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7 Surprising Things That Aren’t Included in Your Cruise Fare

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 from one to another.

That is what we will explore in this post.

Dis-embarkation day t shirt  Emerald Azzurra

Are Cruises All Inclusive?

Cruises are not usually “All-inclusive.”

Meals, limited drinks and accommodation are all included in the base cruise fare.

There are a number of other things that may cost extra. For example:

  • Drinks -soft drinks, alcohol, coffee etc.
  • Gratuities/ Daily Service Charges – Some cruise lines include this but many, particularly the big American cruise lines will charge you extra.
  • Excursions -Some luxury lines include excursions, but most don’t.
  • WiFi – Luxury lines and Virgin Voyages include Wi-Fi as standard. Most don’t.
  • Speciality Meals in Speciality Restaurants. There is no need to eat in these restaurants, but if you do, you will be charged extra.

A premium cruise line is more likely to market itself as ‘All-inclusive’ but even luxury cruise lines aren’t always truly all-inclusive.

Find out about the luxury cruise I took on Emerald Azzurra in the video below. It included Wi-Fi and some excursions within the price, but you need to pay extra for drinks.

(From April 2024, Emerald will include a drinks package in the price for all Yacht sailings)

Some cruise lines will have ‘All-inclusive’ upgrade promotions or will market themselves as All-inclusive – despite having exclusions.

River cruises traditionally have more included 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 small inside cabins to large suites – and the price varies accordingly.

You’ll usually find me in an inside cabin, but I occasionally upgrade to a balcony if i think the destination warrants it – Norwegian Fjords for example.

Find out why I love sailing to the Norwegian Fjords, and why it makes a perfect firsts cruise here:

7 Reasons Why Your First Cruise Should be to Norway

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 pastimes.

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 like Costa, you may be charged for water.

Having said that, the last Costa cruise that I took was so cheap, that I am surprised it included food, let alone drinks!

I had a great time and bought myself a soft drinks package once onboard. I drank Pepsi or Coke with my meals.

Find out all about that memorable cruise here:


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.

Norwegian Prima Theatre
Norwegian Prima Theatre

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

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.

Sapphire Princess Gym Princess Cruises Ship Shape Program

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.

One cruise where I did book some cruise line excursions was when I sailed from Singapore to Tokyo on Spectrum of the Seas. I saw some amazing sites that I would have missed otherwise.

Tsujunkyo Bridge, Kumamoto, Japan

Speciality Dining

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!

The food in Celebrity Edge’s Speciality Restaurants was lovely. However a seven-course tasting menu in “Eden” was over $100 per person. (Needless to say, I didn’t try that!)

Celebrity is considered by many to be a cruise line for “Foodies.” Find out exactly what i ate onboard here:

Everything I Ate on my Celebrity Cruise (Photos and Menus) – Food Review

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.

You may be able to buy a “Speciality Dining Package.” This means you can eat in a certain amount of speciality restaurants during your cruise for a discounted price.

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 Status Match – What Is it And is it Worth Doing? A Step-by-Step Guide

As a result of 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

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, which means that you pay an 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 an 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

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.

Some cruise lines, like Cunard, do provide free room service.

Check once onboard check to see if there is a charge on the cruise line you are sailing with. If not, order it, would be my advice!

royal caribbean breakfast room service fruit doughnuts

Spa Treatments

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 can 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).


Many first-time cruisers wrongly assume that WiFi is free on cruise ships.

Usually, this is not the case! Some luxury lines will give you free Wi-Fi, as will Virgin Voyages.

  • Cruise Ship WiFi is not always reliable.
    • It really depends on when you are sailing. If you are in a Norwegian Fjord with mountains on both sides, the WiFi is unlikely to be reliable!
  • You can normally buy different Wi-Fi packages onboard.
    • I normally buy the “Social Package” which allows me to post on social media and check my emails.
    • There is a middle-priced Wi-Fi package that allows you to stream online content.
    • There is normally a Premium Wifi package with higher internet speeds – but you can NEVER rely on the internet to be as good as on land.
  • If you do buy an internet package, it is often a cost per device, not per cabin. You will have to pay double if both people in the cabin want to use their phone.
  • You can buy a WiFi package at any point in your cruise.
    • You can also upgrade your package at any point in the cruise.
  • You can sometimes “Pay As You Go” for internet onboard. If you aren’t going to be online much, it can be cheaper than buying a package.

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.

It is worth noting that you don’t need to buy the cruise ship’s Wi-Fi to use the ship’s App.

Find out more about that here:

You Don’t Need to Pay For Wi-Fi To Use a Cruise Line App – Here’s Why

Medical Treatment

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.

Find out more about that here:

How Much Does Medical Care Cost on a Cruise? Real Examples (X-Rays, Consultations & More)

It is essential to have travel insurance before any cruise. Find out why, and how to get a suitable policy here:

Cruise Travel Insurance – Why You Need it and How to Get It: (Step by Step Illustrated Guide)

Which Cruise Lines Advertise Themselves As ‘All-Inclusive’?

Marella Cruises

Marella is an ‘all-inclusive’ cruise line.

I have taken many cruises with them, including some “themed” cruises. Find out all about my last Marella cruise, just after the pandemic here:

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.
  • Tips/Gratuities
Marella Cruises All Inclusive Drinks Table outside theatre prosecco cocktails beers

Norwegian Cruise Line – Sometimes!

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.

A common promotion is to pay £99 and choose two perks.

Virgin Voyages

There is a lot included in the cruise fare with Virgin Voyages. Virgin Voyages is part of the Virgin Group and launched its 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:

  • WiFi
  • Gratuities/Tips
  • Fitness classes
  • Some drinks

It is worth noting that Virgin Voyages are unique in that they don’t sell drink packages like most of the other cruise lines.

They often give you onboard credit that you can use at the bars onboard, but drinks are charged individually as if you were in a pub or bar on land.

Are River Cruises All Inclusive?

River cruises are generally speaking a lot more inclusive than ocean cruises. You will often find that the following things are included in the fare of a river cruise:

  • WiFi
  • Excursions
  • All food
  • Beer/Wine/Soft drinks with meals
  • Gratuities

Find out all about the budget river cruise I took with Tui here. It was great value for money!:

Before You Go

Find out how to use your phone when cruising without racking up a massive phone bill here:

Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Phone on a Cruise – (Beginners Guide)

Find out how to avoid unnecessary expenses when you cruise here:

Cutting Onboard Expenses, BEFORE You Cruise. Avoid Unnecessary Costs (Drinks, Speciality Meals, Excursions and More) Once Onboard.

Free Insiders Cruise Line Guide

Ever wondered how the mainstream cruise lines compare? Cruise lines won’t tell you this, but I will.

This FREE guide shows you everything you need to know to find your perfect cruise line.

You Can Drink Tap Water on a Cruise – (Here’s Where and How) – Emma Cruises

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

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