an ocean view. While interior cabins are often smaller than suites located around the perimeter of the ship, ask yourself: how much time will be spending in your cabin anyway? Chances are, not much.
Skip the excursions.
Instead, do a little research before your trip and find places that are off the beaten track. Download directions before you port and take in the sights on your own.
Pick a shorter cruise.
Between daily gratuity service and other charges, cruising can add up. Why not pick a cruise that’s no longer than a week in duration to save money? Even a few days at sea can be very relaxing.
Remember: If the fare for the all-inclusive cruise you’d love to take seems too good to be true, look closer at the details. Knowing what’s really included (and what’s not) before you book will help give you peace of mind, so you won’t ruin your cruise bliss when you’re back home on terra firma.
Even if you forego packages and add-ons, you can still have a wonderful time on your cruise. After all, seeing the ocean lit by a thousand stars at night is truly a sight to behold. And it’s completely free.