Frugal TravelerFrugal Traveler Discover More, Spend Less!

Higher costs and less service: Why is the value of cruising not what it once was?

Lately, I’ve noticed that cruising isn’t the value-packed escape it used to be, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth it anymore. Higher costs have crept in from all angles—elevated gratuities that feel like sneaky service charges, reduced food variety despite increased dining fees, and even once simple joys like daily cabin cleaning have been cut back. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, now asks for $20-$25 per person per day just in tips, and don’t get me started on how reduced portion sizes make meals less satisfying. It’s not just limited to them either; Celebrity Cruises has shifted to a team-based butler service, which dilutes the personal touch I loved. Add in set-price port taxes that aren’t refunded if a port is missed and all-inclusive packages that somehow still manage to cost more, and it feels like I’m paying more for less at every turn. The once seamless, luxurious experience seems to be slipping away, leaving me to question whether cruising still offers the exceptional escape it once promised. Why is it that cruising—once a symbol of luxurious, all-inclusive vacations—is starting to feel less like a pampering escape and more like a pricey, less-than-stellar experience? If you’ve been a fan of cruises, you might have noticed that the value proposition isn’t quite what it used to be. Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening behind the scenes.

Higher costs and less service: Why is the value of cruising not what it once was?

Higher Fees and Less Service in Cruises

So, what makes cruises more expensive yet offer less in return? Several factors are at play, and understanding these can help you navigate your choices better. Let’s dissect each component individually, from increased gratuities to smaller food portions.

Increased Gratuities

Gratuities used to be a token of appreciation, but nowadays, they feel more like mandatory fees. It’s not just an extra few dollars here and there; it’s a significant bump that can add up quickly.

  • Norwegian Cruise Line: In Norway, the gratuities can range between $20 and $25 per person daily. This adds up fast, especially for longer cruises or larger families.

So, what does this mean? This means a 7-day cruise for a family of four can cost an additional $560 to $700 in gratuities.

Food Adjustments

Remember when you could indulge in various meals on a cruise? Well, those days might be dwindling. Cruise lines have started to make food adjustments, often to cut costs.

  • Portion Sizes: Portions have gotten smaller. It may be subtle, but regular cruisers will notice the difference.
  • Versatile Ingredients: The same ingredients are being reused in multiple dishes to save on costs, which means less variety for your taste buds.

Higher Dining Fees

Are you feeling like splurging on a fancy dinner? Be prepared to pay even more.

  • Alternative Restaurant Cover Charges: These have risen, mirroring the rising costs in land-based dining. So, onboard that specialty steakhouse or Italian restaurant will set you back more than it used to.

Reduced Cabin Cleaning

Cabins on a cruise have always been cleaned meticulously, sometimes multiple times a day. But now, many cruise lines are cutting back on this, too.

  • Once-a-Day Cleaning: It’s becoming the norm to have your cabin cleaned just once a day, which saves the cruise lines money on cleaning supplies and labor.

Less Personalized Butler Service

Butler service has always been one of those little luxuries you could count on. But even this is seeing changes.

  • Team Approach: On Celebrity Cruises, a team approach is now replacing the one-to-one butler service. This means less personal interaction and, let’s face it, less personalized service.

Set-Price Port Taxes and Fees

When a cruise ship misses a port, getting a refund for the missed port taxes and fees would make sense, right?

  • Norwegian Cruise Line: They have moved to keep the port taxes and fees as a lump sum instead of refunding it. This is a subtle way of increasing costs without adding value to the passengers.
Cruise Line Change in Fees Additional Costs
Norwegian Cruise Line Gratuities $20-$25 per person per day
Celebrity Cruises Butler Service Less personalized, more team-driven
Port Taxes No refunds on missed ports

Freebie Packages Changes

Once, “all-inclusive” meant everything was included. But now, the lines have blurred.

  • Perks at an Extra Cost: While you might still get perks like Wi-Fi, alcohol, and shore excursion credits, they’re often rolled into higher-tiered cruise fares. So, what appears to be free is baked into the price you’re paying upfront.

Why Are These Changes Happening?

You might wonder why all these changes are happening simultaneously. The answer lies in rising operational costs and a shift in how cruise companies run their businesses.

  • Operational Costs: Fuel prices, staffing costs, and supply chain issues have all contributed to higher cruise line costs.
  • Profit Margins: Cruise companies also want to maintain or increase profit margins, leading to these cost-cutting measures.

