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The cruise holiday extras that are worth it and those that are a waste of money

The definition of ‘all-inclusive’ varies widely and cruise companies will try to add on, upsell, and super-size to escalate your spend.

It seems half of Australia has just been – or is about to go – on a cruise. Aussies en masse are discovering these floating leisure districts are not just fun but great value: the price is often all-inclusive.

But the definition of ‘all-inclusive’ varies widely and they will try to add on, upsell, and super-size to escalate your spend.

Here’s my first-hand advice on which cruise extras are worth it and which are simply a waste of your money.

A cruise ship in tropical waters with an inset of Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon
Nicole offers some money-saving tips after her recent cruise holiday. (Getty/Supplied)

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The extras that are NOT worth it

The restaurants

Virtually all cruise lines are all-inclusive for food. But then they will tempt your taste buds with all sorts of fancy and maybe famous pay-on-the-way offerings. These will come with usual restaurant prices or even carry an ‘at-sea’ surcharge.


Sure, these meals might be magnificent but my experience was that so, too, were the gratis dining rooms because, usually, you don’t just have a buffet option, but a gourmet, three-course choice as well (you may also be able to book a time and table at these).

Room service

Even if the food itself is free, you’ll pay a delivery fee. Be aware of that and make sure it’s worth it.

Shore excursions

From the moment you book a cruise, you will be inundated with marketing messages about shore excursions. And they will dangle discounts to make these packaged-up, packed-in days look even more appealing.

The thing to realise is that the locations cruise ships visit are usually fully geared up for tourists.

Where passengers disembark, there will be oodles of taxis and transport for hire, maybe a good-value hop-on, hop-off bus, and boats to take you to the local reef/island/attraction.

By waiting until you arrive and negotiating with these vendors (research a good price first), you should pay far less, while also paying that money into the local community.


My best land day on a recent cruise was in Noumea, New Caledonia. We bought a hop-on hop-off bus ticket for US$10 at the cruise terminal, then hopped off first at the supermarche and patisserie, and availed ourselves of a feast of local French delicacies – think quiches, cheeses, cured meats and a baguette. Then we hopped back on, skipped the first, packed beach stop and got off at the second, far-more-peaceful slice of island paradise, where we enjoyed our gorgeous lunch on the sand.

The only caveat on my ‘DIY-the-days’ tip is that the ship will only wait if you are late back from an official excursion. Get delayed under your own steam, and it will steam off without you.

The big photo package

The price of buying a lot of photos will be persuasive – 20 photos might cost $80 but 80 photos might cost just $20 more.

So you’ll think going large is a smart idea.

But it’s very possible there are just not enough locations – or decent backdrops – to make this worth it. Witness the below photos!

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Composite of three images featuring Nicole Pedersen McKinnon and a friend on a cruise.
Nicole says cruise photo packages aren't necessarily good value for money. (Supplied)

Usually, any photo can also only feature the people in your room, and it will cost extra if there are cameos.


There is a trick to towels. They are often free by the pool but if you fail to return them, you’ll pay a penalty – maybe US$25. Leave them on a deck chair to reserve that chair, and you may well lose US$25 too.

The extras that ARE worth it

The internet package

You may take the opportunity for a digital detox but, of all the extra costs you can incur on a cruise, for me, the internet package was worth it.

I needed to keep in touch with my family back at home and, for my livelihood, I needed to stay plugged into the financial world. But, again, look out for pre-cruise sales.

Also by Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

Also investigate whether it is cheaper for one person to buy a multiple-devices deal, or for multiple people in your group to buy just one. Usually, there are decent savings with the former strategy.

If there are four people in your room and one person purchases a package with say two devices, you can also often swap these in and out between, say, four devices. You just need to keep logging in.

The drinks package

Some cruises include beverages in your ticket price, while others will sell you an optional drinks (alcoholic or not) package.

Much like the internet package above, your decision as to whether to buy this is a very individual thing.

Weigh the per-day price (as always, wait for a sale), against how many drinks you may have at what possible cost each.

For example, on my recent cruise, the drinks package was at one time available for $106 a day (US$69). Most cocktails on board were US$15 each. So, drinking four to five cocktails a day made the package preferable.

Just check that premium drinks won’t incur an extra cost. For example, only drinks up to US$15 may be included so a US$17 drink will add US$2 to your bill.

It comes down to your lifestyle! Be aware though, often, all the adults staying in the same room need to purchase the same drinks package. Otherwise, they assume you will share them.

As a side note, if you want to bring home any duty-free of any description, for yourself or for presents, check if it’s best to buy it on one of your shore stops. There may well be no duty-free shop at the terminal when you get home.

Buy in advance, then back out

Finally, realise that, with most companies, purchasing a pre-cruise package of any description doesn’t mean you are committed.

Should a better deal be advertised, you can usually get a refund within 14 days of what you previously bought.

So, you will be out of pocket for those 14 days but, ultimately, come out ahead by re-buying cheaper.

Happy – and savvy – sailing.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, X and Instagram