10 Things Rookie Cruisers Don’t Know are Included (FREE) on a Cruise

Things rookie cruisers don't know are included free on a cruise

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If you’re going on a cruise for the first time, you might wonder what’s included or “free” on a cruise. While cruises aren’t all inclusive, many things that are included on a cruise surprise first time cruisers (& even a few repeat cruisers!).

These days, as costs have increased overall in travel, I’m reminded of how much is included on cruises and the good value they represent as a vacation.

We’ll go over the free things you’ll find on a cruise ship, from accommodations to food, activities, and beyond. I also share some of the things that are not included on a cruise, so you can plan and budget for any extra costs on your cruise vacation.

10 Things First Time Cruisers Don’t Know Are Included on a Cruise

1. Destinations

grand cayman tender

1. Destinations

One of the main inclusions in your cruise fare is transportation to various destinations or cruise ports of call. Cruises are a great way to travel, as you’ll be able to visit multiple places in one trip.

In some cases you’ll be able to walk right off the cruise ship and be able to go to a beach or sightsee close to the port. Sometimes cruise ships will need to anchor closeby and tender cruise passengers back and forth.

Cruise Line Private Islands

Many cruise lines also feature private islands as part of Caribbean itineraries. On these private islands, you can enjoy beautiful beaches, snorkeling, and resort-style pools, with lounge chairs and lunch included at no extra cost.

While there are additional activities and excursions you can purchase, there is plenty to enjoy without spending extra.

Private islands offer a variety of activities, many of which are complimentary. From beachside relaxation to beach volleyball, there’s something for everyone. Plus, your drink and Wi-Fi packages may extend to the private island, adding to the convenience.

Related: 35+ Things To Do at Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay

2. Accommodations

MSC cruise balcony cabin Fantastica

Whether you book an affordable inside cabin, an ocean view cabin, a balcony cabin, or a suite, your accommodations on a cruise are included. Regardless of the room you book, you can expect a comfortable bed, private bathroom and shower, basic amenities and storage space for your clothing and personal belongings.

A stateroom attendant will clean your room either once or twice daily, depending on the cruise line.Whether you need extra towels, hangers, or pillows, your cabin steward will do their best to accommodate your needs.

3. Meals and Snacks

One of the best values of cruising is the food. Compared to land vacations where an average restaurant meal can cost over $30-50 a person, the included food on a cruise is part of what makes cruises so appealing.

Most cruise lines include a variety of dining options in the fare. This includes buffet meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, as well as main dining rooms offering sit-down meals.

Casual dining options like poolside grills, pizza, and cafes with muffins, pastries, and cookies are also included. Some cruise lines even offer free room service and unlimited ice cream.

On cruise ships, the buffet is included. This is a great place to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks throughout the day. You can find a variety of options such as continental breakfast items, salads, hot dishes, desserts, and more. 

If you’re new to cruising, it’s understandable that you might find it challenging to distinguish which restaurants are complimentary. But don’t worry, the crew members and fellow passengers are always there to lend a hand. Just ask, and they’ll be more than happy to help you!

4. Entertainment

cruise entertainment show in theater

Entertainment is a highlight of cruise vacations and is included in your fare. This includes Broadway-style shows, audience participation shows, guest entertainers like magicians and comedians, live music, piano bars, karaoke, and outdoor movies. Daytime activities are also abundant and included in the fare.

If shows aren’t your thing, plenty of other evening activities are taking place. You can sing karaoke, drink at the piano bar, listen to live music in one of the clubs, or watch a movie under the stars.

5. Onboard Attractions

MSC Seascape waterslides

Many modern cruise ships are like resorts at sea, with plenty of onboard attractions included in the fare. These can include zip lines, water slides, dry slides, ropes courses, carousels, pools, splash parks, and hot tubs.

If you’re sailing with kids, or if you’re an adventurous cruiser, the included onboard attractions make cruising an excellent value.

