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What is free on a cruise?


While most mainstream cruise lines include a wide range of amenities in their base fare, they're deliberately structured to cover essentials, allowing guests the flexibility to choose additional add-ons at their discretion.

When planning a cruise, many first-timers are curious as to what's included and what costs extra. Some experiences can help enhance the vacation; however, many rely on what's free (or included). 

Understanding what's covered in the base fare can help travelers make the most of their cruise vacation while staying within their budget. Thankfully, cruise fares encompass essential elements of the experience, including your cabin and all meals in select venues. 

Here is a breakdown of what's free on a cruise. 



The total cost of your cruise fare is primarily determined by which cabin you elect to book. The majority of ships have four main categories: inside, ocean-view, balcony, and suite. 

Those looking to cruise on a budget may select an interior room, whereas those who want to make their sailing more extravagant may find themselves wanting to splurge on a suite. 

Whatever you decide, it will be your "home away from home" for the duration of the cruise, whether it's a short 3-night getaway to The Bahamas or a longer transatlantic voyage concluding in Barcelona.

Cove Balcony

Like standard hotels, your stateroom will be serviced daily — either once or twice — by a cabin steward. You don't have to pay anything extra for this; however, it's customary to leave them a tip at the end of the cruise. 

Cabin stewards are the crew members responsible for ensuring that your stateroom is clean throughout the cruise. They'll do tasks like refreshing your bath towels, making the bed, emptying the trash, and delivering important documents. Many will leave cute towel animals, too! 

Read more: Best rooms on a cruise ship: Deck, location, & category



Regardless of which line you sail with, you'll have plenty of complimentary dining options to choose from. While older ships tend to have fewer venues, you can still expect a buffet and Main Dining Room available for no extra charge. From quick breakfasts before heading ashore to indulgent three-course meals, you certainly won't go hungry while on your cruise. 

Those sailing on Carnival's oldest vessels may enjoy free juicy burgers from Guy's Burger Joint, freshly made tacos from BlueIguana Cantina, and hot pizza from Pizza Pirate. Meanwhile, the newest ships feature a brand-new casual chicken joint that serves up crispy tenders and fries.

While room service isn't always free, most cruise lines do allow you to order from a continental breakfast menu for no extra cost. That way, you don't have to waste time in the buffet when you have an early morning excursion. Instead, you can wake up to breakfast at your door while getting ready! 


If you aren't sure what complimentary venues are available on your ship, cruise line websites tend to do a good job of outlining what restaurants are and aren't included. Additionally, the line's mobile app is often a useful tool for accessing this information, too. 



Cruise lines include a set list of included beverages in their cruise fare. While you won't be able to order free alcoholic beverages, you certainly won't go thirsty at any point while you're onboard. 

Complimentary drinks usually include tap water, milk, tea, coffee (regular and decaf), iced tea, and juices. The selection, however, may vary between cruise lines. Disney Cruise Line, for instance, includes soda, whereas most other mainstream lines require you to either purchase each individually or pay for a drink package

Sometimes, there may be drinks available at no extra cost. Those, for example, who are part of MSC's Voyager Club may be invited to attend a welcome back reception with free champagne. Additionally, art auctions frequently come with complimentary beverages. 


Rio Carnival

One of the major appeals of cruising is all of the free entertainment. From live music to original production shows, karaoke, trivia, game shows, deck parties, and more, there's enough going on to keep everyone occupied. 

Newer ships tend to feature Broadway-style shows onboard. On Norwegian Viva, for instance, you can watch Beetlejuice, while those sailing on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas can catch a performance of Hairspray

Speaking of Royal Caribbean, select ships even have an ice rink and AquaTheater onboard, giving you more options at sea than you ever thought was possible! The best part? All shows are included, so you don't have to worry about paying extra to see jaw-dropping entertainment. 

Read more: 40 Fun Things to Do on a Cruise Ship

Onboard activities


Similar to dining options, the activities vary based on which ship you're sailing on. Onboard Icon of the Seas, for instance, you'll find the record-breaking Category 6 Water Park, while older Royal Caribbean ships may not have any waterslides at all. That being said, all cruise ships have at least one pool and hot tub that are complimentary. 

Possible activities may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Sports court
  • Waterslides
  • Rock climbing wall 
  • Mini-golf
  • Shuffleboard
  • Outdoor movies
  • Jogging track
  • Suspended bikes 
  • Surfing simulators 
  • Skydiving simulators 
  • Bumper cars
  • Zip lines
  • Ice skating
  • Dance classes
  • Cornhole
  • Laser tag

Before booking any ship, you should research what amenities are onboard, as you don't want to promise your kids an ice skating rink just to find out that the ship doesn't have one! Moreover, some amenities do cost extra, such as Carnival's BOLT rollercoaster and laser tag onboard Norwegian ships. 

Even if you don't plan on spending extra money on activities, there will be plenty to do onboard that's complimentary. 

