"Our 'All Inclusive' is an evolution of Crystal's luxury services and responds to the desires of today's upscale cruise traveler," said Crystal president Gregg Michel in a press release. "As many lines throughout our industry have itemized their services for additional charges, Crystal is maximizing the guest experience by eliminating additional transactions -- further enhancing the ease and luxury of a Crystal cruise."
The new more-inclusive fares will begin with Crystal's first transatlantic cruises in 2012, taking place March 19 on Crystal Symphony and May 8 on Crystal Serenity.
Fares will now include beverages (defined as "complimentary fine wines and premium spirits throughout the ship, open bar service in all lounges," plus all non-alcoholic beverages including bottled water, soda, juices and specialty coffee drinks) and gratuities for housekeeping, dining and bar staff. While ultra-premium liquors and wines are excluded, the following amenities (many of which are already included in the cruise fare) are covered by the new policy:
Roundtrip coach airfare from two dozen North American gateways (or an air credit), transfers included
Dining in the ships' specialty restaurants and sushi bars
Fitness classes, including specialty sessions like Pilates or spinning
Golf lessons with PGA pros
Walk-on-Water weighted vests and Nordic Pole walking equipment
Shuttles to town
Self-service laundry facilities
One caveat with the new fares: Crystal's generous "As You Wish" spending credit -- typically $500 or $1,000 per person -- will go away with the new more-inclusive policy. Crystal had been using this credit in lieu of including more amenities in its fares. In a way, it gave passengers more flexibility because they could choose to use the credit on tips and drinks, or on shore excursions, spa treatments and onboard boutique purchases.
Which leads us to why Crystal's new "all inclusive" fares aren't exactly "all inclusive." Missing from the list above are the aforementioned shore excursions, spa treatments and pre-cruise hotel stays -- typical vacation add-ons by many cruise travelers. While these expenses are usually not included in most lines' fares (Regent is a notable exception, offering hotel stays and shore excursions on most sailings now), they are extra costs to a cruise vacation, making the fares not entirely all-inclusive.
Spokeswoman Mimi Weisband tells us that the fares themselves are not necessarily going up with this announcement. "We're introducing this with the launch of 2nd-4th quarter fares and we've priced the cruises very aggressively," she says. She adds that some fares have actually gone down, and travelers do have other opportunities to acquire onboard credit, either through past-passenger promotions or travel agent promotions, to make up for the lost "As You Wish" spending money.
Cruise Critic members are mixed in their opinions of the new fares. Member haikou posts on the message boards, "That is unfortunate as I do not drink and do not feel I should have to pay for things I do not use nor condone a habit I do not believe in. I also already have my gratuities paid for by my TA [travel agent]. So it looks like they are going to price many of us out of the Crystal market." While marienbad writes, "We are pleased and not surprised by the change to all inclusive. Regent, Seabourn, Silversea, SeaDream are all inclusive, and Crystal may think they need to be all inclusive to be competitive." And Host Dan adds, "I personally think its about time. It always fascinated me that they didn't even include wine with dinner, with the high fares (prior to AYW [As You Wish])."
Bottom line: You may still have to reach for your wallet every so often on a Crystal cruise, but the new fare structure brings the line on par with most other luxury cruise companies.
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--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor