This week I observed a good deal of buzz in the blog and online venues about Norwegian Cruise Line adding ala carte pricing to several speciality dining options on their ships. This on top of surcharges in the traditional main dining room for premium items and late night room service. The collective reaction has been to bemoan the perceived death of traditional cruising and the rise of nickel and diming passengers. However I think on balance the reaction is greatly overstated.
NCL made a name for itself over a decade ago, when the line was struggling to find an identity for itself amidst fierce competition from Royal Caribbean and the Carnival brands. Still owned by an asian cruise company that had failed miserably to manage NCL well, in 2000 “Freestyle Cruising” was introduced. A bold marketing move, it featured giving passengers the ability to book their meal times and locations in various shipboard restaurants. Naturally, the cruising establishment bemoaned the death of traditional main dining room meals-which did not and has yet to happen. This came a couple of years following Royal Caribbean introducing the first premium dining options aboard the Voyager Class of ships-which also were lamented as some harbinger of doom for main dining.
So what really changed? Why the fuss? The answer is nothing has really changed and the fuss is a bit silly.
Such ala carte pricing already exists among some premium dining restaurants on Royal Caribbean International. Most main dining room experiences on most cruise lines now include optional menu items for an additional charge. In still other cases we see additional charges for optional items even in restaurants for which one has already paid to eat at. Even with the announcement by NCL, passengers still have the option for a all-inclusive dining experience by purchasing a package of nights in advance as they do on other lines. Likewise, main dining and the usual opening seating buffet options remain entirely free on NCL, just as with other cruise lines.
If you take a cruise you shouldn’t feel obligated to try premium dining, there are ample options that have no charge. Nor should worries about extra charges dissuade you. But if you feel like something different, it is usually a worthwhile purchase. Adding ala carte pricing is a means to elevate the value of pre-purchasing full meal packages and ads options for cruisers. It takes away nothing nor does it ruin the cruising experience.