The Difference Between a Cruise vs. All-Inclusive Cruise

By Tim Zimmer

Fare structures for cruise food and fun

The Difference Between a Cruise vs. All-Inclusive Cruise

Looking for some rest and relaxation on your next vacation? If so, a cruise can be your ticket to an exotic getaway that offers everything you need to have an enjoyable journey. While these “floating hotels” offer some of the best bang for your buck on the travel market, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of your next off-shore adventure. Something to consider is whether to sail on a traditional cruise or an “all-inclusive” cruise. While many cruise lines tout an array of amenities, not all provide the same complimentary services.

What a basic ticket provides

On a typical cruise, your meals, accommodations, non-alcoholic beverages and on-board activities are included. Some of the newer vessels offer additional perks, such as rock-climbing walls, water parks, kids’ clubs, state-of-the-art facilities and extravagant casinos. In addition, several cruise lines allow children to sail for free or at a significantly reduced rate. Probably most important is that typical cruise fares cover port stops in multiple destinations, which means you won't have to dole out additional expenses when stopping in multiple locations. The downside, however, is that a basic ticket typically doesn't cover alcoholic beverages, shore excursions, airfare and other premium services that are included in all-inclusive cruises.

What an all-inclusive ticket provides

If you want to explore all the services a cruise line has to offer, an all-inclusive package might be your best bet. In addition to the basic amenities a traditional cruise line provides, out-of-pocket expenses such as alcoholic drinks, gratuities, non-motorized water activities, fitness classes and meals at specialty restaurants are typically covered in an all-inclusive package. For instance, an all-inclusive fare at an elite cruise line includes round-trip airfare, unlimited shore excursions, open bars, unlimited Wi-Fi and 24-hour room service. However, with added perks comes a higher price tag. While a basic seven-night Mediterranean voyage with a luxury cruise line costs around $4,000 per person as of early 2017, the all-inclusive package with the aforementioned elite cruise line costs around $6,700. Much of the added costs come in the form of airfare and shore excursions. However, despite this stark contrast in pricing, all-inclusive cruises can actually be cost-effective if you plan to take advantage of a cruise line's premium services.

It all depends on the vacation you want

Choosing between a traditional and an all-inclusive cruise is similar to deciding between an airline's economy and business class seating. In the end, the type of experience you want determines which option is best. If you're looking for a variety of on-board activities and amenities and don't mind planning your own shore adventures, a traditional cruise might be for you -- especially if you don't plan on spending much on drinks or other premium services. If you're looking to supersize your vacation and don't mind paying extra for meals at specialty restaurants, shore excursions and alcoholic beverages, consider the all-inclusive option.