Not everyone can afford to take a luxury ocean cruise — fares generally start around $2,000 to $4,000 per person for a seven-night sailing in the Caribbean and as much as $7,000 to $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 ambiance, elevated cuisine, and five-star service offered aboard the small and medium size ships of Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, Windstar, Viking, Oceania, Azamara, and SeaDream requires a splurge. And yet, luxury cruises can end up offering excellent value. Here are six reasons why:
1. 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 handful of 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 hovers between $3,000 and $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.
With cruise fares starting at $2,600 per person, Viking’s ocean ships 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 $1,400 per person, also offers simply MORE™ bookings on many itineraries that include perks like round-trip airfare, specialty dining, Wi-Fi, shore excursions, Champagne and wine, and more.
Azamara’s cruise fares, which start at about $1,000 per person, include onboard amenities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities, and self-service laundry — but Wi-Fi and specialty dining are free only for guests who book certain staterooms and suites. Cruisers also have the option to book several packages, which include bonus features like Wi-Fi, onboard credits, and alcoholic beverages.
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.
Boasting three sailing ships and three luxury yachts, Windstar offers all-inclusive fares from $2,200 per person. (It's worth noting that while the line isn't inherently all-inclusive, it offers an $89 per guest per day “All-In Package,” which includes Wi-Fi, beverages, laundry service, and gratuities.)
2. 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 round-trip flights.
Regent always includes free domestic airfare and free business class upgrades on intercontinental flights.
Silversea includes free airfare on certain itineraries. Meanwhile, most of Oceania’s cruises are bookable at all-inclusive simply MORE™ fares that include round-trip airfare.
Windstar offers special fares on Tahiti cruises that include round-trip airfare from Los Angeles as well as all-inclusive cruise, hotel, and ground transfers.
3. 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 includes shore excursions in its all-inclusive pricing. 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.
4. 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, ranging 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, 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.
5. 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-sized vessels can venture up the Amazon, effortlessly transitioning from ocean to river cruising.
6. 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. Travelers can find as much as 307 square feet in a Veranda Suite aboard the 2020-built Regent Seven Seas Splendor. Bathrooms are more luxe, too, with generous walk-in showers.