Carnival Cruise Lines recently announced that it would begin experimenting with charging for premium steak options in its main dining rooms. The $18 fee will be a trial run for three months, after which time the company will evaluate the results.
Here’s the problem with charging for food in the main dining room – you have already paid for it. Cruise lines gave in to the dreaded fee monster years ago, although in such ways that they have flown under the radar of the average guest. Unlike their airline cousins, whose every fee implementation yields worldwide scorn, the cruise lines have generally been able to implement new fees without drawing significant ire from the general public. Until now.
The beauty of a cruise, and what in great part makes it an affordable travel choice, is the fact that at the very least your accommodations and your food are included in the fare. Yes, there are a gazillion (technical term) add-ons and extra things you can buy onboard, BUT if you avoid these temptations you can still be guaranteed a bed and something to eat.
Several years ago, the cruise lines introduced specialty restaurants, giving passengers new dining options for a reasonable fee. I think the specialty restaurants were a great idea and add a lot to the dining experience. As decent as the main dining rooms can be, it’s nice to have a truly great meal in quiet surroundings with your cruising partner. It’s when the cruise lines start to get greedy that problems ensue.
Today, more than any other time, vacationers are looking for ways to maximize their travel dollars; an increasingly difficult task. Airline fees have made flying extraordinarily expensive for the average family, hotel rates are climbing once again and what should be a moderately priced family vacation suddenly becomes an extravagance. This is where the cruise lines enter.
I have long maintained that cruising is one of the most cost effective ways of taking a trip. They allow you to plan well in advance and even pay in installments should you so choose. The itineraries include several countries and ports of call which would be cost prohibitive to visit independently. Once you are onboard, as I have said, the essentials are already included in the base fare. In my article Save Money – Take a Cruise?, I explain the myriad ways in which the cruise lines try to wring even more money from the traveler, but these are entirely avoidable. No one is forcing you to get a Mai Tai at the pool or pay for the deluxe helicopter excursion.
But, if the cruise lines intend on succumbing to the fee monster and force passengers to pay for every little item, their reign as king of the affordable vacation is over. Steak is only the first step, next it will be other menu items and then once they have exhausted those opportunities, the rest of the trip is fair game. Pretty soon they’ll charge for bag delivery and offer guests the opportunity to buy earlier embarkation and disembarkation times. If the cruise lines decide to go down this thorny path, the options really are limitless. But if they are smart, they won’t.
Personally, I find a la carte pricing a little offensive and deceptive. If you want to make more money, charge more for the base ticket or room and be done with it. The experience of flying on a new airline with the dozens of fees is a nightmare and makes effective budget planning almost impossible. That’s why cruising, until now, has been a welcome relief.
There is something civilized about cruising that you can’t find anywhere else; the high level of service in all areas is part of the appeal. Adding dozens of money making opportunities to these little services would be a disaster and the bill at the end of the trip would come as a shock to most guests.
So I say to the cruise lines, if you want to make more money that’s fine. Yay capitalism! But do it up front and raise your fares. If you insist on succumbing to the fee monster like our friends the airlines, then at least have the decency of dropping your fares, because you can’t have it both ways. If you keep fares the same and begin implementing new fees, people will stop seeing you as a cost effective travel option and soon you will draw as much hatred as the poor, oft-maligned airlines.