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Old November 10th, 2009, 12:38 PM
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Default Cruise vs. All Inclusives) the latter wins?

http://www.chicagotribune.com/travel...0,123281.story

Once again, I know the author of this piece well, he is a frequent cruiser, and I know he won't mind if I post this as long as i give him attribution...

So - read and tell us what you think. I already know what I think



All-inclusive vs. cruise: What's a better deal?
By Arlene & Sam Bleeker
Special to the Tribune



With winter coming, an onslaught of new megavessels brimming with amenities and creative creature comforts again steams toward the Caribbean.

In fact, so spectacular are these new ships that they essentially are destinations unto themselves, boasts Andy Stuart, executive vice president of Norwegian Cruise Line.

But those big, brassy high-rise resorts at sea -- many taller than the Statue of Liberty, some too fat to fit through the Panama Canal and others so long they dwarf a football stadium -- come with novelties, such as a New-York-styled Central Park and a Coney Island-like boardwalk, and they arrive with heftier fares.

Except for a passel of luxury vessels, the once all-inclusive-cruise concept is mostly as extinct as the dodo. In its place, cruise lines have installed a la carte cruising, in which your fare is just the starting point. Add gratuities, wines and spirits, spa treatments, photos, specialty coffees and pastries, shore excursions, the fine dining at a plethora of signature restaurants all with a fee, as well as myriad irresistible onboard doodads, and the cost of your cruise easily could double, if not triple.

Take, for instance, the really grand dining options on the world's largest leviathan, Royal Caribbean's 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, now on its way to Florida from a Finnish shipyard for its Nov. 20 debut in the Caribbean. Whet your appetite on Oasis' most exclusive dining venue, 150 Central Park, and you'll fork over $35 a person for dinner. Pizzas, salads, pastas, Italian sandwiches, braised-meat dishes and stews, all served family style at Giovanni's Table, will set you back $10 for lunch and $15 for dinner. Sample a selection of cheeses and an assortment of tasty tapas at Vintage, and you'll bloat your shipboard credit card. The popular Chops Grille, Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse with views of Central Park, will add $25 to your onboard tab.

In fact, a goodly number of Oasis' 24 distinct dining experiences carry a cover charge or a la carte pricing. And, should you hanker for room service in the wee hours, expect to pay for it. Choose a premium steak in the main dining room, and you'll pay extra too. On Oasis, you'll even have to pay for cupcakes.

With this in mind, we wondered if a land resort might not get us more bang for our buck and serve as a viable option to a Caribbean cruise.

Of course, comparing a land resort to a seagoing Caribbean vacation is, in some ways, like comparing pineapples and coconuts. Most land resorts don't have casinos on their properties or entertain you with million-dollar Broadway-style shows and Vegas-like revues, as will Royal Caribbean with "Hairspray" or Norwegian with Blue Man Group. Nor is sampling the Mediterranean by ocean liner ever going to compare to a week's stay in France or Italy or, for that matter, any European country.

To test our thesis, though, we booked five days at Sandals' all-inclusive Grande Spa & Resort, one of three properties on St. Lucia, each permanently plunked on a gorgeous white-sand beach. Even though we stayed at one resort, all the activities and amenities on the others -- including 17 restaurants (most open to the sea breezes), 11 freshwater pools, a championship nine-hole golf course, basketball and tennis courts, catamarans, sunfish sailboats, aquatrikes, glass-bottom boat rides, snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, kayaking and 22 bars serving unlimited premium brands, as well as champagne -- are available and at no extra charge.

Dine where you want, when you want, with anyone you want and pay nothing extra. Zip. All wines, spirits and soft drinks are complimentary. So are all sports activities. So are all the pastries, crepes and specialty coffees and lattes. So is the sushi.

Not having to reach into our wallets each time we were tempted by a special treat or captivated by an enticing menu at a restaurant on stilts above the bay or chose to sip margaritas under a dazzlingly scarlet evening sky was a relief from the nickel-and-dime environment so common now on cruise ships.

Those weren't the only reasons we got hooked on Sandals. Silence and solitude stood high on our list.