Onboard Attractions That Are Not Included

Some specific cruise ship attractions have an extra charge . This includes the popular Bolt rollercoaster on Carnival, the Speedway go-kart race track on Norwegian Cruise Line, , Robotron on MSC Cruises, and the North Star on Royal Caribbean cruise line.

6. Enrichment Activities

Contrary to popular belief, cruising isn’t just about fun and exciting activities. Cruise lines offer enrichment activities, which is a unique opportunity to learn at sea, adding a new dimension to your travel experience.

Every cruise line has activities catered to its unique demographics, meaning some cruise lines may have more enrichment activities than others.

Take Holland America, for instance. They offer various educational activities, including destination seminars that provide a comprehensive understanding of the ports of call, lectures, and classes led by authors and experts, and art classes and workshops (some of which may require a small fee).

For those who are trivia lovers, you’re in for a treat! No matter which cruise line you sail with, trivia is a daily highlight that will keep you entertained and engaged throughout your cruise.

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7. Fitness Facilities

Virgin Voyages Fitness Center

If you want to keep active on your cruise, you can definitely do that! The gym is well-equipped and free to use.

Furthermore, most cruise lines offer one complimentary fitness class per day. These classes range from stretching to yoga and relaxing meditation classes.

Due to capacity restrictions, you may have to sign up for these classes in advance. If you’re interested in a fitness class, head to the fitness center on the first day of your cruise to learn more information.

Other free fitness classes may take place around the ship in addition to the ones in the fitness center. On a Celebrity cruise that I recently sailed on, an aqua fitness class was happening on the Lido deck, and it looked like tons of fun.

8. Pool and Beach Towels

Celebrity cruise towels placed on deck chairs

Many first time cruisers wonder if they should pack beach towels for their cruise. Although this is often the case for waterparks and public beaches, cruises provide complimentary towels for the passengers.

Pool and beach towels are provided for you and can be taken off the ship for excursions. Just make sure to bring them back to avoid any charges.

On contemporary cruise lines like Carnival, MSC, NCL, and Royal Caribbean, there’s a straightforward towel checkout system. You simply need to check out your towels with your keycard and return them before disembarkation day. Failing to do so may result in a charge.

9. What’s Included in Terms of Drinks?

complimentary coffee on cruise ship

Knowing what drinks are included on a cruise can be confusing. While you can purchase various beveraga packages, you will find many basic drinks included in your fare. This includes juice, milk, ice tea or lemonade, basic coffee, and tea. Drink stations with safe, filtered water are available for free.

However, brewed coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, bottled or canned water, soda, and alcoholic beverages are not included and usually come at an extra charge.

Related: 13 Big Drink Package Mistakes Not to Make on a Cruise

10. Supervised Child Care (Kid’s Club)

Cruise kid's club activities

One of the benefits of cruising as a family is that supervised child care and kids’ camp activities are included in the fare. These are not available 24/7, so check the specific hours with your cruise line.

The kids’ club is a great place for young children and teenagers to participate in activities, make new friends, and have fun in a supervised environment.

As someone who has been cruising since I was four years old, the kid’s club has always been my favorite part of cruising. I will always cherish the friends and memories I’ve made in the kid’s club.

Things Not Included On a Cruise

While many amenities are included, some services and activities will cost extra. It’s important to understand what is not included so you can budget for these. \These include:

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Final Thoughts on Things First Time Cruisers Don’t Know are Included on a Cruise

There’s no denying that cruises offer tremendous value with many inclusions. However, it’s important to be aware of what’s included and not included so you can budget accordingly. 

While cruises aren’t completely all-inclusive, they continue to be a great value vacation, especially if you fully take advantage of what is included.

What included activity or amenity do you like best on a cruise? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy Cruising!


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Author Bio: Ethan Schattauer has been cruising with his family since he was four years old and has been on more than 30 cruises. As a frequent traveler, Ethan shares his unique perspective on what cruising is like from a young person’s perspective. Ethan also writes about men’s fashion, travel and college advice on the website WhatToWearMen.com.


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