Recently I have been rather hopeful about mass marketing (“blue water”) cruising. We are seeing cruise lines make a concerted effort to stabilize their cruise fares, trying to avoid last minute fire sales that only serve to upset passengers that booked far in advance and their travel agents. Some of the cruise lines have been experimenting with more “all inclusive” add-on packages (pre-paid gratuities, alcohol drink packages, etc.).
So it is a disheartening to see a backslide in these efforts. Specifically, I am referring to recent moves by Norwegian Cruise Line. First, they test the waters with enhanced room service menus and a fee for ordering those enhanced menu items. After testing it on two of their newer ships, they implement this across the fleet. On the one hand, it’s nice that you can now order hot breakfast items to be delivered to your room (eggs cooked to order, hot cereal, etc.). But having to pay $7.95 per delivery dampers the enthusiasm for these enhanced menu items.
The obvious response is to not order any enhanced menu items, and room service remains free of charge. So passengers wanting eggs or hot cereal for breakfast could continue going to the buffet or main dining room, get those items, and return to their rooms to enjoy them.
Well, that lasted all of one month before Norwegian Cruise Line announced that they were immediately banning the removal of food from the dining rooms or buffet. The official statement from Norwegian Cruise Line is that “for our guests’ well-being and to maintain a beautiful clean environment for all of our guests to enjoy, we ask that they enjoy their meals while dining at one of our many restaurants.”
Normally I’m an optimist, seeing the best in everything. This time, I’m sorry, but I call bull. A month after implementing the enhanced menu and correlating service fee for room service, I am more likely to believe that they saw an increase in food being removed from the buffet and dining rooms. I’m sure that also caused an increase in stateroom clean up (room stewards having to clean up the plates, silverware, etc., left behind by guests). More importantly, Norwegian Cruise Line was likely not seeing the profit they anticipated from their new enhanced room service menu and the fees they expected to collect as a result.
So what was their response? Did they remove the fee? No. Did they revert back to the traditional free-of-charge menu items (with no enhanced items on the menu)? No. Instead, they ban food outside of restaurants in an attempt to force people to order off the new room service menu, and pay the fee. Had someone put serious thought into this, they would have rolled out the ban on food outside of restaurants first. Then, as a response to complaints, they could have introduced the new menu items and corresponding fee for delivery. Likely there would have been less backlash. The problem now is that if any other cruise line wants to follow suit, even if done in the “right” order, it will simply be seen as a nickel-and-diming money grab on their part, thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line.
Let’s go back to what we have said in the past: if you want to increase revenue, increase the cruise fare (and preferably not that dubious non-commissionable cruise fare that is the bane of every travel agent’s existence). Do not nickel-and-dime the passengers to the point where they will swear off cruising ever again. It is unacceptable, in my opinion, when passengers walk off a ship with a stateroom bill that exceeds what they paid in cruise fare to get on the ship in the first place (souvenir purchases not included).
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com), 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.