Land Cruise vs. a Sea Cruise

| Feb 26, 2007

Comparing the costs of a Phoenix vacation against a Caribbean cruise, it's no contest.

I don't recommend that anyone limit themselves to cruise vacations. It's a big world with a lot to see and do, and sometimes venturing out for more in-depth explorations of destinations has advantages. During land vacations, you have time to get more immersed in the places you're visiting, and to meet the people who live there.

There are clear advantages to both land and cruise vacations. But rather than argue about them, let's take a look at the simple mathematics -- the cost!

I recently returned from a "land cruise" to Phoenix, so I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the prices of our "land cruise" to the costs of a sea cruise.

In many ways it's comparing apples to oranges, but we're going to find as many similarities as we can, in order to make the comparisons somewhat equal.

Accommodations Costs At this time of year (January - March), a cruise in a standard balcony cabin on one of the "average" Caribbean itineraries can cost from $800 to $1,200 per person per cabin; to average it out, we'll say the cost of accommodation and food on the cruise for two people is around $2,000.

We spent a significant amount of time online researching hotel prices in Phoenix/Scottsdale, in an effort to find accommodations similar in category and ambience to those on a cruise ship. We looked at Hampton Inns, La Quinta Inns, and similar properties, which came in at a range of $239 - $279 a day plus taxes, but ultimately we chose an Embassy Suites Hotel, which also included a full hot breakfast each day and a complimentary happy hour each evening. The cost was $298; with taxes it came to $310 per night; so the total cost for seven days for two people was $2,170.

Admittedly we could have booked a room at a Holiday Inn and saved $700. But a cruise ship cabin is not a Holiday Inn, and therefore not a fair comparison. Plus, part of that $700 savings would have disappeared with the need to pay for breakfast each day, about $20 a day for two� making the actual savings closer to $ $540. So, even with lower level accommodations, the total for two for seven days, including breakfast, would have been $1,630.

(Some readers might say we could have saved money by going somewhere other than a tourist area like Scottsdale during the high season there. OK� I admit I could have probably booked a room in Anchorage, Alaska for $60 per night, but I imagine the frozen daiquiris there would be the real thing. You could also fairly easily find balcony cruises during off season for closer to $700.)

During winter, the Caribbean islands would certainly be considered peak-season tourist destinations, as is Scottsdale. So the destinations choices are comparable.

Transportation costs In Scottsdale, public transportation is a barely available bus service, private taxis, or automobile rentals. We rented a car for the week at a cost of $194; add in the cost of gasoline for a total transportation expense of $279.

On land, meal costs vary considerably depending on the restaurants one chooses. During our trip, all the restaurants we ate in were lower- to mid-priced. We never ate in a restaurant that would equate to any of the ships' alternative (i.e., surcharge) restaurants. And since breakfast was included in the hotel costs, we only ate lunch and dinner out. Lunches were either deli or family-style restaurants (with one must-do visit through the drive-thru window at the In and Out Burger). Dinners, again in middle-of-the-road restaurants, ran from $22 to $35 dollars per person.

Our total food budget for the week turned out to be $635. Tips on land ran very similar to, or slightly higher than, the $10 per person per day we'd spend on a cruise ship.

Bottom Line Numbers For accommodations, local transportation and food, our week in Scottsdale, Arizona cost the two of us $3,084.

For basically the same accommodation, transportation and food, a cruise would have cost the two of us $2,000. So it ended up costing us a full 50% more for our land vacation, and we haven't even discussed any entertainment costs.

On a ship, there is no charge for entertainment. Every evening there are free shows in the ship's main theater, sometimes featuring fairly well-known headliners. There are also several lounges offering a variety of musical acts, as well as passenger-involved games, etc. Many ships also have movie theatres, and some newer ships show movies on giant-screen TVs at poolside.

On land, even finding evening entertainment requires searching, and time and effort. During our stay in Scottsdale there were several concerts and plays available that we chose not to get tickets for. Had we decided to go, tickets ranged from $60 to $ 250 per couple. Going to just three events during the week could have easily added $450 to our expenses.

Adding in even some minimal entertainment costs could easily drive the cost of our land vacation to 75 percent higher than the cost of a cruise.

Tours, Excursions, and Extra Expenses During visits to various ports of call on a cruise, excursions and tours can add quite a few dollars to the cost of the vacation. The same can be said on land.

We took a day to drive up to Sedona, Arizona (a lovely town and area, by the way). We just strolled and shopped and explored the area. However, the area is known for its Pink Jeep Tours. The cost for the two-hour tour is $72 per person (up to $98 for a four-hour tour) -- not dissimilar to the costs of ship's tours.

Now, while this Sedona tour is similar to a shore excursion, I have not had a chance to include the savings a cruise provides in travel costs from one destination another. Our Phoenix vacation was just that; a single destination, but a one week cruise takes you to several destinations as the ship sails at night. A truly fair comparison would have us arriving in Phoenix, magically awakening the next day in Sedona, the next day at the Grand Canyon, a day just enjoying our hotel's casino, free entertainment, pool, etc. Add in an "overnight" in Las Vegas, another hotel day and finally ending up back in Phoenix, and you get the idea of one of the hidden value's of a cruise over almost any land-based vacation -- "no added cost" travel to new destination during the vacation.

Though Mrs. Kuki and I do not consume many alcoholic beverages, the costs for those who do are not much different at sea than in most bars on land. Maybe on land, if you search, you can find some bars offering cheap alcohol, but they're probably going to be nothing more than places to drink, without the ambience and entertainment you'll find on a ship.

And during the entire Arizona trip we never found one place offering free ice cream, free 24-hour pizza or free room service.

Alternatives There are certainly other alternatives for vacations. They run the gamut of all-inclusive resorts, to camping trips, to escorted bus tours, to stays in luxury hotels and resorts. But to discuss every option would require me to write books on the subject, and I don't have the time because I'm busy lining up my next favorite vacation� my next cruise. After a week's land vacation, always digging into my pocket for money, having to decide where to eat, and spending time trying to get reservations, I know for certain that my next cruise vacation is going to offer me better value for my dollars than my last land vacation.

And I didn't even discuss how much I spent on my golf games, or how much Mrs. Kuki spent shopping -- which allowed me the time to play golf.

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