Free Things to Do on a Cruise Vacation

What's Included in the Basic Cruise Fare

Ship's Deck Ruby Princess Dublin, Ireland

Rennett Stowe/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

Cruises aren't free, but the basic fare includes room, food, and enough onboard activities to provide travelers of all ages with a memorable vacation. If cruise guests can resist the many optional onboard and ashore opportunities to spend money, a cruise is almost all-inclusive. Therefore, budgeting for a cruise vacation is easier than for a land-based vacation. If you are on a budget and stick to it, cruises are a terrific value. You just have to plan ahead.

Let's look at some of the many things you can do for "free" on large, mainstream cruise ships.

01 of 14

Watch a Sunset (or a Sunrise) Over the Ocean

Caribbean sunset from a cruise ship
Linda Garrison

Sunsets at sea are spectacular; they occur every day, and they are free!

02 of 14

Eat and Drink

Grilled Ling Cod RCCL Radiance Of The Seas Cascades Dining Room
Prayitno/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

Meals in the main restaurant and buffets are included in the basic cruise fare for all ships. You can always get three or more "free" meals a day, along with snacks, some of which are offered 24-hours per day. Coffee, tea, and water (not bottled) are also included, and the tap water is always drinkable on large ships. Considering that ships are feeding thousands of meals per day, the food is very good, with multiple courses and choices.

Although most mainstream ships now feature specialty restaurants at an extra fee, the variety offered in the dining room and buffets is sufficient for most travelers.

Note that some luxury ships include the specialty restaurants, alcohol, and soft drinks in their base fares, so they are more "all-inclusive".

03 of 14

Enjoy the Onboard Entertainmnent

Carnival Dream Entertainment - Dancing in the Streets Main Show
Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

Cruise ships have at least one show every evening in the main lounge. Large cruise ships often have Las Vegas-style revues, with singers, dancers, and amazing sets and costumes. In addition to the main lounge shows, passengers can enjoy piano bars, small combos, and music of all types in the multiple lounges most ships have.

The entertainment does not stop with music. Most ships feature comedians, magicians, and even ventriloquists at some of the shows. All of this entertainment is included in your fare.

For those who want to participate in the entertainment, ships have karaoke, talent shows, and ballroom and disco dancing.

04 of 14

Exercise in the Fitness Center or Walk/Jog Around the Deck

Ruby Princess Fitness Center
Linda Garrison

Cruise ships have modern fitness centers with treadmills, weights, ellipticals, bicycles, and other exercise equipment that are equal to (or better than) you would find at home. Use of the fitness center is included in the basic cruise fare, but some classes such as yoga or Pilates are fee-based.

A workout sure is much more enjoyable when you have a great view of the ocean. In addition to the fitness center, most ships have either a promenade deck that wraps around the ship or a deck with a walking/jogging track.

Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14

Swim in the Pool

Europa 2 pool deck
Linda Garrison

Cruise ships always have one or more swimming pools that are free. These pools are often small when compared to those at a resort, but they can still be fun for all ages. Ship passengers can also enjoy water volleyball or other pool games. Many ships have separate pools for adults, kids, and even teens.
If swimming sounds like too much work, cruise ships also feature hot tubs where you can soak those tired muscles.

06 of 14

Sit in the Sun by the Pool

Oasis of the Seas Pool Deck
Linda Garrison

Sitting in the sun or the shade with a good book is a favorite onboard activity for many cruise passengers. There's something special about the sea breeze and the sea air. Like the swimming pool, use of the lounge chairs is free.

07 of 14

Watch a Movie

Movie under the stars on the Emerald Princess
Linda Garrison

Most cruise ships feature movies on the TVs in the cabins. However, watching a movie on a large outdoor screen by the pool is great fun. These outdoor movies are shown "under the stars' and great free fun on a ship. Some ships also have indoor movie theaters where movies are shown throughout the day.

08 of 14

Read a Book in the Library

Library on a Celebrity cruise ship
Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

All cruise ships have onboard libraries. Some are very tiny, but most are adequate and have space to sit and read a good book. You can also check out the books and take them back to your cabin or out on the deck to read.

Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14

Explore the Ship

Crystal Serenity Cruise Ship; Kitchen Galley Tour
Gary Bembridge/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Large cruise ships are engineering marvels, and taking the time to explore the decks of a ship is a fun way to spend time onboard. Ships also sometimes have free galley tours, which offer passengers the opportunity to see some of the secrets of creating thousands of meals each day in relatively small spaces.
When exploring the ship, be sure to peek into the numerous onboard shops. You can look for free, but don't be tempted to buy if you are trying to stay on budget!

10 of 14

Play Some Games

Cruise ship basketball court
Brian Holsclaw/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Ships often have onboard game tournaments with no participation fees, (i.e. free). These tournaments include basketball, miniature golf, shuffleboard, ping pong, and a variety of other games. In addition to being free, the players usually get points that can be accumulated and exchanged for small gifts at the end of the cruise.

The Celebrity Solstice class ships feature croquet or bocce ball games at the Lawn Club.

11 of 14

Watch a Demonstration or Take an Enrichment Class

Towel animal
Gary Bembridge/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Cruise ships have many interesting free onboard demonstrations. These include cooking, towel animal folding, ice carving, napkin folding, and even glass blowing. Some ships even have free cooking, needlework, crafts, and computer classes.

12 of 14

Enjoy a Free Drink at an Onboard Party

Carnival Sunshine: Alchemy Drinks
cruisesource.us/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

On most cruises, drinks are free at the captain's welcome party. Many ships also serve free drinks at the sail away party. Be sure to ask, since some cruise lines have started to charge for drinks at these affairs.

Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14

Take a Nap, Sleep in, or Rest and Relax

Mature woman reading
 DreamPictures/Getty Images

Although ships can be full of fun activities and often have a high-energy atmosphere, passengers are not required to do anything. Most cruise travelers find sailing to be extremely restful and relaxing. You can take a nap, sleep in until noon, or just rest and recharge your batteries. Couples and families can use their free time onboard to reconnect and do things together. You're on vacation!

14 of 14

Explore the Ports of Call on Your Own

Creek Street Ketchikan Alaska
Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr/CC0 1.0

Cruise ships don't just sail around the ocean for seven days. They stop over at various ports of call. Exploring these ports is one of the joys of cruising. Although many travelers book guided shore excursions either through the ship or on their own, just strolling the streets of small towns or major cities is a great way to spend a few hours or the entire day. And, it's free.

In summary, cruises offer budget-minded travelers a great, value-added vacation. Once you have paid your basic cruise fare, you can enjoy many onboard (or ashore) activities for free.