If you’re looking to book a cruise you may be wondering if they are all-inclusive. I’ve been on a number of cruises ranging from premium to budget lines, what is included in the cruise fare varies dramatically and that is what we will explore in this post.
Are Cruises All Inclusive?
Cruises are all-inclusive. Meals, limited drinks and accommodation are all included in the base cruise fare. There are a number of exclusions, alcohol, gratuities, excursions, WiFi and speciality meals usually cost extra.
A premium cruise line is more likely to market itself as ‘all-inclusive’ but even luxury cruise lines are rarely truly all-inclusive.
Some cruise lines will have ‘all-inclusive’ upgrade promotions or will market themselves as all-inclusive despite having exclusions. River cruises are traditionally more inclusive than ocean cruises.
What Is Included in a Cruise?
For most mainstream/budget cruise lines the following will be included:
Absolutely every cruise includes a place for you to stay. A cruise without a cabin wouldn’t be much good at all! Cabins vary from inside cabins to suites and the price varies accordingly. You’ll usually find me in an inside cabin but I occasionally upgrade to a balcony.
Some food (Usually the main dining room and a buffet).
On every cruise, there is included food. You don’t NEED to pay extra for any food.
There are plenty of options where you can pay more and the cruise line will try and sell these ‘speciality’ restaurants to you throughout the cruise. It is perfectly okay to stick with the free options! I don’t usually spend more on food when I cruise.
Free food options available on most cruises:
- The main dining room (dining times will either be fixed or freestyle)
- Buffet (open for all meals)
- Pool grill (most ships have free food available by the pool)
On some premium lines like Viking, all food is included without an upcharge.
Some drinks (Usually in the buffet, water, tea and juices at breakfast).
Whenever the buffet is open you will have access to water and usually tea/coffee for free. On some cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises there is juice available in the buffet all day, generally speaking, the juice is normally only available with breakfast.
If you are cruising on a British line (or cruising out of the UK on another line) you may have a kettle in your cabin which is another option if you fancy a free drink. Having a cup of tea on the balcony is one of my favourite cruising pass times.
It is worth noting that water is not always free in the main dining room. On British/American cruise lines it is and it is completely fine to just stick with the free water. I often do this.
On some Italian cruise lines such as MSC and Costa, you may be charged for tap water. On my last Costa cruise, it was €3 for a bottle of water in the main dining room.
Entertainment is provided on almost all cruise lines. The only cruise line that I can think of that doesn’t have an organised entertainment program is Hurtigruten.
On a typical cruise, you will find live music around the ship as well as things like quizzes and game shows. Almost all cruise ships have big theatres and will have shows each evening ranging from singing to acrobatics. The entertainment on cruise ships can be of really high quality, some cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line will have Broadway-style musicals.
Many cruise lines will have entertainment shows which cost extra to attend, for example, Cirque Du Soleil is offered on some MSC cruises for an extra cost.
Gym access is usually free on cruises. Many cruise ships will have a running track and/or other sports courts that you can use throughout your cruise. Some exercise classes are also free. I loved taking part in the free Zumba classes with Princess Cruises.
What ISN’T Included in a Mainstream/Budget Cruise Fare?
Excursions are the trips that you take in the ports organised by the cruise line. Most cruises do not include any excursions in the price of the cruise. These can be quite expensive so I will often forgo the organised excursions, preferring instead to download a map and create my own walking tour.
Booking excursions through a third party can be much cheaper although there are risks to doing this. If you for some reason miss the port, maybe the weather is bad, you won’t be entitled to a refund.
The cruise ship will not wait for third party excursions if your trip is late back to the ship. The ship will, however, wait for all of the organised cruise line excursions to return before sailing away. To get around this I usually just make sure that I am back at the ship an hour or two before departure time.
To visit a speciality restaurant you will usually pay a set amount per head, for example, $30. In some circumstances, you may pay per item such as Johnny Rockets on Royal Caribbean ships. Cover charges can range from around £15 per person up to £100 and beyond!
Speciality dining packages are often available when booking your cruise. These may be sold as part of the promotion on which you booked the cruise. You are usually able to add on a ‘dining package’ to your cruise, the packages allow you to eat in certain speciality restaurants a number of times. For example, you may buy a package which means you can eat in speciality restaurants 5 times during your cruise.
If you are cruising with MSC make sure you check out their ‘status match’ program. I have another post about the perks I gained from doing the status match here: MSC Black Card Perks. As a result of me matching my Norwegian Cruise Line status to MSC, I now get a free speciality meal on each cruise which is well worth having!
