(4:40 p.m. EDT) -- In a bid to become the most inclusive luxury line afloat, Regent Seven Seas recently upped the ante, adding pre-cruise hotel stays to all sailings, beginning with its 2011 Caribbean and Europe seasons.
In addition to shore excursions, airfare, beverages and tips included in most cruises, Regent will soon offer a hotel package -- including one free night at a luxury property, breakfast, transfers from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the ship, and luggage porterage.
Like Regent's free-air offer, in which passengers booked in Category C Penthouse suites and higher get business-class airfare instead of economy, passengers in the nicest cabins stay in nicer hotels. For example, in New York, passengers booked in categories D-H stay at the Intercontinental New York Times Square, a new four-star hotel opened in 2010. Meanwhile, passengers in Category C and higher suites get upgraded to the Waldorf Astoria, with its fashionable Park Avenue address and historic ambience. In Rome, lower-category passengers stay at the Parco dei Principi, and upper-category guests stay at the Intercontinental de la Ville; in Dubai, the properties are the Intercontinental Festival City for the lower categories and the Raffles Hotel for upper categories.
So we wondered: Is there a price to pay for more inclusiveness?
Kari Tarnowski, senior vice president of marketing, tells us no. "We want to raise the bar on all-inclusiveness," she says, explaining that Regent raises its fares four times a year, alerting cruisers to fare increases taking place on January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1, with the best prices for early bookers. No fare increase was associated with the announcement of the added hotel perk. However, if you booked prior to October 20, your cruise fare does not include the hotel package (though you can book, and pay for, your own with Regent's existing pre-cruise options).
When Regent first announced its free shore excursions, no other line followed suit, so we don't expect other lines to start including hotel stays in their luxury cruise fares. But, we'll let you know if other lines join the hunt for the most-inclusive cruise line title.
"Regent Seven Seas has really established itself with these novel ideas [included shore excursions and now hotels] and people love it," says Joyce Kliger, a luxury travel specialist with Premium Cruises. "There's some amazing creativeness here." She says this move puts Regent "ahead of the competition," as including hotels in the cruise fare both adds to Regent's reputation as a truly all-inclusive cruise line. It also provides excellent value for consumers, especially in cities like Rome and Venice, where transferring to the ship can be tricky.
However, she cautions that Regent's fares have gone up since announcing its included-shore-excursions program, and, unlike Tarnowski, she believes these extra inclusions ultimately will come with a price tag.
By the way, if you'd really rather choose your own pre- or post-cruise hotel (or decline to stay in one if you live close to the homeport), that option's available, too. You'll get a credit of $300 deducted from your cruise fare. It's a similar policy to Regent's free-air offer; if you choose to book your own air instead of taking advantage of Regent's free flights, the line discounts your cruise fare for the estimated value of the airfare.
The program goes into effect with Seven Seas Navigator's January 7 cruise, Seven Seas Mariner's April 17 cruise and Seven Seas Voyager's June 7 cruise.
Do you prefer your cruise fares to be all-inclusive, or do you only want to pay for products you use? Join the discussion of this perk here.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor