Cruise line price scare: real or strategic plan?

Earlier this week, Norwegian Cruise Lines announced that at the end of March prices would go up. Noting high demand for their anything-goes “Freestyle” version of a cruise vacation, the line said it planned to raise prices ten percent. If that announcement has a familiar ring to it, there might be a good reason why says one industry expert. Let’s play along.

First, the line cushion’s the blow of a 10% price increase by extending their current promotional offers until the end of March in a “we’re tough, but we’re fair” sort of way.

“We wanted to give consumers and travel agents the opportunity to take advantage of these offers before the price increase.” said Norwegian Cruise Line CEO and former Undercover Boss Kevin (Sneaky) Sheehan.

“Thanks, we appreciate your kindness and the heads up.” should be the consumer response?

Not so fast says cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of “This is NCL’s 2nd Annual April Fool’s Cruise Sale. For some, it’s a message of don’t book NCL after 3/31 because you’ll pay more.”Indeed, cruise lines often promote a call to action for booking in a number of ways that seem to have a bit of strategic ambiguity built in. While accurate, the helpful announcement or glitzy promotion does not exactly match reality.

“NCL made the same comments last year, but (the timing) followed Carnival’s announcement that they were going to raise summer prices.” added Chiron reasoning “They may be trying to generate additional attention for their possible future IPO.”

A price scare tactic is one way to move buyers toward booking. But cruise lines don’t have to mislead the public, they do a great job of that all on their own.

The “cheap cruise” turns out to be much more when taxes and fees are added in. That’s no fault of the cruise lines, they do mention that those extra fees are not included. “Free upgrades” suggest that buying a cheap inside cabin might get you a luxurious balcony stateroom. Again, the fine print lines out the details, but buyers seeing a handsome couple standing on their balcony does suggest that upgrading to one is possible.

Still, most buyers learn quickly to read the fine print even though new strategies still throw them off guard.

Whatever the reason, it’s buyer beware as this year’s busy wave season winds down and the next round of promotions heat up. It might be a good idea to file this information away for later notes Chiron “Stay tuned for next year’s announcement. It might sound quite familiar.”

Flickr photo by markhillary

New Jamaica cruise port gets their act together

Long-delayed new cruise port Falmouth, Jamaica welcomed it’s first Royal Caribbean ship this week as Voyager of the Seas became the first ship to visit. It’s a custom-built port designed to handle mega-ships Oasis and Allure of the Seas. Both have been patiently waiting for months as construction has been dragging on. Early reports from the nearly-complete port indicate full speed ahead on construction and a positive, welcoming mood.

“Today was truly priceless! The people of Jamaica made today an experience I’ll never forget. Their early morning anticipation of the ships arrival was quite impressive. Buildings, rooftops, streets and any open spaces were filled with people awaiting Voyager’s arrival. The first passengers to disembark were well organized for tours and met by various performers. They created nice distractions to avoid noticing the construction around them. The ship did a superb job ensuring expectations by passengers were set at a proper level” said cruise expert Stewart Chiron CEO, one of the first visitors to the nearly-complete port.

In full operation were a variety of new shore excursions as well as variations on some Jamaica favorites.

“I went out to Good Hope Estate and watched the tours happen. What a difference since I was last here in September. Passengers thoroughly enjoyed their various experiences. This was evidenced when we returned as Voyager was departing. The crowds of Jamaicans never dissipated and were cheering Voyager’s departure. What was truly emotional for many, was every open space on every deck of Voyager was lined with passengers and crew cheering and thanking the people of Falmouth for a most memorable day. I would think the comment cards from today will be extraordinarily high! This is a port experience unlike any other” added Chiron

Cruise passengers arriving into Falmouth will be able to choose between the shore excursion options in both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay since the new port is equidistant from both of these Jamaican towns. Additionally there will be an array of options for both tour and non tour guests at Falmouth. Royal Caribbean hopes that passengers arriving at Falmouth will feel like they are in the old world of the Caribbean with numerous shopping and authentic dining opportunities right at the port.

“I look forward to returning for Oasis’ arrival. What a spectacle that will be considering what occurred today. The Royal Caribbean staff that worked so hard on the pier were magnificent. What a team to make this dream come true” Chiron concluded.

No, not every city can be a cruise port

It seems every large coastal city wants to be a cruise port, either as a place to visit or to be a home port where a ship operates from, and for good reason. Cruise ships can bring a lot of tourists and their dollars when they visit. At a time when local economies are recovering at best there is a lot of interest but not a lot of realistic expectations.

“The reality is they have as much chance to get a cruise ship to visit as they do in luring the Lakers from Los Angeles” says cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron CEO, speaking of a feasibility study done by Brownsville, Texas. “These results are based on the cow jumping over the moon, planets aligning and may also require peace on earth!” he added.

Savanna, Georgia also did a study that returned “better than expected” results with big numbers like up to 350,000 visitors by 2020 and a potential industry of $100 million a year reports the Savannah Morning News.

Not so fast says Chiron, cautioning leaders to be realistic. “I think Savannah is a wonderful city and know it would make a wonderful option, but there needs to be more than desire and their reasoning is way off.”

Cruise lines move cautiously when choosing ports, opting for those that can serve the most potential passengers and produce the best financial results. While the allure of a cruise port may be the stuff tourism dreams are made of, Chiron concludes the big question is “Where will the cruise lines be able to reap the highest yields?” adding “This ultimately may delay Savannah’s heartfelt desires.”

Flickr photo by taberandrew

Cruise line gets mixed reviews in aftermath of rocky ride

Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas encounter with nasty weather earlier this month initially got rave reviews from guests and critics alike. Initial reports indicated the line did everything by the book and when out of its way to accommodate all on board. As time went on though, the story got a bit ugly.

The line was quick to issue $200 onboard credit and a full refund for those on board even though the cruise was almost over when the incident occurred. Initial reports were highly in favor of the cruise line doing the right thing.

But it did not take long for critics to smell a bigger story in the water causing cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron CEO of to tweet “Did @RoyalCaribbean panic by refunding #cruise passengers on Brilliance of the Seas on 8th day of 12-night sailing? Must B more 2 story!” shortly after the event.

Indeed, it was a developing story and Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez told AOL Travel News. “As the cruise progressed, additional guests presented to the medical facility with symptoms and/or injuries” and the cruise line posted this video:

Adding to increasingly mixed reviews on how Royal Caribbean handled the situation, Maritime attorney Jim Walker had sharp criticism saying “RCCL has pulled this stunt time and time again, quickly issuing misleading statements in the hope that the media will quote its carefully crafted misinformation and then the story will quickly blow over”

Passengers who were actually onthe ship tell a bit different story though. Industry insider reports one typical passenger saying Royal Caribbean “went overboard” with the compensation.

Flickr photo by Rennett Stowe