Instead of a crush of people on a ship's pool deck or crowds on the sports decks during a day at sea, we found ourselves floating in a calm pool just steps from the beach and with only a handful of other couples for company. And, at week's end, we didn't jostle down a gangway with 3,500 other passengers.

A sprinkling of thatched-roof cabanas, hammocks and lounge chairs by the sea also beckoned whenever the spirit moved us.

No one pressed drinks on us. There was no constant blaring on the PA system announcing an art auction or a seminar on precious gems or gold sold onboard for $1 an inch or pitches for shore excursions. At turndown on Sandals, our bed was more likely to be strewn with tropical flower petals than the sheaf of promotional fliers ubiquitous at day's end in cruise cabins.

We also were not captives at Sandals. We could shuttle freely among the three resort properties in complimentary vans. Land and sea excursions readily could be arranged but at a fee. However, these weren't hawked. No staffers had their hand out. All gratuities were included, but it didn't dampen staff enthusiasm or desire to deliver prompt, smiling service.

Just as important, our vacation at Sandals didn't break the bank. The least expensive accommodations (about the size of a minisuite on most larger ships) sport either ocean, poolside or garden views and ran about $350 a night per couple at the time we visited in midsummer. On Oasis of the Seas, a comparable minisuite category would run about the same per couple per night, excluding port charges and taxes, and would not be all-inclusive.

So was it thumbs up for a land vacation versus a cruise?

Decidedly yes. This time, we did what we always wanted to do on a Caribbean vacation: nothing, but enjoy a sandy beach, lovely accommodations and bountiful food at our own pace.

As cruise lines try to duplicate the shoreside resort experience, some lagniappes are impossible to achieve. Chief among them for us was the evening we dined at the aptly named Barefoot by the Sea, a candlelit restaurant right on the Sandals beach. Sitting shoeless with our feet in the cool sand and serenaded by waves breaking gently under a moonlit sky, we thought of the cruise passengers who had sailed away from St. Lucia's harbor that day, and we toasted our good fortune at being on terra firma.
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Old November 10th, 2009, 01:22 PM
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The Bleekers make an excellent case for folks to visit an all inclusive Caribbean resort; no doubt about it.

But they neglect to mention several important facets of cruising, the part of cruising that appeals to millions of people. That is simply the benefit of visiting multiple ports/countries instead of staying at one specific or even several separate resorts on one island or destination.

And here's another kicker. Their suggestion might well be a viable alternative for a warm island or specifically, a Caribbean vacation. But what is missing in the Bleekers's article is, no mention of Europe, Scandinavia, Alaska, the Mediterranean, China, India Japan, Argentina or hundreds and hundreds of other destinations frequented by cruise ships. While of course some of these destinations or similar ones may even have all inclusive resorts (although I'm sure most that are comparable to Sandals would be far more expensive), they nevertheless don't offer the vacationer the opportunity of seeing multiple sights while eliminating the drudgery of multiple "unpacking and "repacking." For me at least, such would weigh heavily on any travel decision.

So for a Caribbean destination it might be fine, especially for those who previously have cruised the Caribbean. But such an all inclusive resort doesn't provide the main reason so many of us cruise and that is to experience cultures, foods, vistas and sounds other than those with which we're familiar.

Also, I'm sure that while maybe airfares might be included in some Caribbean all inclusive resort fees, others may not. So that may well be an added expense. At least with cruising, many cruisers live within reasonable driving distance to a port of departure and more ports are coming on line each year.

Try driving to the Caribbean.

Todd
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Old November 10th, 2009, 01:38 PM
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Why not have both? There are all inclusive (as much as resorts are all inclusive) cruises. Plus, with a cruise, you get to tour some of the world's great locations.
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Old November 10th, 2009, 10:05 PM
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That article has me hankering for a land vacation now. Some good points raised that I had not thought of, being somewhat cruise-inclined: The ships are getting a little too crowded. And commercialized.
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Old November 10th, 2009, 11:25 PM
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Here are my thoughts...

Cruises vs. All-Inclusive: Who Wins?

A person whom I consider a friend, Sam Bleeker, just wrote a piece syndicated by the Chicago Tribune where he compares cruises to all-inclusive resorts such as Sandals. I believe these resorts currently represent some of the stiffest competition to cruise ships, so let’s take a look at what Sam had to say and discuss a few points.

