For many travelers, including ourselves, cruises offer a great value as they include many amenities for one set price. While the cruise fare does encompass quite a lot, a cruise is not as all inclusive as most travelers define such trips.
In our experience, when travelers use the term “all inclusive”, often they are referring to resorts and hotels that include meals, entertainment, and both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages for one set price.
More recently, the concept of truly all inclusive cruises has caught on, as the industry shifts to target younger travelers and vacationers who are comparing cruises to all inclusive resorts in areas of the world including Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean Islands.
All Inclusive Cruises Can Now Be Had on Many Ships
In response to this growing demand, several options now exist that can easily turn many sailings into all inclusive cruises.
To help travelers compare the different options, we have created this guide to all inclusive cruises. Please be advised that promotions and offerings are constantly changing.
A Guide to All Inclusive Cruises
What is included in the Cruise Fare?
Before we dive into the different packages and options available for all inclusive cruises, let’s identify what is included in your standard cruise fare. Regardless of the type of cruise line you choose, the cost of your cruise fare (plus taxes and government fees) will entitle you to the following benefits during the length of your cruise:
- A cabin (or room) in a set category with daily stateroom service provided by a room attendant.
- Transportation to and from the ports of call.
- Most meals in a variety of dining venues, including a main dining room(s) and casual/buffet style restaurant(s).
3 Course Meals in the Main Dining Room are Included in Your Cruise Fare
- Non-alcoholic drinks such as some juices, coffee/tea, and lemonade.
- Onboard entertainment with “headliners” and Broadway style shows, which often occur nightly.
- Access to a variety of themed clubs and lounges with many of them providing nightly live music.
- Ship activities like trivia, “game shows”, karaoke, and cultural/enrichment talks.
- The ability to shop at onboard stores and duty free outlets while the ship is at sea.
- Children’s programs and activities for youths aged 3-17.
- Access to a gym and other fitness facilities with a small selection of free classes/activities.
Splash Around for Free on Your Ship’s Pool Deck
- Many ships also contain amenities like pools, water slides, sports decks, ice rinks, ropes courses, and more.
- Access to a casino with table games and slot machines on most ships.
What Will Cost You More on Most Cruise Lines
While the list above includes a lot, there are still quite a few things that are not covered in a typical cruise fare:
Alcoholic beverages top the list as the most noticeable amenity not included in your typical cruise fare. Even non-alcoholic drinks are limited with many lines charging for soda, bottled water, and premium coffees and teas. Those wanting an all inclusive cruise experience would certainly be looking for a greater variety of both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages than what is covered in most standard cruise fares.
Most Cruise Lines Do NOT Include Alcoholic Drinks with the Cruise Fare
While there are plenty of complimentary dining options, most cruise ships contain “specialty dining” venues- smaller restaurants that cost a cover charge and usually offer upgraded food selections in an intimate and sophisticated setting. Room service is also limited on some ships with either restrictions on time of day or small charges for delivery.
Ships also offer different “events” like wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and mixology classes that sometimes have an additional cost. Some ships also offer specialty entertainment that costs more- Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a Cirque dinner show on the Norwegian Epic, which is not included in the cruise fare.
Even though the gym is included in your standard cruise fare, some fitness classes also have an additional fee.
Most Fitness Classes are Extra on Major Cruise Lines
Internet and especially WiFi access is also additional on most ships. Broadband, high speed internet access has just started to proliferate cruise ships with connectivity getting better every day. But, costs for a week of internet access can be a few hundred dollars extra. If you need to stay connected while sailing, then an internet package is a must.
Most mainstream cruise lines have now started charging for “recommended gratuities”. The costs are about $12-$15 a day, per traveler. You can prepay these costs or pay them while onboard. Some cruisers provide additional gratuities to crew members who provide superb service, but you should at least budget the above amounts for gratuities.
Go Out and Explore the Ports of Call on Your Cruise
Activities While Docked
Shore excursions/tours at each port of call are also not covered in your cruise fare. Remember, about a third of the time on your cruise will be spent at different destinations in the region you are sailing. While you can stay on the ship, we highly recommend exploring the different ports of call during your trip. There will definitely be additional costs associated with these ventures, but the reason you go on vacation is to do and see something new, not just sit on a ship.
