Expect smooth sailing when you book a truly all-inclusive cruise, with a fare that covers drinks, tips, and other niceties.
Great All-Inclusive Cruises
Fleet: Two all-suite ships (sleeping 24 to 32 passengers) combine pampered luxury with nature on environmentally conscious three- to seven-night cruises through the Peruvian Amazon. A new 20-passenger luxury ship debuts on the Mekong River in 2014.
What’s Included: Shore excursions with a focus on spotting wildlife; top-notch South American wines at lunch and dinner; and airport transfers.
Sample Cruise: Three-night Peruvian Amazon on the 24-passenger M/V Aqua. From $2,685 per person.
On most cruise ships, your accommodations, standard meals, entertainment, and daytime activities are included in your fare. Then the nickel-and-diming begins.
Want a soda? Add it to your tab. Take a Pilates class? Expect a fee. Indulge at one of the fancy specialty restaurants? There’s a charge for that, too. The extras quickly add up, often sinking hearts when the bill arrives at the vacation’s end.
But there are cruises that thankfully buck this trend, with out-of-pocket expenses that are truly minimal. Alcoholic drinks, crew gratuities, and sometimes even airfare, shore excursions, and pre- or post-cruise hotel stays are included in the advertised price.
While these truly all-inclusive cruises are mostly in the luxury category, many other lines also offer all-inclusive options, too. It's possible to quantify the perks and often find real value. Swan Hellenic, the upscale British brand, for instance, markets its included shore excursions alone as being worth up to $825 per person.
The most all-inclusive of the cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, did a price comparison showing that when you add in the included air, hotel stay, alcohol, excursions, and gratuities, the difference between cruising in a suite on the more luxurious Regent compared to one on a big mainstream ship was only a few dollars a day.
Scott Kertes, president of Hartford Holidays Travel and a Travel + Leisure A-List agent, says consumers need to carefully note what’s included and compare apples to apples. “In the case of Regent, people might get sticker shock at, say 20 percent more, but they are including 40 percent more. You can literally step on your ship with no money in your pocket.” But on a lot of “all-inclusive” ships, he adds, it’s not that you have no bill but rather a lesser bill.
Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, says that line recently moved to be more inclusive to simplify pricing for its international clientele. A selection of wine, beer, and spirits is now complimentary; passengers can upgrade if they choose. “If all of a sudden they want a Dom Pérignon champagne, they are going to have to pay for that,” he says.
The line also added a cultural experience, AzAmazing Evenings, on every cruise. Pimentel says the nighttime event is worth $350 to $500 per passenger. When it comes to all- or mostly-inclusive cruising, Pimentel adds, “the value screams.”
Find out just what the best-value all-inclusive cruise lines have to offer.