Advice

5 Troubling Cruise Trends

norwegian breakaway haven troubling cruise trends
The increasing popularity of private areas on cruise ships has us a little worried. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

Every year, another megaship launches with new gadgets and innovations like IMAX theaters, skydiving simulators, onboard apps, and high-speed internet. The future of cruising is filled with thrilling new prospects, but despite our overwhelming excitement, we’ve noticed a few trends that have us a little worried.

1. The Return of a Class System

ncl haven pearl

The Haven on Norwegian Pearl is gorgeous, but probably out of your price range. - Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

How It Used to Be: In the days of ocean liners, passengers were segregated by class with extravagant, luxurious areas for First Class passengers, while Third Class, or steerage, passengers were relegated below decks. The invention of “modern” cruising in roughly the late 1960's brought about a relatively egalitarian approach to cruising, with all passengers, regardless of cabin type, having full run of virtually the entire ship.

How It Is Now: Starting in the early 2000’s, the class system has slowly returned. No, there’s no rat-infested steerage class as depicted in Titanic, but more and more lines offer a pricey and private “ship-within-a-ship” experience for high-paying suite passengers. For example, Norwegian’s Haven and the MSC Yacht Club both have private pools, spas, and dining rooms where guests are treated to an upscale experience without having to rub elbows with the rest of the passengers onboard. Norwegian has come closest to recreating a Third Class, with the tiny “studio” staterooms in the bowels of some of their ships, made especially for single passengers and priced accordingly.

Where It’s Going: The concept is a hit among wealthier customers who can afford premium fares but still like the variety of entertainment and onboard activities of a larger, mainstream cruise ship. We expect more and more ships to adopt this approach in the future.

 

2. Fewer Last-Minute Deals

royal caribbean oasis miami cruise

It used to be easy to get a last-minute deal on a cruise out of Miami.- Photo by Royal Caribbean

How It Used to Be: Cruise lines used to offer great discounts on cruises within 30 days of the departure date. It was a great way for regular cruisers (mostly retirees) who lived near a major port to get great deals, and cruise lines were able to fill up their unused cabins.

How It Is Now: In an effort to encourage earlier bookings, Royal Caribbean announced they would no longer offer last-minute discounts on cruises 30 days in an effort to get cruisers to book early (at full price). Other lines quickly followed suit.

Where It’s Going: The strategy seems to be working. Cruise prices have been rising slowly but steadily, and while we used to see deals as low as $30 per night on our deals page, the lowest deal now is usually around $45/night.

 

3. More Nickel and Diming

cruise service room silversea

If you want room service, you might have to pay for it now.- Photo by Silversea

How It Used to Be: Everything used to be more or less included in the cruise fare.

How It Is Now: We know we talk about this a lot, but we can hardly go a single day without reading a review by an angry cruiser complaining about the constant upcharging on board. Some lines now charge for room service, others don’t let you bring your own bottled water aboard, and some have actually started charging for lobster/steak in the main dining room.

Where It’s Going: It doesn’t look the lines will change course, and cruisers looking for an inclusive experience will need to upgrade to the premium or luxury levels (where most onboard expenses are included).

 

Caribbean deals from $

 

4. Small Cutbacks

pillow chocolate troubling cruise trend

Don't expect to see a chocolate on your pillow anymore.- Photo by Inked Pixels / Shutterstock

How It Used to Be: Cruise lines used to add little freebies here and there to keep passengers happy.

How It Is Now: While lines have started charging for some services, they’ve completely done away with others. Carnival tends to get the most flak for this, and we regularly see reviews where passengers complain about things like no more chocolates on the pillow, no more tablecloths in the dining room (except on Elegant Night), and no automatic stateroom service twice a day. By themselves these things sound like nitpicking, but when you list all of them together they amount to a concerning trend.

Where It’s Going: When we asked Carnival President Christine Duffy about the cutbacks, she emphasized that “what might seem a ‘take away’ is usually a re-investment in something else.” For example, doing away with tablecloths “was part of a modernization of the main dining room experience. We invested more money in new menu offerings and modernized the ambience to have more of an American bistro feel.” In an effort to spend more money on new innovations, we expect cruise lines to keep cutting back on the little things.

