Cruise Ship Tours: Would You Pay To Go Behind the Scenes?

April 17, 2009
Norwegian Cruise Line Bridge TourNorwegian Cruise Line has announced a new "behind the scenes" ship tour that is offered once per cruise and gives passengers access to normally restricted areas. The cruise line is following in the footsteps of Princess Cruises, which introduced a similar program last fall. Together, the lines may be heralding the start of a new trend in onboard activities.

But, like many currently emerging trends, this one is going to impact your wallet. And we started to wonder: Are cruise travelers willing to pay for yet another cruise-ship activity?

First, the basics: NCL's tour -- which is offered just once per cruise – costs $55 per person. The tour starts with a meet and greet with the ship's officers and a visit to the galley for a glimpse of NCL's chefs at work. Then, following a trip through the food storage areas, the tour stops at the theater's backstage area. Next stop is the laundry area to see where the clothes are all washed. The tour concludes with a visit to the bridge, where guests have the chance to meet the Captain and learn how he controls the ship.

Or, for $150 per person, you can take the extended tour, which includes sushi making and sake tasting, a group photo on the bridge, a specialty coffee, pre-dinner cocktails in one of the ship's lounges and dinner with a glass of wine in Cagney's Steakhouse. Princess' tour also costs $150, and it goes backstage; through the galley, engine control room, bridge, print shop, photo laboratory, medical center and laundry room; and inside the funnel.

We asked Cruise Critic readers to share their opinions about the new behind-the-scenes tours, and at press time, 33 percent of over 100 respondents to a poll on our message boards said a ship tour would be a great add-on experience. An equal number of respondents said they might consider it at a lower price, while 24 percent said the concept didn't interest them at all. Not one voter chose our "I have done this and loved it!" option, though four people -- 3 percent -- took a paid tour and didn't think it was worth it.

But more interesting than the mixed bag of numbers is that, in the resulting commentary, respondents did not express the kind of infuriation we have seen in the past with other new for-fee offerings (remember the backlash when Royal Caribbean announced its $14.95 main-dining-room steak?). The key difference: An extensive ship tour is a new experience that's never been offered -- rather than something that's previously been enjoyed for free but now suddenly carries a price tag, like a dinnertime filet. In a way, it's almost like a new shore excursion option -- some folks will think it's worth their while and will want to try it, and others simply don't and won't.

So what did our readers have to say on the subject? Caribbean Sunsets posts, "When Princess first announced their tour, which began with the Ruby Princess, it didn't appeal to me -- mainly due to the cost. After reading the reviews, I would love to take this tour. Princess does give gifts that [include] a robe, photo, stationery, and other items. It's only done on sea days and [that] makes it that much more difficult to take the tour, since you can't sign up until you are onboard."

"I would pay the lower price NCL is offering," writes DanJ. "I like that you can choose to opt out of certain things, and pay less for it.... I have done bridge, galley and backstage tours before and really liked them."

On the other hand, says geoherb, "I've been on enough free back-stage tours of the theater and galley tours that they probably would not be showing anything new to me." Still others said that they'd be willing to pay for more unusual tours -- for example, a visit to the engine room or a walk-through of another ship in port.

Have an opinion? There's still time to vote in our poll!

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor, and Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor