Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

When Regent Seven Seas unveiled its "ultra-inclusive" cruise pricing earlier this year, the line unwittingly launched a mini-war of words about the meaning of all-inclusive.

Regent already bills itself an "all-inclusive" line, by including things like most liquor and gratuities. But faced with industry price pressure not seen since 2001, Regent said it preferred to add more value rather than drop its price and erode the rate.

The line introduced "ultra-inclusive" cruise pricing by adding a selection of free shore excursions in every port on most cruises this year and on all sailings in 2010.

Crystal Cruises then came out with its "All Inclusive -- As You Wish" program, offering shipboard spending credit of $2,000 per couple on cruises of more than 11 days, which is the most inclusive promotion there is, said Crystal executive Bill Smith. 

"There is no such thing as all-inclusive," he said. "Some of our guests don't drink, so you are giving them something they don't want. Unlimited shore excursions, that means I'm going to put you on a bus and take you into town. That's not meaningful. We make it as all-inclusive as we possibly can. We will not limit you. If you don't drink, you can spend that thousand dollars in the spa or take a private car someplace. You make that decision.

"We are taking a direct shot at the guys that claim to be all-inclusive but have limits on what that is," he said.

Seabourn Cruises President Pam Conover, braving the crossfire, said -- without naming names -- that the recent value-adding has led to some head-scratching.

"There is quite a bit of confusion in the market," Conover said. "If you have a price point and then you have a discount off that price, plus you have a free air program and in addition to that some sort of onboard credit, the consumer is not immediately clear what they're getting."

Rather than offering anything more as part of its price, Seabourn, which also includes liquor and gratuities, is slashing its cruise prices by as much as 65%.

"It's much simpler to have a simple price message that everybody can understand," Conover said. "They can look at it and say 60% off means I'm saving x thousands of dollars."

For its part, Regent said its program has been successful. Spokesman Andrew Poulton said "based on the surge in demand we have experienced for the dates in 2009 on which we originally offered the free shore excursions, we have decided to increase that number substantially for the balance of the year.

"Clearly, the added value of the shore excursions struck a chord with our audience. ... In addition to the shore excursions, we are also including roundtrip airfare on all 2010 departures, along with aggressive pricing. In short, we offer the most inclusive luxury cruise product in the market."

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