Last month I spent a pleasant week aboard Allure of the Seas for Royal Caribbean's President's Cruise. It's been a minute since I last sailed for more than a two-day inaugural on a Royal Caribbean ship, and I enjoyed digging in to all that an Oasis-class ship has to offer.
I won't lie. I probably enjoyed a slice (or two) too many at Sorrento's, but it is one of the best pizza joints at sea – and the thin crust means I don't have to feel too guilty about opting for that extra slice.
Treats like Sorrento's are one of the many reasons I love cruising. It may be a standup comedian's go-to, but the 24/7 availability of food – free food – is one of the things that makes cruising such a great value.
Sadly, that value is gradually, but consistently, being eroded by the cruise lines as they look for new way to make money. More and more, things that used to be included in the price are being carved out of the base fare and charged for.
I'm old enough to remember when lunch was served on a domestic flight. And not just across the country, but on shorter flights too, say from NYC to MIA. And it wasn't that long ago that you could choose your seat on any flight without having to pay extra.
Now, meals (if you can even call them that), seat selection, leg room, even overhead bin space on some flights, costs extra.
If you look up nickel and diming in the dictionary, don't be surprised to see a photo of a plane!
It might not be long before some of the contemporary cruise lines join them.
Earlier this summer, Princess Cruises announced they're making their super-popular pizza place, Alfonso's (Gigi's on the newer ships) an extra-fee venue. Royal Caribbean recently sent out a survey to loyal cruisers asking how they'd feel if the line started charging for Sorrento's. Norwegian Cruise Line charges cruisers to play mini-golf on its newest ships – something that's free on every other cruise line (at least for now).
What on earth is going on?!
Don't get me wrong, there have always been plenty of extra fees on cruise ships. And cruise lines coming up with new features or attractions they can charge for is nothing new, either. Neither is the bundling of extra-fee services into an optional per-day fee that provides savings off the total combined cost of said services.
But taking what was once free and now charging for it? That's straight out of the airlines handbook.
Yet people are getting fed up with the airlines and their fees. The government is even talking about legislation to restrict fees.
So, why do cruise lines adding fees expect cruisers to have a different reaction?
Royal Caribbean loyalists were crystal clear about where they stood on fees for Sorrento's. According to a Facebook post by RCI president Michael Bayley, 80% said they were opposed to paying a fee and 25% said the fee would have them considering other cruise lines.
Thankfully, Bayley listened. Sorrento's, for the time being, remains free.
Here's hoping the rest of the contemporary cruise lines get the message, too, because while flyers are stuck without options, cruisers are not. And if nickel and diming erodes the value of contemporary cruising too far, alternative options may very well start to look more appealing.