Options for Creating All Inclusive Cruises
Not all cruise lines are created equal. While it is true that all cruise lines include some amenities, certain categories of cruise lines do include more in their fare making them better candidates for all inclusive cruises.
In general, there are a few categories or classes of cruise ships including the most inclusive Luxury Cruise Lines (e.g., Crystal Cruises), Premier Cruise Lines (e.g., Holland America, Celebrity Cruises), and Contemporary or Popular Cruise Lines (e.g., Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International), along with other specialty and niche companies that also offer both ocean and river cruises.
In this article, we focus mostly on the popular cruise lines. These cruise lines make up about 50% of all cruise traffic, and odds are these are the cruise companies you are considering for all inclusive cruises.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The largest cruise line in the world, with 24 ships and the 25th due out next year , Carnival Cruise Lines has their Cheers program! While a bit more selective, limiting patrons to 15 alcoholic drinks per 24 hours on the ship and a $10 limit to purchase frozen cocktails, beer and wine, and other spirits, the program does work at their signature Red Frog Pub and Rum Bars onboard and includes soda. However, this program does not include specialty coffees or bottled water, making its $49.95 (plus gratuities) per person, per day, surcharge questionable.
Carnival Cruise Line ©- Enjoy a Drink at Red Frog Pub as Part of the Carnival Cheers Program
Carnival is also testing out new internet plans with a complete plan covering email, internet, and social media costing $25 a day, per person. Reviews are mixed on the speed of this “Premium Plan”, but Carnival reports that speeds are fast enough to allow for video conferencing. The plans should be available on all ships by the end of 2015.
On this “budget” cruise line, the all inclusive cruise option would not cover gratuities, tours at the ports of call, or any specialty dining.
Princess Cruise Lines, known for their food and more traditional, elegant approach to ocean cruising, is now offering guests the option of an all inclusive beverage package, which covers drinks and cocktails up to $10. Soda, water, and specialty coffees are also part of this program which costs about $49.00 (plus gratuities) per person, per day on top of the cruise fare for those wanting the all inclusive cruise option.
Princess Cruises © – Enjoy Unlimited Cocktails on one of 18 Princess Cruise Ships
You would still need to pay for specialty dining, shore excursions, and internet while sailing on Princess Cruises as the only options currently available for internet are pay-per-minute plans.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean International offers a variety of drink package options for those looking for all inclusive cruises on one of the line’s 24 ships. Their best plan, referred to as the Ultimate Package, costs about $55 (plus gratuities), per person, per day and covers drinks up to $12 with many premium spirits, beers, wines by the glass, and other non-alcoholic specialty drinks including bottled water, specialty coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice as part of the package. There is also a non-alcoholic version of the program which covers virgin frozen drinks and all of the same upgraded non-alcoholic drinks.
All Inclusive Cruises Can be Had on the New Quantum of the Seas
We have used the Ultimate drink package on short and long cruises and believe it is a great value. Read our complete breakdown of all Royal Caribbean drink packages here.
Royal Caribbean has also just rolled out new internet packages that, by the end of the year, will be on all their ships offering unlimited high speed WiFi for around $20 per person, per day, for one device.
Currently, Royal Caribbean ships do not have any additional costs for entertainment, so your cruise fare will cover Broadway productions on some ships like Mamma Mia, Cats, and Chicago.
Even with these programs, you would still need to pay for specialty dining, activities off the ship, and the recommended gratuities which start at $12.95 a day, per person.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
With several different options available for customizing your cruise, Norwegian Cruise Lines can provide cruisers with all inclusive cruises customized to their needs.
Similar to other major cruise lines, Norwegian now offers an Ultimate Beverage Package. This package covers all beer, wines by the glass, and spirits up to $11, as well as soda and juices for around $54 (plus gratuities) per person, per day, if you prepay for the package . You still need to pay for bottled waters or specialty coffees, if you want to indulge in those beverages.
Norwegian is also known for their restaurants and dining with many ships having a variety of specialty dining options for lunch and dinner. Travelers can now purchase specialty dining plans that cover the costs of these venues for either part or the entire duration of the trip. For a typical 7 day cruise, this package costs about $140.
If you want to connect to the internet, you can pay $30 a day for unlimited WiFi access.
With most costs covered with these additional plans, the all inclusive cruise option with Norwegian Cruise Line would cost an additional $797 for a week per person. Gratuities and onshore activities will still cost you extra, but this setup is one of the most inclusive offerings found on a major cruise line.
