The mass market cruise industry in recent years has gradually, but steadily, abandoned its traditional image as the all-inclusive vacation. As with the airline industry, extra fees brought creeping sticker shock to the onboard cruise experience, from prix fixe costs per person in specialty restaurants to charges for bottled water, health club access, internet access, coffee bar beverages, and automatic tipping charges on the bill. Attempts by passengers to bring wine or alcohol onboard ended with bottles being confiscated for return to the passenger at the end of the cruise. Cocktail and wine prices at onboard dining and entertainment venues rose steadily to compare on most ships to the same prices in big city bars and restaurants.
Luxury cruise lines, however, have been returning all-inclusive features to their cruise fares in the past year as they face stiff competition from popular river cruises and premium cruise lines that have added luxury amenities. Crystal Cruises this month announced plans to go all-inclusive by 2012 when it will no longer charge extra for fine wines and premium spirits and stop levying extra charges for gratuities for housekeeping, bar and dining staff, including penthouse butler service. The luxury line Regent Seven Seas late last year announced it was adding unlimited shore excursions to free beverages, wines and premium spirits. Regent Seven Seas cruises also includes free roundtrip airfare to the ship with an upgrade to business class for penthouse guests, airline surcharges, airline fees and government taxes. There is a free luxury hotel stay included to allow Regent guests to arrive the day before their cruise and relax overnight before boarding their cruise. Luxury Seabourn and Silversea cruise fares already include all-suite accommodations, gourmet dining, all beverages including wines and spirits, entertainment, water sports and staff gratuities.
So travelers wanting to bring back the all-inclusive experience at sea, long gone from mid-priced and budget cruising, can find it by paying for the high end cruise. And the good news for passengers adding a comprehensive travel insurance plan is that all prepaid, non-refundable cruise costs can be reimbursed for a covered reason. It means that all features of your vacation, including dining, drinking and entertainment can be covered.