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Nation of Why Not … Charge More

Written by: Kuki

There’s little doubt that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line builds some of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing interiors of any cruise ships at sea. And they have one of the most highly anticipated new ships of the past decade, the Oasis of the Seas set to carry its first passengers in December of 2009. The cruise line has been systematically rolling out new announcements throughout the past year, releasing details about the ship, and many of it’s new innovative features not yet seen onboard a cruise ship. Along with those reveals, they also recently introduced a new advertising campaign; the Nation of Why Not.

With much less pomp and circumstance it was recently revealed – by passengers – not the cruise line’s Public Relations or Marketing departments, that they were adding a new $3.95 charge for room service between the hours of 12 Midnight and 5 A.M. To date, though this news is just quietly leaking out, the reaction has been surprisingly subdued. Could it be that the cruise lines have now got the passengers so conditioned to paying extra for so many things onboard, over and above their cruise fares, that passengers simply collectively shrug their shoulders and accept the additional charge without a whimper because it’s only a paultry $.395? RCI seems to be acting as though that is the case.

RCI is obviously continuing to try and find new ways to increase the onboard spending of their passengers. Just months ago they attempted to sell their “the choice” of a better quality steak in their dining rooms for an additional fee. The move was met by such a quick and negative backlash from customers. A wise move, particularly because the cruise line is already offering “better quality” steaks on it’s ships which had alternate restaurants – with a surcharge in place.

For many years a big draw of cruising was the “near” all-inclusive nature of the vacation. In fact, their main source of competition, aside from other cruise lines, were the land based all-inclusive resorts. For years I maintained that one could easily compare the value of a cruise vacation to an all inclusive resort, and the cruise would almost always be a better buy. That judgement line muddies as the cruise lines stay with the trend of adding many more al a carte options for a price.

While the $3.95 room service charge may seem insignificant I do wonder aloud if this strategy could be “the straw that breaks the camels back”? It seems to me that this is an example of the “nickel & diming” strategies of the cruise lines, now running amok.

In times, with thoughts of economic uncertainty front and center in people’s minds, one would think the cruise lines would be considering ways to attract more people, and convince them their vacations dollars will be well spent, and they’ll receive full value for their dollars. If anything I’d be expecting to see lower cruise fares being offered in the face of the financially struggling marketplace .

In my blog last week I talked about cruisers generally being an optimistic group, who loved their cruise vacations, and would do whatever possible to include a cruise vacation in their plans, despite tougher financial situations. I think now, perhaps RCI has an exaggerated and likely undeserved optimism in regard to their target audience.

I believed I was seeing a bit of a trend by RCI , possibly pricing themselves out of their own market with the increased cruise fares; now tacking on this $3.95 fee for room service, they could easily be giving more people yet another reason to pause and look elsewhere.

It may be a bit of a superiority complex they’ve developed because of the beautiful ships they’ve been delivering. However, on our message boards at CruiseMates we’ve already begun seeing examples of previously dedicated RCI repeat cruisers admitting to abandoning future cruises with RCI in favour of the lower fares other cruise lines are offering.

The public reaction can easily be underestimated. We’re very likely not to balk at higher priced offerings, such as alternate restaurants, because we can see the possibility of getting value for the money we spend. Yet, something so small as a $3.95 fee could quite easily turn the public away, because we see it as a direct additional charge offering NO added value.

What does $3.95 mean to you? Are you one of those who will acceptingly shrug your shoulders? Or is that seemingly insignificant $3.95 enough to drive you to try a different cruise line? To me, it’s enough to drive me up a wall.  Ooops… that means I have to cruise RCI.

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

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Comments

Pingback from Cruisemates Blog » Nation of Why Not … Charge More – Kuki | boathugger.com
Time January 7, 2009 at 2:31 am

[...] Cruisemates Blog » Nation of Why Not … Charge More – Kuki [...]

Comment from Paul Motter
Time January 7, 2009 at 5:01 am

Kuki…

Normally one can say “it’s an optional charge, no one has to get that service.” but in fact as far as I know Royal Caribbean does not offer any other food options at those wee hours. Or do they? Do they have the Pizza stall open 24-hours like Carnival does (I honestly do not recall).

If indeed that is your only food option during those hours then I agree it is an unjust charge – not in the implied contract ships have with cruisers to make sure there is always food available at no cost.

I was a bit saddened to see Princess even offering special room service items – a romantic dinner on your balcony ($100) or a New York sailaway special ($25 for Coney Island hotdogs as you sail past the Statue of Liberty). But those were PURELY optional charges.

So I agree with you on this one – the beginning of non-avoidable extra charges for regular service is not within the scope of the concept of cruising. Not for food when someone has no other alternative.

Yes, it is only $3.95, but still… its the principle of the matter. What next?

