A cruise used to be thought of as an all-inclusive vacation, but today all but the most luxurious lines have a wide variety of a la carte choices that are tempting, and sure to up your bill — from artisan cocktails to the latest fitness classes, perfect family photos taken by professionals, and once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions.
Everything You Need to Know About All-Inclusive Cruisesby Donna Heiderstadt | August 08, 2016
You unpack once, enjoy port calls on five or six islands or cities in a single week, and go from casual cocktails at the pool bar to dining in an elegant specialty restaurant. What could be easier than a cruise? An all-inclusive cruise, that’s what — when the price you pay upfront for a week or more at sea covers all or most of your onboard expenses.
All-inclusive pricing takes the “nickel and diming” — paying for every bottle of water or cappuccino — out of cruising, but there are still differences among cruise lines that place themselves in this category. All-inclusive pricing on ocean cruises includes some or all of the following: unlimited beverages (including alcohol), free Wi-Fi, gratuities, port taxes, airfare, and even airport transfers. Spa treatments are always extra, regardless of which line you book.
Of course, you should expect to pay extra for the privilege of not taking your wallet out during your sailing. However, a fully all-inclusive cruise can be cost-effective if you travel during peak season (and airfare and transfers are included), enjoy more than one or two cocktails a day, and plan to take an excursion in every port. But if you don’t drink and prefer to explore on your own, you may end up paying more than you need to. In that case, an almost-all-inclusive cruise — or even an a la carte sailing — might be a better fit.
Here are the lines that offer all-inclusive cruises, and what you need to know about their policies.
1. High-end cruises are the most likely to be fully all-inclusive.
These decadent trips, which begin at around $1,999 per person per week, might cause a bit of initial sticker shock. Lines with all-inclusive pricing include Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, and SeaDream Yacht Club.
The policy is different for each line, and it’s important to do your research on what’s included. Of these, Regent is the most all-inclusive, covering all alcohol, gratuities, airfare, Wi-Fi, port taxes, shore excursions, airport transfers, and a precruise hotel stay. Regent even includes business-class airfare. The rest of the lines vary. Viking Ocean Cruises, for example, includes shore excursions, Wi-Fi, and wine and beer with lunch and dinner, but not unlimited cocktails or gratuities.
While breakfast, lunch, and dinner are always included in cruise fares, specialty dining venues — typically, smaller restaurants that serve a specific cuisine — are not, as is the case on Silversea and Azamara. They are included, however, on Seabourn, Regent, Crystal, Paul Gauguin, and Viking Ocean.
2. There are a few small-ship options.
Voyages to Antiquity and Swan Hellenic, which offer longer, education-focused itineraries, aren’t luxury products, but they are all-inclusive. So are small-ship cruise lines Un-Cruise Adventures and Hebridean Island Cruises, expedition cruise line Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic That said, Voyages to Antiquity includes round-trip airfare and shore excursions but only includes beer or wine with lunch and dinner — not cocktails consumed at other times.
3. Many river cruise lines are inclusive, too.
All-inclusive pricing on river cruises means everything from unlimited beverages to shore excursions come with your fare. Lines with this type of pricing include Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (in Europe), Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, French Country Waterways, Tauck, and Aqua Expeditions. Lines with almost all-inclusive fares — meaning cocktails (besides wine with lunch and dinner) are extra — include AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, and Viking River Cruises.
4. Some mainstream lines offer “all-inclusive” promotions.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to book a luxury cruise, you can still approximate the experience by sailing with a mainstream or premium line when it offers promotions that include a choice of free beverage packages, free Wi-Fi, free gratuities, or a stateroom credit that can be applied to shore excursions and spa treatments. Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line all do this. MSC Cruises also offers an “all-inclusive” upgrade on certain sailings.
5. Some cabin categories include extra features.
As you move up in suite level, you may find even more included. For example, some cabins may include specialty dining that usually comes with an extra charge, or unlimited access to the spa’s thermal suite, with saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpool tubs. In addition, spa treatments are always extra on cruise ships — unless you book Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer Regent Suite, which offers the unique feature of unlimited in-cabin spa treatments.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.