Updated December 8, 2018
Mainstream cruise lines like to tout their vacations as "all-inclusive," but with so many added fees for optional items -- massages, fruity cocktails, souvenir photos -- it's tough to determine just what's included in your fare. Even more confusing are items that are sometimes "free" (covered by your cabin rate) and sometimes for a fee, depending on where you find them or the specific activity.
If you've been scratching your head, wondering whether ice cream, fruit juice and a good shvitz will cost you extra, check out our chart, which outlines some of the nuances of cruise fare inclusions.
Free: Meals are free of charge in cruise ship main dining rooms, buffets and select specialty venues including Princess' International Cafe, Carnival's BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint, Royal Caribbean's Park Cafe and Boardwalk Dog House, and Norwegian's O'Sheehan's.
Pizza is complimentary in buffets as well as pizza restaurants like Sorrento's on Royal Caribbean, Pizza Pirate on Carnival, Alfredo's on Princess Cruises and New York Pizza on Holland America. Soft serve ice cream and fro-yo machines are free of charge at the buffet or pool deck, and ice cream is served in the main dining room.
For a Fee: Cruise food that costs extra can be found at an abundance of alternative restaurants such as Carnival's steakhouses, HAL's Pinnacle Grill, Princess' Italian venue Sabatini's, Norwegian's hibachi restaurant Teppanyaki, Jamie's Italian on Royal Caribbean and Murano on Celebrity Cruises, to name a few. Cover charges range from $25 to $50 per person, though Disney's Remy charges up to $95 per person.
Also, some cruise lines offer for-fee items on main dining room menus, charging around $20 extra for a choice cut of steak or surf and turf.
At specialty ice cream venues such as Celebrity's Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria, Royal Caribbean's Ben & Jerry's and Princess' International Cafe, cruisers will pay a small fee for a frozen dessert.
Free: Tap water, regular coffee and tea, iced tea and select juices available in the buffet or in the main dining room at breakfast are typically included in your cruise fare. Cafe Promenade on Royal Caribbean offers up complimentary coffee and tea 24 hours a day.
Sparkling wine might be included at embarkation (depending on your cruise line or loyalty status), as well as art auctions, or during certain special events like a cocktail party with the captain. Soda is included in the price on Disney sailings.
Most lines let you bring wine, soda and bottled water onboard to consume in your cabin. See our comprehensive rundown of cruise line alcohol policies for specific rules.
For a Fee: Beverages that will cost you extra onboard a cruise usually include bottled or sparkling water; specialty coffees and teas at bars, cafes and dining venues; smoothies and specialty blended fruit drinks, fresh-squeezed OJ and juice ordered at onboard bars. All alcoholic beverages and soft drinks ordered in dining venues, bars and through room service also incur a fee. Bring your own booze to the dining room and you'll be charged a $10 to $30 corkage fee.
Our Tip: Get the best value with daily drink specials, happy hour deals or all-you-can-drink beverage packages. The tap water onboard is high quality compared with what you'll find in a bottle. At the very least, buy bottled water in port where it will be much cheaper.
If you're used to hitting Starbucks every morning, you might as well continue the trend onboard ... especially as many report buffet coffee to be dire. On the other hand, you could bring onboard a French press and your favorite coffee or tea and save money. Check out our 15 ways to get "free" (or cheaper) drinks at sea.
Unless you're a true wine aficionado, you will get better value drinking your own wine in the cabin and ordering from the ship's wine list at dinner. If you're not flying, bringing your own cases of water or soda -- especially when traveling with your family -- can save a few dollars. Check your cruise line's fine print before you do because some lines have restrictions on bringing nonalcoholic beverages onboard.
Free: A limited room service menu is complimentary during the day on most ships; 24 hours on some. (One caveat: providing a small tip is the norm.)
For a Fee: Specialty items and late-night room service orders will incur a fee on almost any mainstream cruise line. Celebrity charges non-suite guests $3.95 per room service order delivered between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Norwegian and Royal Caribbean charge $7.95 per order (excluding continental breakfast). Other lines including Celebrity, Carnival and Holland America charge a la carte for select room service items.
