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All-inclusive cruises: what you need to know

Lorna Cowan / 27 July 2016 ( 16 May 2019 )

Find out all you need to know about all-inclusive cruises, including what they cover and what to watch out for.

Drinking Champagne on a cruise
An all-inclusive cruise can include your drinks on board - but read the small print to check what it covers

In need of a hassle-free holiday? Want to sit back, relax and order another cocktail without worrying about the cost? Or attend an art class without feeling anxious about whether or not you can afford it?

Then an all-inclusive cruise may be just what you’re looking for.

What is all-inclusive cruising?

An all-inclusive cruise is a cruise where you have paid for your meals, snacks, drinks, gratuities, entertainment, activities and travel and transfers upfront. Some cruise companies already include much of this on every cruise, but to make it truly ‘all-inclusive’, where you don’t pay for any extras, more often than not you need to buy an additional drinks package.

All-inclusive drinks packages are ideal if you want to know the total cost of your holiday before you set sail, and you know that you’d like an alcoholic aperitif before your evening meal, a few glasses of wine while you dine, and a gin and tonic afterwards as you sit under the stars. If you pay in advance, you can take advantage of all this without worrying about any exorbitant bills at the end of your trip. It can work out better value for money too.

With gratuities, port charges and taxes also included, you really don’t have to reach for your wallet or purse at any point during your cruise. A UK travel service, offered by Saga, also helps you get to your departure point without any fuss. It couldn’t be easier for you. Either take advantage of the excellent chauffeur service, or let someone else sort out tickets and timetables for the train or coach.

For many holidaymakers, an all-inclusive cruise is the perfect package.

Find out what's included on a Saga cruise

How do cruise lines differ?

Some cruise companies already offer an impressive number of extras in their standard cruise price. For example, every Saga ocean cruise includes gratuities, 24-hour room service, a chauffeur service and optional travel insurance or a discount. Other companies will simply add on all these to your final bill, including a daily tipping fee of around £9 per person, so you may get quite a shock at the amount still to pay at disembarkation.

As for meals and drink, again some cruise lines already offer a selection of drinks in their cruise price that may satisfy the discerning drinker. If you get the choice of selected wines at lunch and dinner, as well fruit juice at breakfast and complimentary tea and coffee at certain times throughout the day, you may not feel you need to pay upfront for anything more, or you are content to pay the necessary price if you fancy a beer or spirit at some point.

For others passengers, a large part of the holiday is being able to enjoy a tipple or two whenever you fancy, and if you can find a good-value drinks package, then it’s worth forking out on that so you don’t need to keep adding up costs every time you order a drink.

Discover Saga's great range of all-inclusive cruises

What type of drinks packages are on offer?

Depending on the cruise company, there are lots of different drinks packages on offer. On Saga all-inclusive ocean cruises, you can enjoy selected wines at lunch and dinner, Saga house-branded spirits with mixers or as cocktails, draught beer and lager, and all soft drinks. On Saga’s all-inclusive river cruises, you’ll enjoy a free bar, as well as selected wine, beer and soft drinks with your lunch and dinner.

Find out more about Saga's all-inclusive river cruises

Other cruise lines will let you pay for all-inclusive upgrades, allowing you to enjoy a selection of drinks packages - beers, wines, spirits and soft drinks – ranging from between £10 and £40 per person per day, if selected at the time of booking. Take note though, that wine included in these packages is usually house wine by the glass, branded beer is on draught or in cans, and you’re given house spirits and soft drinks, whether that’s mixers, juices or mineral water. All-inclusive upgrades may also give you’re a discount, sometimes 25%, sometimes more, off premium drinks, wine, cocktails and bottled mineral water.

Soft drinks packages, suitable for children, can be good value too, especially if they include smoothies, milk shakes and ice cream - and you’re happy to hand out plenty of treats.

If you are on a luxury cruise, you will have already paid a premium price for your holiday, so it’s not unreasonable to expect all soft and alcoholic drinks to be included. Champagne may flow too, however that could be a local Brut rather than your preferred Moet & Chandon. The same goes for whisky, gin and other spirits. The bar attendant may be happy to serve Glenmorangie on the rocks, but will ask for your cabin details if you order your favourite Laphroaig.

The benefits of all-inclusive cruises

One of the main benefits of all-inclusive cruises is that it helps you budget for your holiday. You know the total cost, it includes all you need, therefore any additional money you have can be spent on treats, souvenirs and gifts for loved ones.

And you could actually be getting a great deal, if you make the most of everything. Think of how much it would cost to go a gym back home. How much you’d pay for tickets for a cabaret show. Or how much you’d have to fork out to learn how to dance the foxtrot - with a professional.

It you throw yourself into all that the cruise has to offer, then your holiday can be fantastic value for money. Start the morning at a pilates class before going for a swim. Attend a talk on ancient Rome then have a go at something you’d never try at home. Tempted by the climbing wall? Sign yourself up, strap yourself up and get ready to soar. Your fellow passengers are probably first timers too, so embrace the wall and have fun. It’s part of your all-inclusive package.

Add up too the cost of having a full English breakfast every day, a snack with your morning coffee, ice cream by the poolside and a beer to quench your thirst as you watch the sun set. There’ll even be something to nibble on if you get the munchies before bedtime. Knowing that you can indulge a little, and not worry about whether you’ll have enough spending money left to pay your cruise bill, allows you to truly relax on a much-deserved break. Not having to sign a receipt every time you ask for a drink takes away some of the hassle too – and you won’t need to keep rummaging in your bag for your glasses!

You’ll also get peace of mind that you won’t have to rush around on the last evening of your cruise, making sure that you have handed over a tip to all the staff. All-inclusive holidays take the stress out of tipping, as you’ll pay for your gratuities before you set sail. So just relax and enjoy the great customer service.

Find out how to keep fit on a cruise

The drawbacks of all-inclusive cruises

If you’re on a diet and only eating salad, just want to catch up on some reading in the library, and don’t want to hear the resident band sing Sinatra of an evening, then paying for an all-inclusive package will be a waste of money.

There’s also every chance you will be bamboozled over the drinks packages available. Read the small print before you pay for any additional packages. They can be good value, but every cruise company seems to have different terms and conditions, so know what you’re paying for. You’re also encouraged to sign up to drinks packages at the time of booking, being told that if you leave it until you’re on board, you could pay twice the amount. Then there’s the choice. Should you pay for premium alcohol, just beer, the wine lover’s package, the wine connoisseur’s package? If it’s an important element of your cruise, take your time and choose wisely.

Be aware, though, that some packages will limit you to the number of drinks you can order, sometimes the maximum is 15 a day, and each drink must not cost more than £6. Also, you usually must book it for the entire duration of the cruise, the package must be booked prior to departure, sometimes as least six days in advance, and it must be purchased by all guests sharing a room. So if you want an all-inclusive drinks package, your cabin companion must buy it too. Even if you’re travelling alone with a child, if you buy a premium beer package, you will need to buy an equivalent soft drinks package for him or her.

Remember too that gratuities, in the region of 15% to 18%, will still be added to your final bill every time you order a drink. Think you can avoid this by just lining up a few drinks and ordering them all at the same time? Sorry, your bar attendant will probably say no.

Regardless of the package you buy, your mini bar in your cabin will not be included in the added extra, and rarely will speciality coffees or hot chocolate. Drinks in souvenir glasses will also be excluded.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.