Why Traditional Cruises Are a Waste of Money Compared to Their Luxury Counterparts

Cruise ship in tropical waters

There are several reasons to spring for that luxury cruise. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images

Most people think of cruises as all-inclusive vacations. You get transportation, lodging, and food, all in one package. Of course, exactly what you get in that package depends on the specific room or suite you book. (And how much you’re willing to shell out to get the best package or room.) It also depends on whether you go with a traditional cruise on a mainstream cruise line, or if you opt for a luxury cruise on a luxury cruise line.

A luxury cruise will cost more than a traditional cruise. But surprisingly enough, there are several compelling reasons why going with a mainstream cruise line is a waste of money compared with sailing with a luxury cruise line. Read on to discover how a luxury cruise compares with a traditional cruise. And find out how booking a luxury cruise can actually save you money.

Luxury cruise lines offer a more upscale experience

Curious whether cruises on a luxury ship are really different from the experience on a mega-ship? Cruise Critic reports that they are. On luxury cruises, you have more options for pre- and post-cruise pampering, including more luxurious transportation to and from the ship. Plus, most luxury cruise lines offer all-suite accommodations with ocean views. (No inside cabins!)

You’ll also get free beverages, no need to pay for alcoholic beverages, premium coffee beverages, or soft drinks. You can also enjoy truly fine dining on luxury cruises. Plus, you’ll be able to travel on less common itineraries. And you can even spend overnights in port so that you can really explore the places you visit.

Next: On a luxury cruise, you’ll get better service.

You’ll get better service, but you don’t have to pay for it

Smiling woman on a cruise ship holding a drink

You’re not always required to tip for the services. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

Cruise Critic reports that additionally, on a luxury cruise, you’ll get amazing service from a highly trained staff. “Luxe lines such as Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea take pride in their crew. In fact, these lines have rigorous training programs for their crew members, much as butlers and stewardesses do in their respective industries,” the publication explains.

But you won’t have to pay gratuities. (Unlike on cruises from mainstream cruise lines.) As Cruise Critic explains, “You are not required to tip on luxury lines such as Azamara, Crystal, Paul Gauguin, Regent, SeaDream, Seabourn and Silversea. Gratuities have already been built into the fare.”

Next: Luxury cruises typically happen on this kind of ship.

A luxury cruise will be on a smaller ship rather than a mega-ship

chairs on a cruise ship dock

You’ll get more personal space. | welcomia/iStock/Getty Images

Another reason to consider luxury cruises? You’ll get to vacation on a much smaller ship instead of a mega-ship. ABC characterizes a luxury cruise as “a bit like going to the ‘Cheers’ bar, everybody knows your name; except this bar is at the Ritz-Carlton.” The network reports that on a smaller ship, you get “more personal service and more personal space.

It’s more about you than it is the ship. The cabins are larger and usually all have balconies; dining is usually open seating; drinks and wine are usually included.” You’re also more likely to bump into the same people. And you’re more likely to enjoy spending time with your fellow passengers.

Next: You’ll end up paying more of these on a mainstream cruise.

Mainstream cruise lines charge you lots of fees

Cruise ships in Miami port

A mainstream line might charge extra for shore excursions. | iStock.com/jirivondrous

Seasoned passengers will tell you that a mainstream cruise line will charge you extra fees — and lots of them. You’ll end up paying extra to eat at the premium restaurants on board (instead of the main dining room). Cruise lines charge for internet access and for classes offered to passengers. You often have to pay room service fees (in addition to the prices printed on the menu). Plus, you have to pay extra for shore excursions.

And don’t forget about the government taxes, port fees, automatic gratuities, and fuel surcharges. The upshot? You’ll end up paying a lot more than the base fare when you travel with a typical cruise line. It may cost as much as an extra $200 per person per day. For that, you can probably go with a luxury cruise line instead.

Next: Here’s the real reason why a traditional cruise is a waste of money compared to a luxury cruise. 

A luxury cruise may end up being cheaper than a traditional cruise

Orange Glow Sunset from the Cruise Ship Dining Deck

Luxury cruises often have a true all-inclusive price tag. | Simplyphotos/iStock/Getty Images

Counterintuitively enough, a luxury cruise may end up costing you the same — or even less — than a traditional cruise. That’s the real reason that booking a traditional cruise can actually be a waste of money.

The New York Times learned that though the upfront rates for luxury cruises are higher, the overall value is often quite competitive with — if not great than — what’s offered by mainstream cruise lines. That’s because a luxury cruise often has a truly all-inclusive price tag, while on a traditional cruise, you’ll have to pay hefty fees for gratuities, drinks, and specialty dining.

As ABC learned some in the industry like to put it, “it’s not what you pay to get on those ships, it’s what you pay to get off.”

Next: Here’s when it makes sense to consider luxury cruises. 

If you want extras, it may make sense to book a luxury cruise

glasses and shots with different colored cocktails

Extras, such as drinks, might already be included in the luxury cruise price. | Tsuguliev/iStock/Getty Images

Some passengers don’t have a problem splurging on extras onboard their cruise. But The New York Times reports that for those travelers, it may make sense to spend more upfront to book a luxury cruise.

“Luxury lines like Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas include all restaurants, soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees and gratuities,” the Times explains. “Crystal Cruises, which recently switched to all-inclusive pricing, also throws in premium wine and spirits.” If you know what kind of experience you want, you can easily make the choice of cruise line.

Next: This is also a good reason to look at luxury cruise lines.

And if you want to easily explore each port you stop in, a luxury cruise may be the way to go

Cruise port in St. Maarten

Some luxury cruise lines offer free shore tours. | fallbrook/iStock/Getty Images

Anyone who’s ever been on a cruise can tell you that shore excursions planned by the cruise line can add up quickly. But Cruise Critic points out that “some luxury cruise lines — such as Regent Seven Seas and Viking Ocean Cruises — offer free shore tours in every port.”

Even when luxury cruises don’t offer free shore excursions, “they still place an emphasis on developing special shore events for passengers.” And as Cruise Critic adds, “the perks don’t stop with shore-sponsored tours. Lines such as Silversea and Azamara offer free transportation from its ships to most town centers so you can explore independently.”

Next: Here’s how to do the math.

You can easily figure out whether to go with a luxury cruise or a mega-ship

woman prepares to move a large chess piece on a cruise ship

Calculate the cost of all the activities you’d like to do on the cruise. | EdwardVisserPhotography/iStock /Getty Images Plus

Want to figure out for sure whether you should book a luxury cruise or a traditional one? Cruise Critic reports that you can do some easy calculations. “Take the cruise fare and add the costs of any extras such as beverage packages, specialty restaurant fees, entrance to the thermal suite, laundry services, shore excursions, etc., that luxury lines include in their upfront costs,” the publication advises.

“Then compare that with the base fare of the luxury cruise lines on your wish list. You might be shocked to find what you’re paying on a mega-ship isn’t much less than what you’d pay for a sailing on a high-end vessel.”

Next: Don’t forget to take this into account, too.

Some luxury cruise lines are better than others

Cruise Ship Sea Ocean Tropical Scenic Concept

Some luxury cruise lines have a better reputation than others. | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

As with mainstream cruise lines, you have plenty of options to choose among when you try to select a luxury cruise line. Fortunately, you can take a look at rankings to figure out which ones to book. U.S. News routinely ranks cruise lines, using a methodology “that factors in price class, health ratings, and approval among experts and travelers.”

Some of the publication’s top picks among luxury cruise lines? Crystal Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Oceania Cruises.

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