Cruising has always been a terrific value for our family. We’ve crunched the numbers many times, often expecting a better value from something like an all-inclusive resort. If we drive to port, and can avoid flying, cruising is surprisingly tough to beat. We are constantly watching prices and related trends in the industry. That’s why a couple of recent stories caught our eyes. First up, Norwegian Cruise Line has banned takeaway food from its ship restaurants, main dining room and buffet areas. Whoa! When we first started cruising we used to love to grab a couple of slices of pizza, and head back to the room to scarf it down in the comfort of our cabin. We don’t do much scarfing in our cabin these days, but if we wanted to, we couldn’t; not on Norwegian thanks to this new policy. No pizza, no dessert, not even a healthy salad. Insert sad face here! But wait Sheri, was does this have to do with prices, or the value of cruises? Ah, well Norwegian recently rolled out a $7.95 fleetwide service charge for room service orders, and many people think the new takeaway food ban was instituted to leave cruisers with the $7.95 room service as the only option for in room munching. Well, we don’t know about that, but the timing is suspicious. It’s not all bad news though. Norwegian has also expanded its room service menus, and reduced specialty dining prices by a nickel. It also waived the cover charge for 12 of the line’s Asian restaurants. When you think about it $7.95 is a pretty good value, especially for our family of 3. Still, the room service fee is a trend we hope doesn’t catch on.
The next story that stood out was the increase in Royal Caribbean, Celebrity daily cruise gratuities. Cruisers on ships sailing after July 1 will be paying more person per day for crew gratuities. According to CruiseCritic.com the new rates will be: $12.95 per person per day (up from $12) for passengers in a standard cabin; $13.45 per person per day (up from $12.50) for those in Concierge Class and Aqua Class rooms; and $16.45 per person per day (up from $15.50) for suite cruisers. This is a tough one, because on the majority, if not all ships we’ve been on the crew have been incredibly hardworking, and certainly deserving of gratitude, and gratuity. So yeah, more money to the crew sounds good. As a related side note; we are somewhat old school, and miss the days when gratuity was not automatic or expected, but rather a reward for exceptional work. In reality we have always had terrific service, so we pay the automatic daily gratuity, and give additional tips to our room steward and other crew. Oh, and we typically give our room steward a little something the first day of the cruise. Maybe that’s why we’ve always had such great service. Of course, technically the gratuity is voluntary, and one could opt-out of the daily fee by going to Guest Services. The bottom line is we definitely think the crew is deserving of a boost in pay, but wish it wasn’t coming so directly from us cruisers. It’s not that much extra, but when you are cruising, all the nickel-and-diming starts to add up, and it’s another trend we hope doesn’t catch on.
Speaking of nickels and dimes. We saved the best news for last. Viking River cruise’s first ocean ship is bringing a “no nickel-and-diming” philosophy to the big blue seas. We love to “unplug” when cruising, but that may be in part because shipboard Internet fees are crazy high. On the Viking Star Internet access is free – in your room right to your smartphone, laptop or whatever! Nice. Not only that, but when you cruise Viking Star, a tour in every port is included in the fare. Unheard of in ocean cruising! But wait there’s more. Beer and wine are said to be included with lunch and dinner at Viking Star restaurants. There’s also no charge for 24 hour room service (cough, hear that Norwegian?). The ship’s two specialty restaurants, Manfredi’s Italian and The Chef’s Table are complimentary. Sodas, Cappuccinos, lattes and other espresso drinks from restaurants and bars are also complimentary. Rumor has it that laundry service and Viking Star spa facilities are free as well. We’ve yet to sail on Viking, but I’ve gotta say if they continue with this philosophy, we’ll be booking soon. I should point out that there are other “luxury lines” that apply a similar no-nickel-and-diming philosophy, and the total cost of the cruise on a luxury line will likely be more than that of a mainstream line like Royal Caribbean. Still, we’d love it if no-nickel-and-diming became a trend that caught on with more conventional lines.