Alaska Cruise Fare Compare: Is All-Inclusive Luxury Actually Cheaper?

December 20, 2010
(4 p.m. EST) -- If your New Year's resolution is to finally make the leap to luxury cruising, the good news is that it might not be as expensive as you think. For the past few years, luxury lines have become more and more inclusive by adding shore excursions, onboard credit, airfare and hotel stays to their base cruise fares. That means when you add up all your vacation costs, the total price of a luxury or premium cruise may be a lot more affordable than you ever thought.

At Cruise Critic, we always recommend that you do the math and compare total vacation costs before you choose and book your next cruise vacation. To show you why this process is useful -- and reveal that you can afford more cruise than you think -- we've done a little price comparison of our own. Now is the time to book your summer Alaska cruise vacation, so we've done a fare compare on two Alaska sailings.

The Contenders

Seven Seas Navigator. The first package is a luxury cruise on Regent Seven Seas' 33,000-ton, 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator. The seven-night voyage sails from Seward to Vancouver on July 27, 2011, and visits Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. We've priced out the lowest category cabin -- a 301-square-foot window suite -- according to Regent's latest promotion, touting two-for-one cruise fares and included airfare, hotel and shore excursions.

Celebrity Millennium. The second is a premium cruise on Celebrity Millennium. It's also a seven-night sailing from Seward to Vancouver on July 22, 2011, and it visits Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan. We've priced out two categories of cabins: a 251-square-foot Sky Suite with a 57-square-foot balcony and a 170-square-foot standard balcony cabin with a 38-square-foot balcony. While not identical to the Regent cabin options, we figured the categories were roughly equivalent, with the Regent suite offering much more interior space and the Celebrity Cruises cabins offering balconies.

The Fare Compare Showdown

Arriving At Our Extra Costs

Cruise fares are per-person, based on double occupancy.

Airfare: Flight cost was calculated by finding the best fare on Kayak from JFK into Anchorage on July 21 and out of Vancouver on July 29 (excluding options that got into Anchorage after midnight).

Hotel: Because Regent used the Anchorage Hilton as its pre-cruise stay hotel, we looked up rates on Hilton's Web site for the night of July 21 and divided by two to find the per-person rate.

Spirits, Wine & Coffee: The drinks price is an estimate of how much a cruiser might spend on wine, beer, cocktails, specialty coffee, soda and bottled water onboard.

Shore Tours: The shore excursion prices are based on tours similar to ones offered by Regent, including the Mendenhall Glacier Float Trip in Juneau, Chilkoot Trail Hiking & Rafting in Skagway, Wilderness Exploration & Crab Fest in Ketchikan, and Whale & Marine Mammals Cruise in Icy Strait Point.

Gratuities: Tips are based on Celebrity's auto-gratuities for standard cabin and suite passengers. Dining is based on one dinner in Millennium's specialty restaurant, Olympic Restaurant.

The Fare Compare Verdict

As you can see, a suite on Celebrity would actually be more expensive than a suite on Regent Seven Seas, if you were to pay extra for the ship's tours, beverages and alternative dining venues. When making your own cruise decisions, you should obviously tweak the numbers to better represent your own onboard spending habits. But, if you've been booking the top suites on premium cruise lines, you might find that switching to a luxury line won't change your vacation bill at all.

While a premium-class balcony cabin is still less costly than a luxury cruise, it's less than $1,000 cheaper per person. It certainly surprised us that the vacation costs were so relatively close. If you can afford it, it might be good value for money to upgrade, considering the enhanced food quality, service levels and small-ship atmosphere you'd find on Regent. You'd increase your cabin size by an additional 50 percent, and while you'd give up the private balcony, Regent's top decks don't get as crowded, so you can easily go up top for glacier- and wildlife-viewing.

Before You Make the Jump: Caveats

We've based these prices on standard rates found on the providers' Web sites. You may have access to better deals through travel agencies, discount programs like AAA or AARP, or frequent flyer memberships that could reduce out-of-pocket costs. You can also save by booking a cheaper pre-cruise hotel or not spending as much onboard. Like we said, you have to tweak the numbers to reflect your own vacation style.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Regent's free flights are only from select gateway cities in the U.S. and Canada, and the line's travel department will choose your flight routing. You may find you'd rather pay to get better flight times. Also, note that not all shore excursions are included in Regent's free tour program. You need to pay a supplement on Regent Choice excursions, which include most of the popular flightseeing tours.

The fare comparison cannot take into account personal preference on ship type. Seven Seas Navigator carries just 490 passengers, offers open-seating dining and is not known for its rocking night life. If you don't like the small-ship life, you might find the personal service and luxurious accommodations do not make up for a lack of activity options. Meanwhile, Celebrity Millennium carries 1,950 passengers and offers Celebrity Life, the line's enrichment program with an abundance of workshops on wine-tasting, astronomy, language-learning, cooking, scrapbooking and dancing. It also has more expansive kids' programs with dedicated lounges and a video arcade; Regent has kids' programming that's well regarded for a luxury ship but without all the bells and whistles of the bigger ships.

So, can you afford to upgrade your cruise in the new year? While only you can know that for sure, our fare comparison proves that it's certainly worth doing the math to discover if a luxury vacation is in the cards -- and the budget -- for 2011.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Discuss this story.