As life under coronavirus restrictions grinds on, hospitality businesses have modified their services to weather the lockdown as best they can. We looked at the costs and benefits of a hotel staycation versus a "cruise to nowhere".
Many hotels now offer no-contact staycation packages for those weary of being stuck at home, while Dream Cruises has been offering 2- and 3-night "cruises to nowhere" on its lone operating ship, the World Dream. To help Singaporeans understand the costs and benefits of each option, we gathered staycation rates from four major hotels to compare their relative value against a cruise.
- The average cost per night for the most basic hotel staycation was $396, but prices varied significantly by hotel, room size, and package level. Dream Cruises offered an average of $488 per night on its cruises to nowhere.
- The Marina Bay Sands was one hotel we found charging more than a cruise, with its cheapest packages costing an average of $550 for a two-night stay from late March through June.
- Seasonality affected cruise tickets more than hotel rates. The average cost of a cruise to nowhere increased by 20 per cent between May and the summer month of June, while hotel staycation rates remained about the same.
- Whether you sail or staycation, going on weekdays may be wise. The hotel rates we found were 9 per cent cheaper on midweek check-ins than on weekends, and Dream Cruises also charged 18 per cent less on midweek departures.
- The decision between a hotel staycation and a cruise with no stops comes down to two factors: the greater variety of activities onboard a cruise ship versus the roomier, more comfortable environment of a hotel room.
Cruises to nowhere cost less than top tier staycations but more than the cheapest
According to rate data from the four hotels we looked into, the average cost of a basic staycation package was $396 per night.
This was significantly lower than the average cost of a ticket with Dream Cruises for a round-trip cruise around Batam, which was S$488 per night over two to three nights. However, the comparison depended heavily on which hotel and room sizes we chose.
|Dream Cruises||Fullerton||Hilton||Marriott Tang Plaza||Marina Bay Sands|
In our data, both the Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel and Marina Bay Sands Hotel staycations cost more at the higher room tiers than a ticket with Dream Cruises.
This was likely due to the fact that the packages include a generally higher quality of accommodations plus a number of unique perks, such as access to the Marina Bay Sands' well-known rooftop Infinity Pool or the Marriott's menu of curated dinner experiences.
We were also surprised by the affordability of hotel staycation packages from the Fullerton Hotel, one of Singapore's landmark establishments. Guests staying one night there receive a second consecutive night for free, making the Fullerton's staycation offer the best hotel deal at each of the room tiers we compared.
Cruise ticket prices rise in summer while staycations hold steady, but both cost less on weekdays
Thanks to the coronavirus, seasonality isn't affecting the cost of travel quite the same as in previous years. However, our analysis did find that cruise ticket prices rose by nearly 20 per cent to an average of $555 per night in June, from $463 in May. Meanwhile, the hotel staycation packages we examined actually fell slightly on average for June.
One bright spot for frugal consumers was that both cruises and hotel staycations were more affordable on days in the middle of the week rather than weekends.
Cruises leaving on Wednesdays cost an average of $427 per night, an 18 per cent savings versus cruises that depart Sunday or Friday ( $525 ). Weekday savings on hotel staycations varied by establishment, ranging from just 2 per cent lower at the Hilton to 25 per cent off at the Fullerton but 9 per cent lower overall.
Hotels vs. cruises: What perks do they offer?
A close look at the perks included in each package ultimately showed that the cruise to nowhere was a decent all-around value for families needing a variety of activities to choose from, while the hotel staycations seemed best for couples seeking to indulge in fine dining and in-suite comforts.
Most hotels offer at minimum a free breakfast for two, with some throwing in food and beverage credits between $50 and $100. A few of the more creative packages by Hilton and Marriott also included special dinner experiences, while others included significant discounts on spa treatments from the hotel's attached spas.
|Package||Food Perks||Other Benefits||Room Size|
|Dream Cruises||World Dream||All day buffet and dining for all; some restaurants cost extra||Wide variety of shopping and activities onboard||20-37 sq m|
|Fullerton||Complimentary Night Stay||Breakfast for two; $100 Food and Beverage credit; 20per cent off a la carte dining menus||20 per cent off Fullerton Spa treatments||39-53 sq m|
|Hilton||Opus Steak-cation||Daily breakfast and Opus premium steak or seafood dinner with 2 hour free flow wine for two||2,000 Hilton Honors Points per stay||32-69 sq m|
|Marriott Tang Plaza||Iconic City Staycation||Breakfast for two; S$50 Food and Beverage credit||32-42 sq m|
|Blissful Escapes||M Club breakfast, hors d-ouevres, cocktails, and curated Set Dinner at Marriott Cafe for two||24-hour access to pool terrace||60 sq m|
|Marina Bay Sands||BOOK DIRECT AND SAVE S$20||Breakfast, afternoon tea & evening drinks for Club Rooms and Suites||Entry to SkyPark Observation Deck and Infinity Pool; up to 50per cent off Banyan Tree Spa treatments; up to 10per cent Resort Dollars on stay, shopping and dining||35-136 sq m|
The major difference between a hotel stay and a cruise ship may be the most obvious: cruise ship cabins are far smaller than hotel rooms, which means that passengers must get out of their cabins and find things to do onboard in order to get their money's worth. The cost of the ticket is tied up in enjoying the ocean view, seeing shows, and visiting shops and restaurants.
