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Want early boarding on a Carnival cruise? There's a fee for that.

August 22, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • The Carnival Liberty is one of two ships in which a pilot fee program for early boarding and other perks is being tested.
The Carnival Liberty is one of two ships in which a pilot fee program for early… (Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise…)

Carnival Cruise Lines rolled out a pilot program this week that charges a separate fee for priority boarding and check-in, early access to staterooms, express luggage delivery and other perks.

Sound familiar? It should, just not on the water. Travel industry watchers liken the test run to the advent of airline fees, which appeared quietly and eventually grew into a multibillion-dollar cash cow.

Faster to the Fun, as it's called, is being tested on two ships for the moment, Monday's sailing of the Imagination and the Saturday cruise on the Liberty, as part of a pilot program. Carnival says it will evaluate the results before it decides whether to expand the program. The cost is $49.95 per stateroom, and the one-time cost covers everyone in the cabin, according to Carnival's website.

Other benefits include priority dining reservations, priority tender times that allow you to head to shore when you like and early or late debarkation time when the cruise ends.

Of course the fee only takes you so far. Members of Carnival's VIFP loyalty program at the platinum and diamond level receive these benefits free -- and get to board before fee-payers.

But back to the Fun fee. Tim Stieghorst of Travel Weekly writes that all industry eyes are on Carnival to see whether this new charge will take hold. His story reads, in part:

"I’m sure everyone will let Carnival test this out," said Jeff Gordon, president of the Gordon Group in Davie, Fla. “If they have some success, I’m sure they’ll all jump on the bandwagon.” 

That was the pattern when airlines began charging extra for options such as checked bags and priority seating. Fees have become a substantial part of airline revenue as a result."

So why did Carnival start the fee program? Blame it on customers. The cruise line says it's just catering to customers who filled out guest surveys and showed "strong interest in a fee-based package providing priority access and benefits." 

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