With the news today that Norwegian Cruise Line is to introduce an all inclusive drinks and dining package next year right across their full range of thirteen ships, the line becomes the latest in an increasing list of mainstream cruise operators that have gone down that route in the last few years. This headlong charge toward being fully inclusive has gained startling momentum over recent years, and yet has been little remarked on.
For two decades, all inclusive was the sole preserve of upscale operators such as Silversea, Seadream and Seabourn. Eventually, their direct competitors- Regent and Crystal- were dragged kicking and screaming down the fully inclusive footpath. Recently, deluxe operator, Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines started offering ‘beverage credits’ on board Europa 2 for UK passengers. Fully inclusive here, too, is almost certainly just a matter of time.
But the ‘big boys’ have taken a lot longer to respond. Actually, ‘all inclusive’ packages have been available as add-ons on some European cruise lines, and mainly on European itineraries, for a lot of years now. Louis Cruises in particular has been offering optional add-on packages for a long time, although with the caveat that the packages are only valid from 1000-0200 each day. Anything served before or after charged extra. Mind you, that would surely be far and away long enough for most, especially on such destination intensive short cruises.
MSC Cruises bit the bullet very early on in it’s giddy ascent towards becoming a player, offering a series of soft and alcoholic drinks packages that also folded in such treats as ice cream, and these proved tremendously popular. So much so that principal rival, Costa Cruises, did something similar. Out in the Far East, Star Cruises has offered an add on, all inclusive policy since its inception in the 90’s.
But, as so often before, the big game changer came when Carnival first trialed, and then rolled out, the first all inclusive, optional add ons across its vast fleet of Caribbean Fun Ships. This has been such a success that first, Royal Caribbean and now, Norwegian, has followed suit.
There has been some reluctance in certain quarters to go down this route. I suggested it as an option to one mainstream line a couple of years ago, and was told immediately that it would not happen.
Well, now it has.
What of the British based lines, I hear you say? Well, Thomson Cruises operates as an all inclusive package for many cruises but, baffling to report, they continue to charge an extra tariff on some itineraries to upgrade to all inclusive. As a product, it needs to be more uniform than it currently is.
Most surprising to my mind was when Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines put together an inclusive package, charged at a very reasonable £10 a day premium. For this most traditional of lines, this is a savvy bit of forward thinking. Cunard and P&O have not yet shown any interest in pursuing a similar policy, but that will probably change as well.
These inclusive, add on packages often come with certain caveats. Typically, all occupants of a cabin must buy the package and, as a rule of thumb, only one drink will be served at a time. And most of these packages are not truly ‘all inclusive’; premium brands, champagnes and fine wines will certainly attract a surcharge, though often considerably less than the actual per drink cost.
Personally, I consider the bulk of these mainstream enhancements as just that- enhancements, rather than truly all inclusive. The actual ‘all inclusive’ product as we know it remains pretty much the preserve of the handful of boutique lines named at the top of this piece.