Cruise packages can be one of the best ways to save on a cruise if you’re trying to get the most out of your cruise vacation. Many cruise packages offer great deals in exchange for paying for everything upfront.
Cruise packages are discounted bundles that are sold by cruise lines that include and cover secondary costs such as airfare, pre-cruise hotels, shore excursions, and ship credit. Many cruise ships bill their rooms as “all-inclusive,” which means they include food and drinks, sometimes even alcohol.
Without some type of package deal, the costs on a cruise trip can jump up quickly. Keep reading to learn more about cruise packages and how much you can save by taking an all-inclusive cruise.
What is a Cruise Package?
When you first start looking into booking a cruise voyage, you’ll start seeing advertisements for cruise packages. A cruise package is a special deal on a particular cruise that often comes with included amenities such as drink credits, excursion discounts, cheaper rooms, and other cool options.
Cruise packages are a way for cruise lines to both pack their ships in early with reservations and quickly sell last-minute cruise tickets. This helps the cruise line to avoid empty cabins. They also work to the benefit of the passengers. The discounts offered by booking a cruise package can potentially save guests hundreds or thousands of dollars throughout their trip.
Below you’ll find some of the things commonly offered in cruise packages. (Source: Cruise Critic)
Offering prepaid hotel stays rolled up with the cost of a cruise allows guests to have their vacation time both on land and at sea. This is a popular option for cruise lines that either stop at prominent vacation ports of call or debark out of one.
Going on a holiday cruise is a popular option for many guests. Cruises that are offered around the holidays usually offer holiday-related amenities as part of a cruise package. These amenities include gifts and related activities.
Family-oriented cruise ships often include cruise packages that feature all-inclusive childcare for infants through adolescents. Cruise packages may also include tickets to special stage shows or celebrity performances.
Wedding and Honeymoon Amenities
Wedding and honeymoon cruise packages include amenities that make the event feel more special with:
- Vow renewal ceremonies
- Wedding cakes
Cruise packages for weddings, honeymoons, and vow renewals are a great way to spark your romance at sea.
Adventures and Experiences
Many cruise packages—especially those that go to remote places such as the South American jungle or Antarctica—include shore excursions and other off-ship experiences. One way for cruise packages to discount experiences is to add a certain amount of credit towards shore excursions so guests can pick their own.
For those guests who are more interested in relaxing than adventuring, cruise packages can include spa treatments such as:
- hot stone therapy
A lot of the shopping on a cruise ship can be expensive compared to shopping you’ll do on land. Cruise packages often offer guests special shopping opportunities on board as well as discounts on ship items from specialty café drinks to fine jewelry. Packages sometimes also include tickets for sales, such as art auctions.
Special Event Tickets
When cruise trips coincide with a local event in ports of call, cruise lines will sometimes package these events into the cruise as part of the appeal. This can make scheduling and booking a cruise itinerary much less complicated than having to arrange tickets for these special events separately.
Free Wi-Fi Services
Wi-Fi is one of the most expensive things you can buy on the ship. Cruise packages that include free Wi-Fi and streaming services can save you some serious cash. For cruise guests who can’t bear to part with their smartphone, free Wi-Fi service is an amenity to look for when shopping for cruise packages.
There are several kinds of cruise packages to choose from, so the best cruise package for any given customer will depend on what they want out of their vacation. Amenities that would be indispensable for some guests—such as free Wi-Fi—wouldn’t be as important to other guests.
Which Cruise Lines Are All-Inclusive?
When it comes to all-inclusive packages on cruise lines, some companies have stronger reputations than others. Cruise lines also have varying degrees of all-inclusive packages. Here are a few of the best all-inclusive packages that include pretty much everything (Source: Shermans Travel):
- Silversea Cruises: Silversea includes the same basic amenities touted by most all-inclusive cruise packages, such as alcoholic drinks and gratuities. It also throws in useful add-ons like shuttles to port, some free Wi-Fi access (limited), and fine dining options that are already rolled into the package price rather than purchased a la carte.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Regent Seven Seas has some of the most comprehensive all-inclusive cruise packages available with everything from free Wi-Fi and open bars to round-trip airline tickets. The only things not included in these cruise packages are trips to the ship spa, some top-shelf shore excursions, and premium liquors.
