I certainly share your concerns. 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 the others are doing except by talking and listening to fellow voyagers. We use Princess, HAL and Regent. Regent is pretty small, only three ships, and one of these all inclusive lines, so it is difficult to compare them with the 11 big majors. Besides, they have their own set of problems not the least of which is a roll back in overall service but their big negative is $$$ and going up.
We are now working toward 600 days of sailing since 1990 and I find myself not a happy camper with the turn of events. Now I realize that assessments of service, cuisine, etc. are subject to personal preference, prejudice and subjectivity, but taking all that into consideration, things are not good in my opinion. Opinions do really vary, all one has to do is look at the wide variety of discussion in reviews not only of ships but hotels, restaurants, etc, in other mediums as well, like Tripadviser. Perhaps we are getting a little curmudgeonly in our old age, resisting change and expect too much. Generally I have always provided positive reviews, it is only as of late I see the dark side of cruising coming up.
It appears to me that all the large mainstream cruise lines have adopted pretty much the same business model. From a profit motive standpoint it is likely to last. The concept 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. Then, 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. Then charging extra for just about everything except the basic stateroom and food served in the main dining rooms, buffet areas, pizzerias and hamburger/hot dog grills. The ships function more or less like large floating resorts, with all sorts of premium type restaurants and other meal venues where additional payments are required, not to mention all the boutiques and other retail outlets trying to sell you something. 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 the nickel and dime game.
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. For instance, 11 months ago we were on HAL for over a month, starting out it looked like the MDR was going to be not so hot, but they got things under control after the first day or two, then in September we were on Princess for 19 days and again things started out poorly in the MDR but smoothed out slightly there after. Up to that point things were still tolerable, but last month I believe cost cutting caught up with Princess, from understaffing of both service and kitchen personnel, rendering their product in the MDR undesirable for us. I believe Princess has now cut back so far they can't get the limited staff to adjust anymore, that I also believe is what is going to happen to all of them.
The times we did eat in the MDR we usually sat there waiting and watching a harried flurry of activity by the understaffed help forging a losing battle trying to keep up. Made dressing up in my tux on formal nights and trying to dine there a joke.
So, in order to continue enjoying the cruise we made do, by booking dinner in one of their excellent specialty restaurants on board whenever we felt inclined to really enjoy dinner or simply going up to the Horizon Court buffet. We will probably continue this pattern on our next cruise, October, unless the MDR situation we just experienced turns out to be a fluke.
I have a theory that there will be a drift completely away from providing MDR service on the major cruise lines in the future. Instead cruisers will experience more of and larger specialty extra charge venues and expanded no extra charge buffet area service. I mentioned Regent being an all inclusive voyage, but ironically, the food and service in the specialty restaurants on HAL and Princess are much better than those on Regent which you can hardly ever get into due no extra charge. However, the MDR on Regent is far superior to those on HAL and Princess.