Cruise vs. Resort Vacation

If you've been pricing cruise vacations lately, you've no doubt noticed that the bargain-basement fares we saw after the horrific events of 9/11 are no longer flooding the marketplace. The cruise industry, and travel in general, is beginning to get back to normal as more people are traveling.

With the increase in demand, prices haven't yet skyrocketed, but they are floating upward. Because many lines continued to move ahead with their deployment of new ships, putting more and more cabins into the market, cruise shoppers can still find some excellent deals. But for the most part, the $350 seven-day cruise has gone the way of bellbottom pants.

Even before the decline in demand, many people were talking about the decline in quality of the cruise product. As fares began to fall after September 11, most cruise lines had little choice but to cut back on their costs--and food, service and entertainment were the most natural areas to attack.

Now, with prices rising, I think we can expect to see the cruise lines return to their "A" (or at least "B") menus in place of their "Cs," and to start spending more on staffing and entertainment.

Assuming I'm correct, and even with the rising cost of cruises, the question remains: Is there good value in a cruise vacation?

Let's do the math, comparing a seven-day cruise to a somewhat comparable land vacation. There's no point in calculating the cost of a camping trip compared to a cruise; I'm using the example of a trip to a decent resort in my comparison.

The costs below are for two people.

Resort Hotel: $85 to $130/night=$700 approx. Rental Car (midsize): $290/wk Gasoline: $40/wk Breakfasts (average $9/person/day): $126/wk incl. gratuities Lunches ($10/person/day): $140/wk Dinners ($20/person/day): $280/wk Entertainment/shows: $210/wk Total = $1,786

I believe I've used VERY conservative numbers in general. Certainly a cost-conscious consumer could cut back on some of these expenses by eating in less expensive restaurants, or skipping a meal here and there, or staying in a less expensive hotel. However, then we wouldn't be examining comparable vacations.

It could easily be argued that my figures are much too conservative, because they don't take into account enough travel or entertainment expenses. They could rise much higher depending on where and when you travel. For example, peak-season winter rates at Caribbean resorts can be twice as high as in summer. And entertainment costs could soar if you were attending Broadway plays or Las Vegas shows.

So it should be clear that there is significant value in a cruise vacation, even at present day pricing. One can easily book a seven-night cruise for two people for $1,786 (quite possibly even a cabin with a private balcony). And for that cost, you get much greater access to a greater variety of food, service and shows and other forms of entertainment--not to mention the smiling faces of the cruise line staff and the camaraderie of your fellow passengers.

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