Carnival Cruise customers are mourning the loss of free room service

Free breakfast, anyone?
Free breakfast, anyone?
Image: Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader
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Like many other facets of the travel industry—airlines with baggage fees, hotels with concierge and check-in—cruise operators have entered the era of “the great unbundling.” Most recently: room service. And you can bet your second Mai Tai that cruisers are not happy about it.

This week, Carnival Cruise Line, the industry’s largest player, announced it would end free room service on its cruises effective mid-January. Continental breakfast will remain the only free room service offering, but items on the lunch, dinner, and late-night menus will cost guests in the range of $2-$5 a la carte. (This move follows suit with Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.)

The change was announced in a lengthy New Year’s Eve Facebook post from John Heald, Carnival’s brand ambassador and senior cruise director, who said he hoped the change would not result in a loss of tips for room-service delivery staff. In his post and responses to comments, he cited food waste and the staffing required for round-the-clock free delivery as factors.

If you’ve never been on a cruise, you might be thinking that free continental-breakfast delivery still seems like a pretty sweet deal. If that’s the case, then you’ve never spent time on cruise forums. Most cruise passenger tickets include accommodation, entertainment, and dining. While cruisers may be used to paying extra for things like wifi and specialty dining, the all-inclusive nature of cruising and the freedom from keeping a mental tab of what you owe at checkout is a massive part of this vacation type’s appeal.

There are untold numbers of discussion forums devoted to the merits and maths of buying all-inclusive drink packages up front, as well as other packages which entitle you to fun extras on board that you don’t have to think twice before enjoying. Room service is a “perk that cruise lovers have always found to be a unique offering,” CruiseCritic’s Colleen McDaniel told the Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in Florida.

So it should come as no surprise that Carnival’s recent announcement did not go down very well. In the comments section of Heald’s post, cruisers did not hold back, and many remarks were deleted for their viciousness. (An example of a comment that remained: “If I gotta pay the high prices why not just pay them in Vegas or somewhere else like another cruise line. CARNIVAL is letting me down. At some point it just becomes GREED.”) The next day, Heald was compelled to pen yet another post, calling out “the trolls who using mostly fake names have called me all sorts of names and thrown slings and arrows at me.”

There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch (at least not from the room service menu anymore).