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The Real Difference for a Luxury Cruise?

Last week, we did a blog about Regent Seven Seas, a luxury cruise line that has new entertainment, and it got us thinking about how "luxury" compares to "standard" in the cruise world…and by "standard" we mean the big cruise lines with the biggest ships and biggest passenger loads.

So we decided to do as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as we could. One cruise. Same general destination (Caribbean). Same type of cabin (balcony). Same month (November).

For your perusal, then, here is Regent Seven Seas' Navigator vs Royal Caribbean's mighty Oasis of the Seas, the biggest of the mainstream big ships…

Regent Seven Seas is essentially an all-inclusive cruise line. One price covers all, or pretty much all. The cruise we researched is on the Navigator, it's seven nights and it's going to the Western Caribbean, where it will make four port stops.

Price: $4,000.

The Oasis — biggest cruise ship in the world — cruise is also seven nights to the Caribbean, with three ports. Both cruises are to the Western Caribbean, although they have only one port in common. The items priced below for the Oasis are all included on the Navigator:

Balcony stateroom: $1,517
Return airfare: $400
Shore excursions (3): $300
Specialty restaurants: $90
Beverage package: $385
Taxes: $150
Airport transfers: $60
Gratuities: $84

We hasten to point out that this is not an exact science. For one thing, we based airfare on flights from the middle of the continent, Chicago. Obviously, that could vary by where you live, but Chicago is the most central departure point. For another, beverage packages vary, so we chose one that's middle-of-the-road. For another, Regent Seven Seas has smaller ships and higher ratios of staff-per-passenger.

So how much more is it worth for luxury.

The total of the Oasis of the Seas prices above is $2,996.

The difference is $1,004, or 25 per cent more.

What do you think?

Oasis of the SeasToday at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Splendor
7 nights
August 31, 2014
New York (return): Saint John (N.B.)
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $137

Escaping The Noise Pricier At Princess

The price of peace is always great. Just ask anybody who has known anybody who went to war over the last generation or two.

At Princess Cruises, the price of peace has to do with "peace and quiet" and the price has gone up. Dramatically. Let's put it this way: If your landlord doubled your rent, you'd be heading for the nearest rental board to file a complaint.

Peace and quiet on Princess ships is an area called The Sanctuary. You used to be able to escape the noise and partying elsewhere on a ship — on cruise ships there The Sanctuaryis always high-traffic areas of noise and partying — for 10 bucks for half a day, 20 for the full day.

In January, that doubled…to $20 and $40, respectively.

Karen Candy, the personable media person at Princess, says the price was to control (or lower) the demand. The cost of everything is based on supply and demand, and clearly The Sanctuary has been in such high demand that the cruise line felt it had to (or wanted to) have a significant impact on the number of people using the area.

It's also worth noting that when any cruise line — like any business — sees an opportunity to add a revenue stream, it's "oceans away." And it's worth noting, too, that the price Princess charges could fluctuate by demand. If it's lower, the price will be, too.

Supply and demand…and the price of peace.

Today at portsandbows.com: The big day is here for Viking

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
April 13, 2014
Miami (return): Ocho RiosCosta MayaCozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

Cruise Cost…Above and Beyond

This one's especially for first-time cruisers, the people who always ask someone like us how much the cruise will cost over and above the fare.

The answer: "As much as you want."

If that sounds like a cop-out, it's not. The so-called hidden costs of cruising are almost all a matter of choice. The two that give you no choice are taxes and gratuities. Neither is included in the price that you shop for when you go looking for a cruise.

Taxes seem to depend on the departure port and, to give you a ballpark figure, generally run between $150 and $200 per person for a one-week cruise. Gratuities vary by cruise line but using $11 or $12 per day, per person, will cause you no surprise.

After that, you pick and choose.