 

5. Advance Reservations

mamma mia quantum of the seas

Want to see Mammia Mia? Be sure to make reservations well in advance of your sail date.- Photo by Royal Caribbean

How It Used to Be: Showtimes would be listed in the ship’s daily program, and you’d show up 15 to 30 minutes before the performance started to get a seat. If you wanted to eat at the ship’s only speciality restaurant, you’d see the maitre’d when you boarded, or maybe not even until the morning you wanted to dine.

How It Is Now: With the debut of Oasis of the Seas in 2009 came the beginning of another troublesome trend: the need for advance reservations to experience certain entertainment options on the largest cruise ships. To be fair, the change was meant to cut down on frustrating shipboard lines, but these reservations typically open well before the cruise sails, often making it necessary to book your favorite shows or specialty dining venues months in advance. There are still standby lines where unclaimed reservations are opened up 10-15 minutes before showtime, but it’s a gamble.

Where It’s Going: For experienced cruisers in the know, this is a great system. But for first-time sailors excited to see Mamma Mia or eat in Le Bistro, it can be a huge disappointment. Whether or not more cruise lines will adopt this approach will probably depend on which demographic they value more, but we have a feeling it’s here to stay.

 

 
 

Join the discussion

Are you concerned about any of these trends?

Posted by Johngold

All of the above and probably a few more. Nothing remains static, everything must evolve. Whether the evolution is a good thing or a bad thing, well time will tell. Many consumers will vote with their wallets. Decreases in business as a result of a decrease in service will be noticed. Of course sites such as this wilt a good system of reviews and comments will also contribute to the information stream to the interested parties.

Posted by oceanlove

I wish I'd started cruising a long time ago when these disturbing new trends were nowhere to be found. I've already experienced the class system on RC which bothered me a lot, and also the lack of tablecloths on the Carnival line. And as a cruiser on RC for the first time, I was very disappointed about not knowing that I should have reserved shows in advance. These and the other trends noted in the article are a worry. Is there anything a concerned cruiser can do?

Posted by MrChocoholic

What the cruise lines believe they have a captive market: plenty of old people with disposable income who are looking for the easy way to live in full-or-semi retirement, and plenty of cheaper younger people with party-madness. For people who are first-time cruisers (or have had their first time since 2009) are perfectly comfortable with their expectations. Meanwhile, the middle, are spending their "vacation" or travel plans doing other things--like all-inclusive resorts.

Posted by Judierzucidlo

i have cruised many ships on many cruise lines, because of all the so called improvements

. i have found that a throwback Thursday on Carnival was the best experience we and our group has had in years... we need to go backwards, NOT forward. we need more caribbean music ( we are in the Caribbean after all) the kettle drums were great! the bar tenders dancing in their flowered shirts selling cocktails were for sure an encouragement to purchase what use to be decorated cocktails... formal night was a night to be a princess or prince for a very special occasion. now you want to exclude it. prices?? i don't care about the packages. let us decide what we want and keep the prices as they were before all these unwanted changes... Ask your previous cruisers and you will see that I am correct.

Posted by JackLR

A 10+ cruiser, we recently sailed with Celebrity for the first time. The class system is well in place. Suite only restaurants with snobby maître d - "YOU can't eat here!" Center balcony roped and reserved for suite guests, only 20% full, even though show had started. And the upselling is non-stop. We felt like we were never good enough, never appreciated for what we bought. For Celebrity, never again.

Posted by wsteffey

All cruise lines have cut back on ports of call. It is too common to see only two ports, and perhaps a private island on a 7 day cruise. 3 days at sea are too much on a 7 day cruise.

