I have read your post with lots of interest. As a cruiser and all cruisers that have been on any ship should realize the cruise are for-profit companies. The major cruise lines are all publicly held companies, meaning they are listed on a stock exchange such as the NYSE or Malaysia stock exchange (NCL-Star Cruise Lines). So they want to make money, as they have shareholders to report to. Your word upsell is actually "cross selling". Yes, lots of pictures, but you do not have to buy them. Yes, bottled water when disembarking, but you don't have to buy it. For dinner, you have the choice of tap water, which is ultra purified water from the ship, or you can purchase Evaian or another carboninated water. You are not forced to buy the water. As for the cover charges in the speciality restaurants, your prices stated seem to be rather inflated. On other NCL ships the cover charges are as follows, including the newest NCL ship the Pearl. Cagneys is $20.00 extra to get thru the door. I am sure that your menu had two sides to it. The left side of the menu, gives all the choices for your $20.00 per person cover charge. On the right side is another set of choices like whole lobster and filet mignon at another $10.00-$20.00 per person. So if you go the ultimate route of dining, then your cost would be $30.00-40.00 per person. It's very hard to find a 1 1/2 lb lobster and steak anywhere in the USA in a fine restaurant like Cagney's for $30.00. The wine, is standard prices. You can go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of Beringer White Zinfindal for $5.00 or less in any USA grocery store. On the ship it's $22.00. Any USA restaurant will either double or triple the price of a wine over a standard USA liquor/grocery store. Remember that you were not forced to buy the wine. The Sushi bar is $15.00 for all you can possibly eat. The Asian restaurants like Lotus Garden is $10.00 person not $20.00. In the Freestyle Daily there are daily specials usually 2 for 1 specials that you can enjoy during certain eating times. LeBistro is $20.00 person for the finest in dining pleasure and 5 star service and selection. That's a bargain.
When crusing in the future, be sure to read these message boards as there are lots of good tips to save the cruiser lots of money. As for the fares, all cruise lines are the same. Sometimes you can get a great deal months in advance, sometimes weeks in advance. On our Pearl cruise in Feb, we got a Penthouse suite #9500 for just $1800 each, and that Penthouse usually sells for much more. We saved thousands on that suite. We shopped for a great deal. There are several travel agents that post here and they can give you some great tips for traveling and saving money.
As for tips, the NCL $10.00 per day person for all your staff. Cabin Stewards, waiters, waitreses, any other staff that helps you. YOuu need to understand the tip schedule before laying extra tips in the restaurants, bars, etc.
Drink prices very from a Martini for $6.95 to as high as 12.95. I have the Martini menu in front of me from our recent Pearl cruise on May 20th, 2007. It depends on what you drink. Souvrnier drinks command higher prices for the cheap plastic glass that you never want anyway, and who wants to pack that junk in a suitcase. It only looks pretty in the glass. The beer prices are standard and are cheaper than a USA ballpark, NBA Basketball game or NFL Football game.
Plan ahead and book your own excursions. New rules in Alaska and current Alaska legislation now says that cruise ships must tell the passengers the mark up on the excursions so they may compare to local merchants off the ship who offer the same excursion.
Prior reseach when cruising and input from sites like this can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Bottom line, cruise companies are out to make money, not give away amenties at cost. Just like any other business. You as the crusier have the ultimate control on expenses, so when you get the bill at the end of cruise at your stateroom door you are not shocked. Buy your own bottled water in port. Transport a few sodas back to the ship from port, which is totally allowable. You must get used to the "cross selling" and be able to say no when you don't want to buy. Let the cruise ships take as many pictures as they wnat, and just let other people buy them. There are no requirements to buy anything on the ship. Yes they have good sales techniques and in any retail business thats what it takes to make money.
Next time you sail, check in here at this site for helpful hints and ask lots of questions. We can offer some great advice and some great opinions whether you like them or not or use the advice that is given.
On a typical cruise our end of the week stateroom bill is usually less than $200....as we have learned what to buy and what not to buy.
Crusing is a great value when you have some basic knowledge. We too learned quickly on our first few cruises about spending and cross selling. Now WE are in control not the cruise ship company.