Not completely sure yet, but it appears the cruise lines are promoting the bare bones of cruising, and everything else is a la carte, just like the airlines do. They market flights for one price, but by the time you are done, you have all these add-ons, each with a price - why not just give the cost up front? It is so frustrating for travel consultants because there are so many options out there for our clients to choose from, and it is up to us to decipher it and explain what it means and whether you should or shouldn't purchase that particular cruise or category.
With the exception of the more upscale and luxury lines, cruise lines have been going to bare bones pricing and charging for many extras onboard. If you are one who likes to travel in a suite aboard a large cruise liner, then you might want to check out the luxury lines as you might pay more up front, but what you get onboard is inclusive. Pay it up front or pay it later. Also, the luxury lines are offering onboard credit to use as you wish rather than offer everything inclusive. Crystal Cruise Lines offers up to $1,000 per stateroom on select sailings to use as you wish onboard. This can be used for wine, drinks, spa treatments, shore excursions, etc. Regent Seven Seas is offering all-inclusive cruises and have included airfare and shore excursions on most of their sailings.
Your mass-market lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess, all have suites and amenities; however, you are paying for everything else, including their specialty dining experiences, which can go up as high as $50 per person. But, then again, you can dine in their dining room where the meals are included. On Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, the Epic, there is dinner theater that you will pay an additional fee for, as well as some of their new shows, such as Blue Man Group.
With airlines, you have some choices, but within the confines of where they fly to and whether they fly where you need to go on any particular day. Depending on the airline, you are still paying extra for baggage, with the exception of Southwest (two free checked bags) and Jet Blue (one free checked bag). On Spirit Air, you even pay for your carry-ons. Crazy!
No one has to cruise, so you have options. If you are looking for the cheapest, then you will find it - the lowest, inside stateroom (no window and might be on the bottom deck). If you stay there, then you are probably getting a great deal because you are still sleeping in a room that is made up every day and night, and you get meals.
If, however, you are looking for the same cruise and want the balcony cabin or even a suite, then the fares are higher, and unless you purchase the specialty dining experiences, you are getting the same deal as those who are sailing on the same ship in a lower, inside stateroom. Choices are there - the experience is what's different.
That said, we are seeing an increasing number of folks going to the premier, deluxe or luxury lines so they can feel the pampering and experience the higher level of service, as well as not be nickeled and dimed every place they go. A totally different experience! I have done both, and I can say that I certainly loved the luxury line better (of course), but there is something to be said for the quick little get-away cruise to the Bahamas. I just know what to expect. Sometimes it is difficult to get that across to some folks who are price-conscious but want the luxury experience. To me, just getting away is a luxury experience, and I take full advantage of my time.
Know before you go what you have purchased and what to expect and your cruise experience will be much better.
Patty Toppa is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cruisetraveltours.com.