Norwegian Dawn cruise ship at Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda
It used to be that years ago, cruising was truly an “all-inclusive” experience. You paid one cruise fare, and everything on board – food, drinks, sodas, etc. – was available at no extra charge. While you can still enjoy that kind of experience on some smaller, upscale cruise lines (Viking River Cruises comes to mind), for the most part, the cruise industry actually beat the airlines to a la carte pricing. Sodas, bottled water, beer, wine, cappuccinos – all of it costs extra, which causes a fair amount of irritation among cruisers, especially those new to cruising who don’t necessarily know what to expect.
Over the weekend, Norwegian Cruise Line announced a blast from the past, so to speak – the opportunity to add an all-inclusive package to most 2015 sailings of 14 days or less. “All-inclusive” in this case means the following perks in addition to the basic cruise package:
- Ultimate Dining Package
- Ultimate Beverage Package
- Bottles of water for your vacation
- Gratuities associates with package and Service Charges
- Shore excursion credit of $200 per person on 6+ day cruises (or $100 per person on 3-5 day cruises)
- 250 Minute internet package
- 10% off cruise fare
- 1 Bottle of wine
- Bingo session (3 games)
- 20 Photos, any size
- Chocolate covered strawberries
Prices begin at $459 (per person) for 3-5 day cruises, $799 per person for 6-8 day cruises, and $1,049 per person for 9-14 day cruises. NCL claims “over $2,400 in value” by adding on the package. Interestingly enough, the package is refundable up to the day of sailing, so if you buy it and decide later you don’t want it, or if you cancel your cruise before penalties start kicking in, you can get a do-over.
So is this a good deal? As usual, that’s in the eye of the beholder. Much of the value of this package is the inclusion of the “Ultimate Dining Package” and “Ultimate Beverage Package”, which allows you to eat in any specialty restaurant each night of your cruise, and enjoy a large selection of soda, beer, wine by the glass, cocktails, and spirits anytime, anywhere at no additional charge. The shore excursion credit is also nice, as are the prepaid gratuities, which typically run $10-13 per per person, per night. Before jumping at the package, I’d strongly advise sitting down and doing the math to see if it makes sense for you. If you and your companion plan to drink a lot, enjoy going to the specialty restaurants, or buy a bunch of photos, then you may well save money over paying a la carte. My opinion? I probably wouldn’t go for it, primarily because my wife doesn’t drink. She’d have to down a LOT of soda to get her money’s worth. Also, while the cruise lines like to hype up the specialty restaurants, I tried one on our recent cruise to Bermuda, and frankly didn’t think it was worth the upcharge. The food wasn’t any better than what you could get for free in the main dining room (more of a testament to how good the main dining room was as opposed to the specialty one being bad, though).
In any event, if you’ve been thinking about a cruise next year, this offer is worth looking into. As the review I linked to above indicates, we enjoyed our cruise on NCL, and it compared favorably to other cruise lines we’ve been on. While there’s no expiration date listed online, the offer is noted “limited time”, so I’d suggest getting a move on if you want to take advantage. If you’re not a fan of NCL, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if the other mass-market cruise lines follow suit with a similar offer before too long.