To some, an all-inclusive cruise is an unambiguous good – there is no way they can’t be worth the cost, given all that is included in the cruise fare. Others approach all-inclusive cruises (or all-inclusive deals in general) with skepticism, worried that the higher price won’t be offset by whatever freebies a cruise line throws your way. Rather than provide some sort of mathematical breakdown of whether all-inclusive cruises are worth their price, which would involve an analysis of an enormous set of pricing data (for cruises fares, plane tickets, food costs, etc.), we will merely list some considerations to keep in mind when contemplating the relative cost effectiveness of all-inclusive cruises, leaving you to decide if all-inclusive cruises are worth the cost to you.
As we explained in our overview of all-inclusive cruises, there isn’t a set definition of “all-inclusive.” There is not some universally agreed upon threshold of giveaways that once surpassed renders a cruise all-inclusive. So, the first task of figuring out if an all-inclusive cruise is worth the cost is to determine what kind of all-inclusive cruise you are looking at.
Consider Regent Seven Seas Cruises, which probably offers the most thoroughly all-inclusive cruises in the industry. Virtually all of your on-board expenses, and certainly every on-board necessity (e.g., food and drink), are covered by the cost of the cruise fare, and so are your flights to and from the port of departure. Even the shore excursions you can take on a Regent cruise are free. Thus, when figuring out if a Regent all-inclusive cruise is worth the cost, you have to factor in all the money you would have spend to take a cruise vacation comparable to an all-inclusive cruise offered by Regent. When you consider flight tickets, shore excursions, and various other factors, taking a Regent cruise could very well be the most cost-effective vacation you can take (assuming you have certain vacation requirements – more on this in a moment). Indeed, taking a Regent cruise might be especially worth it, as Regent is a luxury line with an extremely high level of service. With flights and other expenses factored in, it might cost you $2,500 (to pick a random figure) to take cruise, but it might be with a discount cruise line. A cruise with Regent (which includes all relevant expenses) might cost the same price, and you get the added bonus of sailing on a luxury line like Regent.
Above, we noted that you must have certain vacation requirements to make an all-inclusive cruise worth it, and this is an extremely important point. All-inclusive cruises are objectively more expensive than non all-inclusive cruises (at least in general), so even if you get your money’s worth by taking (say) a Regent cruise, you will still pay a lot of money, and perhaps this is more money than you are prepared to pay for any cruise. Maybe there is an incredible all-inclusive cruise on which you are guaranteed to get all your money’s worth and much more, but if this cruise costs $10,000, it still may not be worth it to you for the simple reason that in your opinion no cruise, regardless of how cost-effective it may be, is worth $10,000. Buying the Hope Diamond for $50,000,000 is an incredible deal, but $50,000,000 is still an enormous amount of money that few people could ever spend on a diamond.
Our last consideration is essentially contained in what we have already said, but we now make it explicit: whether an all-inclusive cruise is worth the cost depends your exact situation and needs. For instance, Carnival cruises are in some sense all-inclusive because entertainment (like live shows) and youth programs (to keep your children busy as you relax) are free. However, if you don’t have any interest in live shows and you don’t have children along with you on your cruise, these free services are irrelevant. You wouldn’t spend money on them anyway, so the approximate value of the services shouldn’t be considered. Parallel points can be made about Regent and Silversea Cruises, another all-inclusive cruise line. Regent may offer free flights to and from the port of departure, but if you happen to live near the port, this doesn’t matter. Silversea may offer all the complimentary booze you can drink, but if you don’t consistently drink yourself to near-fatal levels of intoxication, what difference do Silversea’s open bars make to you?
And so, to conclude, are all-inclusive cruises worth the cost? Like the answer to so many questions, it depends. If you are prepared to spend a decent amount on a cruise vacation, or if taking any sort of cruise is going to be expensive (perhaps because you live far away from the port of departure), an all-inclusive cruise might be amply worth it. You can get way more for the money you are going to spend on a cruise in any case. However, even if you get your money’s worth, this doesn’t necessarily mean an all-inclusive cruise is worth the cost. You might not be prepared to pay a large amount for a vacation, even if the vacation is worth what you paid for it. So, an all-inclusive cruise could be completely worth it, but only if you are prepared to pay the price for an all-inclusive cruise to begin with.