From All-Inclusive to a La Carte – The New Reality of Cruising

From All-Inclusive to a La Carte – The New Reality of Cruising

Evolution or Intelligent Design?

In the beginning the Cruise Gods said “Let the customer pay only once.” Thus cruising was created as the ultimate all-inclusive travel package. And in the minds of the general public that is still the perception. But perception needs to catch up to reality. Cruising has become a fully a la carte undertaking – and the devil is in the details. Today you are truly on your own – especially once on board the ship. This is true even with the assistance of an experienced travel agent.

This transformation has been a gradual one, observed over the many years since the author was bitten by the cruise bug. While the last three decades have witnessed many pleasing developments in this wonderful industry – there have been a few disappointing ones – mostly to do with the continual addition of options at extra cost.

Originally one’s cruise fare covered everything, the cruise itself, airfare to the port of departure, transfers, all meals, most shore excursions, all beverages including alcohol, even tips were often included – plus there were only two simple accommodation choices – an inside stateroom or one with an ocean view.

Are these ships on steroids?

With less emphasis on itineraries/destinations and more focus on onboard experiences – the highly competitive cruise lines are now rolling out ships with outrageously “pimped up” interiors, exteriors and activities. The newest of these floating behemoths have literally become destinations unto themselves. Some of the newer ships coming on line in the near future are so large that they feature “neighborhoods” – and can carry up to 5,000 passengers.

Waiter, check please…

Unfortunately, this growth has added layers of complexity to both the booking process and the on board experience that can often be frustrating – making it near impossible to determine bottom line cost in advance. One can run up a huge end-of-cruise tab in the blink of an eye.

But there is good news in these developments. This gradual unbundling of services has created new opportunities. It is now possible to truly custom design a personalized cruise experience.

How to get personal…

A little online research goes a long way to ensuring a great cruise experience. Even if you are lucky enough to have a travel agent who is both a cruise specialist and a mind reader, if you have booked a cruise, are planning a cruise – or even just dreaming of one – take the time to review articles and postings on cruise related websites and chat rooms.

Most of these sites are operated and frequented by experienced cruise-a-holics with no particular agenda other than to inform and entertain. Detail obsessed cruise fans are more than happy to share tried and true techniques for maxing the experience while holding down costs – sage advice for the novice cruiser.

Already one of the anointed?

The same sites are also an opportunity for experienced cruisers to post stories and share their wisdom. Veterans tell what they – or someone else, crew, staff member, fellow passenger, travel agent – did that kicked their experience up to a notch in their bank of travel memories.

In subsequent articles we will explore how to “pimp up the particulars”…identify the best booking channel (direct, online or traditional agency), how to get the lowest fare, best cabin, free upgrades, best shore excursions, best dining room table, whether or not travel insurance is a good deal, etc.

Lyn Edwin Cathey – Network Travel Services, LLC