cruise ship vacation - business model ?

Just went on a Carnival Cruise vacation - appalled and fascinated at the business model.

It was a great way to see a ton of places, etc. and I would go on one again.

However, I had no idea how expensive the drinks would be and all the other extras available for purchase (spa visits, staged family photos, soda club membership, wine tastings).

Was this always the business model - fare includes room and food - and everything else is available for purchase?

Maybe i just had visions of the Love Boat…

My first trip was on the QE2 30 years ago, then another in 1987. I’ve also gone recently. Things like alcohol, pictures, and spa visits always cost extra, since they are incremental costs. Same with shore excursions. However, there are now more things they try to get you to pay for, like different dining rooms and bingo. To some extent I think the lines are trying to keep fares down and make up for it in other ways. 25 years ago they didn’t try to steer you to certain shops, now it appears that stores listed as “bargains” give kickbacks.

It would be unfair to include the cost of drinks in fare, since drinks can be 'spensive, and some people drink a lot (or, say, have taste for top line wines) while others don’t drink at all. I’ve been on a number of small boat cruises (120 - 150 people) and they’ve always charged separately for drinks, laundry, haircuts, and similar incidentals. And they’re not cheap.

I was on one cruise (to Antarctica) where the captain decreed free drinks.

I, on the other hand, am amazed at all that IS included. I don’t drink alcohol, so that doesn’t bother me that some people have to pay extra for that. But included is the use of the gym, shows, live music venues. I have a pretty good time on a cruise without paying for anything extra. You don’t have to do any excursions and you can take a cab you find in port to a beach for very little money. I see a cruise as an amazing bargain. Where else could I get room and board and all I can eat for a week, for around $700?

Everywhere in Central America.

Well, drinks are expensive in part because they mark them up a couple hundred percent and don’t allow you to bring your own.

But yea, I’d be pretty surprised if they actually made money on the actual ticket price. They’re like casinos (up to the point of actually having casinos) in that they sell rooms and food cheap to get people in the door and then make their money on gambling and “extras”.

Trip Advisor shows 4 All-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana (Dominican Rep.) under $100/nt. I haven’t checked with each hotel, but Caribbean all-inclusives generally include alcohol.

I took a cursory glance thru Google News Archives and found a 1962 article cautioning people about all the added costs that aren’t included, so not’s apparently not something particularly recent.

Carnival Cruises is just one of the companies owned by Carnival Corp, which includes Holland America, Carnival and others. There’s a reason why the CEO is worth over $5 billion. Yes, billion. To his credit, he bought the company for $1 when he was 30 years old and took on the $5 million in debt. He’s turned it into a personal fortune.

As others mentioned, most all-inclusives offer unlimited drinks. Some of them offer better-quality unlimited drinks if you stay in the more expensive part of the hotel. Of course all of the other extras are typically extra.

I think the business model has always been to keep ticket prices as low as possible to get people on board, then incrementally hit them up for services so that it doesn’t seem like you are spending a lot.

When they advertise that the 7 day cruise is only $700/person*, the * indicates double occupancy, and almost always is for an inside cabin. The idea is that you will then pay just a little more for a porthole on the outside. Another more common occurrence these days is to create ‘specialty’ restaurants that require a cover charge to get the really good food. Two years ago, we were on the Norwegian Jade in the Western Mediterranean and saw this model taken to an extreme, where they had, IIRC, seven different specialty restaurants. This, of course, took away from dining space devoted to the ‘free food’ and made for long waits in those dining areas.

In theory, I have no problem with the specialty restaurants when it is a high end steakhouse, or sushi bar. The Jade, however, had a Spanish restaurant, Mexican restaurant, Italian restaurant, and Chinese restaurant, that were never more than 1/3 full throughout our cruise, while the regular dining halls were bursting at the seams. The Italian restaurant, in particular, was always empty and was right next to the regular dining hall, which added insult to injury. I thought that was stupid and marked them down on their survey because of it. The Benihana knock off, sushi bar, and steakhouse, were generally pretty full, so I’d leave those, but the rest were simply there to force hungry people to pay to eat when it was supposed to be free.

We took our first cruise last summer and I was shocked at how aggresively the staff was always pushing drinks at people. And probably the more you drink, the less you keep track of how much you’re spending. I am told there were people who burst into tears at the end of the cruise when the received their bills/statements and saw how much they had spent.

We’ve been on a few cruises and, despite our willingness to spend somewhat freely on vacation, the end-of-cruise bill has always been modest. These were Carnival cruises where you can rack up a lot of charges if you want, but we never felt like we were going on the cheap.
Alcohol is a big deal, though. One thing I found out: Even though the rules say you can’t bring alcohol on board, you can. They don’t actually inspect your checked bags, and so I bring a great big bottle of vodka, rum, whatever, in my checked luggage. The only person who might see it is your room steward and he is NOT going to say anything and blow his tip.
I’ve left a big bottle of vodka right out on the dresser every day of the cruise and the steward doesn’t confiscate it. I mix my own drinks, using the free juice available in the dining rooms, and buy the occasional specialty drink at the bar.
On the whole, cruises are a good bargain. It’s totally up to you how much money you spend beyond the cabin charge.

I worked on a P&O ship a few years back (they’re owned by Carnival). Every piece of luggage was x-rayed before it came on board, and if alcohol was found it would be removed. This was a UK based line, don’t know if the US ships are different.

There were many ways of extracting money from the cargo. Shows were always timed and laid out so that people had to pass through the bar areas with just enough time for a round of drinks. Shore excursions had a huge mark-up to the local prices. We’d also dock at the cheaper, slightly out of the way places so that we could sell our own (expensive) transfers to the towns and beaches.

That’s true, especially for the “drive you around on a bus to look at the sights” kind of tours. You can always find something much cheaper, and probably better, by just walking out and listening to the pitches of the drivers trying to fill their cabs or buses. Don’t make the mistake of agreeing to go with the first one who approaches you.