Anyone who has ever been on a vacation knows how challenging it can be to budget and plan out everything before you leave. The great thing about all-inclusive cruises is that most of these things are, in fact, all inclusive! What does all-inclusive cruising mean exactly?
While at first it may sound like clickbait or a gimmick, all-inclusive cruises are offered by the majority of cruise lines and truly place cruising above all other forms of travel.
In this article I am going to go in-depth into what is included in all-inclusive cruising, down to the last area of what could be included depending on your specific cruise line. So grab your free cruise planner and buckle up, because you are about to learn all the ins and outs of all-inclusive cruises.
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What are All-Inclusive Cruises?
All-inclusive cruises truly bring the ideas of luxury and comfort to the next level.
During the optimal all-inclusive cruises, you will typically receive a spacious stateroom, unlimited food, countless amounts of entertainment, activity venues, unlimited drinks, Wi-Fi, and daily gratuities-- all included within your original cruise fare.
You may have many questions about cruising, specifically about all-inclusive cruising, but the concept is as simple as it sounds.
While this definitely varies depending on the cruise line you are cruising with, most cruise lines include the vast majority of activities, venues, and food in the upfront cruise fare.
Any all-inclusive cruise you may book should include the majority of their on-ship restaurants in your all-inclusive cruise fare. This means that the pool side bar, cruise buffet, and more formal options like the formal dining rooms are all included!
Not only can you dine out however many times you want to on your all-inclusive cruising adventure, but you can order practically anything you see or want at sea.
This means that if you want 4 appetizers, no entrée, and 3 desserts, that's exactly what you will get! Plus, your friendly server will be more than happy to bring you anything you need, want, or are craving (even if it is not at the restaurant you are currently at!).
Also, you can order what you want in whatever order you'd like. If you are craving chocolate when you arrive back from port, no one is going to stop you from ordering the delicious mousse chocolate cake as your appetizer!
This also means you can order some warm mozzarella sticks after you thought you finished your meal if you find yourself still craving the delicious cruise food.
Snacks are also included in your all-inclusive cruise fare (thankfully!), which means if you see any snack station or want to head over to the ship's buffet for a quick bite, go for it. I guarantee that no one is going to stop you!
You can also order unlimited food from room service during all-inclusive cruises (I know, amazing right!). Just remember that it is customary to tip the crew member who delivers your food to your stateroom once they arrive.
What's not Included:
While the majority of food you stumble upon on your all-inclusive cruises will be included in your fare, there are a couple exceptions depending on your cruise line.
Most cruise lines have specialty dining facilities in addition to their main dining options. These are typically fancier dining venues that offer 3, 4, or 5-course meals to passengers willing to fork over extra money to truly foster the all-inclusive cruising environment.
Most specialty dining options on all-inclusive cruises are offered at a 20$ or higher surcharge, which will grant you access to the onboard restaurant's complete menu. Other specialty dining spots may boast an all-a-cart experience where you can pick and choose which appetizers, entrees, and desserts you will be paying out of pocket for.
To make these cruise specialty dining spots more accessible for guests, cruise lines offer specialty dining packages for guests to pre-pay for a certain amount of reservations at the onboard specialty dining venues.
Other onboard food that typically won't be included in your fare will be outlined by your cruise line. These foods can vary greatly, whether the Mickey bars on Disney cruises or the fancy pastries offered at the cafes on Royal Caribbean cruises.
Most, if not all, cruise lines offer water, coffee, tea, and juice at no extra cost when booking your all-inclusive cruises. Just make sure to bring a reusable water bottle or container to carry your drinks as any bottled beverage will usually come with an extra fee.
You can then easily bring your water bottle up to any cruise ship bar and ask the bartender to refill your container with water to carry around onboard.
You may also be surprised when you initially arrive to your cruise stateroom with a bottle of champagne or wine.
Many cruise lines, like Norwegian Cruise Line, will treat their past guests or those staying in suites with these complimentary bottles of alcohol for guests to start off their cruise vacation right! Just make sure to double check with your room steward to confirm that these bottles come free of charge.
Now, where it gets pretty complicated is the packages or promotions going on either by your cruise line or travel agency at the time of booking.
Nearly all cruise lines offer cruise alcoholic beverage packages either as a promotion or at an extra cost. Some cruise lines, like Norwegian Cruise Line, will frequently offer this as a perk when you are booking your cruise. You will have to watch out for extra hidden fees like taxes and gratuities when opting into these packages, however, they are more than likely worth it!
Other cruise lines and cruise travel agencies will offer non-alcoholic beverage packages that include bottled water, soda, and non-alcoholic cocktails as another package (this may also be included with your all-inclusive cruise fare, you will have to check!).
Most cruises in the North American cruise market do not typically include either the alcoholic or nonalcoholic drink package in the fare, but European cruises frequently do.