Impact on Cruisers

Now, let’s discuss how this is impacting cruisers. The changes are more than just a financial burden; they alter the whole cruise experience.

Financial Pressure

Gone are the days when you could book a cruise and not worry about shelling out much more beyond the initial fare. The hidden costs are stacking up.

  • Gratuity Fees: As mentioned, gratuities add a significant extra layer to your expenses.
  • Dining Costs: Optional dining experiences can now rival the cost of a night out at a high-end, land-based restaurant.

Quality of Service

Reducing butler service and cabin cleaning directly impacts your vacation’s quality and luxury feel.

  • Personal Interaction: Less personalized service from staff means you might not feel as pampered.
  • Cleanliness: Once-a-day cleaning may leave your cabin less spotless than you’d prefer, especially on longer cruises.

Overall Experience

All these factors—whether financial or service-related—combine to change the overall cruise experience. The magic of cruising lies in feeling pampered and indulged, and when that starts to slip, the value of the experience declines.

Higher costs and less service: Why is the value of cruising not what it once was?

Strategies for Navigating These Changes

So, what can you do to still enjoy cruises without feeling shortchanged? Here are some strategies.

Be Shrewd About Booking

Information is power. Be mindful of the finer details when booking your cruise.

  • Understand Fee Structures: Ensure you know all additional costs such as gratuities, dining charges, and potential port fees.
  • Opt for Bundled Packages: Sometimes bundled packages can offer value, but always do the math to see if the perks are worth the extra cost.

Plan Your Meals

Planning your dining experiences can help you control costs.

  • Reserve Specialty Dining in Advance: Sometimes, you can get discounts or packages if you book in advance.
  • Explore Free Dining Options: Use the included dining venues to offset the cost of specialty dining.

Maximize Freebies

Some all-inclusive packages still offer decent perks. Make sure you make the most of these.

  • Utilize Wi-Fi and Shore Excursions: If your package includes Wi-Fi or shore excursions, fully utilize them to get your money’s worth.

Be Smart About Gratuities

Gratuities can add up, so have a strategy for managing them.

  • Budget Ahead: Factor gratuities into your overall budget from the get-go.
  • Talk to Guest Services. You can sometimes adjust the gratuity amounts if the service doesn’t meet expectations.

Make Use of Loyalty Programs

Joining cruise line loyalty programs can yield significant benefits.

  • Frequent Cruiser Perks: The more you cruise with a particular line, the better perks you’ll receive, which can offset some added costs.
  • Exclusive Discounts: Loyalty programs often offer exclusive discounts not available to new customers.

Utilize Onboard Credits

Look out for promotions that offer onboard credits. These can be a real boon.

  • Apply Carefully: Use your onboard credits strategically for specialty dining, spa treatments, or shore excursions.
  • Combine Offers: Sometimes, you can combine onboard credits with other discounts for maximum value.

Evaluate the True Cost of “All-Inclusive”

Sometimes, all-inclusive deals are advertised as a phenomenal one-time fee for everything. Remember to read the fine print.

  • Breakdown of the Costs: Compare the all-inclusive price with booking each component separately.
  • Know What’s Included: Ensure the all-inclusive package covers all the perks you’ll use.

Adjust Your Expectations

With these changes becoming the norm, the way to enjoy cruising may be to adjust expectations.

  • Focus on the Experience: Instead of focusing on what’s changed, focus on enjoying the aspects of cruising that you love.
  • Flexibility: Be flexible with your preferences and plans to make the most out of any situation.

Higher costs and less service: Why is the value of cruising not what it once was?


The cruise industry is evolving, and unfortunately, that evolution includes higher costs and fewer services. By understanding the reasons behind these changes and implementing intelligent strategies to navigate them, you can still enjoy the magic of cruising. Whether it’s being savvy about booking, making the most out of free packages, or adjusting your expectations, there’s always a way to ensure you still get value out of your time on the high seas.

So, while cruising may not be the all-inclusive, all-pampering experience it once was, it can still offer great adventures and memorable moments. The key is to know what you’re getting into and plan accordingly. Here’s to smooth sailing and unforgettable vacations, even in this new era of cruising.

Higher costs and less service: Why is the value of cruising not what it once was?

Press ESC to close