Every year, another megaship launches with new gadgets and innovations like IMAX theaters, skydiving simulators, onboard apps, and high-speed internet. The future of cruising is filled with thrilling new prospects, but despite our overwhelming excitement, we’ve noticed a few trends that have us a little worried.
1. The Return of a Class System
The Haven on Norwegian Pearl is gorgeous, but probably out of your price range. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line
How It Used to Be: In the days of ocean liners, passengers were segregated by class with extravagant, luxurious areas for First Class passengers, while Third Class, or steerage, passengers were relegated below decks. The invention of “modern” cruising in roughly the late 1960's brought about a relatively egalitarian approach to cruising, with all passengers, regardless of cabin type, having full run of virtually the entire ship.
How It Is Now: Starting in the early 2000’s, the class system has slowly returned. No, there’s no rat-infested steerage class as depicted in Titanic, but more and more lines offer a pricey and private “ship-within-a-ship” experience for high-paying suite passengers. For example, Norwegian’s Haven and the MSC Yacht Club both have private pools, spas, and dining rooms where guests are treated to an upscale experience without having to rub elbows with the rest of the passengers onboard. Norwegian has come closest to recreating a Third Class, with the tiny “studio” staterooms in the bowels of some of their ships, made especially for single passengers and priced accordingly.
Where It’s Going: The concept is a hit among wealthier customers who can afford premium fares but still like the variety of entertainment and onboard activities of a larger, mainstream cruise ship. We expect more and more ships to adopt this approach in the future.
2. Fewer Last-Minute Deals
It used to be easy to get a last-minute deal on a cruise out of Miami.- Photo by Royal Caribbean
How It Used to Be: Cruise lines used to offer great discounts on cruises within 30 days of the departure date. It was a great way for regular cruisers (mostly retirees) who lived near a major port to get great deals, and cruise lines were able to fill up their unused cabins.
How It Is Now: In an effort to encourage earlier bookings, Royal Caribbean announced they would no longer offer last-minute discounts on cruises 30 days in an effort to get cruisers to book early (at full price). Other lines quickly followed suit.
Where It’s Going: The strategy seems to be working. Cruise prices have been rising slowly but steadily, and while we used to see deals as low as $30 per night on our deals page, the lowest deal now is usually around $45/night.
3. More Nickel and Diming
If you want room service, you might have to pay for it now.- Photo by Silversea
How It Used to Be: Everything used to be more or less included in the cruise fare.
How It Is Now: We know we talk about this a lot, but we can hardly go a single day without reading a review by an angry cruiser complaining about the constant upcharging on board. Some lines now charge for room service, others don’t let you bring your own bottled water aboard, and some have actually started charging for lobster/steak in the main dining room.
Where It’s Going: It doesn’t look the lines will change course, and cruisers looking for an inclusive experience will need to upgrade to the premium or luxury levels (where most onboard expenses are included).
4. Small Cutbacks
Don't expect to see a chocolate on your pillow anymore.- Photo by Inked Pixels / Shutterstock
How It Used to Be: Cruise lines used to add little freebies here and there to keep passengers happy.
How It Is Now: While lines have started charging for some services, they’ve completely done away with others. Carnival tends to get the most flak for this, and we regularly see reviews where passengers complain about things like no more chocolates on the pillow, no more tablecloths in the dining room (except on Elegant Night), and no automatic stateroom service twice a day. By themselves these things sound like nitpicking, but when you list all of them together they amount to a concerning trend.
Where It’s Going: When we asked Carnival President Christine Duffy about the cutbacks, she emphasized that “what might seem a ‘take away’ is usually a re-investment in something else.” For example, doing away with tablecloths “was part of a modernization of the main dining room experience. We invested more money in new menu offerings and modernized the ambience to have more of an American bistro feel.” In an effort to spend more money on new innovations, we expect cruise lines to keep cutting back on the little things.
5. Advance Reservations
Want to see Mammia Mia? Be sure to make reservations well in advance of your sail date.- Photo by Royal Caribbean
How It Used to Be: Showtimes would be listed in the ship’s daily program, and you’d show up 15 to 30 minutes before the performance started to get a seat. If you wanted to eat at the ship’s only speciality restaurant, you’d see the maitre’d when you boarded, or maybe not even until the morning you wanted to dine.
How It Is Now: With the debut of Oasis of the Seas in 2009 came the beginning of another troublesome trend: the need for advance reservations to experience certain entertainment options on the largest cruise ships. To be fair, the change was meant to cut down on frustrating shipboard lines, but these reservations typically open well before the cruise sails, often making it necessary to book your favorite shows or specialty dining venues months in advance. There are still standby lines where unclaimed reservations are opened up 10-15 minutes before showtime, but it’s a gamble.
Where It’s Going: For experienced cruisers in the know, this is a great system. But for first-time sailors excited to see Mamma Mia or eat in Le Bistro, it can be a huge disappointment. Whether or not more cruise lines will adopt this approach will probably depend on which demographic they value more, but we have a feeling it’s here to stay.