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What's Included in Your Cruise Fare? (Photo: By NAPA/Shutterstock)
What's Included in Your Cruise Fare? (Photo: By NAPA/Shutterstock)

Cruise Costs: What's Included in Your Cruise Fare

What's Included in Your Cruise Fare? (Photo: By NAPA/Shutterstock)
What's Included in Your Cruise Fare? (Photo: By NAPA/Shutterstock)
Assistant SEO Editor
Marilyn Borth

Last updated
Oct 25, 2022

Read time
7 min read

Mainstream cruise lines like to tout their vacations as "all-inclusive." But, with so many added and unforeseen cruise costs on board, it can be tough to determine what's included in your cruise fare and what isn't.

If you've been wondering whether ice cream, fruit juice or a good spa treatment will cost you extra, check out our detailed cruise costs outline below. This outline features some of the must-know nuances of cruise fare inclusions as well as cruise fare extras.

Food on Cruise Ships

6  Image  Food
6 Image Food

Free Food on Cruises: Meals are free of charge in cruise ship main dining rooms, buffets and select specialty venues such as Princess' International Cafe, Carnival's Blue Iguana 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 frozen yogurt machines are usually free of charge at the buffet or pool deck.

Food That Costs a Fee on Cruises: Cruise ship food that costs extra can be found at an abundance of alternative restaurants. Cover charges for these eateries range depending on the cruise line and ship.

Some cruise lines offer items on main dining room menus that cost extra, so be sure to study the menus at your chosen restaurant(s) closely. At specialty ice cream venues, cruisers will pay a small fee for a frozen dessert.

Our Tip: Check out our editors' picks of best cruise ship restaurants and the Cruisers' Choice Awards winners for best cruise ships for dining.

Drinks on Cruise Ships

Free Drinks on Cruises: Cruise ship drinks that are available in the buffet or in the main dining room at breakfast are typically included in your cruise fare. These include items such as tap water, iced tea, select juices, regular coffee and regular tea.

Depending on your cruise line or loyalty status, sparkling wine might be included at embarkation, at art auctions and/or during certain special events like a cocktail party with the captain. Soda is included in the cruise fare for Disney sailings.

You can bring your own wine, soda and bottled water onboard most cruises for in-cabin consumption, but note that cruise lines have strict policies around this that must be followed. See our comprehensive rundown of cruise line alcohol policies for specific rules.

Luxury cruises often include some free alcoholic beverages. Some even offer an open bar to their guests, such as Seabourn, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas. Check out our compilation of cruises that include alcohol in your fare for more info.

Drinks That Cost Extra on Cruises: Beverages that cost you extra onboard usually include the following: bottled or sparkling water; specialty coffees and teas at bars, cafes and dining venues; smoothies and specialty blended fruit drinks, fresh-squeezed orange juice and juice ordered at onboard bars.

All alcoholic beverages and soft drinks ordered in dining venues, bars and through room service incur a fee. If you bring your own booze to the dining room, you'll be charged a corkage fee.

Our Tip: Get the best value with daily drink specials, happy hour deals or all-you-can-drink beverage packages. You will likely get better value with a la carte drinks if you simply enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner.

Tap water is safe to drink on cruise ships. If you're looking to buy bottled water, do so in port where it will be much cheaper.

If you're used to having Starbucks every morning, you might want to continue the trend onboard. Many cruisers have reported buffet coffee to be dire. On the other hand, you could pack a French press and your favorite coffee or tea and save money. Check out our 14 ways to get "free" (or cheaper) drinks at sea.

Room Service on Cruise Ships

Otium room service menu on Silversea (Photo/Silversea Cruises)
Otium room service menu on Silversea (Photo/Silversea Cruises)

Free Room Service on a Cruise: A limited room service menu is free during the day on many ships and 24 hours on some. Having continental breakfast brought to you and served in your cabin is usually free of charge, specifically on mainstream lines (keep in mind the one caveat is that leaving a small tip is the norm).

Most luxury cruise lines have no-fee room service policies in place for their guests.

For a Fee: Specialty items and late-night room service orders will incur a fee on almost any mainstream cruise line. For example, Celebrity charges non-suite guests a per room service fee for orders delivered between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, other cruise lines charge a fee per order (excluding continental breakfast). Some lines charge a la carte for select room service items.

Our Tip: If you need a snack in the middle of the night, walk over to a fee-free 24-hour dining venue for the most bang for your buck.

Shows and Entertainment on Cruise Ships

World Beat on Norwegian Sun (Photo: Cruise Critic)
World Beat on Norwegian Sun (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Free Shows on a Cruise: Main theater performances are free on cruises. Audience-participation shows are also part of your fare-included entertainment.

Shows that Cost Extra on a Cruise: Guests in Norwegian's Deal or No Deal must pay a fee prior to participating. Dinner theater shows on cruises will sometimes require a cover charge.

Our Tip: Most of the best cruise entertainment is free. Check out our editors' picks for the eight best cruise lines for onboard entertainment and the Cruisers' Choice Awards winners for best at-sea entertainment..

Activities on Cruise Ships

Couples Playing Blackjack on Island Princess (Photo: Princess)
Couples Playing Blackjack on Island Princess (Photo: Princess)

Free Activities on Cruises: Trivia, pool games, big-screen movies, dance classes and sports deck activities (basketball, rock climbing, mini-golf, shuffleboard and more) are all normally free on a cruise ship.

Ships that offer enrichment classes do not typically charge extra for them. They can cover anything from cooking demos to port lectures.

Activities That Cost Extra on Cruises: Bingo, casino play, arcade games, escape rooms and golf simulators will all cost you extra on most ships. Additionally, hands-on cooking classes, wine and liquor tastings, and a few other courses require an extra charge outside your fare.

Our Tip: If you see a class that appeals to you, it may be worth the small fee to learn a new skill or do something you love. Browse our picks for best cruises for enrichment and find something that speaks to you.

Spa Services on Cruise Ships

A bath tub filled with water and rose petals overlooking the ocean inside the Aquamar Spa
The Aquamar Spa on Oceania Cruises (Photo: Oceania Cruises)

Free Spa Services on Cruises: Steam and sauna rooms within locker rooms are usually available to all guests. The LivNordic Spa on Viking Ocean Cruises, for example, is free to all passengers. Treatments will cost extra in almost all cases, though any onboard credit can be used toward paying for spa services.

Spa Services That Cost Extra on Cruises: All spa and salon treatments (including medispa services, acupuncture and teeth whitening) and thermal suite passes cost extra on cruise ships.

Our Tip: Onboard spa treatments are often more expensive than the massages and manicures you'd get on dry land, but you will undoubtedly be pampered (especially at these top cruise ship spas).

Be sure to book treatments in advance online for discounted rates, and see how much onboard credit you might have gotten when booking your cruise as well.

Fitness on Cruise Ships

(Photo: Lindblad Expeditions)
TA Sea Bird Fitness

Free Fitness Options on a Cruise: Use of the fitness center and some fitness classes are available to all passengers free of charge.

Fitness Options That Cost Extra on a Cruise: Some fitness classes (yoga, Pilates, spinning, TRX, Zumba, etc.), personal training sessions and body assessments are not typically included in your cruise fare.

Our Tip: Onboard fitness classes are occasionally cheaper than their land-based equivalents.. However, instructors can be hit or miss, so value can vary greatly. Check out our picks for the best cruises for fitness.

Sun Decks on Cruise Ships

Lounging pool in Norwegian Breakaway's Haven Complex (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
Lounging pool in Norwegian Breakaway's Haven Complex (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Free: Main pool use (including loungers and hot tubs), water slides and splash play areas are open to all guests. 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, such as NCL and Princess, charge for special adults-only sun areas and cabanas.

Our Tip: You can usually find sequestered 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 10 best sun decks.

Childcare on Cruise Ships

Two young boys wearing matching yellow sweatshirts on a cruise ship
Children on a cruise (Photo: Tomsickova Tatyana/

Free Childcare on a Cruise: Group activities for 3 to 17-year-olds during the day are often provided through your ship's onboard kids clubs.

Childcare That Costs Extra on a Cruise: In-cabin babysitting, group late-night babysitting after 10 p.m. and nursery time for babies all require an added fee.

Our Tip: Parents, treat yourselves to a much-deserved night or two of evening entertainment.

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