- Seabourn: Seabourn is one of the small cruise fleets in the world, but their focus on a smaller scope allows this cruise line to offer a higher level of included amenities. These include major additional charges such as alcoholic drinks and staff gratuities. They also provide special activities like kayaking and fitness classes.
- Crystal Cruises: Crystal Cruises is one of the more expensive cruise lines offering all-inclusive packages. A voyage with Crystal includes free Wi-Fi, pre-paid gratuities, free alcoholic drinks, and a night of free dining at one of the ship’s specialty restaurants.
These are just a few of the cruise lines that offer all-inclusive cruise packages. Check with your favorites to see what kind of deals they have available at the beginning of the year (between January and March) to get the best rates and offers.
Is It Worth Getting the Drink Package on a Cruise?
One of the easiest ways to save money on a cruise through a cruise package is to buy a drink package. On cruise lines that don’t have all-inclusive alcoholic beverages, a drink package serves as a credit towards your bar tab. It can also make the process of getting drinks on the ship less complicated.
Drink packages can be a good option for a few reasons:
- Save money: Buying a drink package can often net you a discount on the drinks versus buying them individually at the ship bar. However, a drink package only saves money if you drink all of the beverages per day that the drink package allows. Otherwise, you may end up paying more per drink by using a drink package.
- Keep your drinking in check: If you limit yourself to the alcoholic beverages that you’ve purchased in your drink package, this can help keep you from getting too drunk on your cruise. While it’s nice to tie one on while you’re not steering the ship, overdrinking for consecutive days can lead to massive hangovers or bad behavior.
- Know how much you’ve spent: A drink package allows you to keep tabs on how much of your credit you’ve gone through at any given time, usually through the ship’s app. This, in turn, can help you keep your onboard spending within a budget. If you don’t want to be hit with a massive bill at the end of your trip, a drink package keeps things reasonable.
- Drinks add up: You might think you’ll never get through the 5-7 cocktails or 8-10 beers allotted per day on a drink package, but you should keep in mind that eight beers over the course of a day make up less than a beer an hour. This is truer for drink packages that involve non-alcoholic drinks like juice and sodas. Beverages on cruise ships can be notoriously expensive.
Like drink packages, soda packages are purchased by the individual passenger. They cannot be shared between spouses, travel companions, or family members.
Even though there are several reasons why a drink package is probably a good investment to save some money on a cruise, there are some guests it won’t be a good fit for. Here are a few reasons why you might want to skip a drink package when you’re looking at cruise packages:
- You’re particular about the type of drink you like. If you only like a certain type of liquor or wine, you’ll need to bring it yourself rather than depend on the ship to stock it for you. If you only like top-shelf liquors, a drink package may not cover all your cocktail costs.
- You don’t tend to drink much. Whether you don’t drink alcohol or you aren’t keen on having a glass at your elbow throughout the day, those who don’t tend to drink much should pass on a drink package.
Drink packages can be a good cruise package to help you save money on your trip since drinks on the ship are one of the most expensive things you can buy.
Is All the Food on a Cruise Free?
Most cruise lines offer free dining room meals along with several free buffets from different cuisines such as pizza, hamburgers, stir fry, and sushi. These meals are included in the price of your tickets, and there is usually a free restaurant or dining area open most hours of the day. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on food, you can always hit the cruise buffet or go for casual dining. (Source: Cruise Critic)
For after-hours, another hospitality offered by cruise lines is room service. Luxury cruise lines typically offer free room service, while less expensive cruise lines typically offer room service a la carte. Free room service is one of the benefits offered by many cruise packages. It’s an amenity to look for if you’re planning on spending a lot of time on your own balcony.
You also usually must pay to eat in the fine dining establishments on a cruise ship. These restaurants are clearly marked in your ship maps and paperwork as being separate from the dining options that are included with your cruise fare. These restaurants also often operate on reservations. This helps to differentiate them from the open dining options available.
