Nickel and Diming on Cruise Ships
Written by: Paul Motter
Kuki’s recent blog, “Cruise Lines in Flux,” cites recently adopted onboard revenue enhancing techniques some cruise lines are now using in the face of lower cruise fares. One travel agent commented that there is a good reason for this – because his callers are only concerned about one thing – price. When the basic price of a cruise becomes the customer’s primary concern, it is that much more important for cruise lines to compete with lower cruise fares. And when cruise fares drop to historic lows the only way to make up lost revenue is by selling more onboard.
NCL’s just announced last quarter earnings were surprisingly better than expected while they fill their ships beyond the 100% occupancy level. How does that work? Cruise ships count all of the permanent berths, generally two people per cabin, as their full occupancy, but when you add third or fourth guests to a cabin built for two people the ship’s occupancy goes beyond 100%.
The cruise industry works under what is called a “full occupancy business model.” Most cruise lines have determined it is better to fill a ship at almost any price and those bodies onboard create more potential revenue from onboard sales.
Since we all know that cruise fares are at historically low levels – why are we suddenly surprised when we see measures to increase revenue onboard? Of course the cruise lines are going to try to make more money when and where they can. Every leisure industry does it. Resort hotels are suddenly charging towel fees and other vague “resort fees.” Some airlines are charging for each bag, blanket, pillow and soda.
Are the cruise lines doing anything any other travel and leisure company is not doing? No, in fact they are less guilty than most.
Arthur Frommer, the renowned travel writer now in his 70s, recently wrote a piece decrying the state of the cruise industry. According to Arthur, a cruise is supposed to be only about the experience of being at sea; with your deck chair, a cup of bullion, a blanket and the open sea air. Arthur’s complaint was about all that “extra stuff you see on cruise ships these days, like boxing rings, rock climbing walls and water slides.” Those things have no place on a cruise ship, says Arthur. Well Arthur, no one is forcing you to get in that boxing ring, and furthermore there is no extra charge for any of those things. So what is the harm?
If you believe that cruise ships are doing too much nickel and diming these days then my assumption is that you somehow believe everything you see is costing you money, whether you actually spend any extra money or not. I suggest you and Arthur get together and take a cruise on the oldest ship you can find so you won’t see anything other than a cabin, dining room and deck chairs. Heaven forbid you might actually see an optional activity that carries a service fee.
Or you can go on a beautiful brand new cruise ship and just not spend any extra money, because the truth is that no one is twisting your arm to spend an extra penny on anything.
To the travel agent complaining about customers calling him and only asking about price, it is your job to educate people on the value of cruising. You need to tell them there is excellent food, great entertainment and exotic destinations all available to them for basic cruise fares that are at historic lows. When I see a seven-night cruise to Alaska selling for $249 per person I don’t want to hear about cruise ships “nickel and diming” customers. It isn’t nickel and diming unless they are charging for things you must buy that used to be given away for free.
Princess has been accused of “nickel and diming” ever since they opened their first Haagen Dazs ice cream parlor onboard. They do charge for ice cream, but no one is forcing you to buy it. You can still get desserts in the dining rooms and buffet areas for no extra charge. You can even call room service and get ice cream any time of day. The newest Princess ships have fantastic gelato. You can get two, four or six scoops and the charge for six scoops is about two dollars. Six scoops of gelato is enough for three or four people. If you went to your local toney mall, the gelato parlor there would charge you close to $10 for the same amount.
Royal Caribbean’s newer ships have Flowrider wave machines, great water parks with water slides, miniature golf, inline skating, ice skating, rock climbing and other sports fun. They do not charge you to use any of them. They will rent skates to you although you can bring your own if you want. Where is the nickel and diming there?
Carnival Cruise Lines has sushi bars on their ships – free soft-serve icecream all day long (RCL and NCL also have this). They have giant movie screens by the pools with “movies under the stars” at night. Here in Phoenix the hotel resorts charge residents for a pool pass to use the water slides and about $12 per person just to enter the pool area during movies at night. Sushi? Expect to pay about $30 per person. Not on Carnival – no extra charge for any of those items. So where is the nickel and diming?
Princess for a little while many years back tried putting a disposable film camera in your room mid-cruise. At first it appeared to be a gift from Princess until you read the fine print that said your room account would be charged $10 if you opened the package. A lot of people referred to that practice as “nickel & diming,” but if it isn’t obligatory then it isn’t nickel & diming. It was a bit deceptive for people who didn’t read the instructions carefully but at the same time I know for a fact that Princess took a lot of unused cameras off of guests’ final bills before they discontinued the practice.
Royal Caribbean now charges a $2.99 delivery fee for room service between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Is that nickel and diming? If you are so hungry at those wee hours that you just have to have food NOW then I don’t think $2.99 is a lot to pay. Not that hungry, then why are you calling room service anyway? Granted, it is a service that used to be free that they are now charging for, but you paid $300 less for your cruise and no one is making you order room service at 3:30 a.m. Put on your gym clothes and go to the free pizza parlor open all night.
Bottom line – if you are complaining about nickel and diming you are overlooking the obvious – that cruising is now a better value than ever in history. Cruise fares are unbelievably low and you still get everything a cruise ever promised you – and more. Maybe they are not giving their most loyal repeat cruisers the same cocktail they used to give them every night, but consider that former practice as a bonus they could afford when cruises cost twice as much. Dollar for dollar you are still better off now.
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