Cruising a la Carte: For-Fee Steak & Lobster in the Main Dining Room?

October 16, 2012 | By | 22 Comments

On today’s cruise ships, added fees are appearing in venues where nary an extra nickel or dime was once extracted. Bars serve up-charge sliders. Buffets levy nominal fees for fondue and crab. A public (cruise ship) lawn turns into pricey village green. Even waiting in line has gotten more expensive. (Base cruise fares, as readers frequently point out, have not.)
It’s not just cruising, of course. The travel industry has gone a la carte.

A prime example of the new normal: Regular Cruise Critic contributor and publisher of Cruise Business Review, Teijo Niemela, sent us the above pic of Jewel of the Seas‘ main dining room menu. The menu suggests passengers celebrate their cravings by purchasing a $15 filet or $37.50 surf ‘n’ turf. Now, these options aren’t new. Royal’s MDR’s have offered a la carte steaks since 2008. But a few months ago, surf joined turf, and more recently, prices were hiked.
(Note: A fee-free surf ‘n’ turf variant — petit filet and baked jumbo shrimp — does still appear on Royal’s MDR menu.)
We’re not sure why a 15 percent auto-gratuity is attached to a main dining room food item — does the waiter bow and wave enthusiastically while shouting “bon appetit!” for those who order the up-charge option? That auto-tax is typically reserved for cocktails. We’ve asked Royal Caribbean for clarification.
Given cruise lines’ penchant for flattering one another, few would be surprised to see other lines adding extra cost specialty items to MDRs, those long-time bastions of “free” food.
Is that kosher? What do you think of the bevvy of new for-fee options in main dining rooms, buffets and bars? Do they represent intriguing new options — emphasis on optional — or are they a sign of something more worrying? Weigh in below.
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    22 Responses to “Cruising a la Carte: For-Fee Steak & Lobster in the Main Dining Room?”

    1. Marie
      October 16th, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

      Come on you have to keep this in perspective, cruising is a fraction of the price of what it used to be so to expect lobster to still be included isnt really realistic is it. I am quite happy to pay for a few extras if I want them because the cost of the cruise is such good value now especially on Royal Caribbean, I think some guests expect it all, cheap cruises but still 5 star luxury and everything included, it’s just unrealistic, these cruise lines do have businesses to run and I for one can’t complain about anything on my last cruise.

    2. Kyla
      October 16th, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

      This would be a major bummer if it started being the trend on other cruise lines. One of the best parts about cruising is being able to try foods I typically don’t get at home without worrying about the cost. Steak isn’t a regular part of my diet, but I enjoy it when I’m cruising. We won’t order lobster when we’re at home, but we’ll give it a try on a cruise ship.

      If this starts happening on all cruise lines, I may reconsider my semi-regular cruise vacations.

    3. Rick
      October 16th, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

      Sorry Marie, but cruise prices are NOT a fraction of what they used to be. If anything they are more, sometimes we get charged for gas! Also on some cruises the quality of food has dereased. I’m ok with going to the specialty resturants and paying extra there and I’m ok with paying high prices for beer and mixed drinks, but it should be our choice. One of the best things about cruising is knowing that meals are included.If would not be exciting to get dressed up in a tux or fancy dress to go eat at the buffet because its free, the main dining room is one of the highlights of cruising. If cruise lines started charging for steak and lobster in the main dining rooms, more people would go to the buffets and order room service. “Just Saying”

    4. Brian
      October 16th, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

      I will just ignore the upcharge items in the MDR, opting instead to save those for splurge night in one of the alternative restaurants. I find enough variety on the “free” menu to satisfy my culinary adventureousness. It’s all good!

    5. Robert
      October 16th, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

      It Does not really make sense to order upcharge items in the MDR when for the same price you could go to Chops or one of the other specialty restaurants!

    6. Marie
      October 17th, 2012 @ 5:50 am

      Well Rick not sure who you cruise with but Royal for one do to charge for ‘gas’ as you call it and certainly in the UK pricing of cruising has plummeted over the last 10 years so I’m at a loss why you think it hasn’t, it was once the holidays for the rich, now it is a holiday for the mainstream holiday maker, I would suggest if you want everything included you go for one of the 6 star luxury lines that will charge thousands and housands of dollars for everything to be included, me, I’m quite happy to pay hundreds of pounds and have the choice if I want to pay for a premium steak and lobster, what oteldoyou goth that includes lobster, I for one have never been to one and equally I have never been to a otel that also includes west end shoes, entertainment, ice shows, surf machines, kids clubs, endless amazing food and soft drinks etc etc, if people don’t like what hey get perhaps hey are going on the wrong holiday, I think cruising is exceptional value for money and actually am quite happy to pay under 20pounds for a lobster, I have never had lobstering restaurant for less than 50pounds so it’s still great value.

    7. Marie
      October 17th, 2012 @ 5:51 am

      Sorry meant to say do NOT charge for Gas

    8. Connie
      October 17th, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

      I believe that a cruise is a great way to meet new people or celebrate with existing friends. The round robin style dinner seating used by several cruise lines is a great way to meet and greet.

    9. Kate B in AZ
      October 17th, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

      I don’t think I would be prone to paying these extra fees in the MDR. Would rather do a specialty restaurant for something special. Overall I have no problem with extra charges on board- I like choices! People get thier noses pushed out of joint for paying for extras but try dining in any large city at fine restaurants and spending $50 per person for a good meal. It is not easy! I had glorified apps and a beer in NYC this weekend and it was $70 for two. Dinner at our hotel in Toronto? $160 with tip for crab cakes, fish entre and desert with coffee. I love walking away from dinner with a single flat fee or no fee on a cruise!

