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Paul Motter August 30th, 2010 02:14 PM

Comparing Luxury to Mainstream cruise prices
The beautiful Celebrity Solstice offers luxury cruising similar to Regent Seven Seas.

Comparing Luxury to Mainstream Cruise CostsBy Paul Motter With all of the obfuscation in luxury cruise pricing it is very hard to compare luxury cruise prices to mainstream lines where all of the ancillary costs are charged separately from the cruise fare. Most luxury cruise lines now include airfare, shore excursions, all beverages and gratuities in the cost of the cruise. If they do not specifically include these things, they generally offer thousands of dollars in onboard credit to cover those costs.

To provide a working comparison, we looked for nearly identical staterooms on nearly identical cruise itineraries on a luxury and a mainstream cruise ship. Then we estimayed how much a cruiser could spend on a mainstream cruise if he was given an unlimited spending account, similar to what people get on all-inclusive luxury cruises.

Here is what we found; it is possible to spend the same amount of money on a mainstream cruise as it is to spend on a luxury cruise - and you will get identical accommodations on a nearly identical cruise itinerary. But here is the difference - you will be getting the top of the line accommodations on the mainstream line, but the entry-level stateroom on the luxury ship.

We looked at Regent Seven Seas Voyager sailing November 23 on a seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale. You can get the entry-level suite for $3365 per person. This suite is 300 sq. ft. with a 50 sq. ft. balcony. The cruise fare includes all gratuities, air fare (roundtrip), transfers, shore excursions and all beverages including a mini-bar in your stateroom stocked with beer, soda and bottled water.

Then we looked at Celebrity Solstice, one of the more attractive, upscale but still mainstream cruise lines as far as price is concerned. The Celebrity Solstice sails a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise on November 7, 2010. One can book a sky suite for $1895 per person. The Sky Suite is 300 square feet with a 79 sq. ft. balcony.

Since most ancillary costs are not included in the cruise fares on Celebrity, we have to assume that the person cruising would be willing to use as many of these services as they would if they were included in the cruise fare. This means they would have a pre-dinner cocktail and possibly two glasses of wine with dinner and an after dinner brandy. We also have to assume they would go on a shore tour in every port, as if they were included in the cruise.

So here is what a person on an unlimited budget might spend on Celebrity Solstice; Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite cruise fare $1,895, air fare $500, shore tours $500, transfers $20, beverages (seven days, water, soda & liquor) $235 ($35/day), $75 gratuities and $140 for four special meals: total: $3,365.

That's right, in the end both cruises have identical prices; so let's look at the differences:

On Regent Voyager one would be sailing on a smaller, luxury ship which means faster and more personalized service with more crew members per passenger. The restaurants are open seating with gourmet food provided by chefs from Le Cordon Bleu. For this reason we calculated four dinners on Celebrity Solstice in the upscale alternative dining rooms which generally cost $35 per person per meal.

Regent ships are extremely comfortable and accommodating, but they are definitely quiet by comparison to a mainstream or premium cruise ship that carries close to 3000 passengers. Celebrity Solstice offers far better stage shows, a bigger casino, more sports options, a bigger spa and fitness center and more onboard shopping. The nightclubs will be more active and there are more food options onboard.

In the end; for the same price you can get the entry level suite on a luxury ship; Regent Seven Seas Voyager, or you could spend a lot more and get much nicer accommodations. Or you can get the second highest category of suite on Celebrity Solstice (the Sky Suite) and you can pay separately for all of the options not included in the cruise fare.

Some people say they do not like all-inclusive pricing because they don't want all of the optional costs included in the cruise fare. The usual line is "I don't want to supplement someone else's drinking." This comparison shows that you have to really splurge on Celebrity Solstice - drinking and touring at almost every opportunity - just to match what you are paying for on the luxury cruise ship.

But by the same token, on a luxury ship you will get things you would never get on Celebrity Solstice such as complimentary caviar service in your stateroom, or small shore tours with top notch guides for just a handful of people.

On the end we can draw two conclusions; (1) it is possible to have the same accommodations on a mainstream cruise ship as you can get on a luxury cruise, but the mainstream cruise line offers the option to economize and sail the same cruise for much less; and (2) that luxury cruise lines generally start where mainstream cruise lines leave off, meaning that the top mainstream accommodations are the bottom tier on a luxury cruise ship.

AF1 August 30th, 2010 03:19 PM

Never knew some of these things; next time I cruise I will have to cost compare everything. thank you for your article.

Kimbopolo August 30th, 2010 03:35 PM

Interesting comparison! I've often wondered about this very topic but I didn't know how to compare the 2 experiences. Your conclusions seem spot-on. Thanks for doing the math and the analysis, Paul.

