Are cruises all-inclusive?

Before you even hit that “Book Now” button, a fundamental question should be on your radar: Are cruises all-inclusive?

The short answer: cruises are what most of us would consider all-inclusive. This does not mean that all you see is included. But it means you can have a great holiday without incurring hidden extra charges.

Knowing what’s covered in your cruise fare and what you have to dip into your pocket for during the journey is critical to planning your cruise vacation – and can significantly impact your cruise experience.

Cruises offer a great holiday – exploring many new places during the same vacation without needing to pack and unpack at different hotels or worry about transportation.

Imagine having a single, comfortable cabin as your constant home base and arriving at a new cruise port destination when you wake up each morning.

As you gear up for your maritime adventure, an all-inclusive cruise takes on a growing appeal.

This article looks at all-inclusive cruises, unravelling what’s included and what’s not and the grey areas in between. Whether you’re a seasoned cruiser or new to the nautical scene, we’re here to demystify cruise fares, differentiate between cruise options, and provide expert tips for making the most of your cruise experience.

So, before you step onto the gangway, let’s get down to basics with the question: Are cruises all-inclusive, or are there many hidden extras waiting onboard for you? The answer is not a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Two different ways we have booked the same cruise

Cruise fares encompass various elements, and what’s included can vary significantly between cruise lines and packages. Not only that, what’s included in your cruise fare can vary between promotional campaigns that the cruise line may release throughout the year.

Last year, I booked a Mediterranean cruise for my family. My sister and her family joined us. We all booked the same cruise.

All-inclusive with added extras

I chose an all-inclusive fare in a package that included accommodation in a balcony cabin, food and drinks (coffee, tea, water and juices in the buffet restaurant), and entertainment. We also included pre-paid gratuities and a standard drinks package for alcoholic drinks, sodas, and speciality teas and coffees.

At a special rate, we also booked three specialty restaurants for our 2nd, 4th and 5th evenings onboard and received a better rate for choosing three and booking before we left home.

We even booked our flights with the cruise line as we could not get extra vacation days from work, so we had to fly in the night before embarkation. I trusted the cruise line with booking my flights and one hotel night plus a transfer to the port – all included in the package.

The cruise line basically guaranteed we would get to the ship on time with this package.

All-inclusive with only cabin, food, and entertainment.

On the other hand, my sister chose an all-inclusive fare, but in a “cruise only” category. The “cruise only” price included accommodation in a balcony cabin (the same cabin category as we booked), food, drinks (coffee, tea, water and juices in the buffet restaurant), entertainment and some activities. That’s it.

She booked flights, transportation, and hotel nights separately and opted for a drinks package onboard the ship. They paid the gratuities on disembarkation day.

So, who ended up paying the most for the cruise, I hear you ask? We did. Even without including our onboard credit, which was an extra bonus at the time of booking (which my sister with a “cruise only” booking was not entitled to for this cruise), we still paid more.

She spent much more time planning, researching and booking everything she needed, and I didn’t. This is where she saved money.

Don’t misunderstand me. I usually take control of all my vacations and meticulously plan everything myself. But on this occasion, a busy work schedule has left me with literally no time to do any of this, and if there was any chance of getting away, I needed the cruise line to take care of everything.

Two all-inclusive packages. Both have different inclusions. Both ended up being the same experience – and very different price points. So which type of "all-inclusive" is right for you?

What is included in a cruise?

Understanding what’s included in your cruise fare is crucial to help you stick to your holiday budget. From comfortable cabin accommodations to various dining options, entertainment galore, and even childcare services, knowing what’s covered ensures you can plan and enjoy your vacation without any surprises. Here’s a closer look at what’s included:

Cabin accommodation

Your cruise fare typically covers your cozy cabin or stateroom, which becomes your home away from home during the voyage. Cabins range from budget-friendly interior rooms to luxurious suites with balconies, and they all come with comfortable beds, private bathrooms, and daily housekeeping service. You’ll find everything you need for a good night’s sleep and a comfortable stay.

Food and beverages

One of the highlights of any cruise is the delicious food; yes, it’s included! Most cruises offer multiple dining venues, including main dining rooms, buffet options, and specialty restaurants. In your basic package price meals in the main dining room and at the buffet are included. Specialty restaurants are not, and cost extra.

Soft drinks, coffee, tea, water and juices are all available in the buffet restaurant and are included. Drinks anywhere else on the ship are not.

Entertainment every night

Cruise ships are floating entertainment hubs! You’ll find various activities and shows included in your cruise fare. There’s something for everyone, from Broadway-style productions and comedy acts to live music. Don’t forget about movie nights under the stars and themed parties. Check the daily schedule for a lineup of free entertainment.

Activities for all ages

Get ready for non-stop fun and adventure! Your cruise offers a range of complimentary activities for all ages. There’s always something to do, whether swimming in the pool, hitting the gym, joining dance classes, or playing trivia games – all of which are included in your cruise fare. More exclusive activities such as ziplining, go-kart racing and skydiving will cost you extra.

Child care for the kiddies

Families, rejoice! Many cruises provide supervised kids’ programs and clubs, making it a breeze for parents to enjoy some downtime. These programs are usually included in your fare and offer age-appropriate activities, games, and babysitting services. Your little ones will have a blast while you relax.

