By Paul Motter
Edie Bornstein and Larry Pimentel have worked at Cunard and Seabourn, and are now charged with revitalizing Azamara Club Cruises. They both sailed as guests on Azamara to ask people what they specifically did or did not like about the cruise line.
One pervasive attitude was an aversion to what is called "nickel and diming." While some people have a distinct aversion to ever paying anything extra on a cruise, most people consider some extra charges to be more egregious than others.
Now, every cruise has some level of "inclusiveness," but it varies considerably. For example, there is always enough food to feed everyone on the cruise at no extra cost. But in the last ten years most cruise lines have also started offering special dining options at a wide range of added fees.
In reality, none of these options could be offered unless the cruise line has a way to recoup the cost. Using the new restaurant on Disney Dream called Remy as an example; Disney charges $75 per person for a full dinner in this restaurant, but that includes a welcoming champagne cocktail, every course including dessert and a glass of Remy Martin Cognac at the end of the meal. In fact, while $75 is relatively high cost for any cruise ship restaurant, this one is an especially good value.
The menu is designed by two chefs, each awarded the highest honors in their regions. The European chef, Arnaud Lallement, is a Michelin two-star chef while his American counterpart, Scott Hunnel, has received the highest American honors; James Beard and the AAA Five Diamond.
The same meal in Arnaud's Michelin two-star restaurant l'Assiette Champenoise in the Champagne region of France, for example, could easily cost close to $200 per person.
The point is that "inclusiveness" in terms of cruise value in an elusive subject. Edie and Larry heard cruisers repeatedly say "we do not want to be nickel and dimed," so the challenge became discerning the difference between offering something of value at a fair price and simply trying to increase revenue with aberrant surcharges.
Of course, anything a cruise line includes in the cruise fare will increase the cruise fare. But on the other hand, we also see cruise lines that compete on price but make up their profit by charging for more for the little things onboard. Is that the "nickel and diming" to which these cruisers refer?
In the end, Larry and Edie decided to include more things in the cruise fare, which naturally raised the cruise fare, but not beyond the point of "good value" consideration. They now include gratuities, wine with lunch and dinner only, free shuttle service when possible in ports of call and specialty dining for suite guests.
Discerning the "value" in a cruise fare is extraordinarily difficult, but Azamara appears to have won over its customers.
I recently compared the overall cost of cruising on Celebrity Solstice and the luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas. Regent includes almost everything in its cruise fare; airfare, alcohol, soda, shore excursions (with a value of $200 per person or less), gratuities and fine dining. On Celebrity each of those items are additional costs after you pay the much lower cruise fare.
But here is what I discovered; if you compare almost identical suites on both ships, in the end the cost of sailing on Celebrity is almost identical to sailing on Regent, assuming you indulge in just about every optional extra Celebrity has to offer; alcohol nightly, soda, gratuities, shore excursions in every port, special dining and of course your airfare.
Like so many things; there are two ways to look at the results. You can sail on Regent and never worry about being "nickel and dimed," but you are paying for that feeling. Optionally, you can sail in a suite on mainstream ship and indulge in special options to your heart's content and probably end up paying about the same amount - or you have the option to indulge less and end up paying less.
Have a good number of people already figured this out? Suites are the most popular staterooms on mainstream cruise ships and always sell out first. Are the luxury cruise lines really in competition with the mainstream lines more than they realize?
What do you think? Are you willing to pay more not to be "nickel and dimed?" Comment here: "What is Nickel and Diming?".