I was actually saddened to see tipping for room service come about. I’d like know what idiot started that idea (It didn’t exist ten years ago). That was the beggining of the first “mandatory” real-time onboard service tip ever – previously all tipping was done at the end of the cruise.

Adding service charges to every drink tab PLUS a space for “additional tip” is also a huge afront in my opinion. Isn’t one 15% service charge good enough? but now you want us to give an added tip? I looked at that as a bit of a joke until I had a waiter on another line staring over my shoulder as I signed the bill and make a comment when I nulled out the added tip. He said “I beg your pardon?” to me. I said “I’m sorry, is there a problem??” and he repeated it, pointing to the added tip I had drawn a null sign next to. I asked seriously “Is there a problem?” and he said “no problem” and walked away…

I don’t know if that was just a misunderstanding. Maybe he wasn’t used to seeing people make a mark like that. But to me it appeared as if he was implying strongly that I was supposed to add a tip to the already existing 15% service charge. No way, 15% is a big tip already. I don’t know what these cruise lines are thinking with that.

But it STILL isn’t as bad as hotel room service where you get the price of the food, a delivery fee, a room service service fee AND the deliverer standing there waiting for a tip. That is just ridiculous. A $5 sandwich will cost you $18 when its over. At least cruises are still far ahead of hotels in that department.

It is just disheatening anytine you see a cruise line ruin one of the specific things that makes cruising so special.

Don’t they realize that telling a cruise virgin they can order room service at any time for no charge has always been one of the TOP bragging points about the entire concept of cruising?

Yes, it is nickel & diming, but it has always been optional nickel & diming. Not this one – it is something like extortion, pay the fee or go hungry.

Now, I understand they probably get hundreds of 4:00 calls where someone just says “I want some cookies” – OK, they don’t need those cookies, but what if someone is starving but really doesn’t want to pay the service charge? We know there are kids and spouses who would go hungry rather than run up an “unauthorized charge” on the account of the husband/wife/mom/dad. That is just sad.

Comment from Roger Howard
Time January 7, 2009 at 6:41 am

Just have to comment on this. My wife and I were aboard RCI’s Majesty of the Seas in December of 2007 for what was a wonderful 4 night cruise. Entering the Windjammer Cafe for breakfast one morning a member of the dinning staff was standing by a juicing machine squeezing oranges into juice and repeatedly announcing “fresh squeezed orange juice.” After getting our food and settling in at a table I told my wife I would get her a glass. As I approached the table where the juice was being served I looked down and saw a sign saying the juice cost 3.50 a glass. I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around. I thought that this was an awful way to further nickel and dime people. For the 30 minutes or so that we were there my wife and I counted 27 people who approached the table for orange juice. In what I hope is a message to RCI only 4 walked away with a glass of juice.

Comment from Mike
Time January 7, 2009 at 7:52 am

RCI has done an NCL PR mess up, given the relatively small amount of money they are going to raise by making these charges the cost PR wise has ore than cancelled out any savings in food or extra income they may have made.

Seriously if you are in one of the top suites on any ship would you expect to pay for room service ? And even if not in a suite they advertise crusing as being all inclusive with obvious exceptions – RCI you are just being tight.

Comment from Snoozeman
Time January 7, 2009 at 11:16 am

On Sunday the Voyager of the Seas was 4+ hours late docking in Galveston because the harbor was closed due to fog. We all know the kinds of problems this causes in the routine and how the delays roll back everything on the schedule. People who arrived early at the terminal were looking at long delays before boarding as one would expect. In the late afternoon, Royal Caribbean furnished box lunches to all in the Terminal who needed them. They did not charge $3.95, these were freely given although the delay was in no way the fault of RCCL. I thought this should be mentioned as I don’t think RCCL is a heartless company trying to get every nickel & dime from the passengers as some may be insinuating.

Comment from Jessica
Time January 7, 2009 at 11:24 am

I would say that $3.95 for room service would probably not be a big deal given anywhere else you pay generously for it, but RCIs room service sucks, at best. My sister and her friend had to wait 2 hours for food that showed up cold. I’ve never used anyone’s room service but have been with others that have, and Carnival has NEVER been slow with it.

I do have to say I love RCIs new commercial’s I think their advertising department was ingenious in coming up with this idea :)

Comment from Kuki
Time January 7, 2009 at 11:59 am

I will say that when I owned restaurants, from a financial perspective, we’d much prefer people order a la carte menu items to doing a buffet. Controlling costs for a buffet is much more difficult process than made to order.

Though the cruise lines do “recycle” dinner items for the next day’s buffets, by using unorderded items in a “new” recipe for a lunch buffet item.

I might only order from room service late at night once in a cruise (if that), and that’s mostly because I am writing my virtual cruise reports late at night. So it’s not that it would have a drastic affect on me with the charge.

