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

It is possible to cut your onboard expenses before you even set foot on the cruise ship!

The last thing you want on disembarkation day is to be left with a massive bill. Disembarkation Day is depressing enough!

I have been on cruises where I have come back with a £0 spend. I am very proud of that total, and I don’t feel I have missed out!

We need to start by looking at what is included in your cruise fare – so we can work out what will be at an extra charge.

What is included in your fare varies from one cruise line to another. Luxury cruise lines will often include drinks, tips and excursions as standard, most mainstream cruise lines don’t.

What Is Usually Included In Your Cruise Fare?

  • Accommodation
  • Food – breakfast, lunch, dinner – and there are often multiple places to get snacks which are included in the cruise fare.
  • Some Drinks – mostly just water, tea and coffee in the buffet and occasionally fruit juice a breakfast. Most cruise lines don’t include drinks as standard, but there are a few exceptions – like Marella and Azamara. It’s so important to check before your cruise if any drinks are included!
  • Entertainment. Almost all entertainment is included in the price. Occasionally cruise lines like MSC or P&O may offer an additional, more intimate “paid for” show, but that isn’t the norm.
  • Live music in bars and restaurants.
  • Trivia and Gameshows.
  • Gym and some exercise classes. Some lines may charge for some exercise classes, and on others, they are included. It is important to find out beforehand.
    • I get in loads of steps walking up and down the stairs or around the promenade deck. I don’t ever feel the need to go to the gym when I cruise!
Sapphire Princess Gym Princess Cruises Ship Shape Program

What Usually Costs Extra?


  • Cruise Line Excursions
    • You can book cruise line excursions onboard or before you sail. When the ship docks you may see lines of coaches waiting to pick people up.
    • It is all very easy! If the buses are late returning to the ship, the ship will wait for you. You are paying extra for the convenience.
    • The cruise lines will play on the fact that you may be concerned about getting back to the ship on time. They use the fact that you will not be left behind to convince you that taking their excursions is the best option.
  • Independent Excursions
    • You can often do the same tour but far cheaper with an independent excursion company.
    • There are lots of big companies out there catering to cruise ship passengers. You may see independent tour buses just parked a little way behind the official cruise line excursion buses.
    • Get ideas from the cruise lines’ official excursions – and then check to see if they are available independently.
    • Check the refund policy of the company – if the excursion doesn’t turn up, or your port stop is cancelled, some have a 30-day no-quibble refund policy.

There are many independent excursion companies to choose from.

Here are a couple I have used:


Venture Ashore

  • Do your own thing in Port! I am a big fan of just getting off and doing my own thing in cruise port.
    • Again, I check the cruise line excursions to see if there is anything I should be seeing, and then see if I can make it there alone.
    • Book tickets in advance. It is often cheaper to book online – even if it’s only from the balcony of your cabin on the day you are there.
    • Do your research, and download offline maps or walking tours to take whilst you are in port.

Some companies, like MSC, will offer you an “excursion package.” This is a set amount of excursions for a lower price. If it is your first cruise, or you are an anxious traveller, it may be worth considering.

emma cruises husky farm fred olsen excursion
Excursion to a Husky farm in Norway

If you are booking tickets online before you travel, why not go through a cashback website?

You can get free money back just by going through the cashback website. One of the ones I use regularly is TopCashback – available in both the UK and the US.


Speciality Meals

  • Often Cruise ships often have a number of “Speciality” restaurants that cost extra.
  • These are often smaller, calmer, beautifully decorated restaurants, that specialise in a certain type of cuisine – Steak, Seafood, Sushi etc.
  • I don’t often feel the need to book and pay extra, but if you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, or are a big “foodie” you might want to try some.
  • Some charge an additional cover charge per person, while others charge per item on the menu.
  • Some cruise lines offer dining packages, where you will pay for a set number of speciality meals at a set price. If you are going to book them and go anyway, it may save you money.
  • If you don’t feel the need to try these restaurants, it is money you don’t need to spend.

Look in the daily schedules for discounts on speciality meals. There may be a discount if you eat early, or want to go on a less busy “port day.”

If there is a restaurant you particularly want to try, look at booking on the first night.

It might be a third cheaper, as most people don’t consider going to a speciality restaurant on the embarkation day.

Speciality Dining Eden Restaurant Celebrity Edge
Speciality meal in the Eden Restaurant onboard Celebrity Edge

Other passengers might be too busy finding their way around the ship and discovering all the exciting new things onboard to bother about going to speciality restaurants!

Alcohol and Soft Drinks

  • The majority of cruise lines charge extra for drinks.
    • The exception to this rule would be luxury cruise lines like Regent or Azamara – or the British Cruise line Marella, which is all-inclusive.
  • The majority of cruise lines have “drinks packages” available for you to buy, either onboard or before your cruise online.
    • These drinks packages vary – you can have a soft drinks package, a soda package, an alcohol package and often a “premium” alcohol package.
  • Be aware that some cruise lines impose a limit on the number of drinks you can have in one day, even if you have bought the package
    • Many alcohol packages only include drinks up to a certain price, if you want something more expensive, you have to pay extra.
    • Some cruise lines will put a service charge on top – even though you have bought the drinks package.
  • Some cruise lines allow you to bring a certain number of bottles of alcohol onboard, but this varies very much from one line to another. They may well charge you a “corkage” fee for doing so.
    • “Corkage” Fees are sometimes charged as soon as you take the alcohol onboard.
    • Others don’t charge unless you ask for it to be opened in a restaurant or public space. If you drink your bottle of wine on your balcony, there is often no charge.
  • The price difference between a bottle of wine on land and onboard can be huge. This is where the cruise lines make a lot of their profits.
  • Everyone in your cabin MUST buy the same drinks package!
    • This is to stop you from saving money by sharing your drinks with friends and family!
emma cruises in olive grove restaurant on P&O's Iona

Look for Free Drinks Elsewhere

If you don’t have a drinks package and don’t want to get one, be on the lookout for free drinks elsewhere!

