Mainstream cruise lines like to tout their vacations as “all-inclusive,” but with so many added fees for optional items — massages, fruity cocktails, souvenir photos — it’s tough to determine just what’s included in your fare.
Even more confusing are items that are sometimes “free” (covered by your cabin rate) and sometimes for a fee, depending on where you find them or the specific activity.
If you’ve been scratching your head, wondering whether ice cream, fruit juice and a good shvitz will cost you extra, check out our chart, which outlines some of the nuances of cruise fare inclusions.
|“Free”||Fee||Worth the Splurge?|
|Food||In the main dining room, buffet and select specialty venues (such as Princess’ International Cafe; Carnival’s Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ and Guy’s Burger Joint; Royal Caribbean’s Boardwalk Dog House; NCL’s O’Sheehan’s and Blue Lagoon)||Alternative restaurants such as Carnival’s steakhouses; HAL’s Pinnacle Grill; Princess’ Crown Grill and Sabatini’s; Disney’s Remy charge up to $95 per person. Also, Royal Caribbean offers for-fee items on its main dining room menus ($15 filet or $37.50 surf ‘n’ turf).||Perhaps — with a variety of dining fees from reasonable to outrageous, as well as different cuisines and mealtime ambiences on offer, only you can make this call. You can certainly eat quite well without paying extra, though main dining room and buffet quality can vary.|
|Pizza||In buffets as well as pizza restaurants or stations on Royal Caribbean Carnival, Princess and Holland America||Room-service delivery on Norwegian and Princess, as well as in Norwegian’s Italian restaurants||Yes — With all of Norwegian’s for-fee dining venues, a large, tasty pizza for 5 bucks is a pretty good deal.|
|Ice Cream||At the buffet, main dining room or pool-deck soft-serve machines||At specialty ice cream venues such as Celebrity’s Cafe Al Bacio Gelateria, Royal Caribbean’s Ben & Jerry’s and Princess’ International Cafe||No — unless you’re a true ice cream connoisseur, the fee-free treats are just as yummy and refreshing on a hot day.|
|Room Service||During the day on most ships, 24 hours on some. (One caveat: providing a small tip is the norm.)||Celebrity charges $3.95 per room service order delivered between midnight and 5 a.m. Carnival and Holland America charge a la carte for select room service items. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean charge $7.95 per order (excluding Continental breakfast).||No — if you really need a snack in the middle of the night, you can always drag yourself to a fee-free 24-hour dining venue.|
|Alcohol & Soda||Sparkling wine at embark (Celebrity) and art auctions, certain special events like Disney’s Captain’s Cocktail Party on certain sailings. Soda is included in the price on Disney sailings.||All alcoholic beverages and soft drinks ordered in dining venues, bars and through room service||Yes — if you enjoy a drink, it’s silly to go on vacation and not drink at all. However, you can get the best value with daily drink specials or happy hour deals or all-you-can-drink beverage packages.|
|Water||Tap water||Bottled or sparkling water||No — The tap water onboard is high quality compared with what you’ll find in a bottle. At the very least, buy bottled water in port where it will be much cheaper.|
|Coffee & Tea||Regular coffee and tea, ice tea||Specialty coffees and teas at bars, cafes and dining venues||Yes — If you’re used to hitting Starbucks every morning, you might as well continue the trend onboard … especially as many report buffet coffee to be dire. On the other hand, you could bring onboard a French press and your favorite coffee or tea and save money.
Get buzzed with our 12 favorite spots for coffee at sea.
|Juice||Select juices available in the buffet or in the main dining room at breakfast||Smoothies and specialty blended fruit drinks, fresh squeezed OJ, juice ordered at onboard bars||No — Why pay for juice when it’s not spiked with alcohol? (Though we admit the freshly squeezed OJ is way better than the watery stuff included in the fare.)|
|BYOB||Most lines let you bring wine, soda and bottled water onboard — see our comprehensive run-down of cruise line alcohol policies for specific rules — to consume in your cabin.||Bring your own booze to the dining room and you’ll be charged a $10 to $30 corkage fee.||No — Unless you’re a true wine aficionado, you will get better value drinking your own wine in the cabin and ordering the ship’s beverages at dinner.|
|Shows||Main theater performances (including Royal Caribbean’s ice skating and aqua-acrobatics shows; and NCL’s Blue Man Group, Legends and Second City shows) and audience-participation shows (such as the marriage game)||Norwegian’s Deal or No Deal costs $19.95 per person to participate||No — most of the best entertainment stuff is actually fee-free. Catch our editors’ picks for the 6 best cruise lines for onboard entertainmentand the Cruisers’ Choice Awards winners for best at-sea entertainment|
|Activities||Trivia, pool games, dance classes||Bingo, casino play||No — the likelihood of you hitting the jackpot or winning the free cruise is pretty small. Better to save your cash for a sure win.|
|Games||Sports deck activities such as basketball, rock climbing, mini golf, ropes courses, shuffleboard||Arcade games, golf simulator use||No — though we make an exception if 20 bucks will buy your family an hour of happiness and peace in the arcade.|
|Enrichment||Sessions on shopping tips, computer use and photography; cooking demos; port lectures||Hands-on cooking classes, wine and liquor tastings, select computer classes on Celebrity||Yes — If you see a class that appeals, it’s worth the small fee to learn a new skill or do something you love rather than just veg out on a sea day. Here are our picks for best cruise for enrichment.|
|Spa||Steam and sauna rooms within locker rooms||All spa and salon treatments (including medispa services, acupuncture, teeth whitening), thermal suite passes||Perhaps — Onboard spa treatments are often more expensive than the massages and manicures you’d get at home. But for your money, you will definitely be pampered — if that’s something you want — especially at these top cruise ship spas.|
|Fitness||Use of the fitness center (cardio machines, weights) and some fitness classes like abs workouts and stretch classes, as well as the jogging track and sports court (see Games)||Fitness classes (yoga, Pilates, spinning, TRX, Zumba, etc.) and personal training and body assessments||Yes, with a caveat — onboard fitness classes can be cheaper than their land-based equivalents and a good way to burn off those extra cruise calories. However, teachers can be hit or miss, so value can vary greatly.|
|Sun Decks||Main pool use (including loungers and hot tubs), waterslides and splash play areas; FlowRider onboard surfing (Royal Caribbean); many adult-only pool or sun deck areas (like Celebrity’s Solarium, Carnival’s Serenity)||Some lines charge for special adults-only sun areas and cabanas (Princess’ Sanctuary, HAL’s Cabana Club, Celebrity’s Lawn Club Alcoves)||No — you can usually find out-of-the-way sun deck space for free or make use of the balcony you already paid for.|
|Childcare||Group activities for 3 to 17 year olds during the day||In-cabin babysitting, group late-night babysitting after 10 p.m., nursery time for babies on Disney and Royal Caribbean||Yes — Parents, treat yourself to a night or two of evening entertainment instead of whispering to each other in your cabin while the kids snooze.|