— -- Are the cruise lines going the way of the airlines?
A la carte pricing is coming to cruising -- specifically, to some room service items on two major cruise lines. Carnival Cruise Lines will debut a pilot program next week on three of its ships where some room service items will incur a cost.
The announcement is the second of its kind. Norwegian Cruise Line, a Carnival competitor, recently began testing a $7.95 "convenience charge" for room service on the Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway. (The food items themselves are still free on NCL.)
On three Carnival ships -- Carnival Imagination, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Pride -- certain room service items will incur a charge as of April 12. Those items include chicken wings, fried shrimp, quesadillas, personal pizzas and sushi, the cruise line said. A wide range of items are still available at no charge, a cruise line representative told ABC News, "including seven different hot and cold sandwiches, three salad choices, three desserts and eight beverages, along with a Continental breakfast menu."
The charge for the items will be $4 to $7. The program may expand to other ships based on guest feedback.
Free room service has long been a favorite feature for cruisers, where food costs are generally considered to be part of the cost of sailing. Should potential cruisers be worried about more fees to come?
“Over the years, we’ve certainly seen a number of new fees rolled out across some cruise lines and we do hear fears of nickel-and-diming from our avid cruisers who are used to the more traditional, more inclusive cruise fare model," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com. "From a broader perspective, what we’re seeing, especially with big ship lines, is a closer alignment to more of a land resort model."
But she points out that the price of a cruise, while not all-inclusive, includes a lot. Accommodations, dining, kids’ clubs, entertainment and travel from place to place are all included in the price paid. These new fees, Brown said, are for offerings cruise lines may not have had in the past. And it's true that both NCL and Carnival Corp are adding more to the room service menus as they introduce fees.
"We’ve seen that, for the most part, the addition of new fees is for either upgraded offerings or for features that simply hadn’t been available before," Brown said, "rather than the lines unbundling fares and charging for what was previously included in the cost of a cruise.”