Cruise passengers are paying more in gratuities, as almost all big cruise lines seek to retain and attract good service personnel and remain competitive with each other.
Five lines have raised or announced increases so far this year, with one, Norwegian Cruise Line, raising its gratuities twice.
Princess Cruises was the latest to jump on the bandwagon, saying last week that it would raise gratuities 12.6% starting Jan. 1.
The moves raise the overall cost of a cruise without raising the fares on which travel agents earn commission. But several agents said clients are not noticing or pushing back against higher gratuities and that agents don’t go out of their way to discuss them, other than to say they are automatically billed at the end of a cruise.
“Most of the people, when they are initially booking a cruise, they know they have to pay gratuities,” said Shari Marsh, owner of Cruise Holidays Land and Sea in Raleigh, N.C.
“They know that it’s in that $12 vicinity. They don’t seem to have that much concern about it.”
That kind of accepting attitude on the part of many passengers has opened the door to increases that were harder to pass along during the economic swoon that lasted for several years beginning in 2008.
Princess, which as late as 2007 was at $10 a day, raised the figure by 50 cents in 2008 and then waited until May 2011 to increase it to $11.50. Beginning with cruises departing Jan. 1, the suggested gratuity will jump to $12.95 a day, with suite guests paying $13.95.
Brian O’Connor, vice president for public relations, said Princess is simply catching up with the field.
“We were not in line with our competition, so these increases bring us in line with other premium brands,” O’Connor said.
While most lines’ gratuities are now at $12.95, Carnival Cruise Line’s are at $12 after raising its rate to that level a year ago.
At the high end of the scale, Norwegian Cruise Line’s suggested gratuity charge is $13.50, having raised it in March from $12 to $12.95 and then again, in August, to the current rate.
At a press luncheon several weeks ago in Papenburg, Germany, where Norwegian is completing construction of its next ship, Norwegian President Andy Stuart declined to go into detail about the line’s rationale for higher gratuities, saying merely that management feels they are now at an appropriate level.
Frank Del Rio, chairman of Norwegian’s parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, has made it known that he considers better service one of the keys to improving customer retention at Norwegian.
It isn’t clear exactly how much of crew compensation is derived from tips, since most cruise lines closely guard that information. But O’Connor said that gratuities represent an “important” part of crew compensation.
Estimates of the share of crew salary that tips constitute vary from around 50% to nearly all of it in some positions. Cabin stewards earn from $1,400 to $2,400 a month in wages alone, according to Cruiseshipjob.net, a recruitment site. Waiters earn between $2,500 and $4,000 a month in combined wages and tips, according to another site, Cruiselinesjobs.com.
Throughout the economy, the level of tips in general has been rising, although not at the same rate as gratuities at sea.
“Tips increase over time,” said William Michael Lynn, a professor at the school of hotel management at Cornell University, who said that the average tip at a U.S. restaurant is now approaching 20%.
The most recent Zagat Dining Trends Survey found the average meal tip in the U.S. was 19.3%. That compares with an average of 18.6% in 2004.
Historically, cruise lines have provided breakdowns of where tips go, and some still do. On its website, Carnival says of its $12 total gratuities that $6.10 is allocated to dining staff, $3.90 to stateroom attendants and $2 to kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members.
Increasingly, however, gratuities are being treated as lump-sum service charges added to the bill at the end of the cruise. Guests remain free to adjust the amounts, although Norwegian recently said charges can only be altered after guests depart the ship, not onboard.
“A lot of people will not take the time and be disciplined enough to go through that process,” said Adrienne Greben, a CruiseOne agent in Concord, Ohio, near Cleveland.
Other lines continue to ask that adjustments be made at the guest services office, with some saying amounts are final if undisputed by the time of disembarkation.
Agents say cruise lines have made raising gratuities more palatable with some loopholes.
“They all give a little window of time where you can go ahead and prepay your gratuity” at the old rate, Marsh said. “Clients appreciate that, and a lot of people will go forward as long as they know about it.”
Increasingly, cruise lines are also offering promotions in which free gratuities are one among a choice of three or four options.