Read more: 16 hidden cruise ship extra charges you should know about (2024)

Fitness facilities


Even though you're likely to indulge more on your vacation than you do at home, you don't have to completely abandon your fitness goals. Every ship has a complimentary fitness center equipped with a variety of equipment such as treadmills, free weights, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines. 

You may also be able to participate in select complimentary classes, such as morning stretches on the lido deck. Those involving equipment (i.e., cycling classes) tend to cost extra. If you're interested, though, you can see if your line offers a fitness bundle, which will allow you to purchase a set number of classes, rather than paying for each individually. 

Thanks to the free gym, you'll be able to maintain your exercise routine while enjoying your vacation. 

Read more: 10 tips to make your next cruise healthier

Youth programming

Camp Ocean on Carnival Celebration

Youth programming on cruise ships caters to children and teenagers, providing them with engaging, entertaining, and age-appropriate activities while onboard. The majority of these services are complimentary, though some do incur additional fees, such as late-night programming and those for infants under a certain age. 

If your child is 3 or older, however, they'll be able to enjoy the kids' club as much as they want during operating hours for no extra cost. Activities may include arts and crafts, games, sports, educational workshops, themed parties, video game tournaments, and more. 

Complimentary youth programming is available on most cruise lines for cruisers between the ages of 3 and 17. Of course, some lines may have different rules and restrictions. The minimum age for Club Mariner on Regent Seven Seas, for example, is 5. 

Read more: 5 Kids' Cruise Lines the Whole Family Will Love

Private ports of call

DCL Fantasy

Did you know that a lot of cruise lines have their own private destinations in the Caribbean and Bahamas? If your itinerary includes a stop at, for instance, Disney's Castaway Cay or MSC's Ocean Cay, then you'll be able to enjoy the offerings ashore for no additional charge. 

It's easy not to spend any extra money on private islands, as most include a complimentary lunch buffet! I've enjoyed delicious tacos and mozzarella sticks at Royal Caribbean's CocoCay and juicy chicken at Carnival's Half Moon Cay, all within steps of the beautiful Bahamian waters. 

Not all destinations are designed the same way, though. While CocoCay is known for its large pool, you won't find similar offerings at Norweigan's Great Stirrup Cay. Additionally, not everything ashore is included. If you want to partake in any shore excursions, such as jet skiing, horseback riding, or zip lining, you'll have to shell out the extra cash. 


You can, however, enjoy a memorable day on the beach for free.

Read more: 10 tips for getting the best cruise shore excursion values

What isn't free on a cruise?

NCL speedway

Even though there's a lot included in your cruise fare, there will be ample opportunities to spend additional money, starting before you even get onboard!

While the cruise line's website may advertise a fare of $600 per person, you'll end up paying far more than that, especially if you're sailing somewhere like Alaska with expensive port fees. These are fees charged by the ports of call to the cruise line, who then pass the fees on to guests. 

During the booking process, you'll also be asked if you want to prepay your gratuities, which are essentially tips that are divided amongst the crew. Even though it's not required, I recommend doing so, as the total amount will be added to your total fare to be paid off by the final payment date. Moreover, you'll be grandfathered into the current rate. In the event that your chosen line increases their gratuities, you won't have to pay the higher amount. 

Read more: 12 sneaky ways cruise lines get you to spend more money


Once onboard, there's no better way to kickstart your vacation than by enjoying an adult beverage during sail away. Whether you opt to splurge on a drink package or purchase each alcoholic drink individually, you'll have to come to terms with paying extra for select beverages on your cruise. Certain non-alcoholic drinks, such as mocktails, soda, and specialty coffees, aren't included, either.  

Additionally, while there's plenty of complimentary food onboard, you may want to treat yourself to a meal at one of the ship's specialty restaurants. These venues tend to be more intimate than the Main Dining Room and focus on a single cuisine or cooking method, such as Italian or Teppanyaki (hibachi). 

Shore excursions are also not included in your cruise fare. Activities like whale-watching cruises, ATVs tours, helicopter rides, and snorkeling can be purchased through your respective line once you've booked your sailing. 


You may also consult third parties, such as Viator or Get Your Guide; however, note that since you're choosing to book outside of the cruise line, if anything goes astray, the ship will not wait for you

You'll have to pay extra for Wi-Fi if you want to stay connected, too. While some lines, namely Virgin Voyages, include basic Wi-Fi in their cruise fares, most do not. It can get rather pricey, with some packages starting upwards of $20 per day! 

Alternatively, you may choose to seek out Wi-Fi while in port. Many coffee shops have internet available to those who purchase something, meaning that you can rest up and check on things at home without having to pay for Wi-Fi the entire sailing. 


Other miscellaneous add-ons include select onboard activities, spa treatments, onboard shopping, arcade games, ship tours, laundry, and professional pictures. Needless to say, it's quite easy to spend a lot of extra money on your cruise if you aren't careful! 

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