Cruise Holidays: Get More For Your Money

Aug 31, 2016

Australia is now ranked as the fourth largest cruise market in the world according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Over one million Aussies hit the seas for cruise holidays in the last year alone. The increased popularity of oceanic tourism is due in no small part to the extraordinary value that the experience offers.

  • There's plenty to do at no extra cost: Shows, theatre productions, classes and sporting activities are generally all complimentary on board
  • Paying a bit more for higher category cabins tends to pay off with added extras -- better views, much more space and even butler service!
  • Seated dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner is included in you cruise fare. Plus pizza, burgers and ice cream is usually free of charge
  • Be sociable on board -- many cruise lines offer complimentary drinks at certain events and many have 'happy hours' with cheaper drink deals.

Cruise holidays - what’s included?

Almost everything – your fare includes accommodation, a wide selection of entertainment and activities, plus all meals. Combine this with the fact that more cruises are now departing from Australia’s main cities, and there’s little wonder that cruise holidays are flourishing here.

Accommodation at sea

Your cruise fare includes accommodation in a cabin, stateroom or suite of your choice. The views vary from non-existent (think an Inside Stateroom on a Thomson ship), to breath-taking panoramas (such as an Owner's Suite that spans the entire width of the ship on NCL's Pride of America). As a rule all rooms include a digital TV, double or twin beds, a separate bathroom and other basic amenities that you’d expect. Most fares also include 24-hour room service.  Higher room categories on certain cruise lines may include added extras such as bathrobes, complimentary mini-bars and even butler service!

Entertainment on board

The main draw of a cruise holiday is the multitude of entertainment options that are included with the fare.

The jewel in the crown of on-board entertainment is often considered to be the theatre productions and shows. Good news – no matter which cruise line you are sailing with the shows are largely free to attend. So whether rocking-out to your favourite Queen tunes during "We Will Rock You" on Royal Caribbean, enjoying NCL's Blue Man Group with the family, or -- for the more sophisticated cruise-aficionado -- relaxing to a classical performance from the National Symphony Orchestra on board Cunard, you can enjoy the show safe in the knowledge it's not going to cause any damage to your bank balance.

Cruise holidays, of course, are not all about glitz, glamour and productions. If musicals and men in tights aren’t your thing, then many cruise lines offer informative enrichment programmes such as Holland America Line’s dining-themed ‘Culinary Arts Centre’ and Crystal Cruise’s ‘Crystal Visions’ guest-speaker programs -- the majority of which are on the house. Away from the stage, activities such as trivia, pool games and dance classes are usually free, as are sports activities such as basketball, rock climbing and mini-golf.

Many cruise lines are well-equipped with free relaxation options. Steam rooms and saunas, for example, tend to be free on board (though massages and spa treatments are not). Likewise, on-board gyms and selected classes are often included in your cruise fare. Personal training sessions and speciality training programs (bikram yoga anyone?) are not.

Then there are the sun decks, the swimming pools, the bowling alleys and even on-board surfing available on selected cruises. Plus, if you’re planning on bringing the kids, most cruise lines provide group activities during the day.

By now you probably get the picture that there are a vast array of complimentary activities on board catering for every taste. This is one of the reasons cruise holidays are such great value for money; another is the food and drink.

Dining on board 

The vast majority of cruise lines promote themselves as including ‘all meals on board’. But what does this really mean?

Meals in the main dining room are included. As are buffet options. But dining in ‘speciality’ venues generally commands a modest fee. Some cruise lines (Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL) do include selected restaurants in the cruise fare. Many of the all-inclusive luxury lines (Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas) offer gourmet dining and fine wines as part of the fare.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re happy with the same dining room or a buffet dinner every night (and they do offer a wide range of choices), then it’s all free. If you’re looking for a more intimate or diverse dining experience, then be prepared to pay a supplement.

When it comes to snacks on board, cruise holidays have got it covered -- pizza is readily available in a number of buffet restaurants and 'pizza stations' on Royal Caribbean Carnival, Princess and Holland America Line. Ice cream is also free which can be handy as a cooling treat when basking in the sunshine by the pool.

On-board beverages

Let’s start with the obvious. Tap water is free and as safe as bottled water. If you feel inclined to pay extra for bottles of still or sparkling water then fine, but there really is no need.

Caffeine is a vital part of any holiday and basic teas and coffees are included in your cruise fare. If you’re a coffee snob and the idea of drinking instant coffee is unacceptable, then you may want to pay the extra fee that speciality teas and coffees tend to attract. The same applies with juices. These tend to be free at the buffet or main dining room at breakfast, but if you can’t function without your daily hit of ‘raw vegan juice’, then expect to pay for the privilege.

Now on to alcohol. Unfortunately, unless you’re on an all-inclusive cruise holiday or have paid for a beverage package, this will cost you some money. Some cruise lines offer complimentary welcome drinks, and certain events (such as art auctions) will offer you a glass or two of bubbles for your troubles -- don't expect any freebies though. That being said, many cruise lines do offer ‘happy hours’ and ‘2-for-1’ drink deals. Another option is to bring your own alcohol on board and most cruise lines allow this. You may have to pay a corkage fee when bringing a bottle of wine to dinner, but this will probably still work out cheaper than buying it on board.

What’s the verdict?

It’s clear that cruise holidays offer fantastic value for money. It is entirely possible to enjoy your time at sea without having to pay any additional fees whatsoever. There’s certainly plenty to do for all the family and you will eat well.

The only time you’ll have to pay a little extra is if you are looking to participate in more elaborate activities (private cooking lessons, personal training sessions, or gourmet dining paired with fine wines, for example). 

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