First of all, to be clear I met Sam in 1995 and have spent a fair amount of time with him and his lovely wife Arline. I consider them both friends and I often exchange email with Sam on non-cruise related topics.

But I met Sam and Arline on a cruise ship because Arline has covered the cruise industry as a professional cruise reporter for decades now. The point is that Sam and Arline have been on dozens, maybe over 100 cruises. To say the novelty of cruising has worn off is an understatement, so like myself, unfortunately, I have to guess that there are times when Sam is at sea and he forgets to appreciate the sound of the ship slicing through the seas outside his open balcony door, or the wonder of looking out at 360-degrees of open horizon with absolutely no land in sight. In other words, many professionals are inured to the wonders of what they do for a living, and it is only a natural reaction.

But in this case I can’t help saying this article was an over-reaction. Chalk it up to existential ennui – we all get burnt out at times. But I don’t want Sam’s article to give novices the wrong impression. Sam Bleecker commenting on cruising is like Henry Kissinger commenting on politics – there’s so much experience behind the thoughts that you have to know as much about the commentator as you do the subject he is commenting on, or you just might get the wrong impression.

Here is part of Sam’s article…

“Except for a passel of luxury vessels, the once all-inclusive-cruise concept is mostly as extinct as the dodo. In its place, cruise lines have installed a la carte cruising, in which your fare is just the starting point. Add gratuities, wines and spirits, spa treatments, photos, specialty coffees and pastries, shore excursions, the fine dining at a plethora of signature restaurants all with a fee, as well as myriad irresistible onboard doodads, and the cost of your cruise easily could double, if not triple.”

I have to disagree with this paragraph. I have not seen the inclusiveness of cruising change more than a degree or two. The fact is that tipping on cruise lines has always been extra, and you can still get breakfast, lunch and dinner included in your cruise fare. Alcohol has always been an extra charge. In point of fact, the cruise lines have not substituted a la carte cruising for the old style, they have added a myriad of a la carte options to the cruise experience.

Yes, cruise lines now rely more than ever on onboard revenue, but at the same time the price of a cruise has never been lower. If you want, you could book a 7-day cruise today for as low as $299 per person (plus taxes and gratuities) and not pay a single penny more once onboard the ship. Try that at an all-inclusive.

To justify Sam’s argument you would have to prove that the cruise fare-included food in the dining rooms had slipped so much in quality that it was virtually inedible. Well, I just returned from a 7-day cruise on Princess and I can tell you the filet mignon and lobster tails I enjoyed in the “no extra charge” dining room were delectable.

I have never been to an all-inclusive resort, but I would be very surprised if the spa treatments were included in the price, so that is a bit misleading. Pastries, coffees, desserts… all are available at no extra cost in the dining room with any meal. Is it café au lait or espresso? No, but you can get good coffee.

Take this statement…

“Whet your appetite on Oasis' most exclusive dining venue, 150 Central Park, and you'll fork over $35 a person for dinner.”

This is true, but what do you get for $35? The chef for 150 Central Park was just named the :best young chef in the world” at a recent weighty culinary event held in Dubai. Keriann Van Raesfeld not only design the menu and recipes for 150 Central Park, she is onboard the ship supervising the preparation of each dish. Nowhere on land would you get a dining experience like that for under $100 per person. I just ate at the restaurant for Michelin-stared chef Alain Ducasse in Las Vegas and paid almost $200 with no wine. And was Alain there to cook my meal? Word is that Alain only visits the location about once per year and for a few hours at most. For my money, $35 for a world class chef cooking my dinner is a smoking bargain and I would do it in a heartbeat.

“land resorts don't … entertain you with million-dollar Broadway-style shows and Vegas-like revues, as will Royal Caribbean with "Hairspray" or Norwegian with Blue Man Group.”

It is nice of Sam to point this out – but as someone who has seen both shows on land I can guarantee you the ticket price for each show would be $90 per person easily, and more for the best seats. On cruise ships all seats are free.

