Q & A: Smoking, Lounge Chairs & Rebating

| October 27, 2004

Art Sbarsky, CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor, answers letters and comments on key issues posted by readers. If you have a question about cruising, send it to .

Subject: Smoking on Board

A hot topic this month has to do with smoking on board, especially now that the industry's only all-nonsmoking ship is changing itineraries, and that policy will no longer be in effect. Posts on the topic ranged from those who are not bothered by smoking to those who have serious medical conditions that might be affected by being around cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke.

Art says:

This is indeed a sensitive subject for lots of people, one which has actually led to blows at times on ships. This is usually caused by smokers not following the ship's policy and offending someone who then overreacts. All ships have some sort of policy as to where people can smoke and where they cannot. Usually a no-smoking policy is in place for dining rooms and show lounges. Some ships completely ban smoking for these rooms, while some have an area for smokers. Most onboard bars are 50-50. Ships still allow smoking outdoors, although pipes and cigars may be relegated to a specific section, quite often aft.

If you're a smoker, it's important to check the line's policy before you book; and once onboard, it would be sociable to follow those policies. If you're a non-smoker, it's also important to know the policy. But rather than start a quarrel with a smoker, you should either ask, politely, for them to follow the policy, or mention it to a crewmember and ask them to do something about it.

Subject: Lounge Chair Hogs

The funniest exchanges I've seen recently on the message boards have been about people hogging lounge chairs near the pools. There were various complaints about how some people will block an entire row of chairs; how deck crew do or do not get involved; what's the best way to secure a chair, etc.

Art Says:

The whole thing boils down to a great example of human nature, and frankly, there are no simple solutions or answers. You really have to take it upon yourself to be fair; ask yourself, for example, is "saving" a whole row of chairs really fair? Is it fair to put your stuff on a chair before you go off to breakfast and leave it blocked for hours on end? Of course it's not fair. So how does it happen? Because once a few people start doing it, it doesn't seem to end. It becomes mob behavior. And because most pool areas simply are not large enough to provide one chair for each person who wants one -- especially on a day at sea.

The best way to get a chair is to go up on deck early and claim one before the crowd gets there. But if you are going to leave your chosen spot for quite some time (I'm not talking about short walks, bathroom visits and the like), show some consideration to others: Take your belongings with you and remove the towels. This signals to others that the chair is available. Or wait until after the morning/midday crush is done and get a chair later in the afternoon. Or consider sitting away from the pool area. Virtually all modern ships, especially the big ones, have chairs in other places (e.g. promenade decks, stern areas) that are generally available.

But the best advice is the classic Golden Rule: Do unto others what you'd like done to yourself. Just don't ask others to watch your deck chairs.

Subject: Rebating!

Carnival and Royal Caribbean International recently introduced strong "no-rebating" policies to the travel agent community, telling agents that they cannot kick back a portion of their commission to the customer as a means of offering a lower fare. Many cruisers are concerned that this is going to raise prices.

Art says:

To say that this is a controversial subject is an understatement. There's considerable disagreement between cruise lines on what should be done, and travel agents are not all in agreement either.

One argument says that if travel agencies can afford to give back part of their commission, they are admitting they are willing to settle for less income. True? In part. Some agents say they need to give some commission back in order to remain price-competitive with the big agent networks, especially the huge electronic companies. True? In part.

Essentially, cruise lines do not want travel agencies giving back part of their commission to customers in order to gain a competitive advantage over other agencies. They want to maintain the integrity of the pricing they put into the marketplace. Note that whether a travel agent gives out a cash discount, a free limousine, flowers in your room or a bottle of wine at your table, it's all coming out of their commission/profit -- hence it's a rebate. Cruise lines are mostly concerned about agents promoting a price that is below the approved price offered by the line itself.

Until this policy settles in, and the marketplace reacts one way or another, take advantage of the fact that cruise prices are still very low compared to land-based vacations -- have you looked at domestic or international hotel rates lately? I have, and they're getting outrageous. A cruise is still the best value, and if you book soon you'll be pleased, rebate or not.

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