What's not included:
Specialty coffees on most cruise lines are not included in the all-inclusive cruising fare. Most all-inclusive cruises will include American coffees in your fare, which you can typically find at the buffet, order at the dining facilities, request from room service, or even find within your cruise stateroom.
Like I stated earlier, more than likely, alcoholic beverages are not included. This means you should definitely check out your cruise line's all-inclusive drink packages before you sail the high seas!
If you are already imagining yourself sipping on margaritas as you sail away and enjoying wine at dinner, these all-inclusive cruise drink packages can save you from massive headaches and a lot of money.
Anyone who has stayed in a hotel before can attest to the mini-fridge filled with tempting alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Well, cruise lines have also picked up on this strategic method and have filled each stateroom's fridge with plenty of cold beverages to tempt their guests.
Do not touch these! I can almost guarantee that these tempting beverages are not free, and are more than likely extremely expensive for what you ultimately get. Instead, either opt in for the all-inclusive cruising drink packages or stick to drinking while you are in port.
Once you fork over the money for your all-inclusive cruises, you are granted access to nearly every passenger area onboard.
This includes (on most cruise ships) the refreshing, top deck pools! These pools are open from dusk until far past dawn for eager cruisers looking for relaxation to enjoy.
Other facilities onboard you will have access to include any libraries, the atrium, lounges, theaters, restaurants, the buffet, and any other exciting features of your cruise ship.
While it is completely free to access these areas, there may be extra charges when it comes to experiencing all the perks of the venues. This could include bingo, arcade, casino, and other costs that add up quickly.
If you would like to stay in shape during your all-inclusive cruises, you are in luck! Most cruise lines boast amazing gyms that are open most hours of the day, free of charge.
If you are cruising with toddlers, you are also in luck! All childcare facilities are also included in your all-inclusive cruise fare, with all youth programs and child care for ages 2 and up being completely complimentary.
What's not included:
While there are plenty of venues onboard cruise ships for you to spend your entire vacation entertained, there are specific areas on some cruise ships that are off limits or come at an extra charge.
The off limit areas for guests during all-inclusive cruises obviously include the crew area. This means you should not wander past the "crew access only" doors, sneak behind the scenes during shows and meals, and seek out the ship navigation section of the ship.
Besides that, while you won't have access to public areas while they are not open (duh!), most other areas onboard can be explored either for free or with an extra fee.
Some areas that may charge a fee include some private classes onboard, special childcare, the spa, and any exclusive club areas.
If you would like to leave your kids to enjoy a romantic dinner with your loved one, of course that is included! However, if you are looking for an extensive babysitting service for care during your all-inclusive cruise, there will be an extra cost.
The cruise ship spas are typically offered to all-inclusive cruising passengers via a spa pass (check out Norwegian Cruise Line's Thermal Suite Pass), or by paid treatment only. This means you will only have access to this relaxing area if you have a spa package included in your fair or if you pay extra after you book your cruise.
There may also be areas of the ship that are reserved for your cruise line's loyalty members or suite guests. Obviously, these areas are only accessible to those who are eligible, and are there for not included in an all-inclusive cruise fare.
Now, the gratuities all-inclusive cruises area can be tricky to navigate.
Most all-inclusive cruises leaving from the United States will NOT cover gratuities, unless explicitly stated when booking your cruise.
Now, that doesn't mean you should worry, but I highly suggest double checking what your cruise line policy is when it comes to gratuities and tips.
What's not included:
Most cruise lines will either offer the option to pre-pay your cruise gratuities or charge a flat rate (around $15 a day) at the end of your cruise that covers your stateroom steward, waiters, and other interactions with staff onboard.
Of course, you can always adjust this after your vacation to whatever you believe is fair, but just remember, cruise line employees often make very little and depend on these tips for the majority of their income.
You will also have to pay extra gratuities (usually a nominal fee) for any room service you order onboard.
There are extra gratuities added to many of the cruise packages you may add to your cruise, whether as a seemingly "free" perk or at an extra cost. This includes gratuities added for any drink packages, specialty dining packages, and other packages you purchase depending on your specific cruise line for your all-inclusive cruising adventure.
Most entertainment should be included in your all-inclusive cruises when you book your cruising adventure. This means that any Broadway-caliber shows, karaoke sessions, live bands, and other entertainment will be free of charge.
Now, even though the onboard cruise entertainment may be complimentary when booking your all-inclusive cruise, that does not mean that you will immediately have access to all entertainment.
Many cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, actually require passengers to plan out their cruise and book tickets to their shows to avoid overcrowding. Therefore, you should double check with your cruise line to see what is required when it comes to having access to the onboard entertainment.
Art auctions and other classes can also be free and sometimes offer free refreshments, so make sure to check with your all-inclusive cruise line to check out their cruise deals!