Posted by Suebbb

I've cruised many times and have enjoyed all the level of service. The cruise I had the best time on, I was in an inside cabin! I recently cruised on the Haven as a special splurge and it was lovely, but it COST. There's always been different levels of service at different price points, but you can have a great time no matter where you're at on a ship with the right attitude! We took a cabin tour and personally, the studio rooms on the Norwegian Getaway look great. i can't wait to try one :)

Posted by BlueRCruise

Carnival starting to charge for lobster on steak-n-lobster night goes beyond the pale! As most of the evening shows are the "same-ol same-ol" (Las Vegas or Broadway style, stale comedians, magicians, etc.) that I've already seen, I generally tend to skip these (I'll go for any classical music or a retro on ABBA, Neil Diamond, etc.). I've also found that specialty restaurants generally are not worth the extra price.

Another bad trend cruiseline.com could have added are the increasing number of the mega ships, which means more "take a number" moments. The space ratio on many of these larger ships are also poor (under 40; many close to 35) - QM2 is an exception at about 57.7. I strive to avoid the low space-ratio ship (must be a theme or itinerary that I must have to overlook the cramp).

Posted by MisterMet

In regards to having to make advanced reservations for entertainment prior to our Allure of the Seas sailing, it was a truly wonderful idea. It makes getting into the shows much easier and stress free. A little bit of leg work by reading some reviews anywhere on the web will tell you that it's something you should do. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in this day of instant access to information.

Posted by mrnew2008

If the industry doesn't be careful, it will price out of the market. I do not like all 5 troubling trends. The one that bothers me the most is making of reservations. I still make the reservations, but the fact I have to do it in order to see shows that I would normally take my time, arrive early, and casually decide if I wanted to attend because I was on vacation. It takes away the spontaneity of being on vacation. Moreover, I vote with my pocket book and with critical reviews of my experiences whether it is good or bad. If I don't have the right price (early book, last minute, coupon offer, or loyalty reward), I don't go. Thanks to the information age, websites like Cruise Critics, Cruiseline.com, Twitter, Facebook, or the actual cruise line itself, I am able to voice my concerns good or bad. I am also a relic, I will use the phone, MS Word, paper, and a stamp. The principles of business are customer service, product, and product value. The cruise industry will self correct, if customers are not happy.

Posted by KiwiSailor

We are reasonably new to cruising with only 5 cruises under our belt. We have noticed these trends entering the cruise world along with others depending on the part of the world and the currency for onboard expenses. Personally we believe that promises made at the time of booking should be honoured. We all have the opportunity to line up at the pursers desk, advising of our concerns immediately while on the cruise, Not once you are home and out of sight. The best Cruise Lines will listen to you, assist you, because their principles of customer services is at stake. These will be the lines we will cruise with in the future. Like mrnew2008, choose your cruise carefully at the start. If the line dosen't have what you want, try another, there is a great choice out there.

Posted by bhdickson

All of these trends are disturbing. We cruised with Carnival in February for the first time in several years and noticed a couple of them: charges for things always available on the menu (steaks, lobster) and small cutbacks. Also fewer activities. There was one nice surprise, faster and less costly internet, something I practically never bother with because of the slowness and cost. I agree with BlueRCruise about the megaship trend. I generally avoid those ships since tender ports and embarkation and debarkation can be a nightmare with a really large number of passengers. Also, I've read that safety can be compromised with that many people on board.