Greben said clients seldom pick the free-gratuity option, however.
“When you do the math to see the value of those amenities, gratuities only come out ahead if it’s a longer sailing,” she said. “On a typical seven-night sailing, frankly, that’s the lowest value.”
But most lines also allow onboard credits to be applied to gratuities, and many do that, Greben said. Guests can also apply onboard credits they get from shareholder perquisites, from credit card offers or by booking their next cruise while on the current voyage.
Rising gratuities mean a family of four now pays $336 or more in tips for a seven-night cruise. “It does add up,” Greben said. “People sort of resign themselves to the fact that it is part of the overall cruise price.”
Some travel agents said they were also resigned to the fact that rising gratuities don’t add up to rising commissions. Among them is Amy Fields, owner of Amy’s Total Travel in Towanda, Pa.
“It is what it is,” Fields said. “That’s something we don’t get upset about.”
Holland America Line has launched a campaign to promote itself as Seattle’s hometown cruise line.
It’s a smart move that dovetails with an increasing emphasis on local as well as of cruise brands.
HAL won’t be advertising itself that way in Omaha or San Antonio, said President Orlando Ashford. But the greater Seattle area, with 3.6 million residents, is a top metro market with the income to cruise and HAL’s ships conveniently departing all summer from its piers.
Ashford said HAL, which has been located in Seattle for 32 years, wants to raise its profile as a corporate citizen in an area that includes names such as Microsoft, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Amazon.com.
Save for perhaps Princess Cruises in Los Angeles, it’s hard to think of another cruise line with such a strong position as a hometown cruise line.
Miami is a bit of an open city, with Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International all having a longstanding claim.
But Norwegian made a play for New York and Miami with the introduction of its last two ships, the Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway, which were themed to those two cities.
And Carnival is making a big push to be considered the local favorite in the Texas market, where it is the official cruise line of the Dallas Cowboys, and in New Orleans where it recently struck a similar deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Who knows, maybe there’s a deal in the works to make HAL the official cruise line of the Seattle Seahawks, whose blue 12th man banner is ubiquitous in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
It might look good draped on HAL’s new downtown headquarters, which is expected to open at the end of next year.
Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the 4,270-passenger Norwegian Escape Thursday.
The 164,600-gross-ton ship, which was constructed by the Meyer Werft yard in Papenburg and Germany, will make its way to Miami via stops in Hamburg, Germany, and Southampton, England.
It is scheduled to arrive in Miami on Oct. 29 and will be christened by Miami-based musician Pitbull on Nov. 9.
The Escape is the first in the Breakaway Plus class and, as its name suggests, is a slightly larger version of the Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway now in operation.
Among its features is a larger VIP-only Haven area, expanded ropes course, a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, the Food Republic dining hall overseen by the Pubbelly Restaurant Group and the Bayamo restaurant by chef Jose Garces.
Per Norwegian tradition, its hull carries a distinctive, colorful design; in this case, it was designed by Guy Harvey.
Cruise ship stays included in Balearic's tourist tax proposals
MSC Splendida and me in Majorca.
The Balearic government has proceeded with plans to introduce a daily tourist eco-tax, including charges for passengers on cruise ships in its draft proposals.
The islands’ vice-president and tourism minister, Biel Barceló, told a parliamentary hearing last month that it would apply a tourist tax in 2016 and the government has now drawn up formal proposals.
There is concern among the trade that the tax will drive visitors away from the Balearics.
Stays on cruise ships moored in any of the islands’ ports; hotels; hostels; campsites; and holiday homes will all be taxed, should the proposals be approved.
Those staying on cruise ships will be charged €2 per day in high season, along with those staying in hotels rated above four-star.
Lesser taxes will be applied to those staying in lower grade hotels and most apartments, the tax will be halved in low season and children aged under 14 will be exempt.
"This represents a maximum surcharge of no more than 1.4% of the respective holiday budget," said Balearic president Francina Armengol.
A decision on the tax will be made by the Commission for Sustainable Tourism, which will be founded if the tax is passed through parliament. This is expected to take place in the second quarter of 2016.
