New cruise trend: "Disegalitarianism"

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While some cruise lines, such as Cunard, have long catered to the rich, it now seems that every cruise line is wooing them. Royal Caribbean and NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) are at the forefront of this trend, says WSJ magazine.

Royal Caribbean's CEO predicted in March that the next trend in cruising will be "disegalitarianism." That nonsense word means that high-paying customers increasingly want perks such as "priority embarkation" and reserved poolside seating—to name two services that Royal Caribbean will introduce shortly.

NCL is also embracing luxury. It made so much profit by charging up to $30,000 a week for a 5,000-square-foot apartment on one of its ships that it recently decided to add super-sized suites to the Gem and the Pearl, too.

NCL's Dawn already offers a couple of three-bedroom suites, each with wall-to-wall carpeting and white leather sofas, reports WSJ. And as of this June, passengers on any NCL trip can schedule appointments for Botox injections—a service that, while not necessarily aimed at the wealthy, is not offered at Wal-Mart either.

NCL will soon launch F3 ships with grand quarters for the well-off. Each ship will have a bar made of ice; guests will receive fur coats to wear while sipping cocktails in 17-degrees Fahrenheit.

Even Carnival, best known for offering value-priced berths, recently added nine spa suites to its Splendor. You can only reach the suites via a private elevator.

I don't mind wealthy people enjoying themselves on their own ships, like Cunard's Queen Mary 2. What bothers me is that the spirit of cruising on lines like Carnival is supposed to be about bringing people together. All this segregating of passengers, though, achieves the opposite, as one of my colleagues has noted before. When a cruise line keeps reminding you of your status throughout a trip, it's not relaxing.

Far more annoying, however, is when budget travelers feel they have been short shrifted. For instance, NCL markets Freestyle Dining in its premium restaurants as an opportunity to eat wherever you choose. But some passengers find that priority seating now goes to passengers who have paid higher fares. If true, ordinary passengers may be having trouble finding seats at their first choice of restaurant during peak times. Of course, far more people are satisfied with their NCL cruises than not, as shown by the high rate of repeat customers; so maybe there isn't any actual problem here. What do you think?

Have you seen any of the cruise lines recently offer shabbier service to budget-conscious travelers than to wealthy travelers?

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