Cruises advertise themselves as all-inclusive but they rarely are. All I knew about cruising before our first sailing was what I saw on The Love Boat, and I was surprised when we began our research to learn that all those drinks Isaac poured weren’t just part of the cruise fare.

Most people don’t expect “free” alcohol with their cruise, but many people are surprised to learn that soft drinks, bottled water, and juice are usually not included. Some people also don’t know that they are expected to tip at the end of a cruise. Following is a very general run-down of what’s included and what’s not. This varies from cruise line to cruise line (we’ll get into that a little later).

  • Your cruise fare includes your room, your meals in certain restaurants, and the use of certain areas of the ship
  • Juice is included with breakfast, and coffee,tea and tap water are available 24 hours. Often iced tea and some sort of fruit punch are available as well.
  • Soft drinks, bottled water, and juice other than at breakfast are not included. On some cruise lines you can buy a soft drink card that allows you a certain number of soft drinks or unlimited soft drinks. Usually this is limited to fountain soft drinks, so if you want a can of soda you’ll still have to pay for it.
  • Specialty coffee drinks and fancy teas are usually not included. If you want just a regular “cup of coffee” you don’t pay, but if you want a “tall skinny latte” you’ll have to fork over.
  • Certain restaurants and eating venues are not included. Most ships have “specialty restaurants” and there is usually a fee for eating there. Eating in the main dining room is included in your cruise fare.
  • Use of the gym is usually free. Many fitness classes are not.
  • Use of the main pools and Jacuzzis is usually free. However, many ships also have a thassalotherapy pool and to use that you pay either a daily or weekly fee.
  • The rock-climbing wall on Royal Caribbean is free. The golf simulator is not. I’ve read there is a charge to use the bowling alley on NCL’s new Pearl.
  • Most cruiselines have some sort of theater for showing movies and these are usually free. (In- room movies sometimes have a charge.) The evening entertainment – usually Broadway style shows or comedians – is always included in your cruise fare. We once saw an amazing husband-wife aerial entertainment act on the Celebrity Mercury.
  • Spa treatments are not free
  • Shore excursions are not free

Now, most everything above is a generalization and it varies from cruise line to cruise line. Most of what I’ve written above is about the mass-market cruise lines which include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess and many more.

When you move up to a luxury cruise line, much more is included. On most luxury lines, including Regent, Seabourn, and Silverseas, alcohol and tipping are also included. On these lines you won’t pay for exercise classes and some of them throw in a complimentary shore excursion. You also won’t pay for in-room movies. Seabourn even has what they call “complimentary on desk Massage Moments”. Crystal is alone among the luxury lines in that alcohol is not included in your fare and neither are tips. However, you can have soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffee drinks, anything non-alcoholic to your heart’s content.

We’ve started a forum on our web site where we can share information about costs on the various cruise lines. We’ve posted information about the lines we’ve been on, but we’re limited by our own experience, so if you have any information you’d like to share, please post it at our What’s Extra and What it Costs forum.