Mr Barceló said: "With the help of these revenues we will be able to maintain and improve the quality of tourism services in the islands.
"We ask our visitors for a small contribution to protect and preserve this little paradise formed by four islands."
The tax will also be levied to locals who stay in tourist accommodation.
The government said the revenue generated by the tax will be invested in environmental protection, sustainable tourism, the preservation and restoration of cultural heritage, improvement of infrastructure in tourist areas as well as in research, training and development in the tourism sector.
The islands, which attract almost 3.5 million visitors from the UK each year, scrapped a similar tax in 2003 just one year after it was introduced, because it was deterring holidaymakers.
The arrival of the Carnival Victory opened the new port of Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. It is the first of many Carnival Corp. ships that will dock at the $85 million facility.
Amber Cove is expected to revive cruise tourism on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, which has been dormant for 30 years.
The port includes a pier capable of simultaneously docking two of the cruise company's largest vessels. It has a shopping village, bars and restaurants, a pool, ziplines, rental cabanas and a large excursion-staging area.
Carnival Corp. has said that Amber Cove will be included on stops from eight of its 10 cruise lines, although at least half of the passengers are expected to come from Carnival Cruise Line.
Amber Cove will serve as a base of operations for the Fathom social-impact brand when it begins sailing to the Dominican Republic next April.
When Avalon Waterways asked me in 2013 to be the godmother of its then-new Expression Suite Ship, I was both honored and perplexed.
I had been following the burgeoning popularity of river cruising in Europe but considered myself neither authority nor godmother material. Avalon Managing Director Patrick Clark explained the company's reasoning, pointing out my love for the sites that line Europe's great rivers and featured in my book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."
"Avalon's mission is to connect those dots and bring our guests there with the utmost in comfort," Clark said. "We're a good match."
He was right, of course, and I jumped onboard — and that festive May ceremony in the Rhine town of Koblenz will forever remain a special moment for me.
My first real immersion in the comfort and enveloping charms of the Expression, however, didn't happen until last month, when I hosted a one-week cruise on the legendary Danube, Europe's longest river; we would visit four of the 10 countries through which its not-so-blue waters flow. (No other river passes through so many countries.)
Traveling east to west, we began in Budapest and were scheduled to disembark in Nuremberg, Germany, but not before having explored stops in Austria and with a sail-by visit of Bratislava in Slovakia. A rich itinerary like this deserves to close on a high note, and it did, with a post-cruise transfer to.
Avalon taps the destination knowledge and logistical backup of its Globus Family of Brands sister companies to create an impressive roster of included land programs to cities large (Vienna; Regensburg, Germany) and small (Durnstein and Melk, Austria). Extra-cost options, ranging from Strauss concerts and horse shows to wine tastings, fleshed out each day's possibilities.
We arrived in Budapest even before Avalon's predeparture package began, wanting extra time to explore one of the four capital cities sitting directly on the banks of the Danube. Budapest is a magnificent city; with eight illuminated bridges and outdoor restaurants with strolling violinists, it exudes a festive air. Walkways line the banks of the Danube, popular with locals and tourists out for nocturnal strolls.
Avalon's base at the waterfront InterContinental Budapest was peerless for its location, steps from the famous 19th century Chain Bridge (the first to connect Buda and Pest). It is within sight of the city's (and country's) finest hotel, the exquisitely restored Four Seasons Gresham Palace. We lingered there over a palinka (fruit brandy) in the hotel's theatrical bar-lounge, imagining life in the Belle Epoque.
We had just returned from an excellent Context Walking Tour, an insightful three-hour stroll through the city's golden age, the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when the Hungarian capital flourished as a center of art and learning, and intellectuals throughout Europe gravitated here; that tour was not part of Avalon's precruise package. Keeping the historical theme alive, we dressed up for a quintessentially Hungarian evening at the Gundel restaurant, in business since the late 1800s. A four-piece gypsy orchestra and a rich menu of classic Hungarian specialties sealed the deal with our new love affair with the city.
