This year has seen a flurry of change and evolution throughout the cruise industry as lines continue to not only offer a steady flow of new ships but have also announced some exciting mew changes that offer cruise passengers more choice and flexibility. New concepts such as "Freestyle Cruising" from NCL and "Personal Choice Dining" from princess have finally broken down the barriers of regimentation that have deterred many passengers from cruising. And NCL and Princess are not alone in offering passengers more options as almost all cruise lines are offering passengers alternative dining venues, but come with surcharges from $6 to $20 per person. And with the introduction of more perks and facilities exclusive to suite passengers, we're seeing an re-emergence of class stratification in the cruise industry.
Carnival will introduce it's Nouveau Supper Club, Celebrity offers it's "maritime" themed gourmet restaurants, Costa offers Cafe Zeffrino and Club Atlantica. These are but a few. But with all this change, comes controversy. Many veteran passengers contend that all of these alternatives are just a way for the cruise lines to extract more revenue from their passengers in the face of rampant and feverish discounting in the industry. And no one sparked more controversy than NCL's CEO Colin Veitch when he hinted that NCL may adopt a "pay as you go" dining policy in the future. Some passengers are "crying foul" and think this is all a sinister plot on the part of the cruise lines to offer mediocre food and service to standard cabin passengers and charge them for every little thing while offering Suite passengers top notch food, service and extra perks. To this I say "More Power to the Cruise Lines", bring on the change and bring on the options!
If I owned a cruise line, I would take these concepts and run with them, and offer more and different services. Not only to suite passengers, but to all passengers. I would take the Star/NCL concept and expand upon it. Something for everyone at a price everyone can afford!
Dining: All passengers would be entitled to dine in the main restaurants and buffet which would offer high quality, cruise ship standard cuisine. Basically what everyone is now receiving aboard mainstream lines such as Carnival, Celebrity, NCL, Princess and RCI. But I would also offer a variety of gourmet dining venues which would be available at extra charge. Suite passengers would receive "credits" that would cover the cost of dining in these establishments for the length of the cruise.
Entertainment: As with the dining, all passengers would have equal access to the entertainment aboard but Suite Passengers would be given preferred seating in the showlounges. Suite passengers would also receive credits or gratis admission to any extra charge venues or events such as wine tastings, rock climbing ice skating etc.
Service: Suite Passengers would of course receive a higher level of service and pampering. I would emulate the policies and facilities that you find at the finest hotels. They would have their own exclusive lounge, in the same vein as the suite lounges as Holland America and the Queens grill Lounge on QE2. There would also be separate check in. Not a separate check in line or booth, but "in suite check in". In this day and age of Lap Tops and hand held PC devices, there is no reason why this should not be done. Passengers would merely present themselves to an attendant on the pier where documents and ID are presented. They would then be whisked on board and to their accommodations where canapes and champagne are waiting. A member of the ship's staff would then complete a thorough check of all documentation and take necessary credit card information in the comfort of the suite.
Facilities: I would also include a separate pool/spa area for high tariff/high revenue passengers. An area similar to the Solarium Pools on RCI and Aqua Spas on Celebrity. The area would not be exclusive, but would be available, for a nominal charge to standard passengers It would be an ultra relaxing and civilized respite complete with ultra comfortable chaise lounges, thick robes and towels, and solicitous attendants would dote on and fawn over passengers.
Tipping: With the ever increasing trend towards "auto charging" tips to passengers accounts, I would eliminate tipping altogether. Personally, I would much rather have the cruise line incorporate the $75 or so per person, per week into the cruise fare and have them adjust the salaries of those servers accordingly. This policy would be clearly stated in all promotional material and aboard ship alerting passengers to the fact that the basic tips had already been included in their cruise fare and how much had been allotted to each server. In this respect, it would be a "tipping not required" environment and any solicitation of tips would be expressly forbidden. But passengers would be free to bestow employees with a few extra dollars if they found the service exceptional.
In the end, I think implementation of the above concepts would be a "win win" for all concerned. In my opinion, it would help keep cruise prices at a reasonable level and encourage the cruise lines to incorporate more, unique and better facilities and services but would also help defray the cost of doing so. All of the "standard" inclusions that you find today would remain, but passengers would be offered more "options" and flexibility. And passengers occupying Deluxe and Suite accommodations would receive many value added benefits that are sorely absent from cruise ships but found at many fine, land side resorts.