Cruise packages are a good way to save money on specialty dining options, so when you’re looking at cruise packages, check to see what kind of food is included. Many packages will offer at least one night of fine dining or a “formal night” with the cruise. This can be a good option for those who want to eat casually most of the time but still take advantage of high cuisine and formal photographs.
Are Cruise Packages Cheaper Through a Travel Agent?
Cruise packages can sometimes be easier to go through and book through a travel agent, but is this the cheaper option for booking a cruise? It’s easy to assume that the costs of a travel agent will cause booking to be more expensive through an agent or that agents will not be able to get as good of a deal on cruise packages.
The opposite is true—cruise lines work directly with travel agents to help keep pricing even across the market. Most travel agents that set up cruise trips don’t get paid by the client. Instead, they are paid commissions from the cruise lines themselves for bringing them new business.
This means if you find the prospect of digging through the hundreds of cruise itineraries to be daunting, hiring a travel agent shouldn’t cost you any more money to book a cruise package than doing it yourself. A travel agent can help you narrow down your choices for a cruise package based on the following qualifiers:
- Desired destinations
- Drinking options
- Excursions and activities
- Cruise type (formal, family-friendly, romantic/couples)
A travel agent can also take on the more tedious parts of booking a cruise or amending a booking, such as sitting on the phone with cruise line agents. They can also help you pinpoint the best cruise for your wants and budget. If you want to avoid the bureaucracy and homework involved with setting up a cruise package, a travel agent is the way to go.
Which Cruise Lines Have All-Inclusive Alcohol?
One thing to look at when you’re choosing cruise lines and cruise packages is whether the alcohol is all-inclusive or not. Luxury cruise lines often include all-inclusive alcoholic beverages, excluding top-shelf liquors. Investing in a cruise package on one of these more expensive cruise lines can be worth the money if you plan to do a lot of drinking on your trip.
While some cruises may not include free alcoholic beverages on the ship, there are also all-inclusive shore excursions that include free alcoholic beverages, such as the Nachi Cocom Beach Club in Cozumel. Saving your heavy drinking for these all-inclusive resorts and drinking more lightly on the ship can help you save money on your cruise.
Cruises that offer all-inclusive alcoholic beverages also usually include packaged gratuities. However, additional tips are appreciated by bartenders and wait staff alike. Being generous helps ensure that you continue to get top of the line service and care.
Here are a few cruise lines with the best all-inclusive alcohol packages:
- Norwegian Cruises: Norwegian offers an “ultimate beverage” cruise package that includes all kinds of wine, beer, and cocktails for $79 a day along with 18% gratuity. This cruise line also offers a second-tier alcohol cruise package called “Caps and Corks” that includes wine and beer along with a range of sodas and juices.
- Princess Cruises: Princess only has one beverage cruise package available for $49 a day, but this package includes all drinks under $10. Along with alcoholic beverages, the Princess beverage package also includes coffee, tea, juice, and virgin cocktails.
- Holland America: Holland America’s beverage package isn’t completely all-inclusive, but with this cruise package, guests can enjoy up to fifteen free drinks per day while on the ship. The beverage package stipulates that it can’t be shared among travel companions—every person in a cabin must purchase the beverage plan if one person does. This plan is $51 per day.
- MSC Cruises: MSC offers three different tiers of beverage all-inclusive beverage packages ranging from unlimited drinks at casual dining to a full open bar, depending on the price per day. The two premium beverage packages at $57 and $44 a day respectively offer all-inclusive alcoholic beverages all day. The Cheers! Adult package only offers alcohol during meals.
Cruise beverage packages often have strict restrictions such as not being able to share beverages between cabinmates as well as what quality of liquors and cocktails are available for each package. Make sure to review your options carefully before you book your trip.
What Amenities Are Not Included with a Cruise?
Cruise packages can help take a lot of the guesswork out of what you are going to pay for your cruise vacation, but not all fees associated with a cruise are included in the up-front price of tickets. There are several things that you might think are included in your cruise package that you’ll actually be required to pay for separately.
These are a few amenities that are usually not included in most cruise packages unless otherwise specified by the package details (Source: Cruise Habit):
There are plenty of shops available on the ship, and buying souvenirs or supplies at these stores will cost you above and beyond what you paid for your cruise fare. The good news is that this duty-free shopping does save you some money in taxes on bottles of liquor, cigarettes, and fine jewelry.
