In this part of the blog series I explain what is included on a typical ocean cruise.
Accommodation and public spaces
When you buy your cruise the cost primarily is determined by the stateroom you purchase. From Interiors, to a variety of balcony rooms and then up to suites. Taking a typical room, these are smaller than what you may find in a hotel but still, they are highly efficient spaces. Most cabins will include closets with handing space, a desk/vanity, side-tables drawers and shelf space. Bathrooms will also be smaller than on land but still feature a full shower, toilet, sink, mirror, toiletries and storage. I have to say, I’m always impressed with the ingenuity that goes into the design of cabins – for me, a 6’3” man, I don’t ever feel at all claustrophobic in these spaces.
In addition to this, rooms tend to include safes, low-wattage hair dryers, a telephone, minibar (for a fee), TV and life jackets. If sailing from the UK, you will also find a kettle and tea/coffee making bar. You will also find a number of charging points in the room, but make sure you bring plug adaptors. Typically, I find most ships have a combination of US and Europe sockets. Increasingly you will find a number of USB ports in the room, though on most ships not enough in my opinion – there are a few notable exceptions such as Viking which have incorporated USBs everywhere in your room.
Of course, in addition to your cabin you have access to the many public spaces on board. This of course depends on the scale and size of ship but typically this will include at a minimum at least two restaurant spaces (one casual and one more formal), a pool and sun deck, bars, at least one lounge area. There are numerous variations on this and other areas as you got up ship sizes and classes. This is particularly the case when you start to take into account if it’s a family friendly ship and the scale of entertainment and activities offered on board.
If you opt to stay in a suite you will almost certainly have a variety of other exclusive benefits including suite only areas, including bars, restaurants and sun decks.
Food is broadly speaking included within your cruise fare. That is, breakfast, lunch and dinner provided within a number of settings including a main dining room experience and some form of casual eatery (classically a buffet but this is all to change in the wake of Covid-19 – see more here). In addition to this, there will be a number of other venues offering snacks, sandwiches, cake, pizza, burgers and many other things all included within the cruise.
You can of course opt to pay for speciality dining. Most cruise lines offer a number of speciality restaurants which typically can include for example a steak restaurant, Italian and seafood, though many other offerings are available. Some cruise lines, which tend to fall within the more premium and luxury categories, even include speciality dining within the cruise fare, providing even more value. If you are staying in a suite on some lines you will also be able to enjoy speciality within your cruise fare.
Drinks are not typically included in a cruise. However, I’ve found that prices aren’t that unreasonable, with drinks costing similar sort of prices to what you would expect in somewhere like London. Prices vary dramatically line-to-line but typically, on average they can cost as follows: $3.00 – $9.00or wine, $1.70 – $6.00 for beer and $2.80 – $8.00 plus mixer for spirits. As you would expect, premium brands and products can cost significantly more, as on land. I’ve included the costs in dollars as the majority of lines operate in this currency.
You can also opt to buy a drinks package, which for a one-off cost can allow passengers to drink as much as they please. In fact, packages are now often included within promotional offers when booking a cruise. The question I get asked the most about this is, are drinks packages worth it? And this is entirely down to personal preference. My easy suggestion is this, if you know on a typical holiday that you could tend to drink 5-7 drinks a day then it quickly starts to become good value. Remembering of course that you may not be on a ship all-day every day. Drink package costs vary wildly from line-to-line, with wine and spirits packages costing on average between £9 – £30 per person per day (and the cheaper ones tend to be from luxury brands which include more complimentary drinks as standard). However, if like me you prefer premium spirits to enjoy on holiday, this can easily cost upwards of these prices.
Again, if you choose to stay in a suite on some lines a drinks package will be included within your fare and you may even have a wet bar setup, with a choice of your favourite drinks to be included in the cabin.
Depending on the line, you can also bring a certain quantity of alcohol on board. This entirely depends on the line and I suggest you research the brand before deciding to bring anything on board.
Entertainment & Activities
One of the main areas where cruises provide so much value is in the entertainment offering and activities on board.