    10. Kim
      October 17th, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

      I will not go on a cruise where they charge for anything on the MDR menu. It’s gotten to be ridiculous trying to figure out what is included and what is not. I’ve paid for many a cup of coffee not knowing it was not included in the cruise. We should at least KNOW without investigating that the buffet and MDR are included. In an alternative FOR FEE restaurant – go ahead and charge for surf and turf or crab. If the cruiseline can’t afford to put it on the inclusive MDR menu, then don’t put it on there! We purchase two cabins for our family and I don’t want to have to monitor the kids everytime they get something to eat or order off the menu. I want to be able to tell them that certain restaurants are off limits and let them be free to eat anywhere else they like. Especially on a buffet! Charging for certain items?!? I’d never cruise with that line again!

    11. Marc L
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

      Ridiculous. This just adds more stress to a vacation. If I wanted a la carte, I wouldn’t book a cruise. And if this keeps up, I won’t.

    12. Lynda
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

      The problem isn’t so much the is the fact that everything you do is on a card. You check into the dining room with your card. So if you accidentally pick something without noticing it is extra, you auto get charged for it. Same for the bar extras. You could easily run up your cruise account and if you don’t check it everyday, be in for quite a surprise at the end of the cruise.

    13. Mariefrance
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

      There are still plenty of cruise lines who don’t nickel and dime their passengers and it’s my choice to book those if I prefer not to be charged extra for food in the main dining room.

    14. Terry
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

      I don’t necessarily have a problem with this unless the cruise lines start to limit the quality and quantity of the ‘included’ items. i.e. Burgers, Spaghetti, Casseroles included but everything else that appears a little more upscale at an extra fee.

    15. Mike
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

      I have no problem with the “option” to purchase in the MDR.. however the gratuity I do have a problem with… I already pay my gratuities to the waitstaff.. usually in the form of prepaid.. why do I have to pay again just because I am paying for something in the MDR? Wouldn’t they already be going to get the plate, and bring it to me… how is this added work for the waitstaff? Although I like RCI… I still prefer another cruise line, and luckily they have not established this tactic… yet.

    16. Michael
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

      I am not taking sides, but this comes directly from the RCI web site:
      “Royal Caribbean International reserves the right to impose a fuel supplement of up to $10 per guest per day on all guests if the price of West Texas Intermediate fuel exceeds $65.00 per barrel.”

      So, technically, they can charge for “gas” if the conditions are met. As for the up charges, I’ll just stay away from them.
      If you want a steak, and are willing to pay premium price for it then that’s your business. Since I am preparing for my first cruise, I’m sure I will find enough to enjoy without worrying about their “for fee” additions in the MDR.

    17. Jeffrey C
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

      I’m of the opinion that upselling food in the main dining room is a bad idea. That’s what alternative restaurants are for. I’m not terribly thrilled with upsell premium coffee or fresh squeezed orange juice in the main dining room or buffet either, but I’m willing to tolerate that.

      My main concern that it will breed and spread, kind of like graffiti. Breakfast might get premium eggs benedict, lunch might get premium sandwiches…

    18. Terry
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

      I have to say that cruise prices here in New York have INCREASED over the past several years, Due to todays economy, our family, which used to cruise every year or two, cannot afford to cruise that regularly anymore. We have been on almost 20 cruises over the years and food and service is not up to par as what it used to be. The whole cruising experience was great for us BECAUSE of the fact that everything was included. This nickle and diming of everything these days will turn off many a loyal cruiser….Its been MANY years since I remember actually having a whole lobster in the MDR. The last time lobster was on the menu on NCL, it turned out to be HALF of a tail!!!! I had to ask the waiter for the other HALF….LOL He informed me that I would have to eat this plate first in order for him to bring me the other half of the tail! Give me a break! This trip cost our family of 4 almost $5,000 without airfare and you cant bring me a WHOLE small lobster tail????

    19. Vicki
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

      I’ll have the petit filet and baked jumbo shrimp, thank you very much. Maybe two…

    20. sunbubble
      October 22nd, 2012 @ 6:47 pm

      I once worked out the numbers and concluded that a luxury cruise (some of them!) ends up costing the same as many mainstream cruises. When you add up the cost of gratuities (paid for by TA), alcohol (included), shuttle to town center (included), alternative restaurants (included), airfare (often included), spa (usually get on board credit) — there’s really not much difference. The “sticker price” of the mainstream cruise might look a lot cheaper, but the “equivalent price” — not so much. This, of course is JIMHO!!

    21. sailingshelley
      October 31st, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

      Okay, Let’s be realistic here. I don’t think these charges added to the MDR would be enough to change your preference for vacationing! We can all ignore the upcharges in the MDR and go to your Alternative restaurants for these gems. We enjoy Both venues. As for those with families, certainly parents have enough influence to motivate the kids to read if there are extra charges. If your children are old enough to eat by themselves, surely they can see when the menu lists an extra charge for Lobster and deter from ordering it. Lobster used to be on the menu one time during a cruise but lately it has not always been the case. We have been on several recently where it was not offered. So now if the mood strikes you and your party is not interested in going to an alternative restaurant, you can get this treat ANY night and only you pay for the addition instead of your entire party-is that a good idea!. For us, the charge is okay. Just take it, or leave it-obviously your choice. I do agree though that the additional TIP charge is debatable. It is added to motivate your server to push the upcharge food choices so both the servers and cruise line benefit, making your server a sales person. That is probably not a good idea as far as comfort for the passengers who have no desire to pay in the MDR. Instead of making cruisers pay the TIP, the cruise line should do that in the form of a bonus based on sales and not add additional tip charges to the additional item cost to the diner.

    22. magnusfl
      April 3rd, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

      my first cruise was back in 1980s and prices are in line with what you could get back then the main difrence now is the food quality which has gone way downwhy is why I not been on a cruise as of late

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