Posted by OCEANDIVA

I JUST GOT OFF A MED CRUISE LAST WEEK---- AND I COULD LIVE WITH THE LACK OF TABLE CLOTHS AND THEY DO PUT THEM ON THE TABLES ON FORMAL NIGHT...BUT THE PASSENGER CAPACITY CONTINUES TO GRWO AND THE AMENITIES DO NOT EXCEPT FOR KIDS---THE RIDES TAKE AN ENORMOUS PART OF THE SHIP----THERE WAS ONLY ONE POOL AND NEVER EVER CHAIRS TO SIT IN UNLESS YOU WERE UP AT 5AM TO GET ONE AND THE MOVIES ARE FOR KIDS----WHAT HAPPENED TO ADULT ENTERTAINMENT? WE PAY FOR THE TRIP ---CAN WE NOT GET ENTERTAINMENT ----THE ONLY STUFF IN THE EVENING WAS A THIRTY MINUTE BROADWAY SHOW AND THE LINES FOR THE COMEDY SHOWS IMPOSSIBLE TO GET INTO----NO ONE WANTS TO DO THAT THROUGHOUT THEIR VACATION. ALSO ...THERE WERE ONLY TWO ENGLISH CHANNELS AND BOTH NEWS----AND THEY WERE OUT OF SIGNAL MORE THAN THEY WERE ON. IF YOU WANTED TO WATCH TV OR A MOVIE YOU HAD TO PAY ---COULD THEY NOT AFFORD ONE LOUSY TV STATION???? IT HAS BECOME TOTALLY ABSURD TO THINK ADULTS WILL CONTINUE TO CHOOSE CRUISING WHEN THEY ARE TOTALLY BORED IN THE EVENING. EVENING MOVEIS...PADDINGTON BEAR, SPIDERMAN, SHREK 3; ARE YOU KIDDING?? THE CRUISE COMPANY THAT FINALLY GETS IT WILL EVENTUALLY PUT THE THERS OUT OF BUSINESS. AND YES THEY CHARGED FOR ROOM SERVICE SO BY THE TIME YOU BOUGHT A COKE AND YOUR ROOM SERVICE SNACK AND THE MOVIE----GEE...MIGHT AS WELL STAY HOME!

Posted by BAK1061

As I read Ms. Duffy's comment, I heard in my head blahblahblahmoremoneyformeandtheboardofdirectorsblahblahblah.

Reinvested elsewhere ! Really ? Management out of touch with its customer base as usual.

Posted by joanmacdonald96

It's such a shame that the '5 star treatment for everyone' experience that I have always associated with cruising is diminishing - we're still paying the big prices, but just not getting that level of service or amenity. The surreptitious introduction of class systems by having segregated areas within ships is particularly galling - if the toffs don't want to mix with the rest of us, let them go on the luxury cruise lines!

Posted by azokal

Oceania definitely has a class system Recently we booked an Alaskan Cruise on the Oceania Regatta. We did book late and the only available room was a deluxe outside room on deck number 4. On our first night my wife attempted to arrange for a HOT breakfast in bed. She was told that deck 4 only could receive a Continental breakfast ie no hot food. Now the Oceania web site advertises and I quote "Complimentary 24 hr room service" with no mention that some cabins have limited availability. After several complaints to ship management no change in policy nor any offer of shipboard credit was offered.....Needless to say Oceania is no longer a cruise line that we will sail

Posted by DebbieVi

The "class" system only works well when everybody feels "special". VIPS that are rewarded discretely for their loyalty with upgrades and meal comps are just as happy as new cruisers who are treated well by their steward and cruise staff. If people are made to feel "different" due to their "cruise status", no one wins.

Posted by Plumfanatic

The "class system" works very well for me. I don't care to be around anyone who considers themselves above my "station" so, this suits me fine, I would much rather be among cruisers who are there to relax and enjoy. What annoys me more are people watchers. Seriously? You are on vacation. Mind your own business, don't judge others and quit staring or making rude comments. Making reservations for shows is irritating as well, but I can work with that. Candy on my pillow, fruit baskets, afternoon appetizers...usually go to waste anyway. My first cruise was in 2007, so I am fairly happy with all the lines I have sailed. The worst experience was when I fell on the first port day and broke 5 ribs. The medical facility was completely worthless. Never open, no doctor most of the time and they said I was simply bruised and advised the hot tub and therapy pool! I thought I was going to die! They also sold me a brace with instructions to wear 24/7. When I got home 11 days later my diaphragm was collapsed. The lack of compassion for my situation by Celebrity was unprofessional and unforgettable (not in a good way). I would much rather have better medical facilities than a mint on my pillow. To top it off I was charged on by final bill for the medical "treatment" even though I had the insurance. You have to pay up front and then get your money back from the insurer. If I could vote for the friendliest and most accommodating line out of the four I have cruised, Princess would win. (Royal Caribbean is best for traveling with my grandchildren and NCL has been good for having sailings where and when it was convenient for me.)


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