Every day you wake up on board a cruise ship there is something new and exciting to do, if you want to. A daily programme of activities are found on board, facilitated by a cast of entertainment and activities hosts which can range from wellness activities, to enrichment, to games and trivia, indoor or outdoor activities and a whole host of things in-between, depending on the ship and line. There is honestly something to suit everyone on board. The sheer scale of things to do is quite astounding and is one reason I love cruising.
Perhaps one area that stands out above others is the quality of shows on board. Cruise lines seek the best talent from across the world to take part in a variety of shows found in the main entertainment spaces – whether this is the main theatre, a lounge or increasingly, other bespoke spaces designed around immersive storytelling. The West End quality really is something else, to the degree that some ships have actual full-length West End shows on board including, for instance, Hairspray, Kinky Boots and Mamma Mia. Or why not enjoy an evening of Cirque du Soleil?
Cruise ships have a variety of offerings when it comes to sports- or outdoors-based activities. Typically these can include sports-courts with basketball and other activities, as well as mini-golf, virtual golf-ranges, shuffleboards and table tennis. Depending on the line there can be a whole host of offerings, both included in the cruise and for a fee. These include surfing, rock climbing, go-karting, laser-tag, water slides and even sky diving. Yes, really!
You will also find a lot of games-arcade activities on board, with F1 racing, bowling, Virtual Reality and escape rooms on a variety of ships.
Wellness and enrichment
Broadly speaking, unless you’ve booked a cabin with particular included benefits, wellness activities tend to not be included in the cruise.
Primarily, the gym spaces are included within the cruise and you can use this as much or as little as you want. Gym spaces on board tend to have state-of-the-art equipment so it’s a very good space to spend time in.
Almost all ships also have some form of spa space. Expect a menu of treatments from haircuts, to manicure, pedicures, massages, acupuncture and a variety of other products. None of these will be included within the fare. Depending on the treatment this can be fairly reasonable, but quickly gets expensive. Now, personally, I will opt for maybe a treatment per holiday but I do see it as an indulgence, and something that I’d look to use on board spend towards.
Increasingly, ships also feature a thermal spa. This exclusive space is a haven from the rest of the ship featuring a variety of specialised areas including saunas, thallasotherapy pools, heated loungers, crystal rooms, snow rooms and others. Again, unless you have booked a specific cabin type, such as Aqua Class on Celebrity Cruises, this space is not included in the fare, and you will be expected to pay for access. Most lines offer this as a one-off fee or for the whole cruise. The more luxurious and premium lines, however, do offer this space as part of the overall cruise fare, for example Viking.
Increasingly, cruise lines are offering enrichment activities on board, including for example cooking classes, wine tasting and others. Again, these are premium activities and are not included in the fare, but really enjoyable if you get the opportunity.
While you of course spend a lot of time on board your ship, your home away from home, one of the core reasons for taking a cruise is experiencing the various destinations you will visit. When you dock in a port you have a number of options open to you in terms of how you spend your time. You could opt to do your own thing and wander around and explore on your own. On top of this, you can look to pay for a local guide (or book online) to take you on a tour or undertake an activity, or similarly you can buy a shore excursions from the cruise line direct.
Strictly speaking, if you buy through the cruise line these can be more expensive than if you look online ahead of time, but it comes at the benefit that if something untoward were to happen the cruise line has a contract with you to ensure you get back to the ship. My advice is to read about the ports you are visiting and what you want to do, which can help decide if you want to do anything in particular and if it would be more beneficial to go through the cruise line. I tend to do a mixture of all three options every cruise I take.
Again, some of the more premium and luxury lines will include excursions in each port. Viking, for instance, includes at least one excursion in every port they visit, so you needn’t pay extra. On top of this, they also have optional excursions you can opt to take. When I have sailed with Viking in some destinations I’ve taken more than one excursion for this reason.
There are an increasing variety of shops found on cruise ships, including souvenir and logo shops, to perfume and make-up and more and more designer brands. It goes without saying that this is not included within your cruise fare.
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