Avalon's coach tour the next day covered the capital city's many highlights and filled in the holes with a crash course on the country's rich and complex history.
But the Expression called, and soon we were boarding the 166-passenger vessel, one of Avalon's 10 Suite Ships. (Its Europe fleet currently numbers 15, with two 36-guest All-Suite Ships sailing Asia's Irrawaddy and Mekong debuting this year.)
The beauty of river cruising is that you only unpack once, so it might as well be in one of Avalon's spacious 200-square-foot accommodations. They are 30% larger than the industry standard on Europe's waterways and make up 80% of the rooms. (The balance are marginally smaller at 172 square feet, while just two 300-square-foot Royal Suites await a lucky few.) The unquestionable standout feature goes to the "floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall panoramic windows that open 7 feet wide to create an open-air balcony," Clark said. Add to that Comfort Collection beds that are positioned to face the windows — not a wall — to watch European vignettes of steep, terraced vineyards and hilltop castles drift by.
The ship's layout was explained to us the first evening by our personable cruise director, Nancy Paredes. River vessels, she said, are limited by the size of the river locks through which they will travel, so adding a conventional balcony would compromise room space. Hence that remarkable wall of windows. "Comfort," Clark reminded me, "is king."
The mix of excited passengers was predominantly from the U.S., with a good number from Canada and a handful from New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. By the end of the cruise, if we didn't know each other by name, we certainly recognized everyone.
The casually elegant dining room was a fun spot to sit with fellow guests, sharing culinary experiences that ranged from very good to excellent and were often influenced by our host country and the local markets' (and vineyards') offerings.
With the record-breaking numbers of river ships that are exiting the boatyards every year, it still seemed like there was plenty of Danube to go around for all of us. Some days we saw more vessels docked at the ports along the way than we did sailing the river itself. It often felt like we had the Danube to ourselves.
MSC extends 'status match' loyalty scheme to the UK
MSC Poesia photo bombing
Consumers holding loyalty club memberships from cruise lines, hotel groups and tour operators will be able to join a new MSC Cruises club which will automatically match their existing level of benefits.
Membership of the MSC Voyagers Club guarantees a 5% discount on cruise prices, with tiered ‘Classic’, ‘Silver’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Black’ rewards levels offering different on-board privileges.
The Italian line’s loyalty scheme also offers members access to special ‘Voyagers Selection’ sailings with of up to 15%.
The tier level new members are assigned will match as closely as possible with the level of benefits they are receiving from their existing scheme, according to the line.
Members can then book direct or via a travel agent.
The ‘status match’ programme has already been introduced in countries such as the US, Italy, Germany and France and is being extended to the UK from October 26.
MSC Cruises executive director UK and Ireland, Giles Hawke, said: “The status match programme has already proved to be a great success in other countries so it is great news guests in the UK can now enjoy its benefits.
“The scheme is a great way of encouraging those who have not tried MSC Cruises to join us and understand what our Mediterranean way of life is all about while retaining all the perks and privileges they are used to.
“We are sure the initiative will help our trade partners by encouraging customers to try something new.
“Selling MSC Cruises is great for agents, who benefit from best-in-class commissions, including pre-purchased extras such as shore excursions and.”
Avalon emphasizes great views in river cruise TV ads
Viking River Cruises is no longer the only river cruise line with a TV advertising presence. Avalon Waterways launched its first television ad campaign in September, with its first video spots airing on HGTV, the Travel Channel, CNN and BBC America.
Viking ads have introduced many Americans to European river cruising over the past four years. Now that consumers know more about it, Avalon “felt that now is the time to introduce the idea of an option,” said Steve Born, senior vice president of marketing for Globus, Avalon’s parent company.
Avalon created three playful spots that highlight the importance of having a good view, leading into Avalon’s stateroom design — beds face outward to open-air balconies, providing passengers with views of the passing scenery while they cruise.
A six-week ad run will be completed at the end of October. The company is hoping that the advertising will raise awareness about what Avalon offers and help agents sell the product when customers who have watched the commercials ask about Avalon.
“We wanted to give the agent a little bit of an assist by having the seed planted first before the inquiry begins,” said Born.
