Not everyone can afford to take a luxury ocean cruise—fares generally start around $2,000-$4,000 per person for a seven-night sailing in the Caribbean and as much as $7,000-$10,000 per person for longer itineraries in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world. There are some amazing luxury cruise bargains on certain itineraries at specific times of year, but in general enjoying the elegant ambience, elevated cuisine, and five-star service offered aboard the small-and-medium-size ships of Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Windstar, Viking, Oceania, Azamara, and SeaDream requires a splurge. And yet, luxury cruises can end up offering excellent value. Here are six reasons why:
Luxury cruise pricing is mostly all-inclusive.
Paying an upfront all-inclusive fare for the things you’ll want to enjoy onboard—alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, and specialty dining—as well as gratuities for the staff and crew and free transfers to and from the ship and airport, means there won’t be a shockingly high stateroom account to pay before you disembark. If you don’t go crazy with shore excursions (a few cruise lines do include them), onboard shopping, or spa treatments, it’s fairly easy to keep onboard expenses to a minimum.
Regent ranks among the priciest of the luxury lines (fares generally start at $4,000 to $11,000 per person, depending on the region), but it’s also hands-down the most-inclusive, offering a dozen complimentary inclusions, which range from free airfare, transfers, and shore excursions to free laundry and valet service.
Silversea, with fares mostly starting at $5,000 per person and above, currently includes gratuities, butler service, all beverages and dining experiences, unlimited Wi-Fi, and select extras in its all-inclusive fares.
Seabourn’s all-inclusive pricing, which starts at $3,000-$5,000 per person, includes premium wines with lunch and dinner, an open bar, an in-suite fridge stocked with your preferred beverages, dining in all onboard venues, and gratuities. Wi-Fi, however, costs extra.
Crystal offers a number of cruise fares under $3,500 per person (especially on Caribbean Mediterranean, and Pacific Coast itineraries), with all-inclusive pricing that covers beverages, gratuities, specialty dining, 24-hour room service, and Wi-Fi.
Viking’s ocean ships, with cruise fares starting around $3,000 per person, have all-inclusive pricing that covers dining in all restaurants, premium wines and beers served at lunch and dinner, complimentary Wi-Fi, one free shore excursion per port, and free transfers with a flight booking via Viking Air. Viking also allows all guests complimentary access to its state-of-the-art spa’s thermal area at no added cost.
Oceania, with cruise-only pricing under $1,800 per person, also offers special O Life Choice bookings on many itineraries that include roundtrip airfare, free Wi-Fi, a free beverage package, up to 16 free shore excursions, and onboard credit.
Azamara’s cruise fares, which start at about $1,800 per person, include onboard amenities such as standard wines and spirits, gratuities, and self-service laundry—but Wi-Fi and specialty dining are free only for guests who book certain staterooms and suites.
SeaDream, which offers Caribbean and Mediterranean itineraries on its two 112-passenger yachts, has all-inclusive pricing starting at $3,000 per person that covers all onboard dining and an open bar, gratuities, free watersports, and crew-led hikes and bike rides, but Wi-Fi is extra.
Windstar, with cruise fares starting at around $2,000 per person on its three sailing ships and three luxury yachts, isn’t all-inclusive, but does offer an $89 per guest per day “All-In Package” that includes Wi-Fi, beverages, laundry service, and gratuities.
Airfare is sometimes part of the cruise fare.
Book during a promotional period or choose a certain itinerary or cruise line and the fare you pay may include roundtrip flights.
Regent always includes free domestic airfare as well as free business class upgrades on intercontinental flights.
Silversea includes free airfare on certain itineraries, including Alaska.
The majority of Oceania’s cruises are bookable at all-inclusive O Life Choice fares that include round-trip airfare.
Windstar offers special fares on Dreams of Tahiti packages that include round-trip airfare from Los Angeles and a one-night pre-cruise hotel stay on select 7-night cruises.
Paul Gauguin Cruises, which sails exclusively in Tahiti and the South Pacific, also includes roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles in its fares.
Shore excursions can be included at no extra cost.
Actually seeing what you’ve dreamt of seeing can often be a pricy proposition. Some luxury lines now include shore excursions as part of the cruise fare paid.
Again, Regent leads in inclusions and its pricing includes free-unlimited shore excursions as well as free one-night hotel stays or two- or three-night land programs pre- or post-cruise on certain itineraries.
Silversea, which already includes excursions aboard its expedition cruises, will begin including shore excursions in its all-inclusive pricing for all ships in summer 2022.
Viking includes one complimentary excursion per port (most are panoramic bus tours or walking tours lasting 2-5 hours), but charges extra for more in-depth or special interest excursions.
There’s generally no upcharge for specialty dining.
Most cruise ships have multiple restaurants—anywhere from three or four to more than 20. But on larger megaships, passengers need to pay an extra cover charge, which can range from around $20 to $75 per person, to try them. Most small-and-medium-ship luxury lines, with the exception of Azamara, include specialty dining in the cruise fare and passengers need only make reservations to enjoy menus prepared by some of the world’s leading chefs: Seabourn’s ships feature The Grill by Thomas Keller, Crystal’s two ocean ships feature Umi Uma & Sushi Bar with menus by Nobu Matsuhisa, MS Paul Gauguin serves dishes created by French chef Jean-Pierre Vigato in its Veranda restaurant, and Silversea’s newest ship, Silver Moon, features S.A.L.T., an immersive “Sea, Land and Taste” culinary program centered around authentic local cuisine.
These ships visit ports larger vessels often do not.
One of the great things about cruising is the ability to conveniently arrive in places that aren’t easily accessible. Small luxury ships, for example, call on St. Barths in the Caribbean (travelers thus avoid the white-knuckle, steep-dive landing in a turboprop or topsy-turvy ferry ride from St. Maarten) as well as other scenic smaller ports, such as Portofino, Italy; Gozo, Malta; and Hvar, Croatia. Smaller ships can also cruise up the Guadalquivir River right to Seville, Spain, avoiding a bus transfer from Cadiz, and the River Thames, offering direct access to London. In South America, small-and-medium vessels are able to venture up the Amazon, effortlessly transitioning from ocean to river cruising.
Staterooms and suites are often more spacious.
Luxury cruise lines cater to passengers accustomed to the finer things in life—and that typically includes larger living spaces. The staterooms and suites on newer luxury ships are generally more spacious than those on older ships that have been renovated, but guests can expect to enjoy at least 250 square feet in a standard verandah stateroom on Crystal Serenity (constructed in 2002) and as much as 307 square feet in a Veranda Suite aboard 2020-built Regent Seven Seas Splendor. Bathrooms are more luxe, too, with generous walk-in showers.