Major Cruise Lines Quietly Raising Prices—And Here's How Passengers Are Pushing Back
Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise ships are slipping in tricky fees.
Compared to all-inclusive resorts or luxury spas, cruises are typically an affordable alternative for single-package vacations. You pay one price, and all your food, drinks, and entertainment are included. However, major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival have been slipping in some hidden fees—and passengers have just about had it. Keep reading to find out how these companies are quietly raising prices and whether it will affect your next trip at sea.
Royal Caribbean just increased its automatic gratuity fee.
Hotel chains are notorious for advertising great rates only to impose tons of "service" fees that greatly increase the cost. On cruise ships, a similar tactic comes into play with automatic gratuity fees—and Royal Caribbean, the third-largest cruise ship company in the world, has now raised these fees by 10 percent, The Points Guy reports (TPG).
On Oct. 31, Royal Caribbean sent an email notifying customers with existing reservations of the change and giving them the option to lock in the lower gratuity rate if they pre-pay before Nov. 11. It should be noted that passengers do have the option to tip less or not at all based on poor service, but this request must be approved onboard and does not apply to pre-paid gratuities.
"The daily gratuity is shared among dining, bar & culinary services staff, stateroom attendants, and other hotel services teams," the email read, per reporting from TheStreet.
With the increase, daily gratuity rates will go from $16 to $18 per person per day for standard cabins and $18.50 to $20.50 per person per day for suites. As TPG notes, "A family of four in a typical cabin will pay more than $500 in automatic gratuities on a seven-night cruise—one of the highest levies in the business."
Customers are not happy about the change.
Royal Caribbean's latest gratuity increase comes just one year after they last raised the fee, TheStreet reports. In fact, TPG shares that the company has increased this charge four times since 2015, amounting to a 50 percent increase from when it was just $12 a day eight years ago.
Most customers are angry, however, not about the money but based on principle. As TheStreet points out, in the third quarter of 2023, Royal Caribbean's net income was $1 billion, up significantly from $33 million during the same period last year.
"They made a net income of over a billion dollars last quarter, but their staff still have to rely on tips to make a decent wage? And instead of giving them even a small increase, they want their customers to subsidize their incomes further?" wrote Julie Oag on the Royal Caribbean Blog's Facebook page, per TheStreet. "I'm all for tipping for good service but making their staff rely on tips is sad."
"My question: why aren't fair wages for crew members part of the cruise fare at the start? Why hide the cost?" questioned X (formerly Twitter) user @DavidHSwanson.
Carnival has also sneaked in a new fee.
Carnival Corporation, the world's second-largest cruise company, has taken a slightly different route and begun charging for extra dinner reservations on two of its biggest and most popular ships: Carnival Celebration and Mardi Gras.
"The new charge applies to dinner at Cucina del Capitano, the Italian eatery found on the Excel-class ships and a number of other ships in the Carnival fleet," reports Cruise Hive.
During dinnertime (lunchtime will remain unchanged with unlimited visits), passengers who wish to visit the restaurant a subsequent time will have to pay $8.
The same fee was added to additional dinners at ChiBang, a Mexican and Chinese restaurant aboard the two ships, back in April. Cruise Hive notes that this was considered a test, which clearly proved successful.
Passengers have mixed feelings about Carnival's change.
The Carnival fee has also been met with annoyance from some passengers. "I am really tired of all the fees, it will make me reconsider Carnival. I just want to pay once and be done with it," wrote one commenter in response to a YouTube video posted by This Cruise Life. "Ridiculous we're paying for all inclusive and this is not it," echoed another.
However, others felt the change was rather fair. "$8 is still a bargain.. They are great venues and worth that price. . Its cheaper than any other cruise line or land restaurant by far," said one commenter. Another added, "Chibang was originally supposed to be 15 per person per visit, so going free once and then paying half that for additional visits sounds just fine."
Hidden fees are a reoccurring issue.
The issue of hidden fees on cruise ships is not a new one. A Jan. 2023 article in The Washington Post broke down the common surcharges passengers can expect on some of the largest cruise lines.
One example is the WiFi fee, which Carnival increased in January from $10.20 to $17 per person (based on usage amount) to $12.75 to $22.
But perhaps the biggest added expense is the port fee. According to the Cruise blog, "Port fees are fees charged by the ports of call to the cruise line," which are then subsidized by passengers. "Usually, the port fees are a summation of a few different fees, including the pilot fee, per-passenger fee (head tax), and docking fee," they explain. According to their analysis, port fees average around $150 per person.
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