P&O Cruises is introducing a new cancellation fee for its young cruisers program, a move that may be controversial for parents depending on their family’s plan for the youth facilities and how their child may react on different days of a cruise vacation.

The fee is meant to ensure adequate space in the facility for everyone to enjoy, reducing last-minute cancellations or no-show guests.

Guests onboard Azura have received letters regarding the new charges, while app booking screens show the same information. It is unknown at this time whether the the fees are only being tested in a limited manner onboard one ship, or if they will be rolled out fleet-wide in the coming days or weeks.

Photo Credit: StudioPortoSabbia / Shutterstock.com

“We are writing to inform you of our upcoming changes to The Reef,” the letter explained. “From 30th May 2024, there will now be cancellation charges.”

While The Reef – a youth space for children up to 12 years of age, with age-based groups and activities – is free for guests to use, pre-registration is required. The facility often fills to capacity, and it can be frustrating for travelers when others fill up registrations but then fail to take advantage of their reserved session times.

“A cancellation charge of £5 [$6.36 USD] will be applied to your on board account for a session cancelled less than 24 hours before the session start time and a charge of £10 [$12.73 USD] for a session which is not attended,” the letter read.

It should be noted that these fees only apply for The Reef for children ages 12 and younger. The teen club, H2O, does not require advance booking and there is no mention of fees whether or not teens (ages 13-17) use that space.

Reactions to the fees are mixed. Some parents appreciate the fee, as it may ensure travelers aren’t making reservations they may not strongly intend to keep. Those types of “just-in-case” reservations could fill up space that would otherwise be available to more children.

Other parents, however, prefer a more flexible option and note that some children may change their minds about play sessions or be shy or uncomfortable on different days. This could result either in unwanted fees or else pressuring a young cruiser to take part in activities they aren’t interested in, leading to fussy behavior or temper tantrums.

Some travelers have also expressed concern at the 24-hour-notice requirement, as that may not always be possible depending on when a reservation is made. For example, if a reservation is made on embarkation day for the next morning, it would never be possible to cancel more than 24 hours in advance.

Scubas, as part of The Reef on P&O Cruises

Similarly, it is possible a child may start feeling ill before a play reservation, and there is concern that parents might put their child into The Reef anyway in order to avoid fees. This could potentially spread illness to other children using the space.

Undoubtedly P&O Cruises will use guest feedback and responses to further refine the program, as is common when new processes are introduced.

This new fee is similar to cancellation and no-show fees some cruise lines charge for specialty restaurant reservations. These are used in an effort to prevent travelers from booking multiple restaurants either before sailing or on embarkation day, then simply cancelling or not showing up when they make plans in port or choose other dining options on different days.

Read Also: P&O Cruises Clarifies New Drink Policy Restrictions

Many shore excursions also have similar cancellation windows, and if guests do not cancel far enough in advance, they may be charged a fee. If passengers do not show up for a tour they have already booked and paid for, they are not given any refund and must still pay the full fee.

Restaurants, activity spaces, and tours cannot overbook reservations and risk forcing someone out of their dedicated time slot. Therefore, it makes sense to impose penalties as an incentive for guests to honor their reservations or else give others sufficient opportunity to take advantage of a cancellation.

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