Blue Man Group is one of the best shows ever presented on a cruise ship.
Should NCL Charge for Shows?
David Beers, editor of our sister site CruiseReviews, posted a daring blog about Norwegian Epic this week. He argues that the design of the ship makes it the antithesis of "Freestyle Cruising," at least in the entertainment realm.
Freestyle entertainment implies that guests can see any show any night, but the small venues and clunky reservation system means Epic guests are barely "free" to see any show any night - 80% of the seats are pre-reserved as many as 45 days in advance.
Epic has an impressive line-up of entertainment; Blue Man Group, Second City, Howl at the Moon, Cirque Dreams and Dinner and Legends at Sea. The shows are truly Las Vegas quality, and let's be honest; most cruise shows are a bit less than that. Unlike most ships, Norwegian Epic repeats these shows anywhere from six to 12 times each cruise.
So, where's the problem? Basically it stems from the fact that the venues are too small, which means seating for every show is extremely limited on any given night. If 50% of the guests wanted to see a given show on any night it couldn't happen. The largest theater onboard barely holds 15% of the ship's average passenger load.
Epic pre-reserves 80% of each show, so if you want to "Freestyle" your entertainment (see a show on a whim without a reservation) you have to be satisfied with the remaining 20% of the worst seats in the house - after spending up to an hour in the "stand-by" line just to make sure you get in.
Furthermore, even with a reservation you are still only guaranteed to get in the theater. Most cruisers coming back from Epic are reporting that even after waiting in line for up to an hour that there is jostling for the front rows when the doors open. Further complicating matters, David is reporting that suite guests with reservations are seated by the concierge before the doors open for regular guests - another reason regular guests must wait for the doors to open.
The entertainment system on Epic is broken and they have to do something to fix it. So here is something to consider…
Reserved assigned seating would allow guests to take their seats at anytime; even just 10 minutes before showtime, and they would still be guaranteed good seats. They would not have to wait for the suite guests to be seated in their reserved seats first. This would eliminate lines completely.
But let's take this a step further. Suite guests already get priority seating because they paid more for the cruise. Many cruisers have a problem with suite guests getting priority seating - claiming it appears elitist and is counter to the altruistic concept of equal access to the entire ship regardless of cabin category.
But NCL was the first cruise line to have an alternative restaurant charging a surcharge, Le Bistro. It started as an experiment on one ship and its success soon led to Le Bistro restaurants on all NCL ships. Today you are hard pressed to find any cruise ship that does not have several alternative dining spots with a surcharge.
The point is that guests expect to pay for a premium experience. So,should NCL take the bold step of offering premium assigned theater seating for a small service fee like you pay to TicketMaster? The best seats are already given to the suite guests; so why not offer the same "pay for better service" option to everyone where shows are concerned? For $5 per person you can be assured a premium seat just like the suite guests.
The entertainment on Norwegian Epic is truly good enough to command a premium price; Tickets for Blue Man Group in New York or Las Vegas are as much as $100 per person. Second City in any land-based theater would charge at least $25 per seat.
To make it up to cruisers NCL could drop the cruise fare by $10. In fact, this is true Freestyle cruising. You have to pay for the premium restaurants onboard. If you want to go to the "included in the cruise" restaurants or entertainment you can do that.
The only criticism I see in David Beer's comments is that the entertainment on Epic is too good. There are not many cruise shows on any ship that everyone onboard wants to see, but you can say that about Blue Man Group. Better entertainment costs more to produce. Why shouldn't NCL find a way to monetize the quality of entertainment they have put on Norwegian Epic?
Here is one truth - if ever there was an opportunity to justify charging for premium entertainment on ships this is it. The truth is that you are paying for Blue Man Group with higher cruise fares anyway. Fares are bound to drop on Epic someday, but would you want them to take Blue Man Group away?
One final word: The entertainment on Norwegian Epic merits a wait in line and as long as you have a reservation and get one person in line you will see all the shows in decent seats. Do not let this discussion deter you from a cruise on Norwegian Epic; it is a quality cruise experience - although a bit different from what many cruisers have come to expect.
And don't forget our CruiseMates Norwegian Epic Cruise coming up October 30 with excellent rates as well as other perks. Each stateroom will receive a $75 onboard credit, a savings coupon book and there will be a private cocktail party just for the group. We will feature three sessions with Chef Matt Sigel to discuss and make recipes and to hold a palate test to see who has natural ability. Get details on the Matt Sigel Epic Cruise.
For a detailed discussion on this topic go to this forum:
Should NCL charge for Blue Man Group?.
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