It is almost impossible to compare the cost of a mainstream cruise to a luxury cruise due to vastly different methods of charging for the complete cruise.
Mainstream cruise lines charge a basic fare, but the airfare, shore tours, gratuities, beverages, transfers and other expenses are all charged separately at the end of the cruise. Most luxury cruise lines include these charges in one, all-inclusive price.
Luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas, Silversea Cruises, the Yachts of Seabourn and Crystal Cruises are not all the same, but they do share certain qualities: small passenger loads, gourmet cuisine, spacious and comfortable staterooms and very attentive and personalized service.
Meanwhile, average mainstream cruise ships carry closer to 2,800 guests, but these bigger ships offer far more onboard fun such as golf, bigger pools, hot tubs, spas, shopping, lavish entertainment and bigger casinos.
Since the recession, luxury cruise lines have been showing cruise fares in a somewhat comical fashion. For example, they print brochures that show â€ś1/2 off the brochure priceâ€ť â€“ so the real brochure price is 50% of what they show as the â€śbrochure price.â€ť
Here is what Regent Seven Seas, one of the more successful luxury cruise lines is promoting right now: â€śThis limited sale includes 2 for 1 cruise fares, free airfare, all transfers, pre-paid gratuities, shore excursions and complimentary beverages throughout the entire cruise.â€ť
Nice! The entire vacation is virtually pre-paid. Note that â€ś2 for 1â€ť is just another way of saying â€ś50% off brochure prices.â€ť But this not really a â€ślimitedâ€ť sale. Since the recession such â€śsalesâ€ť are virtually always available. The idea is to make it very hard to figure the actual cost of the cruise alone.
So which is the better deal? Take a look:
Comparing Luxury to Standard Cruises
First of all, remember this: When you are paying separately for everything during a cruise you are far more likely to hold back on your spending. But on a luxury cruise, where everything is pre paid, there is no reason to hold back. In fact, it only makes sense to eat, drink and tour to your heartâ€™s delight without an inkling of guilt.
So, to compare a standard priced mainstream cruise line with an all-inclusive luxury cruise line we must assume the cruiser is going to enjoy every opportunity to indulge, just as he would on a luxury cruise. Naturally, that is somewhat unrealistic, but it makes comparisons easier.
Picking two different ships; Regent Voyager and Celebrity Solstice, we found almost identical 300-square foot suites on both ships. The itinerary is almost identical, a seven-day roundtrip cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Western Caribbean. The sail dates are both in November 2010.
A Seven-day Western Caribbean Cruise
You can sail on a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise, Nov. 23 on Regent Seven Seas Voyager from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Maya with one day at sea. The fare is $3,365 per person. The stateroom is a 306-square foot suite with a 50-square foot balcony. This price includes roundtrip airfare, transfers to the ship, all gratuities and all beverages including a refrigerator stocked with beer, soft drinks and bottled water.
Celebrity Solstice is a brand new (2009), premium cruise ship with several restaurants and nightclubs, a real lawn, lectures and excellent nightly stage shows included in the cruise fare. The special alternative restaurants carry a service charge of up to $35 per person.
A seven-day Western Caribbean cruise sails Nov. 7 on Celebrity Solstice to Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Honduras and two days at sea. Remember that since virtually everything is included with Regent, there is no reason to hold back, so to compare experiences we need to figure having as many beverages and shore tours as one wants on Celebrity with no worry about cost.
Letâ€™s compare cost per person: Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite cruise fare $1,895, air fare $500, shore tours (this figure could easily be higher or lower) $500, transfers $20, beverages (seven days, water, soda & wine) $235, $75 gratuities and $140 for four special meals: total: $3,365.
Regent Seven Seas Voyager with air fare, tours, transfers, beverages and all food included: $3,365.
In the end, for nearly identical staterooms, itineraries and food and drink consumption you pay $3,365 for Regent and $3,365 for Celebrity Solstice.
Every variable has been made as identical as possible, but there is a major difference: this is one of the highest categories of staterooms on Celebrity Solstice and one of the lowest on Regent. The same cruise is possible for much less on Solstice if you moderate the optional costs like cabin category, food, drinks and tours. It is also possible to spend much more on Regent.
But in the end, the surprise is that one can have an almost identical experience on either ship for the same price. This proves that luxury is more affordable than any of us probably thought.
As always â€“ if you need to know more about cruising we urge you to consult our Cruising101 FAQ.
I started writing about stock market investing for Motley Fool in 1995, but previously I worked aboard cruise ships. I co-founded CruiseMates.com, the first cruise travel guide on the Internet in New York City in 1999. CruiseMates, one the Webâ€™s top cruise travel guides was acquired by Internet Brands (NASD: INET) in 2006. Once CEO, I am now the editor of CruiseMates â€“ Paul Motter.