I do wonder though, it this fades in without much backlash, when it goes to $5.95 at night, and $3.95 other times.

Or when you may be able to purchase your preferred dining time, or can buy the time you’d like to disembark.

The comparison to land based hotels is not relavant in this case, because cruises are marketed as “near” all-inclusive. They themselves compare themselves to land based all-inclusives.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time January 7, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I think it is important to draw the distinction between shipboard policies and snafus, and cruise line intiated policy changes.

If I encounter a bad waiter, that is a shipboard problem, same if room service is late. It is not right to blame the cruise line for these problems because we know they do not plan to make room service late.

But this hidden charge is a cruise line policy, and I agree it is a mistake. Passengers are used to signing tickets for room service on some cruise lines already. The days when they add the service charge will go unnoticed for most people.

One has to wonder – is this policy worth the bad publicity and negative feelings? How much could they possibly make per cruise with this service charge?

Kuki – regarding your buffet comments, it is interesting but I wonder if it holds up when you can so easily predict exactly how many people you need to feed and what they will eat. When the cruise line do buffets fleetwide hundreds of times a month you have to figure they have it down to a science.

Comment from Kuki
Time January 7, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Paul… even with my experience in the restaurant business, I’m amazed at how good the inventory control on the cruise lines is.

I’ve toured many of the storage and prep areas, and got brief looks at both the daily and weekly reports they use to enable them to order stores so much in advance.

They do have a “pretty good idea” of how much they’ll go through, and for how many. But for a buffet it is tricky planning. You want to keep your selection full, and cook it as close to the time it’s going to be consumed as possible.

Though we do hear about particular cruises, where they run out of items on a cruise, overall the cruise lines are pretty good about having enough of things.

The quality of the food at buffets is, of course, an open ended conversation.

My point was more about the general over higher costs of running the buffet, as opposed to the cost of running room service, or dining rooms. And pointing out that food waste would be more doing buffet service.

For example.. if Princess didn’t have the 24 hr horizon court, and strictly operated room service, I have no doubt their costs would be lower, not higher.
The keep it because it’s part of the Princess cruise experience they market to their guests.

Yet they’ll sell you Haagen das ice cream. Sometimes these decisions are simply odd, but there are executives making them.

As customers I think we need to tell them when their wrong….. instead of waiting to hear someone’s litany of a bad experience, ending in, “and they have the nerve to charge you $3.95 for a crappy…….. from room service.

Comment from Todd De Haven
Time January 7, 2009 at 5:21 pm

I was reading what was called a book (I’d call it a long article) about a cruise on the German Liner Bremen in 1930. The piece, obviously promotional by Nord Deutscher Lloyd and authored by an American freelance writer, went into great detail about ever division of the ship.

One I found fascinating was that even as far back as 1930 (and remember, in those days you could dream up something for dinner that you’d think wouldn’t ever be available on board a ship and lo and behold you’d receive it) not to mention the natural subtle changes in nationalities of passengers, those preferences, etc. Yet they knew almost exactly how many eggs would be consumed, the number of bottles of specific wines, the number of gallons of milk, how many pounds of bacon, how much American ketchup would be needed and the amount of English tea for the British passengers, etc., etc. It was some kind of averaging of course, but it was made clear that the methodology was a strictly held secret.

As far as the $3.95 charge, I am not experienced enough as a cruiser (having only been on two, both same ship, same basic itinerary with a third this June) to make an informed statement. I also have never ordered room service. I do, however, see the point.

to be honest, though, I thought the nickel and diming was bad the first time I cruised (as I’ve since learned it is on all but the premium lines) and then last June I don’t recall it being any more prevalent.

Comment from Marc
Time January 7, 2009 at 5:28 pm

With regard to the $3.95 charge, I think it was instituted to get people to think twice about ordering room service between midnight and 0500. If they can lower room service staffing requirements for those five hours, combined with other labor saving ideas, they may be able to lower crew size thus saving significant money.

With respect to the nickel and diming, it is interesting that Regent Seven Seas Cruises has added free excursions (with minimal restrictions) to 35 cruises in 2009 and their South America and World Cruises in 2010. I figure this will save me over $2,000 for our 2009 cruise since it includes three days in St Petersburg. Of course, my real preference would be to lower the cruise fare but I will take whatever I can get. With free drinks, free internet, free excursions, free newspapers, and tips included, I don’t know how I will spend my shipboard credit. :-)

Comment from Paul Motter
Time January 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Marc – I agree on why it was done, I htink that is obvious. But I think it was a bad idea for customer relations reasons.

Also – I love the freee shore excusrions idea. One of the best I have ever heard in terms of enticing me to want to book a cruise.

However – they are large revenue generators, so I doubt many cruise lines will follow.

