Paul Gauguin offers a watersports marina // © 2013 Paul Gauguin Cruises
The very definition of luxury cruising is associated with the elements included in the fare. In the days when cruising was mostly made up of trans-Atlantic crossings, stratification was the rule, with accommodation levels tied to dining. Today, the traditional luxury lines have moved in different directions on the issue of inclusions, as cruise lines outside the luxury sector create enclaves within their ships. And each line believes its solution makes the product an easier sell for travel agents.
At all levels of cruising, stratification occurs in accommodations: Those who pay more get larger, better, differently positioned rooms. But in the past 10 years, there has been a swing back to linking dining and even leisure facilities with accommodation levels, as in Norwegian Cruise Line’s Haven, several lines’ spa staterooms and Cunard Line’s Princess and Queens Grill.
Lines that have a base cruise fare and layer a la carte choices on top of it argue that guests don’t want to pay more for what they won’t use. But few would argue that passengers who don’t enjoy Broadway plays, piano bars or gyms should not have to pay for them. It is also generally accepted that shore excursions are a la carte; only Regent Seven Seas Cruises and river cruise lines include those experiences in the ticket price, although most luxury lines have complimentary shoreside experiences in at least one port. Spa services are an additional cost for all lines. But specialty dining, beverages, fitness areas or classes, lounges, airfare, pre-cruise overnights and extra services are areas that may or may not be included.
The argument for all-inclusive rates is that they promote sociability among guests, make the entire price clear and offer passengers options for exploring new territory without fees. For the agent, of course, all-inclusive means commissions are based on the entire cruise price, and the cruise lines contend that the package makes it easier for agents to upsell, clarifying the luxury difference.
In 2009, Regent Seven Seas Cruises instituted the most extensive all-inclusive policy in the industry, combining everything, including all shore excursions previously sold for up to $200. The move was enormously successful; however, no other seagoing line has followed suit. Regent later added a one-night initial hotel stay.
At the other end of the scale, Peter Shanks, Cunard president, said, “At Cunard, our experience is that guests like the ability to choose what they wish to pay for. In the current economic environment, value for money plays an important role for all leisure purchases and people are very aware that an all-inclusive price does not mean anything is free — it is costed into the vacation price. Our research among luxury travelers shows that they would rather see the real value for money of the cruise and, then, choose what they wish to pay for whilst on their vacation.”
Luxury line decisions on inclusions are changing the landscape constantly. Crystal Cruises, for example, initiated an all-inclusive policy in 2012. Complimentary fine wines and premium spirits throughout the ship, open bar service in all lounges, dining in the ships’ specialty restaurants and sushi bars, specialty fitness classes and gratuities are all part of the fare.
Others are finding different ways to group inclusions. In November, Silversea Cruises launched Silver Privilege fares, offering guests one fare for their suite, onboard gratuities, complimentary beverages shipwide and in-room bars and refrigerators stocked with the guests’ choices.
“We’re making it easier for travel agents to cut through the clutter that’s in the marketplace and understand the actual price of the components of their client’s vacation,” said Brad Ball, director of corporate communications.
Gretchen Bell, SeaDream Yacht Club’s vice president of sales, Americas, said that inclusions set the social tone onboard. The company includes all dining, an open bar, use of watersports equipment and mountain bikes and gratuities.
Seabourn’s fare includes all alternative dining venues, in-suite dining and caviar, beverages and an in-suite bar stocked to guests’ requests and gratuities. On select sailings, the company provides complimentary shoreside experiences, watersports during a Marina Day at anchor and Caviar in the Surf beach barbecues.
Paul Gauguin Cruises includes shipwide complimentary beverages, individual refrigerators replenished daily with soft drinks, beer and bottled water, onboard gratuities and an onboard watersports marina for complimentary kayaking, windsurfing and paddleboarding.
With the continuing variations in what luxury cruising includes, the agent’s role is crucial, giving the client a clear expectation of the value of a particular cruise and all that comes with it.