We're seeing some amazing cruise deals right now — but there's a catch
Thinking about booking one of the amazing last-minute cruise deals that have popped up in recent weeks?
As we've written about extensively of late, there are many of them, with some fall sailings going for as little as $26 a day.
But before you book one of the offers, you should know that there's a caveat of sorts to the super-low rates. Even as some major cruise lines have been dropping their fares for soon-to-depart sailings to rock-bottom levels, they have been sharply raising fees for various services and venues on their ships.
In other words, you might get a great deal for a cruise in the coming months, but you could pay more than you are expecting once you get on board the ship. In some cases, a lot more.
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The cruise operators raising prices for onboard venues include Carnival Cruise Line, which has pushed up the cost of some of its marquee restaurants on ships this year by as much as 26%. The cover charge for the line's signature steakhouses, for instance, has jumped from $38 to $48 per person in two steps over the past seven months.
Carnival has also hiked the cost of its signature Chef's Table experience this year by nearly 24%, to $99 a person. The cost of drinks packages on Carnival ships is up significantly this year, too, in some cases by more than 15%.
Among other lines raising prices significantly this year for some onboard items is Norwegian Cruise Line. The line is increasing the cost of its Unlimited Open Beverage Bar Package on Jan. 1 by about 10%, to $109. The cost of a higher-end drinks package will soon be $138, up from $128.
Many Norwegian customers get a "free" drinks package as part of a booking promotion. However, the booking promotion does not include an automatic 20% bar gratuity on the theoretical cost of the packages. As the cost of Norwegian's drinks packages rise, the cost of its automatic bar gratuity fees rise, too.
Service fees also shooting up
Other onboard expense items that are seeing a surge in cost of late include the cost of automatic service fees added to passenger bills.
On Sept. 7, Royal Caribbean, the world's largest cruise line, hiked the automatic service fee it charges passengers by more than 10%, to $16 per person per day for those staying in most cabins. Passengers in suites now pay $18.50 per person, per day.
That's up from the former service fee rate at Royal Caribbean of $14.50 for standard cabins and $17.50 for suites.
Cruise lines have blamed the onboard price hikes on the soaring costs they are experiencing to buy food and fuel to operate their ships as high inflation takes hold in the economy, as well as ongoing supply chain challenges.
Related: The ultimate guide to picking a cruise line
“We have all experienced the impact of inflation, higher fuel prices and supply chain challenges," Carnival wrote to its customers earlier this month in an email explaining its price hikes. "The food supply chain challenges have been further complicated by global politics and a myriad of laws regarding how we source products and how crops and animals are farmed and handled.”
The email to Carnival customers added that the company had "reached a point with our food costs ... where we must take some modest but specific actions, which we know most of you have done yourselves, whether with your dining out patterns or shopping to stock the refrigerator or pantry.”
Just days after the announcement, Carnival boosted the price of one onboard item, a pre-purchased 12-pack of bottled water, by an eye-popping 101%. A pre-purchased 12-pack of water on Carnival ships now costs $9.95, up from $4.95.
Related: The 8 classes of Carnival ships, explained
In another added charge, Carnival earlier this month said it would begin charging passengers who order extra entrees in its included-in-the-fare main dining rooms if they order more than two entrees. The new fee will be $5 per entree.
While a small charge, the new fee is a sharp departure from the longstanding tradition on cruise ships that passengers can order as many entrees as they want in included-in-the-fare restaurants.
Onboard costs rising faster than inflation
In many cases, the prices that cruisers are finding at onboard venues such as restaurants and bars — and the amount they are spending on board ships — are rising much faster than the rate of inflation.
In the United States, consumer prices over the past year have increased by 7.9%, as measured by the latest Consumer Price Index report from the U.S. Department of Labor.
However, in recent months, some cruise executives have boasted about onboard revenue that has risen at many multiples of that amount in the latest financial quarters.
"Our onboard revenue generation continues to break records as onboard revenue — revenue per passenger cruise day — was approximately 30% higher [in the third quarter] than the comparable 2019 period," Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio told Wall Street analysts earlier this month.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
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