Our Pick for the Best of the All Inclusive Cruises
While major cruise lines provide options for all inclusive cruises, you will be hard pressed to find an option that includes everything on one of these lines.
The cruise line that gets you the closest to a truly all inclusive cruise, without the sticker shock of a luxury cruise line (see below), and still provides amenities and experiences found on bigger ships is Celebrity Cruises.
In fact, this premier line that offers 10 ships including the award winning Solstice class, being one of the best “small” mega ships afloat, gets our vote for the best all inclusive cruise option for the typical traveler.
The line’s newest pricing model, Go Big, Go Better, Go Best, offers cruisers the choice of paying for additional upgrades at a flat fee that is more reasonable than some of the other packages out there. For travelers wanting it all, the Go Best option, which costs between $300-$400 more for a standard 7 night Caribbean cruise, will receive 4 upgrades.
We Enjoyed Drinks on the Premium Drink Package on Celebrity Solstice
Among the upgrades received by the first two guests staying in a cabin is the Premium Alcohol Drink Package. This package costs about $65 (plus gratuities) per person, per day, and covers martinis, signature cocktails, top shelf sprints, beers, and wines by the glass up to $13, as well as bottled water, specialty coffees, and other premium non-alcoholic beverages. We found this package to be extremely valuable during our seven night sailing on Celebrity Solstice.
When you opt for the Go Best pricing, the first two guests in a stateroom also receive an unlimited internet package for the duration of the cruise.
Plus, all onboard gratuities will be included, and each guest will also get $150 of onboard credit, which can be used to purchase shore excursions. Admittedly, this credit probably won’t cover all your excursions, but it would be a nice down payment.
Specialty Dining Options on Celebrity Solstice
Now, travelers can also purchase specialty dining plans that will cover the costs of eating at the ship’s specialty restaurants. These plans are a bit more limited than the options on Norwegian Cruise Lines, but most Celebrity ships only have a handful of specialty dining options anyway.
All Inclusive Cruises on Luxury Cruise Lines
For those travelers who can afford them, Luxury Cruise Lines offer even more included benefits during their cruise, making them good candidates for all inclusive cruises.
These ships are often smaller, with some only holding a few hundred passengers. Superior personalized service, gourmet meals, and cultural and enrichment talks are often offered on these vessels. Sorry, you won’t find any belly flop contests on these trips!
Being smaller in size, entertainment onboard is also more limited, offering some nightly shows and a few lounges and bars, catering toward older travelers who make up the majority of cruisers on these ships. These lines also offer very limited children’s programs.
Viking Ocean Cruises © – The New Viking Star Offers Luxury All Inclusive Cruises
Honestly, these vessels are not really designed for the casual traveler. For those who want to splurge on a cruise, you will find these options offering the best “off the shelf” all inclusive cruises.
One luxury line that might be within reach for most readers is the new Viking Ocean Cruises’ Viking Star.
This new ship includes 11 restaurants all free of charge, a shore excursion at each port of call (a history/cultural tour), beer and wine at lunch and dinner, free internet access, self-service laundry, 24 hour room service, and specialty coffees and teas all included with the base fare.
Most other luxury cruise lines offer even more amenities in their fare, at an added cost though.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises ©- Some of the Regent Cruise Lines Fleet
Take Regent Seven Seas Cruises for example.
This cruise line’s list of included offerings is quite impressive, including all spirits at bars and restaurants and even a mini-bar restocked daily, unlimited shore excursions, even airfare and access to the onboard Spa for one set price. However, the base price, per person, exceeds $10,000 for 10 and 11 day cruises in the Caribbean.
But, for the average traveler, these ships, long itineraries, and prices might not be ideal for a typical vacation.
Creating All Inclusive Cruises
Now you know the options available for all inclusive cruises. Depending on what you want to include in your vacation, your budget, and where you want to go, any number of the combinations above will provide you with an all inclusive cruise experience that is tailored specifically to you and your travel party. All you need to do now is book your next cruise. Bon Voyage!
Are you looking to take an all inclusive cruise? Have you used one of the packages above or sailed on a luxury cruise line? Drop us an anchor below to let us know about your experiences with all inclusive cruises. Help your fellow travelers plan their perfect vacation, with everything included!