Avalon doesn’t have any further ad buys scheduled. Born said the company is waiting to see the return on investment.
Avalon also did a three-minute promotional video that showcases views from a river cruise.
Norwegian Epic back in service with new attractions and spaces
The Norwegian Epic set sail this week with new venues and attractions after a three-week renovation.
The ship now features the Cavern Club, an entertainment venue that pays tribute to the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, where the performed in their early years.
The Epic has a new Broadway-style revue, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert — The Musical," a show that celebrates gay pride and is based on the 1994 Australian film. Well-known pop songs from yesteryear are part of the score, including "It's Raining Men," "" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
A scene from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert — The Musical."
The Aqua Park now has SplashGolf, a game that combines water features with minigolf.
Norwegian Epic also was outfitted with a new photo gallery, library and card room.
Several restaurants received new decor, carpeting and furnishings, including Moderno Churrascaria, Cagney's, La Cucina, Le Bistro, Garden Cafe, Manhattan Room and Taste.
Other venues that were spruced up: the Mandara spa, Bliss Ultra Lounge, Marketplace buffet, Epic Theater, casino and Haven suite complex.
The Norwegian Epic entered service in 2010. The ship will sail Mediterranean cruises this winter and next spring and summer before returning to the U.S. and its new home in Port Canaveral, Fla., in fall 2016.
Carnival Corp. said it is moving forward with plans to form a joint venture with China State Shipbuilding Corp. that would operate a new domestic brand in China.
In an announcement timed to the visit of the Chinese premier to London, Carnival announced that China Investment Corp. will also be a partner in the venture.
The partners formalized the venture at a signing ceremony held today at the Mansion House in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping in attendance.
"This cruising joint venture is a significant step forward for the cruise industry in China and a tremendous opportunity for us to work together with [China State Shipbuilding Corp. and China Investment Corp.] to grow awareness, interest and demand for cruise vacations amongest domestic Chinese travelers," said Alan Buckelew, global chief operations officer for Carnival Corp. & plc.
In announcing the venture, Carnival and its partners did not name it or say when its first ship is expected to be ready for sailing. The announcement described the new brand as "the first world-class, multi-ship domestic cruise brand in the Chinese market."
The parties said the addition of China Investment Corp. to the venture was a sign of China's "commitment to developing a strong domestic cruise presence and growing demand for cruising as a key driver of the expanding Chinese tourism market."
One of the largest sovereign wealth management funds in the world, China Investment Corp. has $740 billion of assets under management, Carnival said
P&O Cruises' Britannia to make St Lucia debut in 2016
P&O Cruises' newest ship, Britannia, is to sail from St Lucia for the first time as part of its winter 2016-17 deployment in the Caribbean.
An expanded fly-cruise programme of new seven-night cruises alongside traditional 14-night winter sun itineraries went on sale yesterday (Thursday).
Britannia will run a total of 28 Caribbean cruises from St Lucia or Barbados during its second winter season in the region.
The ships will depart from the new Caribbean port for the first time on November 12, 2016 on a seven-night itinerary with calls into Dominica, Antigua, St Maarten and Barbados.
The line described St Lucia as a “must-see” Caribbean destination for its passengers.
Marketing director, Christopher Edgington, said: “Introducing new itineraries which all depart or return St Lucia will offer a new dimension to our Caribbean cruises.
“St Lucia is a popular destination with passengers and no other cruise line has it as a home port, so we are looking to make the most of this by offering an exciting range of shore excursions to maximise the time there.
“It is also the first time we have offered a seven-night Caribbean cruise option. These new week-long itineraries will appeal to those wishing to escape the cold weather and see a number of destinations but who don’t have the time for a longer cruise.
“For passengers with more leisure time, our 14-night cruises provide the perfect opportunity to see more than seven islands in one holiday.”
Prices for seven-night Caribbean fly-cruises start at £1,099 per person for an inside cabin and a 14-nights from £1,299, including return flights from Gatwick.
A previously-announced slump in UK cruise passengers last year has been re-confirmed in newly-published figures for the global industry.
