It can be frustrating for new cruisers to learn that not everything on board is included in the cruise fare. Aside from entertainment and dining, you’ll have to pick and choose which extra-cost items are worth the cash. See what items we think are worth the upcharge, and if you're an experienced cruiser, vote and tell us which things you can't live without in the comments:
1. Beverage Packages
Beverage packages let you imbibe in peace without worrying about the bill. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
Rather than paying for drinks individually, you can always pay for all your beverages up front. This one will take some math on your part, but keep in mind these aren’t just for alcohol as any drink aside from tap water, coffee, or tea will likely carry a charge. With beers and cocktails going for between $5 and $12 a pop, it doesn’t take as many drinks as you think to make the package worth it.
Worth it? Depends on how much you drink, but if you like to party, then almost certainly yes.
How to Save: Many lines and travel agencies will have promotions that include a free beverage package.
Keep in Mind: Children are not covered under their parents beverage packages, and most lines require all adults in the cabin to buy beverage packages.
2. Specialty Dining Packages
Ocean Blue on Norwegian. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
While the main dining rooms and buffets (almost) never carry a charge, adventurous foodies will definitely want to check out the specialty options onboard like Ocean Blue on Norwegian, Jamie’s Italian on Royal Caribbean, or Sabatini’s on Princess.
Worth it? Definitely worth it. You’re missing out on some great cuisine if you don’t give these venues a try.
How to Save: Like beverage packages, lines and agencies have promotions that include free specialty dining.
3. Spa Treatments
Spa treatment on Norwegian Getaway - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
Spa treatments on cruises are pricey, and you can almost certainly expect heavy upsells during your treatment.
Worth it? You’re on vacation. Might as well get your spa on.
How to Save: Many lines will offer discounts on spa treatments on port days, so spend a half-day in port (or skip it entirely) and hit the spa. Also, be ready to politely but firmly turn down the upsells you’re likely to get during a session.
4. Fitness Classes
Cruise ship fitness areas usually have amazing views. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises
Virtually every cruise ship will have fitness facilities where you can take a variety of classes like yoga, pilates, and spinning.
Worth it? Not worth it unless you really have your heart set on doing yoga during your cruise.
How to Save: Most cruise ships have running tracks you can utilize to get in your daily cardio for free, and there are plenty of ways you can stay in shape on a cruise without going to the gym.
5. Shore Excursions from the Cruise Line
A glacier tour by Carnival in Skagway, Alaska. - Photo by Carnival Cruise Line
When it comes to booking shore excursions, you can book through a variety of tour operators before you sail or on the ship. If you choose to buy through the line, you’re guaranteed that the ship won’t leave without you if your tour gets held up, and you’ll receive a full refund if the ship doesn’t dock in port due to weather or other circumstances.
Worth it? If you have a nervous disposition, it might be worth it for the peace of mind.
How to Save: Booking shore excursions privately is the cheapest option but some lines will offer free shore excursions (luxury and premium lines in particular), and some travel agencies have promotions with shore excursion credit.
6. Sales in the Onboard Shops
Cartier on Harmony of the Seas - Photo by Royal Caribbean / Simon Brooke-Webb Photography
Many ships will have a “mega sale” in the ship’s atrium or one of the dining rooms on a sea day, with deep discounts on jewelry, electronics and more. These are often short-duration, high-pressure events designed to separate you from your money quickly before you’ve had much time to think about it.
Worth it? Depends on what they’re selling.
How to Save: While you might find a deal or two, go in with a skeptical mindset, and, if possible, do research online to make sure the deal you’re getting is really a deal. At the end of a cruising season, for example, when a ship has just returned to the Caribbean from Europe (or vice versa), these mega sales might include t-shirts, magnets and other items marked with the names of ports the ship no longer sails to. There can be some legitimate deals among those items, as the ship doesn’t have room to store merchandise it can no longer sell.
7. Late Night Room Service
Morning room service is free, but it may cost you late at night. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
While room service is generally free, some lines like Royal and Norwegian charge for room service deliveries after midnight.
Worth it? If you’re hungry, absolutely.
How to Save: If you don’t mind getting dressed and heading out, you’ll find at least one spot on the ship serving complimentary food or snacks.
8. Adults-Only Relaxation Areas
The adults-only Serenity deck on Carnival Sunshine - Photo by Carnival Cruise Line
Cruise ship pools can be chaotic, noisy affairs with everything from rowdy kids to bands and DJs intruding while you’re just trying to relax and soak up some sun. You can get a bit of peace and quiet at the adults-only areas, but it’ll cost you on Princess, MSC and Norwegian.
Worth it? Yes. A thousand times, yes. It might be the best $20 (or so) you spend all cruise.
How to Save: Sail on Carnival or Disney, where the adults-only sundecks are gratis.
Watch Out For: “Freestyle” Sundecks on select Norwegian ships are complimentary, clothing-optional sun decks for use by adult passengers.