"Nickel and diming" is an American phrase that has become common currency – and one that many cruisers use to describe (disparagingly) the practice of adding more and more extra charges to the basic cruise fare.
Compulsory gratuity charges annoy Aussie cruisers more than just about anything else. Following my recent Traveller story 25 Insider Cruise Secrets, reader Martin Field from WineTalk @ Noosa 101.3 FM made these comments:
"We follow many of your tips when cruising. Here's number 26. Don't pay the stateroom 'gratuities' lumped onto your shipboard account. They are one of the great rip-offs and according to the fine print on most lines are not compulsory.
"Typically, they cost $US12.50 to $US13 ($16-plus) per day per person over four years of age. On a recent 21-day Mediterranean trip, two of us saved $US525 by not paying these charges. Instead we generously tipped the people we felt deserved a tip."
Martin goes on to say that crew they've talked to on various cruises say they sign on for an agreed salary and don't receive any extra income from the compulsory gratuity charges paid by passengers. "As far as we can understand the money goes into the lines' general revenue and the only distribution is via standard salaries."
Whatever way the major cruise lines structure salaries and distribution of the compulsory gratuity income, it won't be changing any time soon. Unless you're prepared to negotiate a waiver of the charge at the end of the cruise and distribute tips to crew as you feel fit, you have to factor in the daily charges to the overall cost of your fare.
P&O Cruises abolished compulsory gratuity charges several years ago; Carnival Cruise Line followed suit on its Australia-based Legend and Spirit; and you don't pay it on Princess Cruises Australia-based ships, even when they are sailing overseas (from an Australian port).
Carnival recently announced it is increasing its compulsory gratuity charge from September 1, to $US12.95 a person a day for passengers in standard staterooms and $US13.95 for suites. Similarly, charges on Royal Caribbean International's ships will rise to US$12.95 and US$15.95 from July 1.
Charges for on-board services can also add up; every drink you buy has an extra 15-18 per cent added to the price, and the same applies to spa and salon services. Room service now attracts a charge on some lines, sometimes for late-night service or for particular menu items; according to Cruise Critic, Regal Princess instituted a $3 service fee as a test when the ship debuted but revoked it after passengers complained.
Bottom line: always do your sums when booking cruises that are not "all inclusive".
MEET THE CREW
NAME Jen Baxter, of Britain
POSITION Cruise director, Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Legend
MY JOB I am the face and voice of the ship, which means I run many of the daytime activities and host the shows in the main theatre. I also supervise the entertainment staff and work very closely with the entertainment director to organise schedules and plan the daily events and activities.
A TYPICAL DAY… starts with the live morning TV show, then throughout the day I will host two or three big events, such as HASBRO, the Game Show. In the evening, I host the main production shows in the theatre featuring the Playlist Production performers and variety artists.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT When we docked in Brisbane, I went to Australia Zoo and walked a wombat.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORTS Any port in Alaska is amazing. For beaches, you can't beat Mystery Island in Vanuatu and the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.
INSIDER TIP Join in with everything and do something you have never done before, you're never too old to try something new!
Solo Traveller is a new app singles can use to connect with other single travellers – ideal if you like doing your own thing but might want to meet up to share a dinner or cab while on the road. Free for iPhones and Android.
New Jewel for Emerald City
Norwegian Jewel – part of Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) 14-strong fleet – is the latest ship to be based in Sydney for the summer. The 2376-passenger ship, which was built in 2005 and fully refurbished in 2014, will arrive in October 2017 to sail 15 itineraries around Australia and to New Zealand, before heading for Asia in March 2018. Its first cruise is a five-day round trip from Sydney to Tasmania, departing November 12, which is expected to sell out quickly as local cruisers jump at the chance to experience NCL on their home shores. Norwegian Jewel will particularly appeal to multi-generational family groups – accommodation ranges from inside and oceanview cabins to family suites and the expansive "private access" suites and facilities of The Haven – and there's a big focus on dining and entertainment. Bookings open on June 29; see ncl.com.au
Huge Royal season for 2017-18
No sooner than Royal Caribbean has farewelled its summer visitors than it opens bookings for the season after next. Together, Ovation of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas will offer 66 cruises ranging from two to 23 nights during the 2017-18 season. From September 2017 to April 2018, the four ships will call at 46 ports in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Asia and North America, with departures from Sydney, Fremantle, Auckland, Singapore, Honolulu and Seattle. Voyager and Explorer will sail mostly South Pacific itineraries, and Ovation and Radiance will cruise Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian Cruise Association (ACA) has launched a new program with Princess Cruises that offers in-depth destination information to passengers cruising in Australia. It starts with a series of welcome videos featuring local ports and tour operators that will be shown on the cruise line's website and on board. These will be followed by more-detailed videos that include helpful information delivered by local experts on the ports and surrounding areas. On-board speakers and small-group, special-interest tours that guests could not experience on their own will round out the program, which will be rolled out mid-year in select ports in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, SA and WA.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Cruiseco is offering a 15-night fly-stay-cruise package from Hong Kong to Singapore on board the newly revitalised Celebrity Millennium on October 30. The deal includes a free upgrade to an Aqua Class stateroom with verandah, a night's pre-cruise accommodation in Hong Kong, gratuities, and a choice of three on-board credits. Highlights include overnights in Hanoi, Bangkok and Singapore. From $4165, until sold out. Phone (02) 9492 8520; see cruising.com.au
Silversea is bringing back its popular Silver Select program with extra savings available for a limited time on dozens of worldwide voyages in 2016, including select expedition cruises. There are three offers to choose from: a $US1500 on-board spending credit (for ocean cruises); suite upgrade, or 50 per cent off a second suite for ocean and expedition voyages. Offers valid until July 31; phone 1300 306 872; see silversea.com
Get in early and save on airfares, air credits and solo discounts on a range of APT's 2017 Europe river cruises. For example, return flights to Europe cost $995 on the 15-day Magnificent Europe cruises between Amsterdam and Budapest; fares start from $6495 and include sightseeing, special events, on-board drinks and gratuities, and transfers. Valid for bookings made by August 31, 2016; phone 1300 196 420; see aptouring.com.au