Our Tip: if you really need a snack in the middle of the night, you can drag yourself to a fee-free 24-hour dining venue or late-night buffet if your ship has one.
Free: Main theater performances -- including Royal Caribbean's ice skating and aqua-acrobatics shows, Carnival's Playlist Productions and Norwegian's Broadway-style shows -- are included in your cruise fare. Audience-participation shows, such as the marriage game, BBC Earth trivia on Holland America or Hasbro, the Game Show on Carnival, are also part of your daily included entertainment.
For a Fee: Norwegian's Deal or No Deal costs $19.95 per person to participate. Dinner theater shows like Cirque du Soleil on MSC's Meraviglia Class or Norwegian's Cirque Dreams, will also cost you.
Our Tip: Most of the best entertainment is actually fee-free. Catch our editors' picks for the eight best cruise lines for onboard entertainment and the Cruisers' Choice Awards winners for best at-sea entertainment.
Free: Trivia, pool games, big-screen movies, dance classes and sports deck activities -- such as basketball, rock climbing, mini-golf, ropes courses and shuffleboard -- are all normally free on a cruise ship. Included enrichment on a ship typically spans sessions on shopping tips, computer use and photography, cooking demos and port lectures.
For a Fee: Bingo, casino play, arcade games, escape rooms and golf simulator use will cost you. Additionally, hands-on cooking classes, wine and liquor tastings, and a few other courses like select computer classes on Celebrity, are extra.
Our Tip: The likelihood of hitting the jackpot or winning the free cruise at the casino is pretty small, so better to save your cash for a sure win. We make an exception if 20 bucks will buy your family an hour of happiness and peace in the arcade. On the other hand, if you see a class that appeals, it's worth the small fee to learn a new skill or do something you love rather than just veg out on a sea day. Here are our picks for best cruises for enrichment.
Free: Steam and sauna rooms within locker rooms are usually available to all guests. The LivNordic Spa on Viking Ocean Cruises is free to all passengers.
For a Fee: All spa and salon treatments (including medispa services, acupuncture, teeth whitening) and thermal suite passes are an additional expense on cruise ships.
Our Tip: Onboard spa treatments are often more expensive than the massages and manicures you'd get at home, but for your money, you will definitely be pampered (especially at these top cruise ship spas). Book treatments in advance online for discounted rates.
Free: Use of the fitness center (cardio machines, weights) and some fitness classes like abs workouts and stretch classes (as well as the jogging track and sports court) are available to all passengers free of charge.
For a Fee: Fitness classes (yoga, Pilates, spinning, TRX, Zumba, etc.) and personal training and body assessments are not typically included in your cruise fare.
Our Tip: Onboard fitness classes are occasionally cheaper than their land-based equivalents and a good way to burn off those extra cruise calories. However, teachers can be hit or miss, so value can vary greatly. Check out our picks for the best cruises for fitness.
Free: Main pool use (including loungers and hot tubs), water slides and splash play areas are open to all passengers. Royal Caribbean's FlowRider onboard surfing and many adult-only pool or sun deck areas (like Celebrity's Solarium or Carnival's Serenity) are also worth checking out for gratis.
For a Fee: Some lines charge for special adults-only sun areas and cabanas, including Princess' Sanctuary, HAL's Cabana Club and Celebrity's Lawn Club Alcoves.
Our Tip: You can usually find out-of-the-way sun deck space for free or make use of the balcony you already paid for. Check if you are on a ship with one of the nine best sun decks.
Free: Group activities for 3 to 17 year olds during the day are often provided through your ship's onboard kids clubs.
For a Fee: In-cabin babysitting, group late-night babysitting after 10 p.m. and nursery time for babies on Disney and Royal Caribbean all require an added fee.
Our Tip: Parents, treat yourself to a night or two of evening entertainment instead of whispering to each other in your cabin while the kids snooze.