New Trend: Paying for Popular Cruise Features

Oh, the irony. Even as the folks at Cruise Hive readers voted North Star — the jewel-like capsule which lifts guests 300 feet into the air on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum class ships — Best Cruise Ship Feature, the line announced that on at least one vessel, enjoying the feature will no longer be free.

Previously complementary on Quantum class ships, both North Star and Ripcord, the line’s sky diving simulator, will now charge guests sailing aboard Quantum Of The Seas. As of now, both features remain free on sister ship Anthem Of The Seas, but experience has left many cruisers skeptical as to just how long until that ship, too, will adapt the pricing policy. $20 per ride on Northstar and $26 per ride in Ripcord by iFly.

Unfortunately, this looks to be a growing trend in the industry, and has some cruisers calling “foul” at what they see as a bait-and-switch. Take, for example, Norwegian’s newest build, the Escape. During the roll-out of the much-hyped ship, one of the complimentary venues being featured in advertising material was the first at-sea branch of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant. But after only a few sailings, the line announced that Margaritaville would become a for-fee venue, citing its extreme popularity and “guest feedback about the overwhelming demand” as the reasons behind the change.

That logic is, of course, a tad faulty. After all, who heavily promotes a restaurant they think won’t be popular? And while many folks will have no issue with ponying up $6.99 for one of Margaritaville’s signature “Cheeseburger In Paradise” meals, it’s hard to imagine that the “guest feedback” the line also cited as cause for the change read, “Please, alleviate the demand for this product by charging for it!”

Is this a bait and switch?

Take a look at cruise-related message boards and Facebook groups, and you’ll find more and more people exchanging their regular charge that they’re being nickle-and-dimed with claims that the lines are pulling a bait-and-switch. In what way? By getting people to book cruises months or even a year in advance based on the exciting features they’ll find on board, only to later add fees to things which had previously been included.

But is that the case? Or are cruise lines simply leveling a fee again popular features as a way of controlling crowd-flow in much the same way that the Disney theme parks have, over the past few years, implemented the controversial Fastpass system in order to manage crowd flow and offer visitors an option to standing in longer stand-by lines?

How do you feel about cruise lines adding fees to features and restaurants previously offered as complimentary options? When planning a cruise, do you take into account which on-board features will come with a fee?

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