Cruise news / All-inclusive masterclass - the best cruise lines and what they offer
Budget-savvy travellers know that all-inclusive is the way to go – but which lines are best for you, and what do they offer?
Nothing bursts a feelgood bubble likeseeing that final bill slipped under thecabin door.
Yet as their holidays come to an end, all too many cruisers are leftcounting the cost of that nightly roundof drinks with new friends, or thatspeciality dinner to celebrate a big event.Fortunately, there is an alternative – andthat’s going all-inclusive.
Knowing in advance exactly how much your cruisewill cost – not just your air fare, cabin and standardmeals, but all the extras you enjoy along the way – isa huge help in these difficult economic times. Quitesimply, it means you can set a budget and stick to it,with no nasty surprises at the end.
Choose carefully, and even last-minute cruisessometimes include a few welcome add-ons. But ifyou’re booking a long time in advance – perhaps for aspecial celebration or a bucket-list adventure – there’sa wide range of excellent all-inclusive deals to coveryour drinks, a few nights in the speciality restaurants,and maybe even your excursions too.
Whichever deal you pick, make sure it also coversthe gratuities charged per person per night, as thesecan seriously mount up. And you’ll also want one thatallows you plenty of time online so that you can keep intouch with the folks back home.All-inclusive has long been standard for top-endcruise lines but it’s spreading throughout the marketas more cruisers catch on to the peace of mind itbrings.
So here’s how to make the most of going all-in,whether you’re on a tight budget, travelling with yourfamily or just want to live the high life...
Best for luxury lovers
Small ships usually offer the best in luxury ocean cruising. There’s an intimate atmosphere, and most staterooms have a sea view so you feel special from the momentyou step on board.
High-end all-inclusive deals covermost drinks on the ship, as well asspeciality dining and staff gratuities,but not all will include flights andtransfers.
For UK cruisers, Sagais a great option because it offerscomplimentary chauffeur transfersfrom your home to the ship and back.
The line’s two new vessels, Spirit ofAdventure and Spirit of Discovery,each have three speciality restaurants,where all guests can dine for no extracharge. All drinks, wi-fi, onboard tipsand some excursions are also free.
Moving still further upmarket,Oceania Cruises has always includedfree speciality restaurants, wi-fi, roomservice and barista coffee, but its OLifeChoice offer adds air travel and eithereight free excursions, a free drinkspackage or up to $800 shipboard credit.
Topping the lot is Regent Seven SeasCruises, with air travel, transfers andunlimited excursions all covered byyour upfront fare, as well as gratuities,an open bar, wi-fi and 24-hour roomservice.
Yes, the cruises are pricey,but you also get free laundry, so at leastyou can go home with clean clothes.
When it comes to river travel, severallines offer all-inclusive luxury butpossibly the best is Uniworld, whichsails in Europe, Egypt, southeast Asia,South America and India.
It includes allflights and transfers – international anddomestic – along with gratuities, wi-fiand all drinks. You also get curatedexcursions, fitness classes and nicelittle extras such as free bicycle hire.
Best for families
Cruises make excellent family holidaysand they’re great for multi-generationalbreaks too –if you pick the right line and ship.
The bigger the ship the more thereis to do for all ages, so you may findchildren’s aqua parks as well as adultslides, for instance, or there could bemini-golf, sports courts and a range ofchildren’s clubs for two to 17-year-olds,run by trained staff.
These are usuallyfree for all passengers but the bigbenefit of going all-inclusive is nothaving to pay gratuities for the wholefamily – children included.
One of the best family-fun cruise linesis Royal Caribbean, with free activitiesincluding climbing walls, FlowRidersurf pools, laser tag, ice skating andmore.
Guests can create their ownall-inclusive deal by adding flights,transfers and drinks packages – withunlimited soft drinks for children –when they book.
Princess Cruises also offers children’sclubs, mini-golf and sports courts.
