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Rodney's Ramblings: New Cruise Destinations

Rodney Gascoyne spotlights new ways that cruise companies have devised to empty the wallets of their customers.

Cruising for ages has been an opportunity to visit interesting or world renowned ports or countries. It was sightseeing that drove many people’s quest, and clearing a list of required places you needed to visit. But under the modern conditions for making a profit in today’s over populated cruise industry, this is no longer their goal for us. Many times the ship will only break even on the prices they can charge for the cruise fee. To make any profit, they need to empty your wallets and bank accounts with all the overpriced and poor value offerings once you join the ship. But this is not now enough.

The companies now include a new set of destinations in some itineraries, under new rules and requirements. I have just returned from a Western Caribbean cruise with three out of four ports of call following this precept. They were Roatán, Santo Tomás de Castilla and finally Costa Maya. This also brings to mind other ports I have visited but meet the same criteria, like Grand Turk, and the inevitable company owned secluded island in the Bahamas, whether Half Moon Cay, Princess Cay or whatever, many being the same place.

These private islands were the first venture in this new world. They developed an uninhabited island or isolated beach under license from the Government, but then catered and populated the bars etc. from the calling ship’s supplies, staffed by their crew. By this means, they could offer another close port to Florida, but without the accompanying costs or docking fees. Ships just anchor off.

If you have visited these sites recently, you will have noticed that to these basic amenities, plus hammocks or clam shells or private cabanas for rent, they are adding more and more extra cost offerings to empty your wallet faster, even on these ‘non-commercial’ islands. Expect them to have more and more shopping outlets, added to Sting Ray farms and bike, sea doos or horses to rent and any manner of other imaginative ideas of no real, unique value. Swimming with dolphins can’t be far away.

The new locations though, are different. Why should the cruise companies share any excess revenue opportunities with locals or even major destination retailers like International Diamonds, who you find everywhere in the Caribbean? Their answer was to find some locations, on the mainland or even islands, where they could set up their own docks and local shopping complexes run and financed by them, with local co-operation and licensing.

These places are not close to any real interesting local attractions, thus ensuring you need to go on their over expensive and poor value ship’s tours or shore excursions, as locally accessible alternatives, on arrival, are almost ruled out. You could visit local towns or fishing ports by taxi but these may offer little interest. Otherwise the only other option is to shop in the centre where they control it all with only selective retailers who will pay high rents.

I included Grand Turk above as the island itself has very little to offer, except reef visits, and so the centre at the dock is where most passengers spend their day, including the overpriced wave riding attraction next to the beaches. Don’t try going independent here or elsewhere with the idea of walking to local sites.

I expect that these new sparse spots are very profitable for the ships, as high rents and restrictions to make it easy for the independent traveller to do their own thing, or having access to other non approved local offerings, must allow them near monopoly control over how most passengers spend their money.

The current poor market conditions for the cruise companies are a mess of their own making. They still expect that they can continue to attract large numbers of new cruisers, as they are the only ones they can soak endlessly for all the extras, before they wise up. Added to this, they have been excessively optimistic and so ordered ever larger, new ships, on a program with a delivery schedule as many as five years out and terms that never make it economic to cancel an ordered build. With the Global Financial Crisis just over four years ago, they have been continuously taking new deliveries even in a reducing market. New launches and maiden voyages are still part of the industry to this day, with no signs yet of any slow down. Filling all those new berths, and the fleet age too young to allow scrapping of fully paid up and economically expensed older ships, requires them to discount ever deeper to get you on a ship in the first place.

Savings on engineering maintenance costs recently also seem to have backfired on them, with breakdowns and bad publicity, let alone the costs of having a ship run aground with loss of life. Their bad management decisions are now causing a lot more problems. Can it be much longer before we start to see major consolidations and merging of fleets, or some of them needing to declare bankruptcy?

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