You’ve paid your deposit and have your embarkation date stored in your calendar—not to mention images of palm trees, ancient Greek ruins, or even icebergs ricocheting through your brain—and then the emails start to appear in your inbox tempting you to book a beverage package, take advantage of a specialty dining package, reserve a spa treatment, or a cabana. The upcharge surge has started. Admit it—you’re tempted. But which cruise extras are actually worth it? Some are and some aren’t. Here are six cruise extras that are worth the money.
1. A Stateroom That’s Actually Big Enough for a Family
Pull-down bunks may be economical, but they’re far from practical when you’re trying to get small children or tweens to bed and still enjoy a few hours of in-cabin relaxation. A worthy splurge is a family-designated stateroom that offers a bit more space (typically 220 to 300 square feet vs, 180 to 200 in standard cabins) configured to allow movement, and in some cases, added privacy. We’re not talking suites here, but rather mid-range categories (inside, oceanview, or balcony) designed with a family of four in mind—a few even have two bathrooms. Disney, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Holland America all have family stateroom variations on their ships.
2. Accommodations with a More Spacious Bathroom
Cruise ship staterooms are on average about half the size of hotel rooms — and stateroom bathrooms are often one-third the size of hotel bathrooms. Staterooms themselves can be snug and still be comfortable, but bathrooms with claustrophobic showers and too-little counter space can make for frustrating mornings, especially as you hurry to get ready for early excursion departures. By trading up to a category that’s between a balcony stateroom and a full suite —Norwegian calls them Mini-Suites on Breakaway and Breakaway-Plus class ships; Royal Caribbean calls them Junior Suites on Oasis- and Quantum-class ships; Princess calls them Mini-Suites on Royal-class ships — you’ll enjoy valuable bathroom space (including larger showers or a shower/tub and even two sinks) that can help keep the peace without breaking the bank.
3. Beverage Packages — If You Plan to Party
How many times have you gotten onboard a ship and said to yourself, “Go easy on the margaritas this time,” and then looked at your bill the night before disembarkation only to realize you spent almost as much on booze as you did on the cruise itself? If you know you’ll be enjoying your favorite adult beverages throughout the day, consider pre-paying for a beverage package that allows you to consume as many beers, wine, and cocktails as you want for a set daily rate. These vary by cruise line (on average they start at about $50 to $65 per day), and while the most affordable packages do place a cap on the price of beverages consumed, they’re fine if you’re not a premium spirits drinker. If you like the good stuff, a premium package might be the way to go. Do the math on how many drinks per day (likely about 5 to 7), you’ll need to consume to match the package rate and decide if it’s a worthy purchase — and remember that both people in the cabin need to book the package. Tip: Before you book watch for promotions offering “free extras” — a complimentary beverage package is often one of the choices.
4. Specialty Dining Packages
If you book a cruise on one of the major lines, which charge a set fee or à la carte prices at their specialty dining venues, and you like to try different cuisines (Italian, French, Japanese, seafood, steakhouse) while cruising, look into pre-paying for a specialty dining package, which can save you money. These vary by cruise line — Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, and MSC offer them — but typically package three, five, seven, or even more dinners at onboard specialty restaurants for a set fee that offers some savings. Tip: Make reservations (especially at newly introduced or always popular dining venues) well before boarding to ensure the dates and times you want.
5. Corkage Fees
If you love wine and will be cruising in a region known for its vineyards— think the Mediterranean, South America, and California — you can enjoy locally made purchases onboard with your meal by paying a corkage fee. These typically run $10 to $15 per bottle (however, Celebrity charges $25), and you may have to hand over your purchase for storage after you pass through security when re-boarding your ship. But given the large markups on most bottles of wine sold onboard, you could break even by drinking a bottle you’ve tasted and know you will enjoy. Additionally, some cruise lines (Oceania, Disney, Princess, and Royal Caribbean) actually allow you to bring one to three bottles onboard at the start of your cruise to enjoy in the privacy of your cabin. Also, Viking allows unlimited bottles onboard and there is no corkage fee.
6. Private Cabanas and Adults-Only Areas
Cruise ship pools are notoriously crowded and they can, depending on the cruise line and the season, be overrun with kids and teens. If your goal is grown-up relaxation, a worthy splurge is a private cabana or access to special adults-only areas. Yes, some cruise lines do provide complimentary adults-only pool areas (for example the Solarium on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, the Retreat on Princess, Serenity on Carnival, and Quiet Cove on Disney), but these can feel a bit crowded at times, too. So, if sunning and sipping without distraction is a priority, you may feel justified in paying $40 to $50 for a half day and $75 to $100 a full day for a private cabana. These cabanas are available on Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity; if you're cruising on Norwegian, you can pay to access Vibe Beach Club. Cabanas are also bookable on the cruise lines’ private islands, but they always sell out so book well in advance.