Most Drinks (Alcoholic)
Generally speaking, cruises do not include drinks. When you cruise you can either ‘pay as you go’ and purchase drinks similar to how you would in a bar or restaurant on land. An alternative to this is to buy a drinks package, this means that you pay a certain amount upfront and are then ‘allowed’ to drink certain drinks. Most cruise lines will offer, at a minimum, a soft drinks package and an alcohol package.
Even if you purchase the most expensive drinks package this may not include all drinks onboard. Most packages come with price limitations or a limit on the number of drinks you can have per day.
Room service normally has an extra charge, some cruise lines may offer breakfast room service for free but charge for room service at other times of the day. The cost may be based on the item that you are ordering or you may just have to pay a set ‘delivery’ fee.
I would definitely recommend ordering room service if it is free and you have a balcony cabin. There is something amazing about sitting on the balcony enjoying your dinner.
Room service is free on the following lines:
- Princess Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Holland America
Spa treatments have an extra charge on cruises. Most cruise ships offer massages, facials and all of the normal things you would expect from a spa on land. There is also normally a hairdresser on board where you could have your hair or makeup done. I’ve actually had my teeth whitened on a cruise before!
Spa treatments can be really expensive. I usually avoid paying for them when I cruise (I’d prefer to spend the money on food).
WiFi is not normally included in your cruise fare. It is available to buy usually by the megabyte or by the minute. I personally do buy WiFi packages but that is because I have a website to keep up to date with my adventures, as a well as a YouTube Channel, Twitter Account, Facebook Group, and Instagram Page.
If I didn’t have any of this I probably wouldn’t buy an internet package. It is usually quite easy to find WiFi in ports and if you are from the UK and cruising in Europe you’ll be able to use the data roaming on your phone.
Medical treatment is not included in the price of your cruise. It can get REALLY expensive so make sure you have travel insurance before your cruise. I would never consider cruising without it.
Cruise ships do have fully equipped medical centres onboard with a number of doctors/nurses onboard. Some ships even have x-ray machines onboard and various other things that you’d expect to see in a hospital.
A simple consultation can end up costing you hundreds and this increases dramatically if you need medical attention outside of the regular opening hours of the medical centre. Make sure you have travel insurance before any cruise.
Which Cruise Lines Advertise Themselves As ‘All-Inclusive’?
Marella are an ‘all-inclusive’ cruise line and I was lucky enough to cruise with them last year around the Baltics. You may know Marella as Thomson, the recently rebranded.
I have a full post on what is included in Marella’s ‘all-inclusive’ cruise fare. Make sure you check that out here if you are considering a cruise with Marella. I’d definitely recommend it, I had a brilliant time and for the price everything that is included was amazing.
The Marella cruise fare includes the following:
- Meals in multiple restaurants (there were 5 free options on the Marella Discovery!)
- Drinks, lots and lots of drinks. Including hundreds of alcoholic options. For the full list, click here.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Until recently Norwegian Cruise Line has had a promotion in the UK meaning that all cruises are booked on an all-inclusive basis. This made it a little too expensive for me so I am relieved to see that they’ve removed this in the UK.
At the moment the current promotion is to pay £99 and choose two perks.
There is a lot included in the cruise fare with Virgin Voyages. Virgin Voyages are part of the Virgin group and will be launching their first ship Scarlet Lady in 2020.
Virgin Voyages definitely are a ‘premium’ cruise line and this is reflected in the price. All cruises with Virgin Voyages include:
- ALL RESTAURANTS
- Fitness classes
- Some drinks
I was lucky enough to be invited to Genoa to explore Scarlet Lady when she was in the shipyard. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the cruise line works in practice. At the moment the ships are all planned to be cruising from the US which makes it difficult for me (an already expensive cruise line plus long-distance flights is tricky). I think it’s just what the industry needs though, a cruise line to shake things up a little!
Viking ocean cruises are definitely a premium product. I cruised with Viking ‘into the midnight sun’ last year and it was unlike anything I’ve ever done before, or since! The ship was incredible. The standard Viking Cruises cruise fare includes:
- ALL food
- Room Service
- Beer/Wine/Soft drinks with meals
- An excursion in every port
To learn a little more about cruising with Viking cruises check out the post here: Viking Cruises, What’s Included.
Are River Cruises All Inclusive?
River cruises are generally speaking a lot more inclusive than ocean cruises. You will usually find that the following things are included in the fare of a river cruise:
- All food
- Beer/Wine/Soft drinks with meals
Uniworld are the only river cruise line that offers completely free and unlimited drinks during your river cruise. Most offer drinks during meal times but you have to pay during the evening and at other times of the day. Uniworld also have a butler for all guests! Crazy.