What's the Most Important Part of a Cruise?

most important part of a cruise
Are service, cabins, and food the key to a great cruise? - Photo by Regent, Disney & Seabourn

What’s the most important part of a cruise? The answer will vary depending on who you ask: we’ve seen scathing critiques from cruisers who felt like their cruise was completely ruined by mediocre cuisine, while other reviewers will spend their entire 5-star review raving about the excellent service onboard.

Here at Cruiseline.com, we hold the belief that the secret to a great cruise experience lies in the staples of cruising. The way we see it, flashy new amenities and high-tech entertainment work great for getting people on board your ship, but if you neglect to deliver quality dining, service and cabins, the “meat and potatoes” of the cruise world, you’re far less likely to receive a positive review.

This assessment seemed to be confirmed when we hit our 100,000 review milestone and did a deep dive into our review data. We found that reviewers spend the most time discussing cabins, service and dining:

words per review category

People tend to focus on cabins and dining in their reviews. - Photo by Cruiseline.com

Still, we wondered if concentrating on those 3 categories is actually cruise line’s best chance at earning more positive reviews, so we decided to dig deeper.


What’s the most important part of a cruise?

We wanted a scientific answer to this question, so we did what we always do: consult our data. We won’t go too deep into the specifics, but in short, we ran a linear-regression model based on the category ratings from Cruiseline.com reviews to see which ones were the best indicator of whether the user would leave a positive (4- or 5-star) review.

In oversimplified terms, if a user gives a positive score for dining, how much more likely is the reviewer to leave a positive overall score for the entire cruise, and is it more or less than other factors?

We performed this analysis for all of our review categories: dining, service, cabins, onboard activities, entertainment, ship quality, destinations and excursions, embarkation and disembarkation, and children’s programs.


What The Experts Think

carnival dream water slide

Are onboard activities just as important as dining and service? - Photo by Carnival

Before we ran the experiment, we thought it would be interesting to reach out to some cruise experts on our site and our partners and ask them to predict the results of the experiment:

Simon Duvall, Community Manager, Cruiseline.com: People go on vacation (and particularly a cruise) to improve their quality of life. They want to eat better than they do at home, receive better service than they typically do in their day to day life, and want to be comfortable. Dining, cabins and service are the three pillars of the cruise experience, and if they’re not done right, the rest doesn’t matter.

Mike Jirout, Creator, ShipMate App: Everyone loves to eat, but there are many facets to cruising. Your cruise experience won’t be determined entirely by a succulent prime rib or a watery bisque. Other factors playing a role in your cruise review include: ship amenities, entertainment, cruise ports, sporting activities, social events, service, cleanliness, and much more. If you’re going on a cruise only for the dining, I’d suggest you skip the muster drill and hit up a nice, land-based restaurant instead.

Ben Souza, Editor & Publisher, Cruise Fever: When it comes to cruising, the two most important factors are service and food. Passengers for the most are willing to overlook certain things on the ship that might not be up to par if service and food are on point. However, they won’t overlook poor service and dining.

Doug Parker, Host, Cruise Radio: People book a cruise based on amenities onboard the ship and the itinerary. Harmony of the Seas and Carnival Vista are two examples of ships people book for the onboard offerings.


The Numbers Don't Lie

dining seabourn cruise

According to our calculations, dining is in fact the most important element on a cruise. - Photo by Seabourn

We’ll keep the math stuff brief, but suffice it to say that the higher the score (correlation coefficient), the more important the category is in terms of a predicting a positive overall review:

1. Dining: 0.94
2. Ship Quality : 0.72
3. Service : 0.71
4. Onboard Activities: .60
5. Destinations & Excursions: 0.43
6. Embarkation/Disembarkation: 0.41
7. Entertainment: 0.39
8. Cabin: 0.30
9. Children’s Programs: .02

We ran several different variations of the model, refining it as best we could. There were some minor variations (for example, service edged out ship quality in another test), but overall, the results were largely the same. Out of curiosity, we even ran a test to see if the same factors applied to a negative review, and sure enough, it was the exact same list.

It’s pretty clear that there are four tiers of importance in terms of how much each category contributes to the overall cruise score:

Tier 1 (Extremely Important): Dining
Tier 2 (Important): Ship quality, service, and onboard activities.
Tier 3 (Somewhat Important): Destinations & excursions, embarkation/disembarkation, entertainment, and cabins.
Tier 4 (Not Important): Children’s programs.


