Cruise Critic Readers Embroiled in the For-Fee Steak Debate

October 8, 2010
(11:08 a.m. EDT) -- Should Carnival cruise ships offer $18 steak and lobster entrees in their main dining rooms?

That's the loaded question that Cruise Critic readers have been ruminating over following a report earlier this week that the line had begun testing four extra-charge steak and lobster dishes in the main dining rooms on Carnival Paradise, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Inspiration -- three ships that don't feature stand-alone, for-fee steakhouses. Full details are here.

We put the above question to you in poll form, and the response was as impressive as Carnival's churchlike, hundred-foot-tall atriums. At press time, more than 1,500 readers voted, and the accompanying message board thread spans some 250 comments. Here are some of the results:

For-Fee Steaks in the Main Dining Room Are Bull

Main dining room traditionalists dominated the results, as nearly 60 percent of you felt that MDR menus should not include for-fee items. Period.

Wrote kandaceandjason on the boards: "I have no intention of paying extra when the food I get now is perfectly adequate (in quality AND quantity.) It's one of the reasons I've never felt the need to dine in the steakhouse either." Catpal said she would even put her money where the beef goes. "I would switch cruise lines before I would pay in the main dining room."

A number of posters predicted that the for-fee MDR steak would only lead to an industry even more rife with a la carte costs. "What's next?" asked MrPete. "Charge for ice cream, burgers, and midnight room service? Stop it NOW folks!" Toddcan agreed. "At some point, it's conceivable that the free items on the menu will be very basic food items, excluding the stuff we used to get 'for free' as part of our cruise fare."

Ann-Marie Casey-Christensen was also worried that introducing for-fee food would inevitably lead to more added fees, but, well, she couldn't resist the for-fee MDR steak option on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise. (Two years ago, RCI sparked the same meaty debate by introducing for-fee steak options in its main dining rooms. The line still offers the for-fee steak every night, fleetwide.) "I admit I'm guilty ... last cruise they had option of the chops tenderloin on the MDR menu and I paid to order it twice."

If the Free Cow Stays on the Menu, I'm Fine with the For-Fee Bovine

Roughly 17 percent of voters, the second-highest total, opined that they were fine with the for-fee option -- as long as the line keeps free steak and lobster on the menu. And that'll be the case, said Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen. The "flat-iron steak" will be offered nightly on the line's always-available menu, and the prime rib and broiled Caribbean lobster tails will be served at least once every voyage. Additionally, a fee-free "petite filet with braised short ribs" is served on cruises seven days or longer.

Jabee liked "the idea that for $18 I can get my steak, and my wife, who is not a big steak eater, can still eat from the menu. I pay $18 where I would pay $60 [it's $30 per person to eat in one of Carnival's steakhouses] to eat at the steakhouse on a big ship."

"I guess it's fine if they want to offer it in the MDR and no one has to purchase these extra fee options. No harm no foul," wrote Lee Robarge on our Facebook page.

BaldSEO wasn't sure why there was even a debate. "I get it if something is being taken away," he noted. "But who cares if they offer something better for an additional fee? If the choices are 'pay for something better' or 'get no better option at all,' I take the first."

A Better Option: Add Steakhouses to the Ships That Don't Have Them

Just more than 15 percent of the voters said they'd prefer Carnival to add for-fee steakhouses to ships that don't have them. About half of the line's 24 ships feature steakhouses; diners pay a surcharge of $30 per meal, which includes an appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert, served in a relatively intimate venue. Its eight Fantasy-class ships, plus Carnival Destiny, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Victory, are steakhouse-free.

"I love the ambiance in the steakhouses," wrote AnyTime Cruiser.

Bring on the Beef: Is Carnival Hiring Taste-Testers?

Fewer than 3 percent of voters thought the for-fee cuts were a nice alternative, and something they'd like to try. The results were similar in the poll conducted two years ago when Royal Caribbean began testing its steak program.

"If the steak, forget the bug, is the same aged USDA Prime steak as served in the Steakhouse, then it is an outrageous bargain," wrote Dan40. The aptly named BaconIsGood happily agreed. "I'd pay $18 for that steakhouse filet. I'd probably skip the steakhouse. $18 is cheaper."

Jensambo said she would do it, but only if the line cut the fee down to $5 per entree. "$18 is too much when there is all that free food to choose from."

Didn't have your say? Vote in the poll, and join the debate.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor