One of the great things about a cruise vacation is the number of inclusions -- accommodation, meals and endless hours of entertainment -- covered within your cruise fare. There are some items that cost extra on almost all cruises (with the exception of luxury lines), however, such as drinks, gratuities and shore excursions.
Cruisers can purchase these items onboard, along with spa passes and extra-fee activities, though it often makes more sense to buy before you set sail. The big incentive? Savings. Cruise lines are more likely to offer discounts when cruise values are purchased before the voyage. You’re then left to enjoy your well-earned cruise, with a clearer picture of what your total vacation spending looks like.
It’s safe to say cruisers are appreciative of crew, from cabin stewards to restaurant servers, and are more than happy to show it by paying gratuities. Opting to pre-pay crew gratuities, also referred to as crew appreciation fees by some lines, means you have one less thing to pay for when you get onboard.
Another reason to pre-purchase your cruise line gratuities is you lock in the price there and then, since cruise lines regularly assess their onboard service fees and occasionally increase them.
Buying a bottled water package makes perfect sense, particularly if you’re cruising in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or another warm-weather destination where you’ll want to drink plenty of water during your cruise.
This can also be said of destinations such as cruises to Alaska or Norwegian fjord cruises, where you might find yourself on more active excursions and need to stay hydrated while kayaking or hiking.
Whether it’s illy coffee on Royal Caribbean and Cunard, Starbucks on Norwegian Cruise Line or Lavazza coffee on Princess Cruises, if a daily caffeine fix is important to you, investing in a pre-purchased package that covers premium-brand coffee is vital.
Some lines offer a standalone coffee package or include premium coffee within their other drinks packages. It’s worth noting that Starbucks is also available on several Royal Caribbean ships, though it is not included as part of the line’s drink packages.
If you plan on joining a cruise line organized shore excursion, often referred to as ship-sponsored tours, it makes sense to pre-purchase them to avoid disappointment onboard. Especially during peak travel season and on popular itineraries, some of the most coveted tours are quick to sell out.
If you purchase them in advance, you’ll avoid disappointment during your cruise and save yourself the hassle of having to organize an alternative tour.
From streaming movies to scrolling Instagram and checking emails, if one thing is for certain, it’s that you’re going to want to use Wi-Fi while on vacation.
Since mainstream cruise lines exclude Wi-Fi from their cruise fares, your best bet is to pre-purchase a Wi-Fi package. Cruise line Wi-Fi packages vary from line to line, but snagging one in advance may save you time -- and cash -- once onboard.
Plus, more and more lines are starting to use Starlink technology aboard their ships -- and that means staying connected at sea is easier than ever before.
From Mexican specialties to steak, Italian, French, Japanese and even barbecue-style eats, cruise line specialty restaurants present an extraordinary array of cuisines from around the world. Most of these come with a fee.
Just like on land, popular restaurants get booked up and therefore reservations are always recommended if you’re set on sampling a specific venue. Pre-purchase dinner at your specialty restaurant(s) of choice and lock in your price –and your dining time.
Some cruise lines also offer a specialty dining package combining multiple venues, such as Royal Caribbean’s three-restaurant package and Ultimate Dining Package. MSC Cruises also offers discounted prices when you book a specialty dining package in advance.
There are some activities on every sailing -- from wine tastings and culinary experiences to thrilling rides -- that cost extra. Some lines offer passengers the chance to pre-pay for these premium activities, too, such as a sushi-making or cake decorating masterclass on Carnival Cruise Line.
On MSC Cruises, you can buy an MSC Fun Pass, which covers activities such as bowling, dodgems and spending at games arcades. The fee for an MSC Fun Pass varies depending on the ship and cruise duration, though the line offers discounts of up to 20 percent, plus additional perks, for purchasing pre-cruise. And let’s face it, if your cruise ship has bumpers cars, you’re going to want a turn at the wheel while you get onboard.
Some cruise lines, like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, also sell “Behind the Scenes” tours that take passengers into normally crew-only spaces like the laundry and provisioning areas, the engine control room, and even the ship’s navigation bridge. Book these well in advance, as they commonly sell out.
If you’re figuring out which pre-paid packages to invest in or what to purchase once you get onboard, join the conversation on the Cruise Critic message boards for helpful tips from fellow cruisers.