What We Learned


Service is important, but so are onboard activities and ship quality. - Photo by Seabourn

1. Dining is the Best Predictor of a Positive Review: No matter how we ran the numbers, dining always comes out strongly on top. It makes sense when you think about it: if the entertainment on your cruise is boring, don’t go. If that one bar has a rude server, try a different bar. But if the food on the ship is bad, that’s pretty hard to escape.

2. Ship Quality and Onboard Activities Are More Important Than We Thought: People didn’t seem to talk too much about ship quality or onboard activities in our previous analysis, so we assumed they weren’t a big deal for cruisers. As it turns out, they rank up there right with service as one of the most essential factors of a positive cruise experience.

3. Cabins Aren’t Nearly as Important as We Thought: The absolute shocker here was that cabins were not even close to the same level as dining and service. Even though people spend more time discussing the cabin in their review than any other category, it’s a pretty poor indicator of whether people will leave a 4- or 5-star review. We can see the reasoning here, too: If your cabin is bad you’re definitely going to complain, but hardly anyone books a cruise to spend the whole time in their cabin.

4. Children’s Programs Are a Terrible Indicator of Postive Reviews: The least influential factor by was children’s programs. Even when we ran the numbers just for reviews written by families, the score hardly inched up. Now, it’s worth reminding yourself that it’s not the kids writing these reviews, but another explanation is that only a small part of a child’s time on board will be spend at the children’s programs. Most of the family cruise will be spent doing what other passengers do: eating, participating in onboard activities, and going on excursions.

5. What Happens Onboard is More Important than What Happens In Port: While it’s possible that people book cruises based on the itinerary, destinations and excursions ranked well behind dining, ship quality, service, and onboard activities.


Myth or Reality?

Destination experiences play a relatively small role in the overall review score. - Photo by Celebrity Cruises

So were we accurate in our hypothesis that dining, service, and cabins were the most important part of cruising?

Well, Simon and Ben certainly had it right that service and dining were two of the most important facets of a cruise. Still, we have to admit that Ben nailed it by pointing just to dining and service, while cabins weren't as important as we originally thought. While Mike didn’t give dining its due, he and Doug were absolutely right that onboard activities and other factors are also important in predicting overall cruise score.

We’ll go with "reality" on this one on account of the high scores of dining and service, but it looks like it’s a myth that cabin plays a large role in the overall cruise experience.

Join the discussion

What's the most important part of a cruise for you?


Posted by CruisesAhoy

The food on board in dining room, buffet, and specialty restaurants definitely most important to us. Oceania offers dinner in the specialty restaurants gratis, and the cuisine is excellent. Secondly would be our cabins with wonderfully comfortable beds and clean accessible bathrooms - also a large closet with plenty of clothes hangars.

Posted by JohnsonL

Out of curiosity, did your study analysis adjust for the number of cruises that the responder had relative to the categories of importance? For our early family cruises, itineraries were very important allowing us to pick excursions that we thought were great experiences for the whole family. After a few cruises I'd say we fit more in to the results of the survey where ship quality, service, and onboard activities became more important. Now renewal comes from the ship with the itineraries adding to, but not defining the experience. We plan 2 or 3 specialty dinners every cruise and while we know the main dining room is not really cooked to order, we still expect a very good meal with very good service. Activities from movies, to live music, Latin or ballroom dancing, mystery dinner theater, trivia contests, exercise and exercise classes, karaoke, a bartender that knows what we like, while being tipped very well, are now things that we really look forward to and enjoy. Whereas early in our cruising experience we were looking for a different ship and different itinerary now repeat cruising or back-to-back cruising on a ship that we enjoy and are comfortable with, is much more our preference. Okay big confession after writing the above. Itineraries were important and part of how we picked the Cruises for our younger kids and family. However even back then, we selected large ships with attractive activities and in line with this study, how we rated the cruise and how we remember it has a lot to do with great service, great food and things we could do on the ship even though the itineraries probably came next as far as what we talk about. But itineraries are not how we rate the cruise. For example, on one fabulous 1998 cruise, our room steward was Robert and our Head Waiter was Samuel, they were wonderful, every meal was great, and the shows rivaled today's best. We remember these and they helped make it a great cruise, independent from the excursions.

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