Taking all inclusive cruises has become the convenient, somewhat hassle- or mystery-free, and cost effective way for many travelers to enjoy their vacation time. Board the ship, unpack your baggage, and everything else is taken care of including Sonoma-like spa treatments, water parks like Hurricane Harbor, and golf “courses” that rival Palm Springs. And it’s cheap – relatively!
The absolute glut of cabins on cruise liners caused by the launching of ships that are as large as small cities has driven down the prices of cruises. Recently, some cruises have introduced different price-point levels of their all inclusive packages. You want the Chateaubriand dinner instead of Pasta with Heinz sauce? Another fifty bucks. That midnight dessert with California champagne (no upper case “C”), add $15 per person.
For several years there has been an urban legend passed around the globe’s computer email systems:
Eventually the captain invited her to the Captain’s Dinner table. During their conversation the captain’s curiosity forced him to inquire why she took so many cruises.
The old lady quickly responded that “in all my worldly travels as a young woman, I was never so pampered as I was on a cruise. In my golden years, the youthful crews make me feel younger and improve my spirits. And … the cost of all inclusive cruises is cheaper than staying at my retirement home that’s full of depressing, grouchy and sickly old people.”
The legend may be myth. But there are some great deals for travelers who appreciate a cruise. However, marketing may be changing the definition of “all inclusive” when it comes to cruising.
Taking a cue from the airlines, cruise lines are introducing special services available for purchase. Now, some confusion may be entering marketing of cruises – the cafeteria-style pricing system.
Although other cruise lines have already added additional fees for upgrades in services, USA Today reports that “Carnival Cruise Lines is testing a new program that allows passengers to pay for perks such as priority embarkation, early cabin availability and express luggage delivery.”
Does that sound like “Priority Boarding” for an airline flight to you?
According to USA Today, “the new “Faster to the Fun” pilot program is being tested on two ships beginning later this month: the Carnival Imagination starting August 20, and the Carnival Liberty on August 25.
“For $49.95 per cabin, regardless of the number of occupants, all passengers in that cabin will receive Faster to the Fun benefits, which also include priority dinner seating’s and tender availability, choice of early or late debarkation, and express access to the ships’ guest services desk for assistance during the cruise.
“Carnival said the program was developed based on extensive passenger surveys, indicating a strong interest in a fee-based package of priority access and benefits, a practice made common by airlines over the last few years. Diamond- and Platinum-level members of Carnival’s VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) Club guest recognition program will get all the benefits of the Faster to the Fun program available free of charge.”
And although Carnival may think that “survey says” these options are a useful tool to increase revenue, my experience in the business doesn’t “buy” it.
Consumers that thought they would get lower, all inclusive rates for travel may be discovering that the plethora of extra charges added to their advertised rate are resulting in a fare that is not what they initially imagined.
With 40 years in the travel business, I’ve come to recognize that vacationers want to have a sense that they got the best deal for their budget – and that they did better than their neighbors or even better than the customers in the next cruise cabin, hotel room or seat mate on a flight. They beat “the system”.
JC Penney’s current “never a sale” marketing has been a flop. Shoppers want a deal.
Several years ago, American Airlines tried a fare simplification program that did away with all discounted fares to travel agents and contracts with corporations. The customer, every customer, would choose from the same selection of several fare levels.
FLOP! Customers like to shop! And they gloat knowing that the price they paid was $100.00 or even $1.00 less than their best friend paid.
Have you checked in for a flight at an airport lately?
The gate agent announces that the elderly or families can board. Then First Class.
Then “Priority Boarding”. Unfortunately for the infrequent customer (but gravy for the airlines), it seems that at least 50% of the remaining passengers for the flight have all pre-paid the “Priority Boarding” fee. There is a mob scene at the check-in line. The value of “Priority Boarding” is, as they said on PBS’s Marketplace a few days ago, “squat”.
So, while I wish the all inclusive cruises a profitable business with ships full of relaxed, happy passengers, I sit back and think – “You’ve got to be kidding!”