When cruise lines advertise themselves as “all-inclusive” it pays to take a close look at what actually is included in the fare, as there is a world of difference between what is covered by budget, premium and ultra-luxury lines. What does “all-inclusive” mean? Let’s find out.
Certainly, all cruises include meals, snacks, accommodation, entertainment and lots of onboard activities. However, some first-time cruisers who have been seduced by super-cheap fares are unpleasantly surprised by all the extras that you pay for at the end of the cruise, with “compulsory gratuities” topping the list of complaints.
So what are the non-included extras you should you look out for? If you’re cruising on big, resort-style ships operated by budget and premium lines such as Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean, you’ll pay for all the same sort of things that you would when staying at a land-based resort. That means alcoholic drinks (which attract a 15 to 18 per cent service charge); soft drinks (including bottled water); tea and coffee served in cafés rather than in the main dining rooms; using the ship’s self-service laundrettes; fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates; dining at specialty restaurants; internet access; shore excursions; and those pesky gratuities.
Compulsory gratuities are so disliked among non-tipping Aussies that Carnival Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises abolished them a few years ago. They’ve also disappeared from Australia-based Princess Cruises ships. However, if you’re taking a local cruise on a ship that’s sailing Down Under for the summer season, remember to factor in the extra cost, which is usually about US$12 per person, per day (including children).
Pre-paid drinks, specialty dining and internet packages are becoming increasingly popular – once you’ve paid up-front, you know what you’re in for. Lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean are also introducing “suite class” packages that offer the sort of inclusions you’d expect on a luxury cruise ship; complimentary drinks, no-charge dining in specialty restaurants, unlimited internet access, even butler service for select suite categories on board Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Quantum-class ships.
It’s the old story: you get what you pay for. Take a cruise with a luxury line that includes all those extras and your fare will cost more, so decide how many of those extras you would use. It’s also important to consider whether that type of cruising would suit you – for example, luxury cruises are not as family friendly as resort-style cruises and they are generally more formal.
However, if you’re travelling as a couple or on your own, it’s well worth doing a few sums to see what works for your budget. Cruises on luxury lines such as Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea, whose ships are cruising in Australasia this summer, can offer amazing value if you prefer a more “refined” experience that really does cover everything – including shore tours, which can add quite a bit to the overall bill. And there’s something very sociable about joining a group for dinner and not having to worry about who’s paying for the wine bill.