“Dine where you want, when you want, with anyone you want and pay nothing extra. Zip. All wines, spirits and soft drinks are complimentary. So are all sports activities. So are all the pastries, crepes and specialty coffees and lattes. So is the sushi.”

The first part of this is the same on cruise ships with anytime dining, but I admit the latter part does sound good since most cruise lines do charge extra for wine, spirits, soft drinks and sports activities. But there are cruise lines that include all of these things in the price and I know people who won’t book these because they don’t drink. “Why should I pay for someone else’s consumption?” is the main reason I hear. The same can be said of waterskiing, which I can’t do. Cruises are very inexpensive, and you are not forced to pay extra for anything you don’t personally enjoy.

As for sushi – even Carnival has free sushi on all of their ships, even the three-day cruises on the oldest Fantasy-class vessels. Pastries and crepes, the first is included with every breakfast and the latter is often a regular dining dessert – no extra charge.

“We also were not captives at Sandals. We could shuttle freely among the three resort properties in complimentary vans. Land and sea excursions readily could be arranged but at a fee. However, these weren't hawked. No staffers had their hand out. All gratuities were included, but it didn't dampen staff enthusiasm or desire to deliver prompt, smiling service.”

While you are on shore during a cruise, which depending on your itinerary can be as many as six days out of seven, you also are not a captive.

Granted, you do pay for special activities onshore, but you have the option of going ashore and just walking around before you choose to participate in a special activity. To flip the coin for a second, since I had pre-paid for the right to go to all the different resorts I would feel compelled to do so, a captive of the system where I must see everything I paid for or risk feeling cheated.

“So was it thumbs up for a land vacation versus a cruise? Decidedly yes. This time, we did what we always wanted to do on a Caribbean vacation: nothing, but enjoy a sandy beach, lovely accommodations and bountiful food at our own pace.”

I have done nothing except enjoy bountiful food on every cruise I have ever sailed upon. I have also gone to beaches on cruises and done nothing.

“As cruise lines try to duplicate the shore side resort experience, some lagniappes are impossible to achieve. Chief among them for us was the evening we dined at the aptly named Barefoot by the Sea, a candlelit restaurant right on the Sandals beach. Sitting shoeless with our feet in the cool sand and serenaded by waves breaking gently under a moonlit sky, we thought of the cruise passengers who had sailed away from St. Lucia's harbor that day, and we toasted our good fortune at being on terra firma.”

I admit this sounds nice – but I have yet to see a land resort duplicate the experience of sitting on the open back deck of a cruise ship as I enjoyed my (free) cracked crab and watched whales breaching in the distance or the constantly changing view of towns and countryside as we sailed through the Kiel Canal on our way from Amsterdam to Copenhagen.

Bottom line – an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean probably seems like a very nice vacation to an Easterner who wants a real break from stress. But the truth is that you are paying for a lot of things you may never personally use. If you want a Caribbean vacation with plenty of alcohol and water sports they sound pretty cost effective, but if you just want to tan and eat good food, why pay the extra money?

Cruises offer a lot more than just Caribbean vacations, and for myself, growing up in Phoenix and Southern California, there is little attraction to sitting in the same tropical hotel room for seven days no matter how much food and drink is included in the price. Sunshine and gluttony, where I live that’s just another day.
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Old November 11th, 2009, 12:50 AM
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I have done All Inclusives and I have to say that if all you want to do is go somewhere, lay on a beach, have a drink whenever you want and eat when you want then an AI is a great and more economical choice. You won't have that five figure (or close to it) bill at the end of the week.

I don't cruise to "exclusively" sit on a beach. I cruise to see new and interesting places. That's why an AI isn't my first vacation choice.

There is nothing like being at sea, having a new port on most days, enjoying good food and sitting on the balcony and watching the greatness of the sea.

This is a reason I have a trepidation of the mega-ships. It lessens this feeling of being at sea and more like you are at a Vegas hotel. These ships will be limited on their ports so the ship becomes the destination and not the ports. You can only see Cozumel so many times before it gets old. i do disagree with the philosophy that "Just because they offer it you don't have to buy it or do it." Many people don't want to go on a cruise and just "look" at all the things that are offered, they want to experience the alternative dining, the excursions and perhaps have a few adult beverages. Going on a cruise and "looking through the window" at what is offered isn't my idea of fun. I use restraint but I'm not going to just go on a cruise and drink the crappy coffee and iced tea and make the highlight of my day that the ice cream machine opens at 2:00 p.m. That just isn't me. If I'm on a cruise and there is something I want to eat, drink or do I'll do it.

