CRUISE: Farewell, free room service

Carnival is doing away with its free 24-hour room service aboard its cruise ships. So what, it’s only one cruise line, right? Don’t bet on it.

Sometime this month, Carnival Cruise Lines will, probably quietly, do away with one of the longstanding traditions of the modern cruise industry — free all-hours room service in your cabin.

For years, free room service at any hour of the day or night was one of the perks of cruise travel. It was a way of making passengers feel pampered in luxury, even though Carnival is generally considered to be entry-level for cruise vacations. It was one of the things my late, Kay, always looked forward to, regardless of which line we cruised with.

Now, it seems the times are about to change. The cruise travel site Cruise Critic got this breakdown from a Carnival spokesperson:

” ‘A wide variety of menu items will be available with a nominal cost ranging from $2 to $5 per item. Charges apply to lunch, dinner and late-night menu items while Continental breakfast will continue to be offered free of charge.

Pricing will range from $2 or $3 for a salad (add chicken for an extra $2) to pan pizzas, wings and cheesesteaks for $4 to $6. Other items include sandwiches ($4) and fries ($2 to $3).”

Read the full Cruise Critic article here.

Carnival has more than one reason for making this change. One is obvious: more profit per ship per cruise. They also talk about upgrading the room service menu, which really is pretty basic.

But that’s not the reason they emphasize. If you’ve ever taken an ocean cruise, the reason they do focus on will come as no surprise, and can be reduced to two words:

Food waste.

You may well be thinking, “Yeah, sure. They just want to make more money off the passengers. They don’t really care about wasted food.”

I can readily understand the skepticism. but I’m not sure I share it, especially at a time when food waste is being talked about as an element of climate change.

This is one I’ve seen firsthand and not just on Carnival ships. The evidence is literally right at your feet, in the corridors outside cabin doors on the passenger decks — trays of leftover food and drinks ordered for room service, much or even most of it barely touched.

Over the course of a year, that may very well add up to tons of wasted food by passengers — and wasted money for the cruise line and each of its 25 ships.

I haven’t seen the figures, but I have seen the trays.

So far, Carnival is the only cruise to adopt this policy, but that may not last long. Carnival itself may have 25 ships, but Carnival Corporation & PLC owns 10 cruise lines and 100 ships in all — Carnival, Fathom, Holland America, Princess, Seabourn, P&O Cruises and Cunard (UK), AIDA (Germany), Costa Cruises (Italy) and P&O Cruises (Australia).

You have to expect that sooner or later, this new room service policy is going to extend to some, most or even all of them. Should their biggest competitor, Royal Caribbean, embrace this change, that will make it pretty much a done deal on the seven seas.

On the other hand, Carnival is indeed an entry-level cruise line, so don’t expect them to price room service beyond the reach of the majority of its guests. You’ll still be able to pick up the phone in your cabin and feel like Bill Gates or Oprah as you order a little somethin’-somethin’ at 2 in the morning.

Just expect to pay for it from now on.

“All back full!”

Two days after this blog post was published, Carnival announced that it had decided to “delay” the elimination of free room service on its ships.

The response that Carnival got from travelers on major cruise travel sites like Cruise Critic was mostly — and decidedly — negative.

A Carnival spokesperson told USAToday the cruise line wants to tweak their new room service program before launching it on their 25 ships. The plan had been to charge for all in-cabin food service except the continental breakfast.

What the new program will look like, and when cruise travelers can expect to see it, is anyone’s guess. But IBIT won’t be surprised if this “delay” develops an air of permanency.