Family cruising has become popular and affordable. It can be a great value for your vacation dollars. Cruise fares will take a big bite out of your vacation budget, air fare too if embarking far from home. But that’s really all you have to spend. You can budget around the “extras” by cherry picking activities and luxuries that are important to you and your family.
Our first cruise aboard the Star Princess was very costly. We had no idea what to expect and purchased all sorts of tours and packages from the cruise line. We’ve since learned to plan our own tours when possible and take advantage of free onboard activities. We’ve learned that the chocolate covered strawberries that are part of the “celebration” package can be found for free at the buffet. We’ve learned how to save money on the luxuries offered. We’ve become very savvy cruisers, specially when we travel with our kids and grandkids!
It’s hard to budget vacation dollars when you don’t know what’s included and what’s not in the cruise fare. Here is a list to help you budget for your cruise.
- All meals and snacks in “regular” dining venues.
Standard dining venues on most cruise lines are:
Main Dining Room – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Buffet – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks & Beverages (coffee, tea & some juices are included)
Pool side grills for burgers & hot dogs, and on some ships an outdoor ice cream shop.
- Selected beverages – coffee, tea (hot & iced), lemonade, some juices – selections of free beverages vary by cruise line.
- Standard room service menu is generally free. Most cruise lines now offer upgraded menus that include balcony dining, champagne brunch, and more – those are not free. Some cruise lines have started to add a service charge per delivery. Check before you order.
- All onboard entertainment including theater productions, lounge shows, movies, in room TV (some lines have pay per view premium channels)
- All onboard activities – trivia games, karaoke, dance lessons, port talks, pool games, themed parties, and more.
- Pools, fitness center and some classes, walking/jogging track, library
- Youth and Teen Programs and activities – Most ships have youth centers staffed by trained counselors for different age groups. Kids must be registered to participate. Activities include parties, games, arts, and crafts. Most activities are free.
What’s not included:
- Tips and gratuities – for guests’ convenience gratuities are added to shipboard accounts it’s charged per guest/day. Services charges are also added to beverage, spa, and salon purchases. Some cruise lines allow you to pre-pay gratuities before you sail, check with your cruise line for details.
- Tipping is not mandatory, you may remove these charges from your account at the purser’s desk any time before the cruise ends and instead opt to tip specific service people like your cabin attendant and diningroom waiters.
- Specialty Dining – A cover charge is added to your shipboard account if you choose to dine at a specialty restaurant. Venues vary by ship and cruise line, but can include French Cuisine, Trattoria, Creperie, Steakhouse, and popular franchises such as Johnny Rockets, Seattle’s Best, and others that are now onboard some ships.
- Gelato, specialty coffees and teas, smoothies, and other specialty treats. In some cases the specialty coffees and teas, and gelato are charged, but the snack foods(cookies, salads, sandwiches, and pastries) are free. This is true on Celebrity’s Cafe al Bacio and Princess’s cafe in their Piazza.
- Bottled Water, Soda, Beer, Wine, and other alcoholic Beverages
- Personal Trainers, Special Fitness Classes (Pilates, Cycling, Yoga, etc.)
- Spa & Salon Services
- Thermal Suites and other special services and equipment found in the spa
- Computer & Photography Classes
- Language Classes
- Cooking Classes
- Arts & Crafts Classes (some are free check before you sign up)
- Wi-Fi, Laundry & Dry Cleaning
- Casino Gaming
- On Board Shops
- Wine Tasting
- Art Auctions
- Shore Excursions
- Flowers from the Florist
- Celebration Packages
- Group Babysitting, In Stateroom Babysitting
The items listed here are by no means everything cruise ships offer. These are just some of the services, activities, and “extras” common to most ships. Different cruise lines and ships offer varying “extras” for a fee. It’s best to check with the cruise line and ship you will be sailing for their complete list.
Whether your idea of the perfect family vacation is relaxing at the pool, dining with your child’s favorite cartoon character, or a luxurious day at the spa, you’re sure to find it on a cruise ship.