August 7, 2001
The debate continues: Cruise Critic message board aficionados have now registered nearly 13,500 page views -- an indication of the tremendous number of people following the issue -- in a thread labeled "RCI: We Are Not Children," involving the debate over Royal Caribbean’s liquor policy. While the cruise line’s liquor policy itself is multi-pronged, the real bone of contention in the debate has primarily been centered on RCI’s policy to confiscate liquor brought onboard for private consumption in passenger cabins. In a survey of more than 250 postings, cruise travelers -- many of whom are devoted Royal Caribbean passengers -- are contesting the company’s policy to confiscate bottles brought on board for in-cabin use and then being required to pay either a corkage fee for cabin delivery or to buy at retail in the onboard shop. It’s a policy that cruise board posters have criticized as a way to generate extra revenue by charging unnecessary services, otherwise known in industry parlance as “nickle and diming.” In an interview late last week with RCI’s Maria Sastre, vice president of total guest satisfaction, she told us the furor over the issue had caught the company by surprise. “The irony is that we came to the party late,” she says, noting that RCI is “the last major cruise line to put this in place.” Well, that’s not actually true. Some cruise lines do, some don’t. You’ll find similar policies at Carnival and Norwegian. Princess Cruises, according to spokeswoman Julie Benson, does apply a corkage fee for wine brought into the dining room but otherwise “passengers are allowed to bring liquor on board. That’s fine with us.” Holland America has a similar policy. “Presently HAL policy is to allow everyone to bring onboard their own beverages. But passengers can consume these beverages in their cabins only,” says spokeswoman Julianne Chase Patton. In the meantime, Royal Caribbean isn't budging. “No, absolutely not,” Sastre says in response to the obvious question of whether they’re rethinking the policy in light of the ongoing email and message board debate. “We’re not changing the policy. We think it provides for a safer experience.” To further defend the company’s stance, Sastre, who says adamantly that “we fundamentally don’t believe this is a nickle and dime issue,” forwarded a letter from her boss, Adam Goldstein, senior vice president for total guest relations. Writes Goldstein, “How our guests spend their own disposable income is a personal choice. Those who choose to consume alcohol understand that the cost of a night on the town is significantly greater if you drink than if you don't.” Continues Goldstein, “If we raised prices across the board and told everyone they could bring aboard all of the booze they wanted to, we'd be penalizing those who don't drink, or are light social drinkers. We'd also likely be increasing drunken juvenile behavior, and the inherent safety risks and comfort level for the majority of our guests.” In the meantime, the debate continues. And while 13,500 page views on one issue isn’t unprecedented, says Cruise Critic community manager Laura Sterling, it’s definitely unique. Sterling passes along a message written by a longtime RCI cruiser, who notes there’s "...nothing wrong with trying to get a large company to change a policy -- especially when you're happy with almost everything else about them." Says Sterling, “I'd sum it up just like the author did. These folks are not just everyday travelers who've met in a grocery store. They truly love RCI's product, and want to make it better.” In an odd coincidence, Celebrity Cruises -- which is part of Royal Caribbean -- endured a similar challenge last month over a new fee implemented for some ships’ thalassotherapy pools. Celebrity honchos, in response to a large number of email and message board postings protesting the fee, reconsidered the issue and decided to abolish the extra charge. Refunds were processed this weekend.