Updated: On Jan 6, 2019 Carnival announced they are suspending and re-evaluating room service charges.
Today, Carnival Cruise Line's Brand Ambassador, John Heald announced on Facebook that Carnival will now be charging for room service and will also be increasing the price of the Bottomless Bubbles (soda) package. That is not however what I’m writing to talk about on New Years Eve (it would make for a short article). Instead, I want to channel my inner John Heald and tell you how I really feel. For the benefit of those interested in the information though, I will indeed start by sharing Carnival’s recent changes.
Starting January 1st 2019, Carnival’s Bottomless Bubbles package will increase in cost by $1, to $5.95/day for kids, and $8.50/day for adults. Room service now carries a la carte pricing of $2-5 per item, though continental breakfast will continue to be complimentary.
Lest readers think I have the ability to so directly get to the point, I’ll start in with the real reason I am sharing this. In 2018 we saw contemporary lines move away from complimentary room service and increase the cost of various beverage packages. Like other cost increases though, Mr. Heald’s announcement brought on an onslaught of angry comments – which he admitted he was expecting. I’ve long respected Mr. Heald’s for his candor. He tells it like it is, and politely, though boldly (given his role in a major publicly traded company) calls out guests and others who are being unreasonable while simultaneously seeming to be a much-appreciated face of largest brand of the world’s largest cruise company (after the article, find links to some of his posts). As I lack the grace (and perhaps courage) of Mr. Heald, I generally try to shy away from topics of controversy. After all, the goal of CruiseHabit is to share information and help provide for great cruise experiences for seasoned sailors and first time cruisers alike. In this case though, I think that examining why I find so many of the comments incorrect, or even unreasonable, can actually serve as a reminder to just how great the cruising world continues to be.
Billy’s Thoughts on Common Objections to Cruise Line Price Increases
While guest responses to the news of increases can come in many forms, and obviously vary by the announcement, I often find some common threads which I managed to break into the three points I’ve highlighted below.
“Cruising keeps getting more expensive!”
Overall, cruising does *not* keep getting more expensive. The prices of cruises today are generally the same or, in many cases, significantly lower than those offered 30 years ago (not withstanding seasonal or even temporary fluctuation). In that time, it is undeniable that the product has improved. There are more venues, nicer appointments, significantly larger staterooms, improved entertainment, more port options, and more choices in general. Trust me, you don't want 1983 cruise ship bathrooms or ceiling heights. Small increases occur, but we still see prices far lower than decades ago, often even before correcting for inflation. Increased competition has been great for guests.
Wish things were the way they used to be? We looked back on what makes cruising today even better.
“We’re getting nickel and dimed!”
I'll admit, the room service charges are one of the very few examples I can find of cruise lines charging for something that was once complimentary. For better or for worse, it brings Carnival in line with other contemporary lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. That in mind, there is a flaw in the idea that guests are now being nickel and dimed. For the most part, additional costs on cruises come in the form of offerings that didn't exist before. Fifteen years ago, very few ships had more than a single dining room and a buffet, both complimentary. Over time, lines across the market have offered specialty dining options at a cost – adding options that didn’t previously exist. The same is true for some entertainment, such as bowling alleys – something hard to even imagine not long ago. It is still completely possible to take a cruise without paying anything extra while onboard (aside from gratuities – which has always been the standard). On that “no extra cost” cruise, you’ll enjoy most of the same complimentary offerings as you would have decades ago – and almost certainly many more. There was no amount of money that would have let you enjoy a surf simulator or SkyRide when I began cruising.
In fairness, there are some thing you just can't do on ships anymore - and some of them are missed. Read about five things we no longer see on cruise ships.
“They should just increase the price of the cruise by $X instead of adding these charges!”
The suggestion that prices should simply increase so that things like this don't happen is a coin with two sides – and those who would prefer one over the other aren’t wrong. Using Carnival’s room service changes as an example, many would argue that increasing costs would mean the vast majority of cruisers who don't enjoy room service would be subsidizing the cost for those who do. Some would also bemoan the "never ending price increases" that as I mentioned in my first point, though they don't actually exist, at least in the way some perceive them. The good news though is that this option, rolling things into the price of your fare, does exist! In fact, it exists in different forms. An increasing number of lines offer beverage packages, specialty dining packages, etc – where the cost doesn’t keep climbing during your cruise. I think most of us can appreciate this predictability. Some lines even offer to build these packages into your fare to make things very simple, and sometimes more affordable. Further, many other lines (those under the Carnival Corp & PLC umbrella and others) exist! Some may offer complimentary room service, complimentary alcoholic beverages, even complimentary shore excursions. Of course, these things come at a cost, but not just a financial one. In the same way that guests who don’t use room service subsidize those who do, Carnival cruisers not enjoying water slides (for example), subsidize those water slides for those who are inclined to take a fast and wet ride into the pool. Cruisers who aren’t coffee drinkers and sail Oceania (an upper-premium line that doesn’t charge for specialty coffee drinks, among other things) are paying for the coffee that others enjoy. In other words, there are many cruise options out there – you just need to figure out what you do want to pay for.
Want to learn more about "all inclusive" cruising? We've got you covered.
Wait, why was I writing this?
Oh yes, because cruising continues to be a fantastic value with so many options that almost anyone can find something that suits them. For decades we’ve had a unique method of getting away and seeing new places at a cost that simply cannot be beat by land-based resorts. Further, the value represented by that cost continues to increase. The things we love about cruising are, for the most part, more attainable and as readily available as ever (apologies to skeet-shooting lovers). The best part? There are more cruise lines with a wider variety of products than there ever have been. There are lines that focus on a multitude of options for groups and families – with water slides, rock walls, bumper cars, and even race tracks. Some lines offer affordable and modern luxury (we really didn’t mean to steal Celebrity’s tag line) for those who want enhanced service and quality without the high-energy family atmosphere. Still other lines serve up experiences that are second to none on land and visit ports the bigger ships could barely navigate to with their life boats.
I can’t wait to see what new ways cruising is enhanced in 2019, even though I realize that some of those new things may come at a cost.