Marc August 30th, 2010 08:50 PM

Paul, great article!



Lakers Fan August 30th, 2010 09:00 PM

Very interesting article .Prior to discovering CM my cruise knowledge was almost nil

lulu48 August 30th, 2010 11:01 PM

but you do not have the same experience on a mass market ship that you get on a luxury ship
Usually you have less passengers on a luxury ship so you get a different overall experience
But if you are only looking at the bottom line then a mass market ship wins hands down

Paul Motter August 31st, 2010 03:32 AM

Of course the experience is different on both ships. Mainstrean ships generally have a lot more activities, but that is not what you are paying for on a luxury ship.

Lux ships have fewer ways to spend money onboard; smaller spa, less shopping, few to no alternative dining spots with an extra charge. The food is better overall all the time.

The atmosphere on smaller ships is more convivial - you meet people faster, and the service is far more personalized. And you are miving with people of "means" - all of them well to do; well traveled, educated and sophisticated for the most part.

ON a mainstream cruise a top suite guest is still vying for space in the theater with 3000 other people, but the shows are generaly better. The bare are open kater and there are more people out at night - if you care about that.

Basically a mainstream ship gives you the option to economize on your cruise, you certainly can cruise for far less than $3365, but you miss a lot of the fun and sight seeing.

Also - on a lux ship you can certainly pay a lot more, but this is what I noticed; since a lot of the "outside cabin" costs are included in the price (drinks, tips, tours) there is less incentive to move up to the pricier suite. The cost goes up dramatically, but for the most part all you get is more space.

But some lux ships offer extra tours, business class air, etc to people in top tier suites, but they are paying for those perks.

LisaK August 31st, 2010 01:20 PM

very interesting article, thanks for the info

gardener46 August 31st, 2010 02:01 PM

Thanks for the great article--I have a question -how do the small ships of Princess compare? We just booked the Holyland for next fall on the Pacific.

Trackypup August 31st, 2010 02:03 PM

$35 a day? you don't drink much do you? ;) I think it should have been $55 a day which is what Celebrity charges for it's Premium Drink Package. And wouldn't November 23rd be a more expensive week with American Thanksgiving in there?

bkarrin August 31st, 2010 03:25 PM

More cruising for less high priced luxury?
Terrific article. I knew some of the info but you laid it out really well. Personally, since due to medical problems I have a very restricted diet, can't drink at all, and don't have the energy to keep up w/ fast paced shore excursions, I'll stick with the more main stream cruise lines so I save money and can travel more often.

VaCavalier August 31st, 2010 06:35 PM

It's important to emphasize what is for me the main difference between cruise lines: passenger demographics. I am not being a snob when I state that different cruise lines attract different types of passenger profiles. We can analyze this cruise line by cruise line, but one also needs to look at the length and geographic location of the itinerary. However, overall I think one could accurately state that Regency (or Crystal, Seabourn, etc.) attracts a more upscale, better educated demographic than Celebrity and unless one wants to be secluded in one's suite on Celebrity that is important to keep in mind.

Truck Cruiser September 1st, 2010 02:58 AM

Great posting Paul,
Your comparison is exactly what what I was hoping to see when I posted the poll about how much more would someone be willing to spend for a luxury cruise.

To be honest, most luxury pricing looks like it would be beyond my means but when you add up your sail and sign bill and add it to the cruise fare the Mainstream cruise then things look a little better.

My cousin tells me all the time, I can book 2 cruises with inside cabins compared to your 1 with an extended balcony, and it is probably true, but my big deal is quality of experience, not quantity. I prefer to have nicer accommodations and a better over all cruise experience then cruise twice as much with less, but that is just me.

Happy Sailings

LisaK September 1st, 2010 09:46 AM

I totally agree with you Tim, i would choose quality over quantity any day when it comes to cruising

kmm44 September 1st, 2010 11:08 AM

I would go with Celebrity any ship, any cruise, any day. RCCL would be my 2nd choice. I've experienced plenty of luxury on both lines.
I think the lack of activities and entertainment on a "luxury ship" would be boring to me. I never have trouble meeting people, never have trouble finding a seat in the theater unless I get there at the last minute. I'm not interested in the things that cost extra--spa, beauty salon, alternative dining, accupuncture, etc. I shop very little and mostly when things are marked down toward the end of the cruise. I don't overdo it in the casino. I have one drink with dinner (never been disappointed with the food or service on any cruise) and occasionally another at the pool in the afternoon or in the theater.
I book OV cabins. Last summer my friend and I got an amazing, totally unexpected, free upgrade to Concierge class on Summit. It was nice, but I would never pay hundreds extra for it.
In Jan. I am doing a 7-night on Summit to the S. Carib. with my SIL. We're paying $662 for the OV cabin, including port charges and other fees. Air is about $400 to SJ, PR. We usually book medium-priced excusions. Why would we need to spend thousands more?
I did 8 cruises in 6 yrs with my late DH, whose idea it was to start cruising in the first place. I went on two cruises (booked months before he passed away) last year, replacing him with other people. I have two cruises booked for next year and hope to keep on cruising for many years.
Avoiding the high prices lets me have more "means" to cruise more.