  • Sometimes you will be offered “Welcome drinks” or Drinks if you go to an art auction.
  • If you have any loyalty status with the Cruise line, consider going to one of their loyalty programme parties where they serve free drinks and snacks.

I find these parties Interesting, as they often have awards for the most loyalty status and tell you the number of nights people have spent at sea!

Sometimes it is an astounding amount – like 10 years at sea in total!

When considering a drinks package, work out how many drinks you will have to consume per day to get your money back.

  • Some people save lots of money if they drink a lot. I don’t drink much so it is often not worth it for me. If I buy myself a “Soda” package, I will often only have to drink 3 or 4 drinks in a day to get my money’s worth – and I will easily be able to do that.
  • If you don’t drink much, it may be cheaper, in the long run, to just pay for the drinks you consume.
  • Don’t feel pressured to buy a drinks package if you don’t want one!

I tried the luxury cruise line Azamara, which includes tips and drinks as standard. To find out how I got on, and whether I enjoyed the experience, watch this video next:

Other Things You May Be Charged For That You Hadn’t Considered!


  • On some cruise lines, like P&O or MSC daily gratuities or “service charges” may be included in the fare – particularly if you are booking from the UK.
  • American cruise lines and many other lines charge a daily “service charge” to your onboard account that you will have to pay at the end of the cruise. You need to factor this into the cost of your holiday.
  • Service charges or gratuities are charged per person, so if you have three or four people in your cabin, it can add up to quite a lot! Children are charged a lower amount. This amount varies from one cruise line to another.

Find out more about paying gratuities on your cruise in the article below:

​Cruise Gratuities and Service Charges​


  • WiFi is quite expensive onboard, and cruise lines will offer various Wi-Fi packages for you to buy.
    • If you don’t need to be in touch with the outside world, embrace it and have a break from your phone or computer!
    • Use Wifi when in port at McDonald’s, or in the cruise terminal building. It’s not unusual to see the crew on land using the free Wi-Fi, as many cruise lines don’t offer free Wi-Fi for staff.
    • Use mobile data on your phone when docked, if you can do so within your phone’s data package and without incurring extra charges.

Medical Care

  • Medical care is very expensive onboard a ship, so make sure you take out adequate travel insurance!
    • Cruise ships have very well-equipped sick bays onboard, and they are staffed by doctors and nurses.
    • They will charge you for any treatment you need, and will often expect you to pay upfront – and claim back from your insurance policy afterwards. (This also applies even if you have taken out your insurance with the cruise line!)

​Cruise travel insurance -why you need it and how to get it​

Spa Treatments

  • Spa treatments can often be costly onboard ship.
    • Look in the daily schedule for offers on treatments. Treatments are often cheaper on port days, as there is less demand.
  • Maybe look into buying a pass for the Thermal Areas instead?
    • Many ships have lovely thermal areas with hot tubs, steam rooms, and pools that you can enjoy for much less than the price of one treatment.
    • Less staff are needed if you go to the thermal area only. Extra staff costs incurred by the cruise line for providing treatments make onboard treatments quite an expensive option.
  • It is often cheaper to book Spa treatments or Thermal passes in advance. Plan ahead!
  • Look in the daily schedule for offers on treatment “bundles.”
    • For example, they may offer a “couples” massage for the price of a single person’s massage.
  • Consider going to Spa Seminars.
    • You often can get freebies and discounts.
    • I personally don’t tend to go to these, as they are often trying to sell you stuff. Be firm and say you don’t want to buy anything!
Husdson's spa day
Spa Day for Captain Hudson!

Room Service

  • On some cruise lines room service is free – on many – it is not!
    • Check before your cruise to see if it is included.
  • Sometimes, like on Disney Cruise Line, room service is free for food, but you have to pay for any drinks.
    • I used to go up to the bar on the top deck to get a free Pepsi or Coke and bring it down to my cabin to drink with my meal.
  • Even if you have a drinks package, don’t assume that drinks ordered to your cabin will be free – or that you can drink things from the mini bar without getting charged extra!
disney cruises room service
Room service on Disney Magic – The room service was free, but drinks are at an extra charge

Before You Go

You don’t need to buy the cruise line Wi-Fi in order to use their Apps. Using their App is a great way to book meals and shows and keep up to date with what is going on around the ship. Find out more about them here:

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

Another way to save money when booking your cruise is to carefully choose your cabin in the first place. If you book an Inside, Ocean View or “Guaranteed” cabin, you will save money that you can spend on drinks, speciality meals or excursions. Find out more here:

Get The Best Cabin for Your Budget! Hints, Tips and Examples of How to Save Money Without Downgrading Your Cabin Type

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.