ItsPrincess Plus option adds free drinks,gratuities and wi-fi for every guest, sochildren can use their own electronicdevices, while Princess Premier givesfree wi-fi for up to four devices per guest,as well as a range of other benefitsincluding two speciality dinners.
Norwegian Cruise Line is equallyfamily-friendly, with masses of onboardactivities – even go-kart racing andziplines on newer ships – and its FreeAt Sea and Free At Sea Plus deals aresimilar to those offered by Princess.
River cruise lines generally welcomefamilies but few have children’sfacilities. One exception is A-Rosa,which provides kids’ clubs andentertainment programmes for childrenaged four to 15 on special family cruises.
Best for foodies
Cruise lines pride themselves on theircuisine, with speciality restaurantmenus often devised by Michelin-starred chefs.
Their signature dishesare sometimes served in the maindining rooms too – but if you’re on anall-inclusive ship, or you’ve upgradedto an all-inclusive package, you can becertain that you’ll be enjoying food ofthe highest quality.
Seabourn offers complimentarydining at all its restaurants, as well asincluding drinks, gratuities, onboardactivities and some excursions withcertain packages.
The Grill, on allSeabourn ships, has a menu devised by triple Michelin-starred ThomasKeller, and this too is complimentary – but it’s so highly regarded that onlyone reservation is permitted per voyage.
Michelin-starred chef CorneliusGallagher is vice president of foodand beverage operations for CelebrityCruises, where an upgrade to all-inclusive covers your tips, drinks andwi-fi.
You can also add a specialitydining package so celebratory mealsare pre-paid at cheaper rates.
Oceania Cruises proudly offers ‘the finest cuisine at sea’, and all its restaurants are complimentary,including the acclaimed Asian eaterieRed Ginger.
Its latest ship, Vista, willset sail in May with new restaurantsEmber – for American classics – andhealth-focused Aquamar Kitchen.
SeaDream Yacht Club is anotherhigh-end all-inclusive option, taking just112 guests on each of its two small ships.
Those fortunate few can look forward toexceptional service, with an open barserving Champagne, and complimentarybeach barbecues on Caribbean cruises.
Best for culture vultures
Some people cruise to see wildlife, someto experience spectacular countryside.But almost all are interested in theculture of the countries they visit – soart galleries, museums, mosques andcathedralsare always high on the to-do list.
There’s a lot to be said for simplywalking into town with a tourist mapand finding places that interest you,but often it’s more time-efficient andrewarding to join a ship’s excursion.
With an official trip, there’s noqueuing for tickets, no getting lost and no need to worry about missing the sail away (if a ship’s excursion is late,the captain will wait).
But conveniencecomes at a price, so if your cruiseincludes complimentary guidedexcursions, you’re quids in. Seabourn,Saga, Oceania Cruises, Emerald YachtCruises, Viking and Silversea all offerthese, along with additional paid-fortrips for maximum choice.
Many river lines offer daily guidedwalking tours, with some – such asRiviera – really pushing the boat outwith included coach travel and ticketsto see attractions.
On Riviera’s all-inclusive Rhonecruises, for example, the daily toursinclude tickets to the Popes’ Palace inAvignon, a coach tour of the ArdècheGorges and a visit to the famous RomanPont du Gard bridge and museum. Youcould organise all that for yourself but it would be costly, take a lot of research,and you’d still have to worry aboutgetting back to the ship in time.
Best for value
You could say that all cruises aregreat value because they includeaccommodation, food, and travel fromone exciting destination to another.
Going all-inclusive improves the dealeven more, but real value for moneydepends on knowing exactly what youwant from a cruise, and then findingthe line that best provides it.
For example, if old-school luxury witha touch of glamour is your ideal,consider Azamara. If you’re looking fora friendly British holiday vibe, tryMarella – and if you prefer to staycloser to land, then perhaps TUI RiverCruises is for you.
