Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Thu October 13 2016

A La Carte vs. All-Inclusive: The Great Cruising Debate

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carnival Cruise Line | Jason Leppert | October 13, 2016

A La Carte vs. All-Inclusive: The Great Cruising Debate

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There are effectively two cruise travel lifestyle camps – a la carte and all-inclusive – and the bottom line price of each and the hybrids in between differs substantially as well. Of course, which is best for you depends on what you value most.

All-inclusive is the mainstay of luxury lines like Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Essentially, guests pay much more up front so that the vast majority of things not included on mainstream lines are complimentary once embarked such as alcoholic beverages, gratuities and even shore excursions in some cases. The benefits are such that passengers need not pull out their cabin key to authorize a transaction each time they want a drink or a tour, making it a more restful experience.

READ MORE: The Overuse of 'Luxury' and 'Inclusive' in Cruise Travel

Inclusivity these days also extends beyond luxury lines to upscale ones like Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises, the latter of which even includes internet access for all guests. The degree to which any cruise vacation is all-inclusive really varies and can even be enjoyed on mainstream lines by tacking on different packages ahead of time.

Otherwise, standard brands like Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International approach extras in an a la carte fashion. That is, drinks like beer and wine, specialty dining and gratuities all cost more. To be sure, a sailing on these lines can absolutely still be enjoyable by taking advantage of those options which are entirely free, from the main dining room and buffet to most activities and entertainment.

It just so happens that so many cruise lines offer additional choices that it might seem you are not getting the full experience without partaking in all the bonus offerings, and there is certainly a strong argument to be made for trying everything if you can afford it.

READ MORE: Exclusive Cruise Travel: The Modern Class System

In contrast, these lines are sometimes described as all-exclusive, but the benefit there is that you only pay for what you actually enjoy, as opposed to a larger sum up front regardless if you actually drink or head out on every excursion. In fact, even on luxury lines, spa treatments and retail shopping still incur extra costs, so inclusivity is all relative.

What is worth looking at are per diem costs, however, because even though the bottom line fare of a luxury line may cost more than a standard one, there is added value to be had in bundled prices, and sometimes it can amount to less daily than if you were to pay for everything separately. That’s why upscale and premium lines succeed in between the extremes to offer experiences approaching luxury at a fraction of the cost.


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