The “Value” Of Cruising

For almost two years I’ve wanted to take a cruise on the now second newest Norwegian ship, the Epic. This past week, I finally made it for a seven-day cruise out of Miami. Deal, or no deal, between the airfare, cruise cost, on-board charges and excursions, it’s still a large financial decision for most people, and something that first and second-timers should only do with the help of a qualified travel agent.

Booking a cruise is a minefield of traps, on-line discounts that we’ll probably never get, or limited time offers that just aren’t true. According to travel agents, and fellow Epic passengers, Lori and Mark Guerin (www.landandcruise.com), most people also have all kinds of incorrect information and dozens of misconceptions about cruises in general. Lori and Mark should know, having been on more than 100 cruises between them! You’re entrusting your entire holiday to a specific cruise line and cruise ship, each of which has a very different personality and you can’t change your mind once you’re on board.

The Epic is a two-year old ship designed by Norwegian specifically for freestyle cruising. That basically means that you can wear what you want, when you want and eat what you want (sort of) and where you want. Five restaurants are included in the price of the cruise, while nine upgraded specialty restaurants have a surcharge. Whether you choose to pay that is up to you. Two nights, my brother and I did step up for the extra expense, and the service and food were incredible at Cagney’s (steak house) and the French-style Le Bistro. The meals would have been well above $50 in a restaurant, compared with the extra $15 to $30 ship surcharge.

If you’re looking for a good deal on a cruise, your travel agent will find a lot of options with a lot of cruise lines for you. It’s a very competitive industry in a not-so-good economy, and an industry that keeps adding new capacity with newer and bigger ships. But when cruise prices drop, the pressure to increase the on-board revenues accelerates in tandem. From art auctions to bingo, watch sales, raffle tickets, and promoting 90 excursion packages ranging in price from $20 to $230, you will get pitched – hard and often. A general rule of thumb in the industry is that each ship has to generate the same amount of revenue as the cabin sales. That’ll include an average of $8 in liquor sales per passenger per day. Liquor isn’t included in your cruise, and drinks aren’t cheap.

One of my biggest regrets is not being able to see the total room charges for a vast number of passengers. With cruise lines, just like Disneyland, and chips instead of cash in casinos, the last thing cruise ships want is for their passengers to remember that they’re spending real money. No, it’s not that they don’t seize every opportunity to reach into your wallets – it’s just that the room key is your charge card for the entire week. Prices aren’t always easy to see (Free beer! Buy five and get the sixth free!), but when it’s simply a matter of showing your room card, for most people, that card quickly disconnects their brain from their wallet. It totally loses the correlation that showing a room key is actually spending real money. Nothing would have been better than to see the look on the faces of many passengers the morning of departure as they wondered where the %&#@ all those charges came from, which were now on their credit cards.

On next week’s program, we’ll talk about some of the good, the bad and the ugly.

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