Facing The Reality Of Onboard Spending

by Ming Tappin

Specialty restaurants are the rage but most come with cover charges.

Onboard shopping is a huge focus on ships, with sales happening daily.

Getting happy with a few drinks can quickly rack up the onboard charges. 

Even room service might come with a price. Make sure you know who charges and who doesn't.

CLIA released a staggering statistic which was mentioned in a related article published on Open Jaw: the average cruiser pays about $1,000 in extra charges by the time he gets off the ship. While everyone has individual spending habits, it is a given that there will be at least several hundred dollars on the folio statement that is surreptitiously slipped under the door in the wee hours of the last morning. The usual line items? Excursions, souvenirs, spa treatments, alcohol, specialty dining, sodas, dutyfree, etc.

How could you not spend? On my last big-ship cruise, my stateroom mailbox was inundated with flyers - sometimes twice a day - flogging jewellery, watches, bingo, spa treatments, art auctions, the list goes on. Every day, there was a blowout sale, port special or limited time offer being broadcast in the daily program, on the cabin TV, PA system and sign boards. The reality is, when cruises are being sold for $399 these days (sometimes even less), cruise lines need to make up the difference with onboard revenue.

Another shipboard trend is the explosion of specialty restaurants, with celebrity chef affiliations, accompanying cover charges, some even with a la carte pricing. The general message is if you want to try the latest and the greatest, you need to pay extra, and there is a noticeable downplay on the complimentary dining venues.

Faced with all this extra spending onboard, 1st time cruisers as well as repeat guests can become disillusioned and disappointed. As their $399 cruise becomes $1,399 when they disembark, their wonderful experience has been dampened, and the allure of switching to an all inclusive resort next time is high. Since the onboard spending blitz is here to stay, travel agents need to prepare clients by being upfront in the discussions and help guard against potential dissatisfaction. 

A frank conversation is always a good start. Discuss the reality of the onboard hard sell, identify potential extra costs, provide examples and dollar figures, so that clients have a good idea of what they will face once onboard. Excursion rates, cover charges and menu prices can all be easily obtained from cruise lines or found on online cruise forum postings. With this knowledge in hand, the impact is minimized.

Packaging cruises into all inclusive trips is one good way to reduce the surprise of onboard spending. Prepaying for beverage packages, specialty dining, providing onboard credits and prepaid gratuities give clients peace of mind knowing they have prepaid most expenditures. The best part is that some of these can be arranged through group amenities or FIT promotions at no extra charge.

Another way to truly avoid the nickel and dime experience? Upsell to premium and luxury brands where many extras are included in the price. The cost upfront is higher than mass market brands, but once you factor in the inclusions, you'll be surprised how quickly the per diem gap narrows. By offering all inclusive cruises, you are doing clients a favour by reducing onboard expenditures, increasing their enjoyment and enhancing the commission in your pocket.

The rest is up to your clients' resistance to temptation once onboard. Some will still come off the ship with a $1,000 tab, but you will not be the one they will be grumbling to!

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 36 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of www.yourcruisecoach.com

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