What's not included:
Other areas of entertainment can be found throughout most of the all-inclusive cruises.
While many classes onboard outlined in your daily itinerary guide may be free, I can almost guarantee that there will be a couple that are not. These could be fitness classes, cooking classes, or other ones ones that are more intensive or require expensive resources.
There may also be fees to use all the forms of personal entertainment onboard all-inclusive cruises. For example, there is an extra fee to play bingo on Norwegian Cruise Line. Another example is that you will have to pay extra for the ice bar on NCL's other ships.
While most cruise lines do indeed offer WiFi on their all-inclusive cruises, most access will come at an extra cost.
If you book your cruise during your cruise line's or travel agency's promotional period, you may be granted a WiFi package, free of charge.
Otherwise, you are, unfortunately, out of luck and will need to fork over extra money to cover internet at sea. WiFi tends to be fairly expensive on cruise ships, and the speed is not always the greatest, so I recommend only purchasing if you absolutely need it.
Plus, this way, you can truly relax away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life on your all-inclusive cruises.
Again, unless you purchase or receive a photos package, the professional photos taken onboard will not be included in your all-inclusive cruise fare.
However, most of the friendly crew onboard will be more than happy to snap a picture of you and your travel companions with your phone or camera at no extra cost.
The photos taken when boarding the ship (most all-inclusive cruises have a fun backdrop), during formal nights, and any other time where a professional photographer is taking pictures will be free to take part in.
You will typically be able to browse all the photos taken for free as well, usually in an area around the cruise ship's shops.
The extra fee comes into play when you try to obtain the photos afterwards. Unless you purchased or were granted a photo package before your all-inclusive cruise, you will be charged for any professional photos that you are looking to collect.
Flights are more than likely not included in your all-inclusive cruise fare.
Of course, there are some exceptions, like when cruise lines or travel agencies are running promotions, but a general rule is that flights are not included when booking all-inclusive cruises.
Anything listed on your all-inclusive cruises daily itinerary (Freestyle Daily for NCL, Cruise Compass for Royal Caribbean, etc.) is more than likely included in your all-inclusive cruise fare.
This usually includes any physical, educational, entertainment, and family activities onboard.
Of course, there may be a couple events listed on the daily list of cruise activities that are offered at an extra charge (bingo, wine tastings, etc), but these will often be denoted with a note clearly labeling whether it is complimentary or costs extra.
While some of the more expensive and luxurious cruise lines may include shore excursions on their all-inclusive cruises, most main stream cruise lines will not.
This again depends on any all-inclusive cruise packages you may have received or opted-in for while booking your cruise with your travel agent or the cruise line, but most of the time, you will have to plan and pay for your trips in port separately.
In rare, and I mean very rare, situations, you may have an onboard credit included on your all-inclusive cruises.
This is typically offered to past guests on specific cruise lines or as another add-on package when booking your all-inclusive cruising experience.
Again, cruise lines and travel agencies may also run promotions where they will offer an onboard cruise credit (depending on the type of stateroom you are in) when booking your all-inclusive cruises.
All-Inclusive Cruise Deals
Vacations to Go
By far my favorite site for comparing the best all-inclusive cruise deals is Vacations to Go.
This is the simplest way to compare all the destinations, durations, time frames, and cruise lines of the top all-inclusive cruises throughout the industry.
Even if you would prefer to book through your travel agent or directly with the cruise line, Vacations to Go offers a helpful tool to compare all the all-inclusive cruises offered within your specified criteria, boasting the lowest prices offered across the internet.
Booking Through Travel Agents
While at first, it may seem backwards to work through some "middle man" to book your cruise, you can honestly save hundreds of dollars AND receive bonus perks for booking through cruise travel agents.
Cruise travel agents work directly with the cruise lines to provide their customers with the best all-inclusive cruises possible.
Most will receive blocks of staterooms on each sailing dedicated specifically for their eager customers to book. Thus, if you are bummed that your dream cruise stateroom is booked out, head on over to one of the dozen cruise travel agencies, and I can almost guarantee that they will have something you would like.
Booking Through Cruise Lines
If you would prefer to go the traditional route, booking your all-inclusive cruise directly through your cruise line is always another possibility.
I highly recommend not to book your all-inclusive cruises the first time you see your dream cruise, but instead, spend a few weeks to months monitoring the price and cruise package deals to make sure you get the most bang-for-your-buck.
If you are able to book a last-minute cruise, you may be able to find one of the cheapest all-inclusive cruises offered on the market. Cruise lines and travel agencies desperately want to fill every stateroom onboard the cruise ships, and if they notice some empty staterooms weeks before sailing, they will significantly drop the price to maximize their profits.
Additionally, you may see many deals for all-inclusive cruises around national holidays as cruise lines tend to run huge promotions where they drop their prices and tie in cruise packages that will definitely make your all-inclusive cruise 100x better.