Room service in your cabin

Sometimes, you want to dine in your cabin or enjoy a late-night snack without leaving your room. Many cruises offer 24/7 room service with a limited menu at no additional cost if you stay in a higher-category cabin. Check this when you book! Read more about choosing your cruise cabin here.

What is not included in a cruise?

Understanding what’s not included in your cruise fare is just as important as knowing what is. It helps you plan your budget more effectively and avoid unexpected expenses during your cruise vacation. Here’s a breakdown of what you might need to budget for separately.

Beverages packages including alcohol, speciality coffees, and cocktails

Beverage or drinks packages are one area where cruise lines will make money from you. With the exception of tea, coffee, water, and some juice drinks being available in the buffet restaurant, all other drinks will need to be purchased onboard or as a beverage package. Two important points to remember:

  • Beverage packages often cost much more to purchase onboard than booking before you leave home. Often, the least expensive time to purchase a drinks package is when you book your cruise.
  • If a drinks package is not for you, purchase individual drinks onboard. However, remember you will pay a gratuity fee each time, which is around 18%, and can vary from cruise line to cruise line.

Casino, some entertainment, and activities

While many entertainment options are included, some cruises charge extra for certain activities and entertainment, such as premium shows, ziplining, and skydiving simulators. Check the cruise program for additional costs associated with specific entertainment or activities you want to enjoy.

Specialty Restaurants

While most dining options are included in your cruise fare, specialty restaurants often charge an additional fee. These venues offer unique and upscale dining experiences, perfect for a special night out onboard. If you’re looking for something extra special, be prepared to pay a bit more.

Excursions

Exploring ports of call through shore excursions can enhance your cruise experience, but they typically come at an extra cost. These guided tours or activities allow you to discover the destinations you visit, so it’s a good idea to budget for excursions separately if you plan to take them.

Once you have booked your cruise, you can access your booking via the cruise lines’ app or cruise planner. Here, you should be able to see all the excursions the cruise line offers for your itinerary.

Be warned – cruise ship shore excursions can really be pricy. You may want to consider booking your tours and excursions with an independent supplier to save money. We partner with trusted suppliers such as Viator, ToursbyLocals, and Italy Tours EU who all offer fantastic excursions at various prices, whether in a small group or tailored to suit you.

Gratuities

Cruise lines often charge gratuities as part of their service fees, which cover tips for the crew members who ensure your comfort during the voyage. While this cost isn’t optional, it’s essential to know that it’s not included in your initial fare and should be budgeted for.

Laundry care

While your cabin has daily housekeeping service, laundry and dry cleaning services typically incur additional charges. If you need to refresh your wardrobe during your cruise, be aware that laundry care is not included in your fare. So if you like to travel light, check with your cruise line how much your laundry will cost, especially if you are on a long cruise.

Internet onboard

Staying connected at sea often comes with a price. Cruise ships offer internet packages for those who want to access the web, send emails, or stay in touch with loved ones during their cruise. Internet charges are usually not included in your base fare. Check the cost of the various internet packages the cruise line offers, and find out if it is worth it for you.

Spa treatments

Pampering yourself at the onboard spa is a wonderful way to unwind but a separate expense. Massages, facials, and other spa treatments are not part of your cruise fare, so allocate some funds if you plan to indulge.

Medical or emergency care

While cruise ships have medical facilities and staff to handle emergencies, any medical treatment or services you receive onboard must be paid for. Travel insurance is advisable to cover unexpected medical expenses during your trip.

Purchasing extras before your cruise – a savvy move

Planning ahead for your cruise vacation can not only save you time but also money. Many cruise lines offer the option to purchase extras like beverage packages and excursions before you even step onboard.

This can be smart for budget-conscious travelers, as these pre-cruise deals are often more affordable than buying them once onboard. Whether you’re looking to enjoy specialty cocktails with a drinks package or explore exciting shore excursions, consider booking these extras before you leave home to maximize your cruise experience without breaking the bank.

What is onboard credit, and how to get it

Onboard credit is like a spending allowance provided by the cruise line. It’s a fantastic way to enhance your cruise experience without dipping into your pocket.

Watch for cruise line promotions, loyalty programs, or special offers to earn onboard credit. These can include incentives like booking during a promotional period or enrolling in a cruise line’s loyalty program. If you book with a travel agent, see if they offer onboard credit as an incentive to book with them instead of directly with the cruise line.

Once you have onboard credit, you can use it for various onboard expenses, such as specialty dining, spa treatments, or excursions, making your cruise even more enjoyable and cost-effective. So, explore the options for earning onboard credit before you set sail!

Understanding what’s not included in your cruise fare helps you create a realistic budget and avoid any financial surprises while enjoying your vacation. Cruises offer many inclusions, from comfortable accommodations to delicious dining and exciting entertainment. However, although most cruises claim the “All-inclusive” pitch, it’s essential to remember that not everything is included in your cruise fare.

Extras like specialty dining, excursions, and onboard credit can enhance your experience but often come at an additional cost. So, to answer the question, “Are cruises all-inclusive?”— while they provide fantastic value, it’s wise to plan and budget for some extras to make the most of your cruise vacation.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.

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