11/17/99- Updated 09:41 AM ET


Cruise lines tacking on more fees

By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY

When the CostaVictoria sails into the Caribbean in December, it will offer a shipboard extra aimed at pleasing passengers: an Italian alternative-dining restaurant. Less pleasing, perhaps, is the $18.75 fee diners will be charged for the privilege of eating there.

Although many cruise ships offer fine-dining restaurants as alternatives to the main dining room, Costa Cruises is the first line to charge extra for a meal - a daring move in an industry long famous for its all-you-can-eat excess.

But it's not the only line tacking on fees for amenities that once were gratis.

"I'm not saying it's unreasonable, but the days are limited, I'm afraid, when everything is included," says Anne Campbell, editor of the online magazine, Cruisemates.com. Royal Caribbean's 3,000-passenger behemoth Voyager of the Seas, which launches later this month, will sport facilities never before seen on a cruise ship. But it'll cost you to engage in the more unusual activities such as ice skating ($6 an hour), rock-climbing ($8 a session) and golf ($20 an hour).

Even the mass-market Carnival Cruise Lines charges $1.50 for a cup of Seattle's Best Coffee served in its patisseries on some ships. And if you want a pastry with that, it'll cost another $2.

Meanwhile, Princess Cruises raised the hackles of some passengers when it began charging $1.90 for a scoop of Haagen Dazs ice cream on its Grand Class ships. "There was practically a war going on on America Online message boards," Campbell says.

Industry watchers say the cruise business has become so competitive that individual lines are cutting - or passing on - costs wherever they can.

"As ships get bigger they're adding all these things they didn't used to have," says Cruise Week editor Mike Driscoll. "The stuff you used to get for free you still get for free. But if you want something a little different, you have to pay for it."

Cruisers might not balk at paying a few bucks for richer coffee or more varied activities, but Costa's dinner charge may not go down as easily.

"The cruise lines have been accused of nickel-and-diming passengers, but this takes it to an all-new level," Driscoll says.

CostaVictoria's alternative restaurant is modeled after chef Paolo Belloni's Zeffirino in Genoa, Italy. The cruise line tested the concept - and the surcharge - last season and got an "overwhelmingly positive response," says Costa's Hans Hesselberg. "We still have all the (regular) food service. But if there's a huge resistance, we may have to rethink our strategy."