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. But large ships are the way all the majors are going. For instance, the CEO of Holland America Group has announced the smallest ship Princess will have in the future is 140,000 gross tons (about 4,000 pax) and HAL will be at 100,000 GT.
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 Cruise 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, (RCL will have four of them). 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 very low initial fee, no sticker shock. Even the more affluent baby boomer market isn't large enough to handle this expansion, 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 where a lot of money is to be made by the industry. Effort is made to steer guests away from independent shore excursions venders, i.e. Woe be it unto those booking an independent that is late getting them back for the scheduled departure. Another is booze, do you think the reason most lines restrict alcohol from coming on board anymore is to lessen the likelihood of a drunk falling overboard, nope, ask anyone in the restaurant and bar business where the profits are.
In addition, I strongly 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. Cutting down on 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 concentrated trend away from providing a MDR experience, relying instead on huge Golden Coral type buffet areas for the no extra charge meals.
Formal dress codes is just one area of the days of yore cruising that is being sacrificed. Marketing experts suggest the industry is caught in a dilemma here. On the one hand most of their guests (about 70%) prefer a significant reduction in formality over what traditionally has been offered for the entire cruise experience. On the other, a minority of their guests, demographically older, prefer the manner of sailing they are accustomed to and consider the new trends a degradation in cruise quality. But more importantly for the future, doing away with the old means losing the opportunity to cultivate a culture of younger cruisers to the older style of cruising. So what happens to the entire industry if and when circumstances alter leisure vacation preferences and the new mass market fad of cruising loses appeal?
But hey, right the now cruisers seem to prefer this low cost trend, they get on board for very little and don't require the amenities and all the other stuff some of us have gotten used to so they don't pay extra. Maybe we are too curmudgeonly in our old age, resisting change and expecting too much. But I agree completely with OP BAK 1061, time to start looking elsewhere. Right now we are basking in the sun in the Sandwich Islands in a fine condo for three weeks, to get here we flew, love it. Don't have a cruise booked either, but we haven't given up completely, sure like to reach the 600 day sailing point just to say I did, have about four weeks to go though.