All-inclusive drinks packages are becoming increasingly popular onboard ships as cruisers look to keep tabs on their spending. But, are these packages value for money and good for cruising?
We now live in a society where responsible drinking is encouraged and getting legless on holiday is seen as crass, inappropriate behaviour. But will an endless supply of booze take us back to the Costa de Sol of the 90s, or will it mean people can enjoy their cocktails and cold beers in a more relaxed way?
Drinks packages on cruise ships are not a new thing — Thomson have been offering all-inclusive upgrades for years and sister line, Island Cruises, are going all-inclusive full stop come 2013. Most major cruise lines have offered soft drinks packages in the past, usually consisting of one price for a cruise worth of soda, fruit juice and mocktails. In general these deals aren't often abused and even if they are, the sugar wears off eventually. So, could the adult-only drinks deals offer a sensible, good value way to enjoy your cruise onboard?
At a glance the all-inclusive options range from ship-wide, to cabin. The per cabin deals usually stipulate everyone staying in the cabin has to purchase the package, and sometimes everyone in the party— this is to stop people trying to buy it once and then get drinks for several people, which is smart. The prices vary too, from £24 per person per day for wine and beer with your meals, to $71 pppd for unlimited premium drinks by the glass.
Value For Money?
Value for money really comes down to how much you would normally spend onboard, what you usually drink and how much you value not having to second guess your bar bill at the end of the cruise. Some people will happily enjoy a couple of glasses of wine during lunch, a cold beer by the pool, a couple more glasses of wine during dinner and a cocktail in the evening, and they will gain exceptional value for money.
The route Fred. Olsen has taken is to offer a selection of all-inclusive cruises, where house wine, beers and spirits are included. This is similar to Island Cruises, who will offer the same on all their cruises circa April '13. With the cruise fares not rising by huge costs, this amounts to great value as your only worries onboard are the shops, shore excursions and luxury drink items.
Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Oceania and MSC Cruises have all gone down the route of offering cruise packages. MSC are the only cruise line offering the dinner only package, which is $24 pppd. The main packages include house wines, beers, house cocktails and spirits on an unlimited basis. So if you like a drink at $40-$50 pppd, these are good value, as five cocktails in a day can set you back nearly $50 and you are on holiday after all.
There are also a few premium packages, which don't include wine by the bottle, but do include more premium wines by the glass as well as premium spirits and cocktails, these usually give you 25% off decent bottle of wine or fizz. So if you prefer the finer things in life — in moderation of course — but don't want to scrutinize your bill at the end of the cruise, the $70-odd pppd, actually works out good value too — premium cocktails, such as a decent Martini, can cost your $15 a go onboard some ships.
Personally I think these packages are a good idea, and the next cruise I am on offering them, I will most likely be taking advantage. These deals aren't designed for people looking to "drink their money's worth", they are designed to help you kick back and relax on your cruise and are priced to reflect the quality of drinks you can enjoy, as opposed to the quantity.
Cruise lines are trying to appeal to the variety of audiences they have onboard these days, and during a time of supposed austerity, paying one price for a week's worth of drinks on your cruise is going to appeal to the mass markets. Well done to the cruise lines for recognising it, but fingers crossed the old Costa del Sol crew will stick to their cheap hotels, Linekar bars and Spanish beaches.
Here's a selection of 2013 all inclusive cruises, just in case they take your fancy.
Iglu's MD, Simone Clark, recently returned to work following the birth of her first child, having been back in the office a couple of months she embarked on her first family cruise and here's what she had to say on the experinece:
This Summer I cruised on Azura with P&O Cruises, on a 17 night sailing to the Eastern Med — taking in Greece, Italy and Croatia and more beautiful ports. I’ve cruised before, but this was the first time as the mother of a six month year old (Theo) — so thought I’d share the experience with you, so you know what to expect.
You can pre-book lots of the equipment on P&O Cruises, and it’s all FREE! We pre-booked a travel cot, baby bath, bottle steriliser and food warmer, which meant more room in the suitcase for shoes! All of these were waiting in the cabin for us.
For small babies, I’d recommend that you pack your own sleeping bag/baby blanket —as the cot comes with a duvet — and also pack a mini bottle cleaning brush and a small amount of washing up liquid for washing the bottles. The travel cot conveniently doubles as a playpen and with a little manoeuvring you can get it onto a shady spot on the balcony, so baby can play while you relax in the sunshine (or try to!).
Theo making sure not to waste any of Noddy's Afternoon Tea & Azura from the beach.
It’s really easy to get around the ship, although I had to remove the wheel of my pushchair to get in the cabin (quick and easy). Because the ships are equipped for wheelchairs, you can get around everywhere, using lifts and ramps. If we wanted a drink or something to eat, we simply parked the buggy near our table — nice and simple. At ports, there is a ramp without any bumps, for pushchairs & wheelchairs and you get to queue jump sometimes! There was a lift to the tender and lots of help getting on and off.
The transfer bus drivers popped the buggy in the hold — so no need to fold it — but you must remember to take the baby out first! The ports were easy to get around with a push chair, although Venice is more challenging than most, so be prepared to do some carrying of the pushchair over all those bridges! It’s easy to get the buggy onto the vaporettos, water buses.
Eating & Drinking
There was plenty of food for Theo to try. Formula and jars of baby food are provided, but you have to ask for them at the buffet or the jars of baby food can be delivered to your cabin. My tip is to take one of those little containers for portions of powder and stock up for the day when the buffet is quieter (during Noddy’s Afternoon Tea for example!).
Theo was just starting on solid food and having a buffet is a perfect way for a baby to try different flavours. There’s always fruit, mashed potatoes, vegetables and fish to try among other things. We sampled fish pie, moussaka, rice pudding with apple, melon, salmon, cottage pie and sole amongst other things. There are lots of high chairs and the crew will happily find you one if necessary. Just mash up the food with a fork and you’re off. In the evening, Noddy’s Afternoon Tea is served from 5-6. It’s quieter in the restaurant then and there’s a selection of food for children as well as baby food. It became part of our daily routine.
Take: a couple of your own spoons, a container for milk formula (if required) and bibs — I found disposable ones handy.
There are two baby pools at the aft of the ship, perfect for a little baby trying the water for the first time. I found them not too busy and often shady in the evening — perfect. There are lots of kids’ clubs for all ages, but for a six month year old, there is the night nursery — where you can leave them to sleep at night and carry a beeper (from 6pm until 1am).
During the day you can take your baby in there and play using all the toys available — including a ball pool. You can even borrow small strollers to use on board. There are also children’s books in the library to borrow. n the evening, a stroll around the promenade deck is a good way to get a baby to sleep and the sound of the sea definitely helps.
Overall, the cruise was extremely relaxing, especially as I didn’t have the headache of negotiating an airport. I’d thoroughly recommend a cruise for someone travelling with an infant as it’s completely stress free.
Celebrity Reflection enjoyed her float out from the Mayer Wreft ship yard on Monday afternoon as part of the final preparations for her launch later this year. The ship will join the Celebrity Cruises fleet in October '13 and already looks like a stunning addition.
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