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All-Inclusive Cruising Grows in Europe

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

We all know about how Seabourn, SeaDream and Silversea, more recently followed by Regent Seven Seas, offer all-inclusive fares that include not only the fare but also port charges, gratuities and beverages, including alcoholic drinks, and in the case of Regent, shore excursions.
But there are now other packages out there, available mainly from European lines that while offering splendid service are not necessarily regarded as ultra-luxury and unaffordable. Now that all-inclusive cruising is showing signs of growing in Europe, when will the American lines catch on?


All-Inclusive Cruising Spreads in Europe

It has been many years now since Silversea and Seabourn introduced the first real "all-inclusive" ships, but many have followed. SeaDream succeeded where Sea Goddess left off under Cunard, and Regent became all-inclusive with the start of 2007, thus making this their fourth season as an all-inclusive line.

However, not all other lines are necessarily like the Caribbean lines that charge a hotel price (no longer duty free, even though the lines buy them duty free) for every drink, and add an automatic 15% service charge each time.

With recent additions, nearly all based in Europe, many lines now offer "all-inclusive" packages that can be purchased either before the cruise or on boarding. These packages, which are mainly attuned to drinks, can change the nature of a cruise from having to "buy one's way" through the cruise to not having to worry about that huge final bill that comes under the door on the final night.

Thomson Cruises first tried all-inclusive with their Topaz a decade ago, but this was not continued when she retired in 2002. (Coincidentally, this same ship, when Greek Line's Queen Anna Maria, had offered something called "Bacchus Cruises" from New York that had included all alcoholic beverages in the fare). Today, however, Thomson has revived an all-inclusive drinks package that includes draft beer, spirits, aperitifs, house wines, soft drinks and a range of cocktails.

Premium drinks such as champagne, malt whiskey, bottled beers and ciders, speciality coffees and bottled water are not included. This is sold as an all-inclusive "upgrade" and sometimes even used by Thomson to generate new bookings at a cheap rate of £49 (about $75) for the week. The usual price, however, is £186 (about $300) per week.

For some time now, Louis Cruise Lines has also offered a drinks package, which can be purchased when boarding and covers bar drinks and wine in the restaurant for the duration of the cruise. The wines tend to remain the same throughout the cruise. In the same general price range as Thomson, Louis charges about 5% less, or £175 (about $275) for a week's cruise.

Way ahead of the pack, however, is Pullmantur of Spain, who for some time now have been including drinks in their fares. This is also true of affiliate Croisières de France and their Bleu de France. The wines include the line's choice of a "house" ("ship") red, white and rosé that change each day. Pullmantur calls this its "AI" plan, standing for all inclusive and it includes port charges and gratuties as well, although a ?5 per person "service charge" is added to each fare.

Elsewhere, last year MSC Cruises launched two unlimited beverage packages. The first unlimited beverage package includes a selection of bottled wines, mineral water, beer and soft drinks at £98 (about $150) for seven days. The second includes just soft drinks and mineral water at £49 (about $75). All beverages are available in an unlimited quantity during main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
The line also offers wine packages. Costa has similar packages but requires purchase at least fourteen days before sailing.

Wine packages are today of course offered by several lines and in addition, many lines offer soft drinks packages and bundles. In fact, it is mainly these soft drinks packages that seem to get attention in the hot weather Caribbean market. One Florida-based line, however, seems to be ahead of the pack.

Movement: Celebrity Drinks Packages

In May, Celebrity Cruises announced that it too would be offering a drinks package. These are an addition to its wine packages that have been available for some time.

Celebrity's Classic Package includes everything in its non-alcoholic package plus beers with a value of up to $5 per serving and spirits, cocktails, and wines by the glass with a value of up to $8 per serving, and costs guests $44.85 per person, per day.

The Premium Package includes all the premium beverages in the premium non-alcoholic package plus all beers, and spirits, cocktails, and wines by the glass with a value of up to $12 per serving, and costs $56.35 per person, per day. These prices include a standard 15 percent service charge, and on a 7-day cruise come to about $315 and $395, respectively.

Celebrity now has so many different beverage packages that it has introduced a separate web page for them, where they may be purchased up until four days before sailing. This can be found at www.celebritycruises.com/beveragepackages .

One little known fact about Celebrity, however, is that one ship in the fleet, the little Celebrity Xpedition in the Galapagos, already offers an alll-inclusive drinks package as part of her fare.

And sister line Azamara Club Cruises, in a move not really related to Celebrity's packages, but probably more to do with the arrival of Larry Pimentel as president and ceo, now also offers complimentary wines at lunch and dinner, chosen according to the locale the ship is sailing in.

A Winner: Hapag-Lloyd's "Columbus All-Inclusive Package"

Last week, Hapag-Lloyd joined the movement towards drinks packages with the announcement that the best program of all would now be available on its 420-berth Columbus, a smaller ship that not only sails around the world each winter but will also cruise the Great Lakes in 2011.

Beginning in 2011, Hapag-Lloyd will offer a new and very attractive price structure for the Columbus. With the new package, extras on board will become a thing of the past. For anyone booking a Columbus all-inclusive package all eighty-one drinks on the beverage list, from soft drinks to exotic cocktails, all tips on board and even a package of two to four shore excursions per cruise will be included in the price.

The Columbus AI package can be booked as an option in addition to the regular cruise fare and all Columbus cruises will now include a cruise-only rate, as well as a rate for the package. The package price depends on the length of the cruise and the destination, and will start at $340 per person for a 13-day Great Lakes cruise, providing a value of about $26 per day, better than any others on offer when one remembers that this includes gratuities and some shore excursions as well! By far the best offer of its kind seen yet.

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