It’s long been the catchcry of the industry: cruising is great value because it’s all inclusive. Pay your fare, step onboard and you never need to spend another dollar. Sure, you can pay extra for alcohol, fancy restaurants or guided excursions, but all the things you need for a great holiday are part of the package.

Until, one day, they’re not. In late December Royal Caribbean quietly updated its pricing for the North Star capsule and Ripcord by iFly skydiving simulator onboard Quantum of the Seas. Both activities were complimentary but are now being charged at US$20 and US$26 respectively. At this stage, the new charges only apply to Quantum while she’s sailing out of China and have not been introduced on US-based sister ship Anthem of the Seas.

Long time Royal Caribbean cruisers aren’t happy. Both features are used heavily in promotional materials for the new generation of ships and have been a drawcard for many passengers. “Awful. I LOVE RC, and we were able to enjoy these things at no cost. Like it should be. If they are going to start nickel and diming for each amenity on the ship…you are going to start losing fans, Royal Caribbean,” lamented one user on the (unofficial) Royal Caribbean Blog forum.

Royal Caribbean has yet to release an official statement, but told Cruise Passenger “Royal Caribbean has introduced a charge for North Star and Ripcord by iFly onboard Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas on their sailings from China. The charge has resulted in a smoother experience for all guests, who can now book their desired timeslot with certainty on these short cruises. There are currently no plans to extend the charges beyond China – including when Ovation of the Seas debuts in Australia later this year.”

As we suspected, the charges work as a form of crowd control. Asian cruises tend to be short (less than four days) and with more than 4,000 passengers onboard Quantum lines for popular free activities can be prohibitively long. A charge would restrict the limited spaced to only those passengers willing to pay for the experience.

It’s worth noting that the Chinese cruise market is fundamentally different to the Australian market, and so these charges make sense there. Even so, we can’t help but wonder if there’s a change in the air. Lines like P&O and Norwegian already charge guests for access to some facilities, like adventure sports or beach clubs, so the move is not unprecedented. And if passengers are willing to pay, then the lines won’t change their policies any time soon.

It also raises the questions of different pricing structures being implemented on ships in different regions, which is particularly important as more and more ships move into Asia. Could this be the start of region-specific pricing for onboard activities? And what about the potential for the system to be abused by wealthy passengers looking to keep an attraction all to themselves? Could you step onboard a ship eager to try out its latest exhilarating (and heavily advertised) experience only to find that someone has booked out every available spot for the entire journey?

We would hate to see the cruise industry go the way of airlines and begin charging for every little extra. But we also understand that thousands of people wanting to use one attraction in a short time is just not going to work. What do you think? Would you pay to use these facilities or prefer to wait in line? Or are these new gadgets not important to your cruise holiday?