Know what’s included and not included on your cruise. In other words, set your expectations before you board. Don’t assume all activities and restaurants are included in your fare. Many charge an additional fee.
Most large cruise lines have similar amenities included. Small, luxury lines are the most inclusive.
The base fare includes the cabin you stay in.
Overall, your cabin consists of a bathroom with shower, desk/vanity with mirror, closet, TV, house phone, and queen size bed, which usually can be split into two twins.
When it comes to storage, the bathroom has limited storage, but you’ll find more room under the vanity. To increase your storage, bring folding storage boxes for organization.
Next, specified cabins include pullout sofa beds or Pullman beds that fold down from the cabin wall or ceiling. These beds are great for kids because they usually have guard rails. Pullman beds might a bit uncomfortable for adults, but many people make it work.
The stateroom also have a small closet where you can store your clothing and luggage. Sometimes the luggage will fit under the bed. There is not a lot of storage space, so you will need to be mindful not to bring too much stuff.
Additionally, the TV feeds live video from the ship cameras, info about excursions or activities on board, TV shows, news and movies, and a map showing the current position of the ship. Staterooms don’t normally feature DVD players.
Most modern cabins have in-room safes, where you can put valuables or documentation. Just don’t forget the combo!
Some staterooms have mini-fridges for drinks. Normally, this depends on which class of cabin you book (like a suite).
However, you won’t find microwaves. Since there is food available almost all hours of the day on a ship, there’s no need to reheat food.
Occasionally, cruise lines offer robes to use on board (but they’ll charge you a hefty fee if you take it home with you).
Ocean view cabins
Ocean view cabins are usually the same size as inside cabins, and have a window, but no balcony. They face the water and located on the outside of the hallway. If you get sea sick, this may affect you a bit more.
Ocean view cabins are frequently on the lower decks of the ship, but you can also find them at the front of the ship looking forward.
Balcony cabins are the most popular and common cabin type on cruises today.
The modern cruise ships feature hundreds of balcony cabins on higher decks.
Above: Norwegian Getaway ocean view balconies
Everyone wants to sit on their own little veranda and enjoy the fresh air. They also tend to be a little bit bigger than inside and ocean view cabins.
The Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships have interior balconies. This means they open into the ship rather than the ocean. They get fresh air because they’re open from above. You can see the other balconies across the open space.
This is great for people who want a balcony without spending as much on an ocean view. They also benefit people uncomfortable seeing the ocean (aquaphobia), and don’t want to be reminded they’re on the water.
It also feels more like a land-based hotel or resort when your balcony overlooks a park or boardwalk area and you see people coming and going.
Suites can range from slightly bigger than balcony cabins to several bedrooms, and 2,000 sq feet. Some even have lofts.
They not only have more living space, but they also come with additional perks.
Perks vary from cruise line to cruise line, but generally come with an exclusive restaurant, a higher level of service, priority treatment, mini-fridges/mini-bars, robes to use on board, higher quality mattresses and luxurious bathrooms.
If you find a really low fare on a great cruise, you can happily thank the people paying big bucks for suites who subsidize your fare. Suites can cost 4-to-10-times a balcony fare.
Main Dining Room
Every ship has a main dining room (MDR) available for 3 meals a day.
The MDR tends to have a variety of foods, but sometimes there is a theme.
Cruise lines are very good about tending to special diets, such as vegetarian, vegan, no-lactose, no-gluten, no-egg, Kosher, low/no salt and sometimes Halal.
You can order as many appetizers, main courses, or desserts as you want. There’s no charge or limit.
MDR is a great opportunity to try new things. If you haven’t tried something, order it and try it. If you don’t like it, just ask the server to bring you something else.
It’s also OK to bring food back to the room from the MDR. Ask for a cover to keep it warm.
Lobster Night tip: Many cruises have “lobster night” toward the end of the cruise. They offer lobster on the menu every night, along with filet steaks, but they are an additional fee. If you wait until lobster night, you can have as many as you want and it’s included in your fare. Ask the head waiter or check the menu in front of the restaurant to find out which night is lobster night.
Once on Carnival, I sat at an 8-top table with a guy who ordered 3 lobster plates–hold the carbs and vegetables. The wait staff didn’t blink an eye and he got his 3 lobster tails, one after another.
Almost all ships have buffets and they’re usually located near the pool.
They’re convenient since there’s no set time to eat. Just show up in the hours when the buffet is open.
