Friday, 24 July 2009

Time for a moan

OK, I've watched all the press releases roll in this week saying how the new SS Fantastic is going to be the greatest ship ever and the forthcoming Ocean-Going-Behemoth-Of-The-Seas will have the most amazing dining features in the whole world, but I'm also detecting a worrying pattern on sneaky extra onboard revenue earning. And I don't like it. At all.

The one that really set me thinking was Carnival's new 'Behind The Fun' guided tour, an "informative three-and-a-half-hour tour that offers participants a behind-the-scenes look at a wide range of shipboard venues that are normally off limits to guests. During the tour, key shipboard personnel, including the captain, chief engineer, chef de cuisine and other department heads, share their vast knowledge in their particular area of expertise."

Now I know this is really only bandwagon-jumping on Carnival's part (both Princess and NCL have already announced similar onboard revenue opportunities, I mean tours, in the past 12 months), but it does raise the question - is there nothing cruise lines can't now package as a ship 'tour,' 'experience' or 'programme'?

We fully understand cruise lines need to raise the revenue they have cut back on by offering a large range of discounts this year, all aimed at keeping passenger numbers up in the face of the economic meltdown.

But, if they keep adding new ways to separate passengers from their money whilst on board (and Carnival's new 'Behind The Fun' tour is 'only' $95 per person), then people are quickly going to cotton on to the fact that cruise ships are nothing more than large fleecing machines aimed at luring the wary and then emptying their pockets while they're not paying attention.

Providing 'alternative' dining options that all come at an extra cost was only the start, it seems. How much longer before they start charging for cabin service ("Changing the linen? That will be $10 per person, per night, please."), basic meals ("Only $15 a head for breakfast!") and even the dreaded "resort fee" because ships provide things like state-of-the-art fitness centres and casinos (even though many may not even use them)?

It may be a bit of a leap to go from a new paid-for guided tour (albeit, the kind of thing many ships did for free in the past) to completely deconstructing the all-inclusive nature of cruising, but there is something about these recent moves that make me deeply uneasy.

Or am I just being cynical?