The statistics for 2014 released by Clia show global demand for cruise holidays growing by 3.4% year-on-year to reach 22.04 million ocean cruise passengers.
But UK numbers dropped to 1.6 million from 1.7 million a year earlier, largely due to reduced cruise ship capacity away from UK ports and other popular destinations such as the Mediterranean
The cruise industry trade association was quick to point out that the UK will have returned to growth in a “landmark year” in 2015 thanks to the introduction of ships including P&O Cruises’ Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas, Princess Cruises' Royal Princess and Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ Magellan.
“Longer-term trends demonstrate that the UK and Ireland market remains resilient; the annual average increase in passenger numbers since the start of the economic downturn in 2008 has been 3.3% and, over the past quarter century, there has been ten-fold growth,” a Clia spokesman said.
“The UK and Ireland continues to have one of Europe’s highest rates of market penetration for cruise holidays.”
The UK and Germany accounted for 15% of global cruise passengers or 3.38 million in 2014.
The Clia global figures issued from the US reveal total contributions from the cruise industry rose from $117 billion in 2013 to $119.9 billion last year.
This includes supporting 939,232 full-time equivalent employees earning $39.3 billion in income. Direct expenditures generated by cruise lines, passengers and crew totalled $55.8 billion.
North America remains the largest source market, accounting for 55% or 12.2 million cruise passengers in 2014, followed by Europe which claimed 29% or 6.4 million passengers.
Other regions of the world, including Australia, China, Singapore, Japan and South America, accounted for the remaining 16% or 3.5 million passengers.
Cruise tourism in Asia is growing at double-digit rates, both in capacity and as a passenger source market, according to the study.
The number of ships deployed in the region between 2013 and 2015 grew at a 10% compound annual growth rate, and the volume of cruises and voyages within and through Asia increased 11%. Passenger capacity in Asia increased 20%, with Chinas being the main driver of growth.
Clia acting chief executive, Cindy D’Aoust, said: “The cruise industry is truly a global and dynamic one.
“We’ve enjoyed progressive growth over the last 30 years, driven initially by demand from North America, which expanded to Europe, Australia and now Asia. As a result, the cruise industry impacts the global economy generating jobs, income and business growth in all regions of the world.
“The potential for new cruise passenger growth is huge,” she added.
“Apart from North America and Europe, other regions of the world account for nearly 85% of the world’s population, yet represent only 16% of cruisers. That reflects a tremendous opportunity for the cruise industry.
“Asia is a prime example of the cruise industry’s growth opportunity. Our industry is bringing more cruise ship visits to Asia and the volume of cruise passengers sourced from Asia for cruise tourism worldwide nearly doubled since 2012.”
Norwegian improves agent incentives to book affinity cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line revamped its program for affinity groups to give travel agents three ways to receive amenities associated with booking such groups. The updated program starts Dec. 1.
The first option is to receive two tour conductor (TC) credits for every 14 berths booked as the entire amenity.
A second choice provides a 1-for-14 TC credit plus the option of an Ultimate Beverage package or prepaid service charges for each member of the group.
A third choice is a 1-for-14 TC credit plus any two of a list of eight amenities, including a free Internet package, a cocktail party, a four-night specialty dining package or a $75 onboard credit.
The affinity group program was announced during a webinar for agents. In an instant poll done during the webinar, 44% of agents said they preferred the second choice, 38% the third choice and 20% the first choice.
“We are huge fans of affinity groups,” Norwegian Cruise Line President Andy Stuart told webinar participants, because bookings come early, tend to stick and bring people who have never cruised before.
As part of the program, Stuart said the availability of amenities chosen will be guaranteed for the duration of the cruise, even though it may be booked many months out.
Other terms of the program require agents to make a deposit of $50 per cabin within 60 days of booking, provide for space recall at 120 days prior to sailing, and require final payment 75 days prior to sailing. “We’re going to ask you to invest in this program,” Stuart said.
Norwegian emphasized that the program is only for true affinity groups, not for unaffiliated passengers booked together in speculative space held as a group.