7 extra-charge items on cruise ships that are worth the cost (and 7 that aren’t)

Dec 4, 2021

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Once you have booked your cruise, paid for your air and travel insurance and chosen your shore excursions, set a budget for extras. A world of temptations awaits.

While your cruise fare covers accommodations, meals, entertainment and activities, cruise lines know how to get you to part with more dollars. Onboard expenditures are a big part of their profits.

You may have an idea of what you’ll spend on drinks (pre-booked drinks packages are geared toward big drinkers) and a budget for the casino, but don’t underestimate the other carefully crafted enticements.

Here are our picks for what’s worth spending extra for on cruise ships and what’s not.

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Worth the splurge

Specialty dining

You can have a good or even great meal in your ship’s main dining room, at the buffet and at other casual dining venues such as the burger or pizza stands. But for extraordinary food, you’ll pay extra on most vessels. Cruise ships operate intimate specialty restaurants, typically based on a culinary theme – Italian, French, steakhouse, Asian, Brazilian, sushi – and these come with an extra fee (or what the cruise lines like to call a “cover charge”).  Prices range from a reasonable $15 per person to more than $100 per person – the latter for a multicourse chef’s tasting menu. Some restaurants are priced a la carte, so you pay for each selection as you would on land.

If you are a foodie who wants to experience the best a ship can deliver on the culinary front, it’s worth the expense.

Tip: If you are planning to do several specialty restaurants, look for discounted packages you can book pre-cruise.

Wi-Fi upgrades

While some ships provide free Wi-Fi (Virgin Voyages, Viking, ultraluxury lines), most do not. So if you’re hooked on social media or otherwise need to stay connected you’ll have to pay extra.

Basic Wi-Fi, with just enough juice to send and receive emails, may be less than $10 a day.

If you plan to send photos or post videos you’ll want to upgrade the plan to a high-speed package. You may buy a day or two of streaming service, but then you may find yourself frustrated on the days you don’t have it. A better bet is upgrading to a length-of-cruise streaming package – something that can cost you $150 or more for a seven-day cruise (for two devices). Look for discount offers pre-cruise and onboard.

Cooking classes

Among cruise ship activities, cooking classes are one of our favorites but with this caveat: Look for classes where you actually get your hands dirty rather than just lectures. On Royal Caribbean, you may do a sushi class ($35) and learn to make a hand-rolled lunch. On some Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises ships you can learn cooking skills in a professional culinary center equipped with workstations with stovetops, with master chefs leading the classes. A favorite class on Oceania is one focusing on learning knife skills ($69).

Room service breakfast

Don’t underestimate the luxurious vacation experience of breakfast in bed – or while admiring the sea from your cabin balcony. Most cruise ships will bring you coffee and a basket of pastries for free, but if you want eggs, pancakes, breakfast sandwiches and other items you may have to pay extra, either a set fee of $5 to $10 or a separate charge for each item. It’s worth it (although if you want to get out of your PJs and fetch items from the buffet to bring back to your cabin, that’s an option too).

“Wow” activities

Plenty of fun cruise ship activities are free, from the waterslides to minigolf to rock climbing walls and ropes courses. But if your ship has a marquee attraction there may be an upcharge. It’s worth it for the thrill and the bragging rights.

Spend the $15 to experience Bolt, the first rollercoaster at sea, on Carnival Cruise Line’s 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras, and whip around a nearly 800-foot track at speeds of up to 40 mph. On Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest ships, zip around a go-kart racetrack as you compete with other riders for the fastest score at $9.95 per ride (or $199 for an unlimited package for a week).

Corkage fees

On most ships you can bring your own bottle or two (or sometimes more) of wine or Champagne onboard. This allows you to select your favorites, whether you go with something standard or a fine vintage that you’ve been saving, and not have to worry about marked-up cruise ship prices. If you bring your bottle to a restaurant or bar you will likely have to pay a corkage fee of $10 to $30, but it may be worth it. Tip: If you are purchasing wine onboard, look for packages that provide a discount for purchasing several bottles.

Related: The ultimate guide to cruise line drinks packages

Good coffee

For those fussy about coffee, be forewarned you may not like what’s served at the buffet. It’s typically a generic brand and some will find it too strong, others too weak. For coffee snobs, better coffee will be available at the ship’s coffee shop, for a fee. You’ll find drip coffee and baristas making espressos and lattes and cappuccinos. On select Royal Caribbean ships you can even get Starbucks. Norwegian Cruise Line ships will all have Starbucks outlets by the end of 2022, with prices comparable to coffee on land.

Maybe not worth it

Art auction

Some people claim they bought the best painting ever on a cruise ship – and spent big bucks in the process. Others are totally disappointed with their splurge purchases once they get home. Extra costs for shipping and handling may mean you are paying more than you would at a gallery (or on eBay). It’s best to skip the temptation – though you may want to witness the action and get a complimentary glass of wine in the process.

Expensive jewelry

Grab those $10 watches and rings at the gift shops, but if you’re looking at fancier watches, diamonds and other fine jewelry items you better know your stuff and do some research in advance, because the items are not returnable. Also be aware that duty-free applies to taxes; if you spend big you still may have to pay customs fees when you return to the U.S.

Photos

Cruise ship photographers are all over the ship and at the pier trying to catch memorable moments. But do you really want the $20 snapshot taken against a cheesy background as you board the ship with puffy eyes because you caught a 6 a.m. flight to get to the pier? Or that photo of you with your mouthful of spaghetti at dinner? Yes, you can do silly poses with your friends, but rather than pay, ask another passenger to snap a photo with your smartphone. (The only time photos may be worth it is if you’re doing family portraits, and you and the kids are dolled up for formal night.)

Related: 21 tips that will make your first cruise go smoothly

Fitness classes

Big ships have extensive ocean-view gyms with the latest, greatest workout equipment. There will also be some free stretch and yoga classes, and a jogging track. So do you really want to shell out $12 to $40 for other classes? Or $85 to $110 for a personal training session (learning things you’ll promptly forget when you get home)? We say no. Reserve your extra energy (and money) for cycling and other activities on land.

Spa treatments

We get it. You are on vacation and you finally have time to relax. But you will pay from $105 to $180, depending on the cruise line, for a 55-minute basic Swedish or deep tissue massage – more than you would pay at home. A manicure and pedicure will cost you $45 or more, each. It’s better to get these at home too.

A thermal area at the spa on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

Thermal suites

Thermal suites in the spa are reserved relaxation areas equipped with such enticements as thalassotherapy pools or hot tubs, sauna, steam, aromatic showers, mud rooms, salt rooms and snow rooms, as well as warm heated loungers. These retreats have mellow music, soothing decor and smell really good, for a multisensory experience. The issue for us is pricing, from $30 to $70 per person for a full day (there will also be a set rate for the whole cruise). Most people don’t spend more than an hour, so consider that in your calculation on whether it’s worth it.

Laundry delivery service

On cruise ships you will pay big-city prices for dry cleaning and laundry. While it’s great to have your undies delivered all neatly folded (for $2 or $3 per pair) and to see your T-shirts neatly pressed and on hangers, do you really want to pay extra for that? Tip: If you do need to wash dirty clothes, see if your ship has a self-serve laundry room where you can use the washers and dryers for free, or for a few bucks’ worth of quarters.

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Featured photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

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