If you have picky eaters in your party or don’t want sit through a full service meal, the buffet is great. The buffet has a wide selection of fresh foods, including fruit, veggies, proteins, starches and desserts.
You can also bring your buffet plates (or just the deserts!) back to your cabin or out to the sun deck if you wish.
Cafes and Bistros
Large ships have half a dozen options for included dining. You can find sandwiches from a cafe, grilled salmon or chicken at a bistro, or fresh-made pizza all day.
Small ships might only have 1 or 2 other options besides the MDR and buffet.
There is always free soft serve ice cream near the pool and sometimes a grill with pizza, hot dogs or hamburgers.
Pro Tip: Wash Your Hands
ALWAYS always always wash your hands when entering the eating areas.
People get sick on cruise ships most often simply because they don’t wash their hands.
If you go to the buffet, get your food, put it on the table and go back to wash again, because those serving spoons are germ infested, too.
I wash my hands about 20 times a day on the ship.
It’s a good habit to wash your hands each time you return to your cabin. Don’t bring in germs and put them on your bed, on your clean clothes, or your face.
Specialty restaurants come with additional charges and are not included in the base cruise fare.
Anything that’s specialized like sushi, hibachi, steakhouse, Italian or French cuisine or comes with a brand name or chef’s name is typically costs extra. It can run between $50-$100 per person, without discounts for children.
Money saving tip: If you really want to go to one, but don’t want to pay the high fees, see if they offer a lunch menu at a lower rate.
Many cruise lines sell additional dining plans. These are costly, and entirely optional and unnecessary. A premium dining package would include dinner every night at a specialty restaurant and may run $200-250 per person per week of cruising.
Some people like to get them and if that’s what makes them happy, that’s great. Bon appetit!
Personally, I am not a fan because I can get any of that specialty food at home, for a much lower cost. I am planning to try the steakhouse for lunch (which I bought while it was on sale on the website) and try the sushi restaurant as part of a sushi-rolling class. I also plan to try some of the smaller included restaurants like the cafe and solarium bistro.
You’ll find ice and tap water, lemonade, flavored water, iced tea, milk, juices (apple, orange) and regular coffee available anytime included with your fare for no additional cost.
If you want soda, bottled water and alcohol, many cruise lines offer different drink packages to accommodate everyone from children to adults.
Entertainment & Activities
You can enjoy headliner and other shows in the main theater with the base fare.
In addition, activities comprise of bars with music and dancing, parties, parades, pools and pool parties, movies, sports activities, fitness center, kids activities/clubs, trivia, and other on board events.
Harmony/Symphony of the Seas included activities consist of:
Things That Cost Extra
Most luxury cruise lines include drinks, premium entertainment, excursions and don’t charge gratuities. Conversely, large cruise lines exclude many features to keep fares low.
Large cruise lines do not include internet access. You can purchase an internet package for about $15 per device per day to use wifi all over the ship.
Casino chips and bingo gambling are additional fees.
There are many ways to spend money on board the ship shopping. There are frequently “sales” of jewelry, watches and bags. Most ships also sell artwork. My favorite is the ship store with branded merchandise.
If the ship photographers take your picture, they’ll be at the photo booth located in the center of the ship for you to review.
If you want to keep the prints or get digital copies, it will be extra. This is not included with your fare.
You can buy a photo package at the booth while you’re on the cruise. The photo gallery deletes pictures when guests disembark the ship.
Exercise classes, personal training and other specialized activities (yoga) are an additional fee.
Some cruisers buy soda packages that offer unlimited sodas with a collectible tumbler for about $10 per person per day ($70/week).
Premium and specialty coffees, smoothies, hand squeezed juices, and non alcoholic cocktails are not included. You can buy a drink package to include these for about $30 per person per day ($210+/week).
Alcoholic drinks are not included.
You can buy an unlimited drink package to include soda, bottled water, specialty coffees, beer, wine and mixed drinks.
Unlimited packages run $70-85 per person per day ($500+/week).
Drinking ages on ships
If you’re not legal to drink locally when you depart on Day 1, then you cannot drink on the ship.
Although, if you’re old enough to drink in the port, you are free to do that. In the event you have a milestone birthday on board, talk to your server and show them your ID, and ask if they’ll serve you now. They might, but it’s unlikely.
Required drink packages
Before you buy a drink package, make sure others in your room are also planning to get the same one. Some cruise lines require others in a room to buy drink packages if at least one person buys one.