1/02 Explorer E. Carib. 1/03 Explorer W. Carib. 8/03 Summit Alaska
2/04 Adventure 2/05 Galaxy P. Canal
6/06 Jewel Brit. Isles/Nor. Fjords 1/07 Mercury Mex. Riv.
1/08 Mercury Aust/NZ 1/09 Galaxy S. Carib. 6/09 Summit Classical/Med
1/11 Summit S. Carib. 6/11 Constellation Scandinavia/Russia

Paul Motter September 1st, 2010 11:27 AM


Thanks for the great article--I have a question -how do the small ships of Princess compare? We just booked the Holyland for next fall on the Pacific.
These small ships are really in a category of their own. The price may include some airfare discounts, but everything else is discretionary spending. The ships are small for more personalized service and the focus is on destinations, with almost a port per day itineraries.

I suggest you read our cruisemates reviews on these ships, plus Oceania and Azamara to really get the feel.

Paul Motter September 1st, 2010 11:32 AM


Originally Posted by Trackypup (Post 1313964)
$35 a day? you don't drink much do you? ;) I think it should have been $55 a day which is what Celebrity charges for it's Premium Drink Package. And wouldn't November 23rd be a more expensive week with American Thanksgiving in there?

Well, I agree I didnt know what to put here. I know a LOT of people enjoy drinking and can easily have five drinks in a day - and you are on a cruise so why not? But I was also thinking that if you are paying for each of those drinks you tend to slow down a little bit, because they are notr cheap.

But if you do enjoy drinking - and no judgements there - it is a vacation, then luxury cruises with drinks included make sense because you can have that extra drink for no charge and not even finish it if you don't feel like it.

Marc September 1st, 2010 08:20 PM

I've never had problems finding plenty of activities on the mid-size luxury ships. There is always entertainment, lectures, and other activities that you will also find on the larger ships. The nice thing is that you can go to wine tasting or scotch tasting and not worry about the bill. In fact, you and your friends can arrange your own scotch tasting (which we have done).

As for drinks, I probably average a bottle of wine and five or six drinks a day; less if it is a long day in port. There is also no stress about who is going to pick up the tab when you invite new found friends for drinks; there is no tab. I also like hosting a small party in our cabin with drinks, shrimp cocktails, and other snacks without it costing anything.

Also, though a small savings, self service laundry is also free. ;)

I would check out reviews and websites of the various luxury lines. They are all somewhat different.

gkbii September 2nd, 2010 12:42 PM


What about booking an AquaClass 192 foot balcony for $2076 and add the beverage package Classic/Premium at $39/49 per day ($546/686 for 7 days).
This would include specialty dining in Blu and access to the spa. The grand total based on your other projections would be $3717 versus the $3,365. Wow, I did not expect this: that Celebrity would be more expensive overall. Who would have thought, that this would be the case?

Paul Motter September 2nd, 2010 12:49 PM

It is very interesting to look at various comparisons. I did not pick the AquaClass because you get a lot of special amenities that most cruise ships do not include, like iPod players, aromatherapy, etc.

MOst importantly you get full access to the Persian Garden thermal suite which is a very nice touch. But in reality, full access to that thermal suite normally only costs about $30 per person per day.

I am not sure Blu is actually that special as a restaurant. Anyone can dine there for a mere $5 service charge.

But you are correct, I personally do not think the AquaClass is worth the cost with a smaller cabin.

Truck Cruiser September 8th, 2010 01:44 AM

Something else that might appeal to fellow cruisers is the fact that there are not hardly any children who cruise on the luxury lines where the mainstream lines can have hundreds of children on board. At least that is what I have read before. How much is a pee free pool worth to you???rofl

Happy Sailings

CruiseArizona September 10th, 2010 10:27 PM

Hi Paul, nice article
I got my Regent brochure in the mail today and was musing about this very subject. I was wondering why one would choose one over the other. We don't book an expensive enough room or take enough shore excursions to justify the jump to luxury, though we nearly make up for it in wine!

So I was musing about this very subject. Great job!

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