I am glad that many ships and cruise lines are changing the regimentation of cruising and eliminating the "formal" nights. I was actually at a point where cruising was losing its appeal because of this. Now cruising is evolving to a point where, once again, I am excited about it and the fact that I have more control and freedom of what I want to do.

I may do an AI at some point in the future but cruising will still be my first choice for awhile.

Take care,
Mike
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Old November 11th, 2009, 07:32 AM
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Along with my GF we do both types of vacations. We love going to an AI and just hang out at the pool all day long doing what ever we want to do. We also like going aboard a cruise ship to hit different ports Last Dec. we did an AI in Jamaica, in May of 08 we did a cruise and this past Sept. we did a cruise. I am still looking where the next trip is going to be, either an AI in Aruba or taking a cruise in Hawaii. It's a vacation enjoy it.
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Old November 11th, 2009, 11:20 AM
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I'll take cruising any day. I don't go to the special restaurants because the food in the regular dining room is just fine with me.

I love some days at sea and going to different destinations.

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Old November 11th, 2009, 11:43 AM
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I actually spent a day at one of the St. Lucia Sandals while on a cruise, just to see what it was like. I did find that the quality of food was better on the ship, yep, on the ship. The drinks were nothing special, but being an almost non-drinker it didn't matter to me.

While it was a nice relaxing afternoon both at their pool and beach, there was just something missing. I would find it difficult to be at one place for a week over cruising for a week. Being on a ship just doesn't compare, plus you get to visit different islands almost daily and a "sea" day thrown in there is always a plus.

For the value, yes, I can see spending less, but I believe you get what you pay for. With a land vacation, there won't be any port charges, taxes because you are just in one place. If that is what you want, great value, but if you want a little more in a weeks vacation, I still believe dollar for dollar, cruising is an equally good deal.
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Old November 11th, 2009, 12:40 PM
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I have found that there is a BIG difference between a 3 star AI and a 4 and 5 star.

We stayed at a 3 star in Cancun and then a 5 star in Playa Del Carmen. It was like a Holiday Inn express compared to a Ritz Carlton.

The interesting thing was that the per/diem was only about $50 more.

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Mike
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Old November 11th, 2009, 01:47 PM
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For sure I dont think a cruise is better than a land trip. Its differant and a nice change but the next big trip we have will be Europe and it wont be by cruise ship. Everyone will have their own point of view and al are valid. I do find that cruise ships are slowly becoming to commercialized and to large and this will have have us slowly have less and less appeal for this type of travel. We go on cruises that are port intensve, this means we dont actually want to spend that much time on the ship and enjoy being in a differant place daily and the like. Cruises are fun and we have enjoyed them, and we would I think take another in the future, however it will never replace land trips. The all inclusive we took to Mexico as lovely and we enjoyd it a great deal.
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Old November 12th, 2009, 07:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike M View Post
i do disagree with the philosophy that "Just because they offer it you don't have to buy it or do it." Many people don't want to go on a cruise and just "look" at all the things that are offered, they want to experience the alternative dining, the excursions and perhaps have a few adult beverages. Going on a cruise and "looking through the window" at what is offered isn't my idea of fun. I use restraint but I'm not going to just go on a cruise and drink the crappy coffee and iced tea and make the highlight of my day that the ice cream machine opens at 2:00 p.m. That just isn't me. If I'm on a cruise and there is something I want to eat, drink or do I'll do it.
Mike - that is Ok to disagree with that concept, but it isn't exactly my point. My point is that you are not paying for EVERYTHING in advance of a cruise - just the things you want. Not everyone drinks or wants to go water skiing. If you don't you are essentially supplementing the choices of other people.

Of course I dont go on cruises and just window shop either, but if I add something extra I have control over the costs of the add-ons. It all boils fown to which is a more efficient system. For some it may actually be the AI. I wouldn't know.
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