It is probably the biggest complaint we hear from clients about cruising; they feel like they are “nickeled and dimed” by the cruise lines. On most cruise lines you have to pay for sodas by the drink or through a soda package. Specialty dining involves additional fees. And then there’s the pressure to pay for spa treatments, buy excursions, pay to play Bingo, etc. We can warn clients and try to prepare them for what to expect, yet they still return and complain about all of the charges they incurred on their stateroom account.
One question that travel professionals have asked countless times, and we’ve yet to receive an answer from the cruise lines, is about gratuities. Why can’t they simply wrap gratuities into the cruise fare and pay the stewards and servers a higher wage? For those that go above and beyond providing service, passengers can still provide a cash tip. But why continue to make gratuities a separate expense? Passengers want more “all-inclusive” pricing, and rolling gratuities into the cruise fare would be one step in that direction. Actually, I’m sure the cruise lines would roll it into the non-commissionable cruise fare (because honestly, why pay us commission on the gratuities?).
In today’s environment gratuities are automatically added to stateroom accounts, and cruise lines make it near impossible to remove them. I do not condone the removal of gratuities, because many passengers that do this do not turn around and tip with cash. They’re simply too cheap to tip at all and chafe at the cruise lines forcing them to do so. However, if they paid their stewards and servers more and just wrapped gratuities into the cruise fare to start with, there’d be no recourse for passengers to try and stiff those crew members.
We’re getting ready for a new increase in gratuities with Norwegian Cruise Line, from $13.50 per passenger per day to $13.99 per passenger per day. An extra $3.43 per passenger on a seven-day cruise really isn’t much in the grand scheme of cruising. But it’s becoming an issue of principle for cruise passengers; making them feel like they’re being nickeled and dimed to death.
This is hitting a raw nerve with many people. With short notice, Royal Caribbean is going to start charging $7.95 per delivery of room service effective March 27, 2017. Passengers in Grand Suites or higher will not have to pay this fee, and the fee won’t apply to continental breakfast, regardless of room category. When Royal Caribbean made this announcement less than two weeks ago, it was in conjunction with the roll out of a new room service menu.
To date, room service has always been complimentary with the exception of the small charge Royal Caribbean rolled out a few years ago for room service orders between midnight and 5:00 AM. Many passengers are upset over the lack of notice about this new fee. Would they cancel their cruise plans over this? I’m skeptical about it. But the fact that this was announced with such little notice doesn’t give anyone a chance to change their cruise plans if room service was that important to them.
Since Royal Caribbean rolled out the late night fee, other cruise lines have followed suit. Other cruise lines moved forward with additional fees as well. Back in 2015, Norwegian Cruise Line started charging for room service regardless of the time of day. And other cruise lines have included fees for certain menu items. But each time that these changes are announced we hear clients crying foul about being nickeled and dimed, and about how little the cruise fare includes these days.
Specialty restaurants are another sore spot with many passengers. It was one thing to have the option to go to a specialty restaurant as a treat. But more and more we hear complaints about the lack of food quality in the main dining rooms; making many passengers feeling forced into paying for specialty dining just so they can enjoy the quality of food they used to experience in the main dining room ten-plus years ago.
What’s the Answer?
It would be nice if the cruise lines made their cruise fares nearly all inclusive, maintained bottled water and beverage packages as an optional add-on, while sodas, room service and gratuities are built into the cruise fare. It would also be nice if cruise lines brought the main dining room food quality back to the standards of years before, rather than lowering the main dining room’s food quality in order to force passengers into paying for specialty dining.
If the cruise lines actually do this, we will need to step up to the plate and educate our clients on why they’re paying a little bit more upfront; so they don’t have to be nickeled and dimed once they’re on a ship.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.