Cruise Q&A: What is (and isn't) included in the price of my cruise?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Photo: Silversea
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on March 21, 2005. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: cruise, Erica Silverstein.

Cruises are touted as all-inclusive vacations, but it can be hard to decipher exactly which amenities your cruise fare includes. To make matters worse, not all cruise lines include the same things in their prices. To avoid suffering from sticker shock when you see your final cruise bill, you should make sure you know what's included and what's not before you set sail.

Which amenities do most major cruise lines include in their fare?

Your cruise fare will cover most of the basics of your vacation. Accommodations, three meals per day plus snacks, and ocean transportation between ports-of-call are always included. In addition, you won't have to pay extra for onboard programming, such as classes (excluding fitness classes in some cases), lectures, and crew-organized games and parties; use of the pool and gym equipment; Broadway-style shows and other performances; movies (often outdoors or in an onboard movie theater); kids' counselors and special activities; and access to the lounges, casinos, and discos onboard.

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Which amenities are not included?

Items of a personal nature are not included, and often cost more than they would on land. You will have to pay extra for shopping purchases, photos, spa and salon services, and Internet access. Some ships offer premium dining venues, which come with a surcharge or have a la carte prices. Also, airfare and airport transfers are not included in your cruise fare, but can be added when you book your sailing.

A word of caution: Most cruise lines discourage the use of cash onboard, instead allowing guests to charge purchases using their cruise ID card. With this system, it can be quite easy to overspend because you may not have a good sense of how much you've charged until you receive the final bill. If you think you will be taking advantage of many of the non-included amenities, consider making a daily budget so you can control your onboard spending.

Which amenities may be included on some lines and not on others?

There are several amenities that luxury lines will include in their cruise fares and other lines will price as extras. For instance, luxury lines such as Silversea and Seabourn offer all complimentary beverages, including soft drinks, specialty coffee drinks, wine, beer, and liquor. Radisson only includes wine with dinner and an in-room bar stocked at the beginning of each voyage. Most mainstream and premium cruise lines will charge extra for soft drinks and alcohol.

Shore excursions are also a big expense on most lines, but a select few offer at least one complimentary outing on certain ships. For example, Silversea offers a free Silversea Experience shore excursion on select sailings, in addition to free transportation into town from many ports. Seabourn has a similar Exclusively Seabourn complimentary excursion program.

Tipping is also expected on most mainstream and premium cruise lines, but luxury lines often include gratuities in the cruise fare and discourage additional tipping of any kind. Fitness classes, such as yoga or Pilates, may or may not cost extra on certain ships.

How do I budget for my trip?

You should find out which amenities your cruise line includes in its cruise fare and which it does not. Your biggest onboard expense will most likely be shore excursions, but you will get a catalog of the available outings for your sailing so you can book and budget in advance. Once under sail, you can assign yourself a per-day budget based on how much you think you'll drink, shop, gamble, or book spa treatments.

The most important thing to remember is your purchases will quickly add up, so make sure a third pina colada is in your budget before you wave the poolside waiter over. But don't be so frugal that you won't enjoy your vacation, either.

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