It seems like the opportunities to spend extra on cruises are multiplying. Drink prices are creeping up. Specialty restaurants are proliferating. Room service is no longer gratis. On some lines, even peace and quiet carries a premium


It can all add up if you let it. But why should you? My suggestion is to embrace the free. Take a few moments at the start of your cruise to list all the things you can do or have on the ship for nothing.

Start with food. Both the main dining room and the buffet restaurants on every ship I know of come included in the cruise fare. To me, the buffet is especially rewarding. Some of it may be mediocre, but there are at least a couple of really yummy things in every cruise buffet. Your job: find them.

Nearly all the entertainment on cruise ships is free, from one-person piano bars to some of the best Broadway productions you’ll ever see short of Broadway.

How often do you go for a swim at home? The pool awaits. All you need do is put on your suit. Ditto for the gym and exercise facilities, which on some big ships are as good as a fitness club’s.

I’ve taken a sauna or two on a recent cruise where the nighttime temperatures were cool. I don’t do that much at home in South Florida, where most of the time the sauna is just out the front door. But I really enjoyed it. For free.

You can buy art at the auction, or simply look at what’s hanging on the walls and in the showcases around the ships. One cruise CEO recently told me he deliberately buys art he hates because he knows not everyone has his taste. If he’s going to such trouble to give passengers an art experience, maybe it is worth a second look.

Then there’s the sea — no charge to look at one of the most amazing aspects of our lonely planet. Same for the stars at night. Princess Cruises ups the ante with Movies Under the Stars, again for free.

And I haven’t touched on one of the great sources of free entertainment on cruises: people-watching. What’s up with that guy in the kilt? Or the couple who look like the Captain and Tennille?

A great time to make your checklist is during the pauses in the lifeboat drill when no one is talking or demonstrating how to don your life jacket. Embrace the free. You won’t regret it.

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