NCL’s New F3 Launches Will Create A Two Tiered Cruise Experience

One of the most astounding details in from NCL’s announcements last week about their new “F3” ships, is that they will include two or more public areas/bars that will require a cover charge or membership fee for entry.

One will be an ice bar, that is really more of an attraction than a bar. It will be one of those completely frozen bars sometimes found in trendy Northern European cities where patrons don parkas and then sample drinks in the completely frozen environment. NCL says the cover charge will include the parkas and a drink or two.

The other area, pictured above, is the exclusive Posh Club. Guests will have to purchase a pass to utilize this exclusive adults only area of the ship. NCL also mentions several other exclusive or adults only venues on their F3 ships, however I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether or not their is a specific cover charge.

Intentionally or not, NCL is essentially creating a two class system on their ship. With their lower end prices, all casual dress code and unstructured dining system, they attract many passengers who desire and inexpensive casual get-a-way. It seems that NCL also wants to attract high end, higher spending passengers as well. Perhaps NCL feels that they can offer the best of both worlds to fill their ships. A basic passenger would eat in the included restaurants and enjoy all the entertainment and venues offered with the basic cruise package. However, the more well heeled passengers could enjoy a more upscale experience in the specialty dining venues and escape the masses in these exclusive clubs. While the contrast may not be as extreme as First Class and Steerage, it does bring to mind the days of the old Transatlantic liners that divided the passengers into separate and exclusive classes.

One of the aspects of pleasure cruising that I have always most enjoyed was the non-exclusive nature and mostly inclusive environment. It really emphasized that while on a vacation you could get away from your daily stresses weather you were a CEO or Housekeeper. Both jobs are stressful. Whether a passenger was in a highest level suite or sharing a lowest level inside cabin with her three sisters, a passenger had most everything else on the ship to enjoy equally. Other than a bar bill and tipping, passengers didn’t have to worry too much about when and where they spent their money on the ship.

As ships budgets got tighter, the cruise lines wanted to still offer relatively low fares, but then make up the lost revenues elsewhere. Rather than cut quality and services, many of the cruise lines decided to offer some “extras” not previously available on the ships and charge for them.

The example of this policy on my favorite line, Celebrity, is the specialty dinning rooms on some ships and the specialty coffee in the Cova Cafes. Both of these venues charge in addition to cruise price, about $30 for the meal service and about $3-5 for the fancy coffees. However, the quality of the food has still remained high in the main dining room, and coffee, though not the best, is available for free in the dining room and the buffet area. I’ve been please with the overall cruise experience on the Celebrity line, and the idea of free style has never appealed to m.

However, I did want to see what the price difference would be between several different lines on a similar itinerary. Perhaps with the cruise price savings, I could afford all the extras and come out about the same or ahead? I priced an example cruise on NCL, Celebrity, Princess, Holland American, and Royal Caribbean. I looked at Panama Canal itineraries in Nov of 2009. (I went with this example because it is actually the next itinerary and time frame that I am looking to book a future cruise) The cruises on these lines ranged from 10 to 13 days, so I broke the pricing down to price per family of 4 per day for a standard Ocean View cabin and include the current taxes and fuel surcharges. Here are the results:

  • Princess – $545 per family per day
  • Royal Caribbean $475 per family per day
  • Holland American $575 per family per day
  • Celebrity $550 per family per day
  • NCL $406 per family per day

Our family would come out the same on NCL verses Celebrity even if we spent a total of around $144 a day on extra’s above and beyond what we would spend on extras on board Celebrity. While we still very much prefer the traditional cruise experience and the ambiance of Celebrity, this plan might work well for a family desiring the “Freestyle” experience. With the same travel budget, a family could take advantage of the higher end dining venues, the parents could enjoy some of the exclusive clubs while the kids are in the children’s program, and enjoy many of the extra’s not included in the basic price of the “Feestyle” cruise.

One thing is for sure, those lines that have lower base price have to make up that difference in some way. Perhaps NCL feels that the implementation of cover charges will allow them to keep their basic price down, appealing to persons looking for the most basic casual cruise, while still offering a more upscale experience to those who are willing to pay extra for it.