In general do you think service on cruise lines is getting better or worse?

I am reading more and more reviewers who say the service on board various ships across many cruise lines is not up to their expectations.  Do you think that travelers are expecting too much or is service really slipping?

On my last two voyages on HAL which were back-to-back cruises I saw a difference in the level of service between the two sailings but I will still satisfied with the service on both cruises. 

Do you have any suggestions for improving service?  Are the crew members not being trained properly?  Are their not enough crew on the ship? Do cruise lines need to raise prices?   Are you satisfied with the level of service?

Tags: service on cruiselines

14 Answers

In the last 20 years that I have been cruising I have scene the level of service decline on ships. The place I see it most is in the MDR. It looks and feels like the # of staff has been cut down in the MDR so service is slower. We still get 2 servers, but they have more tables to serve. Carnival is doing "The American Table " with no table clothes and less flatware, pitcher of water on the table and basket of rolls. Midnight Buffets have been discontinued, they used to be every night. Ice buckets in cabins were standard and kept full.

I can remember back in the 80's mom would say if you can get a cruise for $ 100.00 per night per person, it was a good price. 30 years later we are still seeing cruises for 100.00 per person per night. That $ 100.00 was worth a lot more back in the 80's then it is now. Back then Cruising was not a cheap get away, it was a more expensive elegant vacation.

I guess we can blame Carnival, they brought Cruising to the masses with inexpensive cruise vacations and the other lines had to cut back to be competitive. Kind of like all the import cars in the 1970's and 1980, the American cars had to compete in price and we saw the quality of the product drop.

One comment I read before said "cruising is not as good as it used to be but it is better then what it may become" Kind of sad but true. To get the old style service we will have to move up to the premium Cruise lines and pay the price.

I have not cruised that much in relation to others on this site, however, I have noticed the difference between Princess and NCL. I expect to pay more for Princess, and therefore I expect a certain level of service for the amount spent. Yes, Carnival may have set the margin of service as related to price, and Mega ships have certainly set the bar at a level for mass markets, but you do get what you pay for. NCL, I found a mid range, while the luxury lines offer a more sedate and refined trip. In order to maintain the level of return on investments that Boards of Directors and Shareholders expect from the Cruise Corporations, somethings gotta give.... in most cases, service is lost.

I do believe there has been a significant overall deterioration of product throughout the major lines. Since we relegate our cruising to three companies it is difficult to get a handle on what all the others are doing except by talking and listening to fellow voyagers, here and elsewhere.

It appears to me that all the large mainstream cruise lines have adopted pretty much the same business model now. From a profit motive standpoint it is likely to last. If I were to guess at who is to blame, I would say the two big boys on the block are the culprits, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited. They have been at each others throats for some years now, pursuing a concept that leans toward building more and more very large vessels. Some of the largest ships are getting close to the 9000 passenger plus crew mark. To finance construction of these vessels huge investment dollars are required. In order to fill these ships most lines have adopted a policy of getting passengers on board for a low initial fee, no sticker shock. Even the more affluent baby boomer market isn't large enough for them, so the demographics of the average cruiser has been greatly expanded.

In order to maintain and increase revenues, charging extra for just about everything is taking place. Except for the basic stateroom and food served in the main dining rooms, buffet areas, pizzerias and hamburger/hot dog grill outlets one pays an add-on fee. The ships function more or less like large floating resorts, with all sorts of premium type restaurants and other eatery venues where additional payments are required, not to mention all the boutiques and multiple retail outlets trying to sell something. There is heavy emphasis on selling ship sponsored shore excursions$$$. Effort is made to steer guests away from independent shore excursion venders, i.e. Woe be it unto those booking an independent that is late getting them back for the scheduled departure.

I believe all 11 of the majors are downgrading their product in most areas. Meaning, less staff and poorer quality cuisine in their main dining rooms. By cutting down the size of, quality of, and service within the main dining rooms and other no extra charge areas, guests are more or less forcibly channeled into this nickel and dime game. I wouldn't be surprised to see a trend away from providing a MDR experience, relying instead on huge buffet areas for no extra charge meals. Think, army chow halls.

Perhaps we are getting a little curmudgeonly in our old age, resisting change and expecting too much. Generally I have always provided positive reviews, it is only as of late I see the dark side of cruising.

My experience is that service level is declining to borderline unacceptable on the more family budget-conscious lines (most significantly on NCL, Carnival). That said, many new cruisers do not seem to care much but I think that is because they just don't know how things used to be.

The bottomline number crunchers are driving too many decisions from the safety of the southern Florida office and staff to cruiser ratios are just not what they used to be. A cruise line simply cannot expect 2 people to do the same quality job that 3 (or more) used to do.

On the other hand, I've met some highly committed crew members who are personally dedicated to making customer cruise experiences the best they can be. It is the dedication of those people who are saving the low cost lines from sinking.

For lines like Celebrity and Princess, there are impacts as well but because the overall experience is still pleasing the missing pillow chocolate or other lost amenity isn't as noticeable.

Thank you all for leaving your detailed comments. I appreciate them. I hope that the cruise lines read them thoughtfully.

I get depressed when reading my own post here. Surely there has been some positives in recent years with the new ships, policies and all. Maybe we need another thread listing such, but I can't think of hardly any. Well, maybe a few, very few.

Very interesting topic! I recently came back from the annual SeaTrade conference where all the cruise lines meet with others in the industry. For one of the panel discussions, we ( actually did some analysis on all the reviews on the site here and found some trends...

1. Service / Staff is the highest rated attribute on reviews (avg 2.7 out of 3). The lowest rated attribute? Onboard activities at 2.4 out of 3.

2. What if we looked at the actual reviews - what are cruisers are unhappy about? Turns out, most complaints involve 'food and dining', 'nickel and dime', and 'smoking'. This sounds similar to what you all pointed out here.

3. Most interesting to me was this fact - NEW cruisers (first cruise), rated their cruise experience much higher than experienced cruisers. Specifically, they rated the Service/Staff, food/dining and cabin/stateroom higher.

I think this makes sense. On people's first cruise they are not sure what to expect and are blown away by the service, food, etc. But, as they go on more cruises, they expectations get higher. Do you agree?

Overall though, review scores average between 3.5 and 3.8, which is still very good. I agree with @Kennicot, maybe we should have another thread listing all the positives. Happy

There are many positives about cruising. However, an experienced cruiser will see a decline in service that were once the norm, to what passes for the norm 5 to 10 years later.

But I agree, creating a new thread or open forum on the good things we experience would be a great start.

In the last 20 years I have scene decline in Dining room service and food on the Major lines. I am not expecting more, I am expecting descent service in the MDR. I expect enough staff that dinner will get to me hot, I will not have to sit for 20 or 30 to minutes to place an order and that dinner will not take 2 hours because of slow service.

On my last cruise we gave up on the MDR and just ate in the buffet because MDR service was so slow and food was cool by the time we got it. It was not just me. out of a table of 10, there were only 2 of us on the last night of the cruise. We only went to say goodbye to our table mates, but none of them showed up. I did not bother to eat my dinner because cold BBQ ribs just are not good. I went up to the Lido after my frined ate his dinner and had the BBQ ribs that were hot in the buffet.

If Cruising did not have its good, we would not go. Plenty of good on a cruise, just not as good as it had been.

I guess when you start having to pay for what was once complimentary you feel that you are getting cheated but prices have not gone up that much. Cruise lines are hold down prices but asking you to pay for some items. Something has to give. I still think that cruising is the way to go.


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