Rising onboard cruise prices are seeing more cruisers purchasing pre-cruise packages. But are they saving money?

“Consumers are engaging in booking their vacations earlier. Around 70% book at least one of their onboard activities pre-cruise. And onboard spending continues to increase record levels and at higher rates,” says Royal Caribbean CEO Jason Liberty.

But he did make the point that there is still a ‘price gap’ and cruising is still cheaper than land-based holidays.

“This positions us very well to outperform the broader travel industry and narrow the pricing gap to land-based vacations.”

Carnival Corporation CEO Josh Weinstein also says he’s seeing an increase in pre-cruise package spending.

“As expected, our European brands are poised to become an even greater contributor to our 2024 operating improvement. At the same time, we are continuing to pull forward onboard revenue through bundling and pre-cruise sales.”

Cruisers are left divided on the issue. Many are happy to pre-purchase their packages and accept that as a built-in cost of their cruise. However, many other cruisers feel onboard costs like entertainment, beverages, and shore excursions are increasing excessively and pricing them out of their holiday.

Frustration from a long-time Princess Cruiser 

Cruisers enjoying drinks packages on a Royal Caribbean ship

Long-time and dedicated Princess Cruises customer Julie Jester says she is becoming frustrated by rising onboard prices. 

“There have been price hikes on Princess, to the point of ridiculousness in some cases. In the past Princess seemed to take into account the different local pricing in our region so that things like corkage, specialty restaurant pricing, and wine prices were reasonable. Since the pandemic, and since the Australian dollar has dropped so much against the American dollar, some of their pricing isn’t realistic in local terms, for example, very few, if any, local restaurants would charge $30 corkage.

“But the thing that is annoying me is their wine pricing. Especially when they are charging $15 a glass, and $64 a bottle for wines that are just the bottled version of De Bortoli cask wines. And those retail for $20-22 for a four-litre cask at Dan Murphy’s.”

Jester chooses not to opt for a pre-cruise package with Princess due to the rise in package prices. And on top of that, she doesn’t want to pay for inclusions she doesn’t see value in.

“At the original USD$40 per day, then USD$50, the Plus package was exceptionally good value despite the poor quality and very limited selection of wines under that package. Still, at least you get 25% off the wine by the bottle price which makes their over-inflated prices a bit more reasonable. This allows us to drink wines we enjoy instead of being stuck with the current poor selection of wines by the glass.

“At USD$65 Plus is less attractive, especially for Elite passengers who get a 50% discount on internet packages. The extras they have added are of no interest to us. Especially those revolting “specialty desserts” which are essentially sugar-loaded sundaes.”

John Cook another Princess cruiser, feels similarly.

“Everything has gone up at least twice since cruising restarted. Princess Plus was 40 then 50 now 65. Individual drink prices are up and specialty restaurants are now $63 per person. Internet prices are also up.”

Cruisers feel priced out 

Many buy packages and drinks packages to beat price hikes

Jon Daniels says these days specialty dining is out of his price range on a cruise, even when purchasing a pre-cruise package.

“Specialty restaurants are now mostly outside my price range. I only go to them now by using my BOGO benefit. Of course, the daily gratuity price has gone up. But they have reduced the number of times per day the cabins are serviced.”

Mechelle Davis says she’s seen a rise in shore excursions and drinks packages on Royal Caribbean.

“Drink packages are crazy. I was lucky to wait till a couple of weeks before sailing went down to $94 by getting it cheaper when rang them.

“Shore excursions from Royal are expensive now, especially in New Zealand. Last month, a lot of people did the same as us and just winged it. We organised our own when we got to shore.

“It’s an expensive holiday now, not cheap anymore. I know it depends on where and how long as well. It was still a lovely cruise ship. I couldn’t fault anything about Ovation of the Seas.”

Unavoidable inflation?

Many other cruisers, such as John Murton simply feel that onboard spend is rising in price. But so is your local supermarket and department store. Murton also feels that spending is simply a personal responsibility.

“I think you should be doing your bill costings on board, just as you do when you are at the supermarket. Further, within the app, you can also see your daily purchases and charges that are attributed to either your pre-paid card or whatever. It is so simple to see what you are paying for, there really should be no “bill shock” at the end of your cruise at all.“

“I see no problem with raising their costs to the cost of inflation….they too also need profit to continue business. I don’t think the costs have risen any more than in other areas where you do your everyday shopping.”