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Cruise News: Let Them Eat Cake!

Carol Sottili

Eva Gularte, her sister and her mother are none too happy about their cruise aboard the Norwegian Star, according to reports in the Miami Herald and Travel Weekly.

The women claim in a lawsuit filed in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Monday that NCL failed to disclose to passengers that making reservations in the specialty dining rooms "might be impossible to get, in part because the cruise line gave priority seating to those who spent more money buying a cabin.

"The rest of the passengers are effectively disenfranchised from effectively participating in the freestyle [dining] program," the suit says.

Gularte and her relatives want their money back. And the suit seeks class-action status for all NCL passengers who had similar problems in the past three years. NCL hasn't commented.

We don't know if the premise of this suit has any merit. Maybe Eva just didn't get to the restaurants early enough to get a reservation. But if those who buy the more expensive cabins are treated better, is that wrong?

Or is it wrong only if the cruise line pretends that everyone is equal? Should companies have to tell you upfront that those who pay more may get better treatment? Or should we just assume that to be the case?

An example: Cunard's QM2 has special dining rooms for guests who pay more - it's no secret. But friends of mine who went on the cruise ship and didn't pay top dollar told me they felt like second-class citizens because it was so obvious that others had better perks.

Is it easier on the pysche when we aren't told that others are being treated better?

By Carol Sottili |  May 1, 2008; 1:32 PM ET  | Category:  Carol Sottili , Cruise Industry , Cruises
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I realize a cruise is significantly longer than any airline flight, but how is buying a tier of service on a cruise different than buying a tier of service on an airplane?

When you're in first class, you have nicer seats, better service, and more perqs than if you choose to fly economy.

Of course you're always a little resentful - that's just human nature. But if the rules are clear up front, that's how service businesses work. Tiers of service - you get more/better services when you purchase at a higher tier.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 1, 2008 2:47 PM

Took a cruise last November. Part of a group that got an incredibly cheap rate. Outside cabin with a terrace.

Tried to book a specialty restaurant. As I later learned, the KEY to it is booking the moment you get onboard. I WAS able to get an 8pm seating at the 2nd choice "Italian", 4 nights into the cruise, instead of the "Steakhouse" which was totally booked. Was wait listed, but never heard from the "Steak" Maitre'd.

I did NOT feel, AT ALL, that I was treated unfairly. Again, the key is to book the moment you board. BEFORE you even go to your stateroom. If you wait, all the tables/times are gone. You must plan ahead. Know the "formal" nights and choose accordingly. Research which specialty restaurant you want. Understand the up-charge.

In fact, I was able to change the number in the party from 4 to 8 to 6 back to 8, without any hassle.

Posted by: A sometimes traveler | May 1, 2008 3:10 PM

Seems to me that this is another example of an overly ambitious (and greedy) lawyer who doesn't have the balls to tell the clients their crazy.
Give me a break, just how many seats are in the specialty restaurant? How many guests onboard? How many seatings available? Do the math, it doesn't compute. I am sure the woman didn't go hungry!!!
Also does the Maitre D of the dining room have access to the info of how much $ was actually paid for the room? Sure a guess can be made from the location on the ship, but they upgrade early bookers all the time.

Posted by: rja112 | May 2, 2008 12:06 AM

As someone whose middle name is Cheap, I do not have problems with class disparity based upon what is paid. If folks are told that they will be treated the same, regardless of what they've paid, and aren't treated so, that's wrong. From the blogs that I've read, I think that the problem is with folks who don't book early. That's their problem, not the cruise line's.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2008 9:19 AM

There is nothing wrong with providing preferential service to passengers that paid for a higher class of travel. At the same time, it is completely wrong for a cruise line to not disclose that customers in the lower classes will not have full access to amenities such as specialty dining rooms, if that is what actually happens.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2008 9:46 AM

I haven't traveled on NCL but with other cruiselines I've been on the specialty dining rooms come with an additional fee for entry p/p. If this is the case there should not be any disparity on who gets a reservation other than 1st come 1st served. Now as I suspect NCL doesn't charge an extra fee to eat at one of these dining rooms - hence they have the right to discriminate on who can get a reservation.

Posted by: JD | May 3, 2008 11:20 AM

But they DO charge an extra fee to eat at those dining rooms - about $20 per person, more if you want to have lobster. Check out NCL.com and you'll see that they charge a fee (although the website doesn't say how much the fee is). I've sailed with NCL a number of times and like it very much. I've never eaten in one of their specialty restaurants, though. Nothing on their website indicates that the people who book the most expensive cabins have first crack at booking the specialty restaurants. And nothing on their website indicates that if you would like to eat at a specialty restaurant, you should make your reservations as soon as you get on the ship (before you go to your cabin, even), unless you're in one of the most expensive cabins.

As someone who loves NCL, I have to admit that they are deceiving in this regard, although I don't think it's worth suing over.

Posted by: Cruise Lover | May 5, 2008 10:18 AM

Just got back from a cruise on Norwegian. I had a relatively cheap cabin, and didn't decide to try one of the specialty restaurants until the 4th night. I had no problem getting a reservation that afternoon, and they certainly didn't ask for my ship card (i.e., showing my booking level) until after they told me the available slots. Much ado about nothing, I think.

Posted by: Maryland | May 5, 2008 10:53 AM

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