I wish more people realized that river cruises usually give free shore excursions – part of their intrinsic vale.

Comment from Kuki
Time January 7, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Marc.. certainly in these “times” the luxury lines are going to have to find ways to compete for what’s a likely shrinking market (hopefully only temporary). And as they compete, they may well come into the price ranges that will cause new people to take a look.
Regent’s program sounds like it was well thought out, and I too like the idea of the free excursions, particularly in Europe, and more exotic destinations. In the Caribbean, it wouldn’t mean much to me.

Paul wrote an excellent feature article about Luxury Cruise Bargains recently
http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/feature/LuxuryCruiseBargains-121208.cfm

And I think it’s clear for those booking suite categories on major lines, the Lux lines are definitely worth taking a look for close comparisons.

On the flip side, if I had booked a Royal Suite on RCI, and they wanted to charge me $3.95 for a late night snack I’d be really CRANKY :)

Comment from Mike M
Time January 8, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I am not a fan of the “additional” charges that are becoming more prominent on cruise lines. Cruise lines such as NCL do not hide the fact that there are additional charges for alternative restaurants, specialty coffee etc. but they give people alternatives so they do not have to pay for or use the product or venue. You also have alternatives to cruise other lines.

The problem is that things that were once free are now being charged for and many cruisers take the “Stepford Cruiser” approach and will not complain or voice their displeasure via a letter or a comment on their comment card. The cruisers who cruise with the attitude of “Everything is great as long as I don’t have to make my bed and all the food is wonderful as long as I don’t have to make it.”. These cruisers have as great of a negative impact on the overall quality of the cruise experience as the chronic complainer who cannot be pleased or is looking for a freebie from the cruise line.

If all someone is looking for is not to make their bed or fix their own meals, there is a Motel 6 and a Cracker Barrel that will be glad to take your money for a week.

People need to voice their displeasure with a change and do so in a rational, calm but firm manner so the cruise lines get the message. The cruise lines are a business and they will try to find new sources of revenue and cut costs to the point that it negatively effects their bottom line.

When spending thousands of dollars on a cruise people need to make sure they are getting value for their money and not blindly accept every change and charge or nothing will be included in your cruise fare except your room.

Take care,
Mike

Comment from Kuki
Time January 8, 2009 at 5:58 pm

I think I hear the other show dropping already…. (or is being thrown?).
Have no verificiation of this, but I heard RCI is now planning on offering Johny Rockets “better burgers” on their room service menu…. you guessed it… for an ADDITIONAL FEE!

Comment from Namvet4
Time January 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

“nickel and diming” is a fact of life in ALL service industries due to current economic conditions. If your writing to decry that, you are preaching to the choir! If you are writing because you feel that the introduction of the policy was poorly, or totally “UN” handled by RCI, then you have a legitimate point. You are the final arbiter of your spending. You challenge the cruise line on the policy and voice your displeasure; this is what generates feedback that hopefully the cruise line reads. Will there be more instances of this type of “policy change” being implemented? Does the sun rise in the East!?!? ;)

Comment from Kuki
Time January 11, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Namvet… thanks for the comment. The blog was written to both express my annoyance with the manner RCI handled the roll out of it, and other increases, and planned increases. And also to inform those who would otherwise be uninformed until they were onboard.
Once informed, of course, as you say, everyone has their choice of whether to pay or not, or whether to go elsewhere or not…. but at least they do so informed.

Comment from Bill
Time January 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I heard RCI is now planning on offering quote: Johny Rockets “better burgers” on their room service menu…. you guessed it… for an ADDITIONAL FEE!
Better burgers? I have eaton JR burgers both on land and on RCI, and while I have not tried RCI’s “kitchen burgers”, I have tried Carnival’s, and they are better than JR’s.

Comment from Gail
Time January 19, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I hate the nickle and diming! I used to cruise cause it was the ‘all inclusive’ nature of the trip. Charging for all these extras has turned me off. I’ll change to land resorts…cruising has changed so much as far as I’m concerned…for the worse…long lines, poor food, poor service, charging for these extras…no thanks

Pingback from Cruisemates Blog » Is Royal Caribbean Trying to Swim Upstream? – Kuki
Time March 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

[...] Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean The truth is, the cruise industry always experiences a doldrums…Nation of Why Not … Charge More There’s little doubt that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line builds some…Cruising In A Suite Is Sweet [...]

Comment from John Belt
Time May 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

Namvet4 (and others) stated that “in these economic times”(I am paraphrasing here) indutries need to ‘nickel and dime’ to get by. That’s all well and good, but what happens when these hard times are over? Will the cruise indutry, not to mention all the other industries and government agencies for that matter, go back to business as before? Or, as is most likely the case, will they continue with these new revenue streams, using the new cash cow for all it’s worth?

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