Nickled and Dimed by the Cruise Industry

A recent Cape Breton Post story painted an uncharacteristically accurate picture of the cruise industry simply by quoting one of its biggest beneficiaries, Dennis Campbell of Ambassatours Grey Line.

Campbell’s company is one of two (both Halifax-based) handling cruise line shore excursions in Halifax and Sydney.

Dennis Campbell LinkedIn

The story was about the Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay which has been dropped as a destination by some, unidentified, cruise lines due to its entry fees. In Campbell’s own words:

“The cruise lines said to us, ‘We’re going to cut that tour (of the museum),” said Campbell, without naming specific companies. “And it is a bit of a challenge to sell this to cruise lines, because it is a bit out of whack in terms of the other museum prices.

“The cruise lines are very sensitive about pricing. Higher-end lines? No problem. It’s the ones that aren’t higher end that are having an issue.”

Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the museum, told the Post that back in 2019, prior to the COVID epidemic, Ambassatours had asked them to cut their fees:

“I brought this up to the board of directors, and the board being fiscally responsible essentially said, ‘No, we can’t do that.’”

Campbell’s version of the story is slightly different:

“This seems to be taken completely out of context,” Campbell said. “Would one of our staff members have explained to them that their fees are 50 per cent higher than several other similar museums or attractions? Yes. That would have been said.

“But did we asked them to lower their prices for us? Absolutely not. We just suggested that to them if they wanted to get more competitive and more business. But it’s not to our benefit; it’s to theirs, just to help keep their business going. That’s all.”

So, Ambassatours told the Miners Museum their prices were too high and “suggested” they might lower them but they were just trying to help the museum?

Sure, I mean, it’s not like Campbell gets a piece of the action when the cruise lines book these tours.

Except, of course, that Campbell does get a piece of the action, as he explained to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board back in 2015. At the time, he was “in both the business of charter operations and cruise ship servicing,” he’s since sold his bus charter business, Absolute Charters, to Mike Cassidy of Coach Atlantic. But his testimony is helpful in understanding how much the cruise business is worth to him:

[W]e happen to be in both the business of charter operations and cruise ship servicing and, as a result, a cruise ship day to us is worth double what…it would be worth to a regular charter operator…Absolute Charters provides a charter rate according to Tariff 2 [to] Ambassatours. Then Ambassatours, you know, adds in the tour guides and the restaurants and the attractions and so on in its own mark-up. But, at the end of the day, Absolute Charters is charging the correct rate and then Ambassatours has its profit that it creates.

The end result is a coach operator of any kind, Absolute Charters, or any other one, might average $1200 a day in revenue but a cruise ship operator will get double that in revenue when selling per seat. So you charter the bus to the shorex operator. We happen to be the shorex operator or we’re chartering out to somebody else, in which case it’s only worth the charter value. But, to us, instead of $1200, it’s worth, you know, 22 to $2400, on average. And that’s an average bus. You take a larger bus like an articulating coach, it’s worth more.

It stretches credulity a little too far to suggest Campbell is a provider of disinterested advice on this subject.


Happier days

I was re-reading some of my previous cruise coverage in light of these latest developments and I realized that Mombourquette and the Miners Museum had featured in a Port of Sydney Cruise “update” issued back in November 2019.

They were given special mention as an attraction benefiting from cruise:

Miners Museum picture and quote from executive director

No mention of their “out-of-whack” entry fees at all..

Speaking of which…



Cruise lines, as you can see from Campbell’s UARB testimony, make a lot of money from shore excursions. (Cruise critic Ross Klein of Memorial University says their share of a shore excursion price can be as high as 90%.)

The Miners Museum’s “out-of-whack” entry fees look like this:

Adult: $7.83

Child: $6.09

If you want to take a mine tour, you pay more:

Adult: $18

Child: $14

Add a Virtual Mine Tour and the price rises again:

Adult: $23

Child: $19

Disney, clearly one of the higher-end lines, continues to list an excursion to the Miners Museum among its “Port Adventures” for Sydney. It includes a mine tour but not a virtual tour, so the Museum would receive $18 for an adult and $14 for a child.

And how much does Disney charge? See for yourself:

Miners Museum excursion, Disney cruise line

If half that fee goes to the cruise line (which would likely be the minimum), then Disney is making $36.50 per adult and $28.50 per child on each visit to the Miners Museum.

But things are tilted a little more in favor of the cruise lines, because the Miners Museum offers free entry to children under 5, so those 3 and 4 year-olds paying Disney $85 are actually not earning the Museum anything. And the Museum charges “youth” aged 5 to 17 the child entry fee, so those aged 10 to 17 being charged $109 by Disney are earning the Museum $14.

(Parks Canada sites like the Fortress of Louisbourg have made entrance for “youth under the age of 17” free since January 2018 and must be a little gold mine for cruise lines like Disney, which charges those aged 10 and up $99 for its Fortress Excursion, while those aged 3 to 9 pay $90. Only the 0 to 2 crowd get to travel free-of-charge.)

Bottom line: there’s nothing particularly “out-of-whack” about the Miners Museum’s entry fees. What’s out of whack is the profit expectations of the cruise lines.



Dennis Campbell’s LinkedIn profile says he’s hiring both in Halifax and Niagara, Ontario, where he apparently offers bus tours. His wish list for Halifax includes:

Full and part time captains, deck hands, event planning staff, servers, bartenders, runners, hosts, tour guides and kitchen staff…

And why should you work for him? Not, apparently, because he pays a living wage or offers job security and pension benefits. No, you should work for Campbell because:

It’s a fun place to work on one of the nicest Halifax waterfront restaurant & patio locations, vessels, Harbour Hopper, Tall Ship etc

We have a really nice mix of experienced and or retired people along with young people working as part of the team

We want you and your family to enjoy our many tours and cruises as our guests (space available basis). This is a perk that we want our team to enjoy when they are off duty and is worth hundreds of dollars in great experiences for you and your family to enjoy as our way of saying thank you for a job well done!

Good luck with that.