Alongside the staple at-sea fears — the demonic Caribbean sun, ocean squalls and the drunken passenger who mistakes your cabin for his — is a new at-sea terror: added fees. Cheekiness aside, we’ve rounded up seven surcharges representing the frightening new normal of cruise pricing. Are the charges optional? Sure. But that doesn’t lessen our dread upon spotting a $37 surf ‘n’ turf on the main dining room menu or seeing a $30 corkage fee applied to our novelty size bottle of wine.
Royal’s main dining room steak and lobster. Royal Caribbean’s recently updated MDR menus encourage passengers to celebrate their cravings with a $15 filet or $37.50 surf ‘n’ turf. (Picture here.) Since cruise time immemorial, these options were “free” on at least one night in the MDR, that former haven of included cuisine. The freebies are still there, but they’re shrinking in size and quality. RCI’s dining rooms have offered a la carte steaks since 2008, and in June, surf joined turf. While Royal is alone in offering up-charge steaks and seafood in the MDR, we wouldn’t be surprised to see others adding such “options.” But what might be more frightening than the food is the confusing 15 percent gratuity Royal levies. The food is certainly unique; the service and venue are not. There is no special presentation of the lobster, no dancing crustacean or earnest rendition of “Under the Sea.”
Celebrity’s Lawn Club cabanas. Celebrity’s five Solstice-class ships feature perhaps cruising’s most iconic sun deck space, the grassy Lawn Club. But the addition of added fee experiences — private cabanas, or Alcoves — on versions four (Celebrity Silhouette) and five (Celebrity Reflection) have transformed the public park into a more exclusive village green. The eight four-person Alcoves certainly are photogenic: white wicker chairs and chaises with thick striped cushions, potted shrubbery and a canvas roof that stretches sail-like over occupants, all set atop the signature soft carpet of grass. The added cost is $99 (port day) and $145 (sea day), which includes bottled water, fruit and use of a loaded iPad 2 (wine and picnic package start at $50). The issue of cost relates to our main gripe. Alcoves occupy prime real estate open to book-and-towel-toting passengers on Solstice, Equinox and Eclipse, who can plop down, surcharge-free, on sunny days.
Late-night room service fees. 3:33 a.m. can be scary enough without having to pay $3.95 for room service, the fee levied between midnight and 5 a.m. by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Both argue that the fee is about reducing food waste. Passengers on the edge of sleep order food, then conk out before it arrives. We’ll buy that, but it also bears mentioning that a formerly “free” service now generates revenue, too. It’s a win-win for the line. Still, passengers with late-night cravings can get their fixes without any added fees, provided they’re alert enough to leave the cabin and head to one of NCL or RCI’s 24-hour dining venues.
Corkage fees. While most mainstream mega-ship lines officially forbid passengers from bringing liquor and beer onboard, wine is fine. Want to drink your bottle in the main dining room? You’ll pay anywhere from (a modest) $10 to a more dubious $30. This is a reasonably standard charge for a land-based restaurant with a wine list, but what really gets us are the cruise lines that charge the fee even if a waiter never gets anywhere near your cork. NCL, for instance, puts a levy on all wine brought onboard. Check out our comprehensive guide to cruise line alcohol policies for more.
Paying to cut in line. When Carnival introduced Faster to the Fun, a $49.95 program that gives a capacity-controlled number of passengers early boarding, early cabin check-in and a special line at Guest Services, many readers were miffed. The most loyal Carnival cruisers, the Diamonds and Platinums, already enjoyed those perks — would letting people opt in for $50 dilute what the elites’ loyalty had “earned”? “I think it devaluates the loyalty that people have, and were/are willing to show to any organization, when you start selling those perks for a fee,” Facebook follower Andi Scott posted, echoing a common sentiment. Still, not all are opposed. At the time of the announcement, a Cruise Critic poll found that 30 percent would pay for the perks. The debate continues on the message boards, with equal parts lauding and lambasting.
Ascending alternative restaurant surcharges. The price and number of alternative dining options have expanded like an overfilled soufflé. Where just over a decade ago, a $5 surcharge — a tip, lines called it — would appear in the one added-fee specialty venue, today’s newest mega-ships feature the $30-a-head steakhouse, the $39 Le Cirque-themed restaurant and, in Disney Cruise Line’s case, the $75 per person French venue, Remy. Jason Lasecki, DCL’s public relations director, addressed the fee in early 2011, when the restaurant debuted on Disney Dream. “This is not just a specialty restaurant, it’s an eight-to-nine-course culinary journey featuring dishes exquisitely crafted by two-star Michelin chef Arnaud Lallement and AAA five-diamond award winning chef Scott Hunnel.” Other explanations of up-charge dining focus on the intimacy and value — even at $40 a person sans wine. But the price creep has worried many cruisers. “They are making more and more venues available for a ‘small fee’ and it seems to be getting to the point where you’re not really getting the full experience unless you do try some of these out,” wrote Stags14.
For-fee … bathrobes. This is a new one for us. Many mega-ship lines, including Carnival and Celebrity, provide bathrobes to all passengers as an included perk. P&O Cruises Australia offers those icons of leisure to suite pax — and charges $29.95 AU for anyone else who wants a robe. The one benefit: It might diminish the chances of seeing a bathrobe-clad passenger in the buffet or casino. The horror.
Not chilled by any of our picks? Share your own in the comments or tell us where we went wrong.
Oh, you thought everything should be included in the fare? See 20 great fee-free options that still are.
If you’d rather pay for everything up front — even if it seems like quite a bit more — a luxury cruise might be for you.
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