We thought that the variety available in the cruise to nowhere matches up favorably to hotel staycation packages, which in some cases seemed to imply that guests would not be allowed to occupy their hotel rooms for a continuous 24 hours. In such cases you would be forced to find other activities in the city itself, an experience that we think few people would consider a true "getaway".
When money is no object: Comparing the most expensive options
We also decided to explore the question of which service offers the best possible experience at the absolute top of the scale, where money is not a concern. In this scenario, the selection of suites at the top end of Dream Cruises' offerings becomes more tempting.
Massive suites like the Palace Villa combine the unique ocean view of a cruise with roominess and luxury that almost matches the best hotels on shore.
|Dream Cruises - Palace Villa||Marina Bay Sands - Straits Suite|
|Cost per Night||S$3,524||S$6,154|
|Size||224 sq m||330 sq m|
|Food and Drinks||
|Services||24-hour butler concierge||
The most expensive hotel in our study was the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a familiar part of Singapore's skyline and hospitality industry. Despite costing 75 per cent more per night than Dream Cruises at the highest level, the room quality and size appear only slightly superior to the top end suite onboard the World Dream.
Moreover, the hotel's main draw - its unique and famous Infinity Pool - is only available for an hour and 15 minutes per day even with the most expensive suite, thanks to the need for coronavirus precautions. We felt this was a major downside of the Marina Bay Sands staycation package.
If you have the luxury of choosing between options at this level, the main limiting factor will be the time you have available. While the cruise offers far more variety in terms of activities (along with a much smaller passenger population thanks to distancing requirements), you'll only have three days at most to do everything you'd like.
We suggest the Marina Bay Sands for those seeking simple relaxation and the cruise to nowhere for people who need to stretch their legs through a variety of activities.
So should you stay or should you cruise?
One hard truth in the current situation is that the cruise to nowhere is a limited version of the experiences that cruises can deliver in normal times. In contrast, staycation packages represent an expansion of typical hotel experiences made necessary by the shutdown of regular business. Rather than simply housing Singapore-bound tourists, hotels have had to pivot towards becoming attractions themselves.
Given this convergence of quality - with cruises having become less interesting and hotel stays more interesting - it's plausible to claim that staycations offer better value for the money. But the answer really boils down to what experiences you're seeking.
Dream Cruises offers a good variety of family-friendly shipboard activities such as a VR experience, performances, and a range of eating options. Hotel staycations mostly appear to be geared towards couples seeking a relaxing stay and memorable dinner.
Ultimately, both cruises and staycations offer a rare chance to escape the confines of your home at a time when getting away is extremely difficult. They're also an opportunity to use your Singapore ReDiscovers vouchers as well as any travel rewards that you may have sitting idle in your credit card account.
Whether you prefer to get a whiff of ocean air onboard a cruise liner or switch it up by staying over in a luxury hotel, the current difficulties faced by the hospitality industry offer a unique if curtailed opportunity to punctuate your day to day with some variety.
To understand the cost of Dream Cruises' round trip cruise packages and hotel staycation offers in Singapore, we used the companies' online booking platforms to gather rate information for stays in late March through June 2021. In order to allow for fair comparison, we averaged the cost of the different packages on a per night basis.
We matched our sample hotel bookings to the cruise schedule found on the Dream Cruise website for the World Dream cruise ship, currently running 2- or 3-night round trips around Batam with no port visits. To better understand the different price levels available, we gathered rates for "basic", "standard" and "premium" stay packages as follows:
|Dream Cruises||Fullerton||Hilton||Marriott Tang Plaza||Marina Bay Sands|
|Basic||None available||Premier Courtyard Room||King Deluxe Room||Deluxe King Room||Deluxe Room|
|Standard||Balcony Stateroom||Straits Club Quay Room||King Hilton Premium Room||Executive Room||Club Room|
|Premium||Palace Suite||Straits Club Marina Bay Room||King Hilton Executive Plus Room||Pool Terrace Room||Orchid Suite|
Most of the four hotels we looked at offer many other room configurations at a variety of price levels. For each hotel, we selected the cheapest option plus two other options that most closely matched the size and quality of the room levels we picked at other hotels. As for Dream Cruises, we used the only two cabin sizes currently available for booking: the Balcony rooms and Suites.
For a full list of hotel staycation packages on offer in Singapore, check out the Singapore Hotel Association's list of active deals.
This article was first published in ValueChampion.