Shore excursions can go from $30 or $40 to many hundreds, which is what you can expect to get on a small plane to look down on Alaska or land on a glacier. The other side of that is to walk ashore and do your own thing, using local transportation. In between are the "shore excursions" you can purchase on the shore.

Then there's drinking, and that doesn't mean just booze. Drink packages are available, depending on how many bottles of wine or pina coladas you anticipate consuming. There are also drink packages for soda pop, which is not free. What is free are things like fruit juices, iced tea and coffee (but not specialty coffees).

Food can be another biggie. With the influx of specialty restaurants — if you choose — you will pay $15 to $40 per person for an upscale menu and experience. On the other hand, every dining room we've been in on ships has been good to excellent…and included.

Entertainment? Some cruise lines charge for some shows, but there is often lots available with no extra charge. Bingo, bowling and casinos all come with a price tag and in most cases it will be more than you expect. However, there is lots to do on ships without paying more…lectures, cards and backgammon, a library of books.

As for being pampered, fitness classes and hair dressing and massages will cost what they cost you on land and probably more. But that's a choice. So is shopping, but isn't it always? So is the Internet. While it's getting cheaper, checking email can be a frustrating and costly venture (or ad-venture) at sea.

And if you buy those annoying photo ops getting on and off and staying on the ship, you can spend a small fortune. Or you can make your own pictures by asking a stranger to use your camera.

One estimate we've seen is that cruisers can spend an extra $200 or $300 per day, per person, on a cruise. We've never come remotely close to that, mainly because we've always tried to balance what we do and don't do.

Just like in life on land.

Norwegian Star
9 nights
June 30, 2013
Copenhagen (return): Berlin, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $44

Reasons for Cruising's Extra Costs

Sometimes, it gets a little wearying to hear cruise passengers complain about having to pay for soda pop. In all the years we've been on cruise ships, that's always been the case so in the end, there are only three words to say:

Deal with it.

Besides alcohol, charging passengers for pop may have been the first "extra source" of income for cruise lines. Like everybody else, we were shocked at the tactic the first time we went cruising. Over time, we have come to understand, because generally cruise lines have kept the cost of cruising in line, while searching for other ways to make a buck. That is, after all, what business is all about, isn't it? Is it just a coincidence that fares have stayed affordable as cruise lines have added extra cost options.

And one more thing:

For people who think cruising should be an all-inclusive experience, because that's what it's always been, here's a few things to remember:

1. You don't have to pay for the pop…don't drink it.

2. You don't have to pay for booze…don't drink.

3. You don't have to pay to dine at a specialty restaurant…there are always enough eateries included.

4. You don't have to go on a shore excursion…you can just be a passenger.

5. You don't have to pay for souvenir photos…take your own, or go home without them.

The fact is, you do have a choice. If you want to pay your cruise fare (plus gratuities and taxes) and nothing else, you do have that option.

Diamond Princess
16 nights
September 22, 2012
Anchorage, Sapporo, Aomori, Vladivostok, Shanghai, Dallan, Beijing
Inside: $898
Cost per day: $56

What to Expect if Email Matters

One of the shocks for first-time cruisers, at least in the era when we were rookies, is that you have to pay for soda pop. Today’s surprise for first-time cruisers is the Internet.

Nobody expects Internet access for free on cruise ships, but the cost can sometimes seem outrageous. So as a public service, this is to prepare you for connecting your laptop — or the cruise ship’s — when you’re away from civilization for a week or so.

The actual fee seems to vary from cruise line to cruise line, but a ballpark figure is you can expect to pay between 50 cents and a dollar a minute. The more you spend on a “package” the less your per-minute fees will be.

But here’s the kicker…

Connections to the Internet from a cruise ship can be slow. Excruciatingly slow sometimes. As near as we can determine, it’s seldom the fault of the cruise line. The satellite signal can be sketchy, depending on the location of the ship…or the weather.

So when your planned two-minute connection to check email turns into 15 or 20 minutes, it can be a shock to the system. And the budget, of course.

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