Spa treatments are priced on top of your basic cruise fees. Since the gratuity you pay upfront on cruise packages doesn’t apply to spa treatments unless they are a specific feature of the cruise package, you’ll need to plan on tipping for spa treatments too.
Unless you buy an unlimited Wi-Fi plan while you’re at sea, Internet access (especially Internet access fast enough to allow for streaming services) can be one of your most expensive amenities. A major issue with Internet access on a cruise is that even if you pay for access, it can be slow. Check cruise reviews to see which lines have the best Internet access.
Port fees are fees that are charged to cruise ships whenever they make port. These fees are then passed down to the customer. Port fees at remote ports such as Alaska tend to be more expensive than popular cruise ports.
Alcoholic Beverages and Coffee
Unless you buy one of the beverage packages outlined in the section above, alcoholic beverages and specialty drinks such as juice and coffee aren’t included with your cruise fare. You’ll also need to account for additional costs for gratuity if you haven’t bought an all-inclusive package.
In most cases, shore excursions are operated through a third-party vendor in the country of your port of call. These side trips are typically arranged ahead of time. Cruise packages are one way you can save on both excursions and beverages since some excursions offer all-inclusive alcoholic drinks and many cruise packages offer credits towards excursions.
If your cruise ship has a casino, the money you pay at the casino will be counted separately from the money you paid towards your cruise. On most cruise lines, guests prepay money onto a casino card with either their credit card or a cash deposit. This casino card is the card that is used at the slot machines and tables.
While some cruise packages offer free or discounted photos as part of their bundled services, all other cruise guests will have to pay separately for any photos taken on the ship. Photographers are available on most cruise lines to take both candid, casual photos as well as formal photos in eveningwear.
Knowing what is and isn’t included in your cruise package before you leave can help you keep your costs reasonable and will keep you from being blindsided by a huge bill at the end of your trip. Also, knowing which of these amenities is most important to you can help you choose a cruise package that provides the hospitality level you want.
One of the major benefits of booking a cruise package is that it gives you the flexibility to include some of these options for an additional fee. Paying up-front for unlimited Wi-Fi can be a lot less of a hassle while you’re on vacation than trying to monitor your data plan the entire time.
Should I Prepay Gratuities on a Cruise Package?
One option for simplifying your cruise package is to prepay your gratuities ahead of time. If gratuities are prepaid, this saves you the trouble of having to tip as much or as often through the rest of your cruise experience.
Prepaid gratuities can also be a “show of faith” to the service staff that you’re willing to tip them for their time. Many cruise veterans believe that prepaying gratuities generously can help ensure stellar service before you debark.
Think you might want to prepay your gratuities before your cruise? Here are a few reasons why you might consider it (Source: We at the Sea):
- You don’t use credit cards. Debit cards aren’t a good option for paying off cruise fees because they require you to put a large amount of the money in your checking account on hold to ensure payment. If you paid for your cruise package with a debit card and plan to use cash on the ship, paying your gratuity ahead can mean carrying less cash with you onboard.
- You don’t want to keep up with tipping. Using prepaid gratuities can help you ensure that all your staff gets their fair share of tips without you having to keep up with tipping them Also, keep in mind that on many cruise lines, any cash tips received must be pooled rather than doled out individually. You’re not doing staff a favor by paying cash.
- You want to book your cruise early. If you’re planning to book in advance, prepaying your gratuities can help you save some money and can also be a way to get your cruise paid off before you ever get ready to board.
Free prepaid gratuities are an amenity offered in many cruise packages, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of them if they’re offered.
There are also cruise lines that don’t accept tips or gratuity. These cruise lines tend to be more expensive. They also offer their service staff a higher wage to compensate for not getting the same tips that staff on a larger mainstream cruise would receive.
Cruise Packages Can Be a Great Deal
If you’re trying to find a way to get a good deal on a cruise vacation while also getting access to deals that aren’t available through normal cruise trips, a cruise package can save you money on everything from excursions to beverages. Cruise packages also make your cruise-planning process a lot easier.