One of the hot topics in the travel industry is the growing trend towards all inclusive pricing.
At a time when travellers are hunting down value like never before, the idea of being able to budget for the cost of your holiday in advance is an increasingly attractive option.
Tour operators are seeing more people opt for all-in pricing where meals, drinks and other so-called extras are bundled together into the price up-front. Hotels have been employing this type of pricing mechanism for many years and more are joining in.
The theory is that there should not be any unpleasant surprises at the end of the holiday when the final bill arrives.
It can be argued that the cruise industry has been well ahead of land based resorts in adopting what I would describe as a ‘semi-all inclusive’ concept. This means that when you book a cruise the price you pay covers accommodation, most meals, entertainment, ship-board activities and supervised childcare where applicable.
However, there has been a recent trend towards upping the number of added extras you only discover require additional payment once you are on your ship.
Depending on the cruise line, this can often go beyond the regular cost of gratuities for staff, spa treatments, the hair salon, alcoholic drinks at bars and restaurants and shore excursions to include special coffees and teas, ice cream, internet access and dining at speciality restaurants.
As mainstream ships get bigger, it appears that the number of ‘experiences’ that require an additional charge increase at a corresponding level. The more alternative dining options added, the more the additional cost increases. This is becoming more prevalent on the big American resort-style ships in particular, hence the reason that on board credit is being used as an incentive to lure customers into booking.
I accept that these are all optional extras and no-one is obliged to use them, but passengers are actively encouraged to try out alternatives to the main dining rooms and buffet outlets. And when you are on a ship for a week or more it’s more likely than not that you’ll want to experience the different styles of cuisine offered at the restaurants that require a cover charge.
I’m not saying that these are unreasonable, but the extras can quickly mount up if you don’t keep tabs on your on board account.
So it was with a high degree of anticipation that I was fortunate enough to experience one of the ultra luxury lines in the Mediterranean for the first time in the past week to test out the all inclusive nature of the offering.
The five star companies and above have taken the initiative to include more in the basic cruise price, so while the upfront cost may seem disproportionately high in the first instance, what you receive in return in terms of quality and value is quite remarkable. Some of the high end companies have even gone so far as to include shore excursions as part of the price which is often heavily discounted for those prepared to book a year or more in advance of the departure date.
Top end value
While this wasn’t the case on my seven-day voyage around Italy with Crystal Cruises, the fact that all drinks, meals – including those in the Italian and Japanese speciality restaurants – and gratuities were part of the price meant the whole atmosphere on board was unlike any I’d experienced before. Not having to sign for every drink at the bar or around the pool was a revelation and meant the standard of service was nothing short of exemplary. It didn’t lead to excessive drinking as far as I could see, just passengers enjoying the full range of services available without having to worry about extra charges being applied to their bill at the end of the cruise.
With the number of offers available, the cost differential between a top suite with a mainstream line and a stateroom on a luxury ship with everything included is narrowing all the time.
And in my brief experience, I’d say that’s a price well worth paying.
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