Boutique line Azamara includesgratuities and drinks on all cruises,with packages available for its specialityrestaurants. Some itineraries includeflights and transfers, while AzAmazingEvenings – often private cultural tours– are offered to all guests.
Marella is a popular provider ofall-inclusive packages for the Britishmarket, with no gratuities to pay andcomplimentary non-premium drinks inits bars and restaurants.
Most fares alsoinclude flights – a big bonus on MarellaDiscovery’s US itineraries, starting thisyear. And Marella’s parent company,TUI, includes flights, transfers, tips anddrinks with meals on its three adults-only European river ships.
Finally, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines isoffering free door-to-door transfers or anall-inclusive drinks package on selectedcruises this year.
‘Freedom Fare’ offersapply to voyages of 16 days or fewer,between 6 September and 31 October,and include departures from Liverpool,Rosyth, Dover and Southampton
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Do any cruise lines offer all-inclusive packages? ›
Several major ocean cruise lines, along with smaller and more intimate cruise companies, operate as fully all-inclusive. At the top of our list are Regent Seven Seas, Scenic, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking, Virgin Voyages, and Azamara. Here's what you should know about each of these all-inclusive cruise lines.What does an all-inclusive cruise include? ›
Generally speaking, all-inclusive in the cruise world means that the fare you're quoted includes the cost of your room on a ship (based on double occupancy), port fees and taxes, most meals, gratuities, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.What is the number 1 cruise line? ›
- Norwegian Cruise Line. Score 78.98. MSC Cruises. ...
- Royal Caribbean International. Score 72.49. Carnival Cruise Line. ...
- P&O Cruises. Score 76.61. Azamara. ...
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Score 76.63. Star Clippers. ...
- Grand Circle Cruise Line. Score 89.47. ...
- Atlas Ocean Voyages. Score 88.78.
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- Regent Seven Seas Cruises. ...
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- Viking Ocean Cruises.
Cruises are all-inclusive. Meals, limited drinks and accommodation are all included in the base cruise fare. There are a number of exclusions, alcohol, gratuities, excursions, WiFi and speciality meals usually cost extra.What is the cheapest month to book a cruise? ›
The best time of year to book a cruise is often January through March. During this period — also known as wave season — industry-wide sales occur and the price of that cruise you've been dreaming of may drop significantly.Is it worth paying for all-inclusive? ›
If you just want to relax at a beach and enjoy the resort activities, then absolutely, an all-inclusive resort is worth it for couples. But if you want to explore your destination, do lots of offsite activities, and eat at local restaurants, it may not be.Do you pay for dinner at all-inclusive? ›
An all-inclusive vacation is a vacation that includes all the essentials in the booking price. Besides accommodation, you can expect food, drinks, activities, and entertainment to be included, without having to pay extra for it.Do you pay per person at all-inclusive? ›
When you're looking at all-inclusive resort, you might see price that seems reasonable, but what you may not realize is that the charge is usually per person, not per room. This can differ between properties, so you'll have to read the fine print that explains the room rates.Does Royal Caribbean offer all-inclusive packages? ›
Unfortunately, none of the Royal Caribbean cruises have all-inclusive food and drinks at the base fare. However, you do have some options. You can either pay as you go or buy food or drink packages.
Is it worth it to pay for all-inclusive? ›
If you just want to relax at a beach and enjoy the resort activities, then absolutely, an all-inclusive resort is worth it for couples. But if you want to explore your destination, do lots of offsite activities, and eat at local restaurants, it may not be.Does Carnival offer all-inclusive cruises? ›
The unfortunate news is that Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International do not have a real all-inclusive deal on their ships. While booking your trip on these cruise ships, you will note that fare includes meals in their main dining room, your cabin or stateroom, the buffet, and some select free venues.What does all-inclusive mean in Caribbean? ›
By Kylie Morrow | February 9th 2021. An all-inclusive vacation is a vacation that includes all the essentials in the booking price. Besides accommodation, you can expect food, drinks, activities, and entertainment to be included, without having to pay extra for it.