What is happening to cruising? Major cruiselines getting beat-up with reviews.

OK (rubbing hands together), I guess I'm looking for input from veteran cruisers on this. There has been major unhappiness aboard cruises from the most major cruiselines from the reviews I have been reading. Cruiselines that used to be considered upper shelf (by what they charged, their personalized service and their amenities in the past) now seem to be leveling out and seem to be becoming all the same. Things like compared amenities between lines in the stateroom (such as cabin amenities towel animals or toiletries) DO have an effect to veteran cruisers reactions. I do realize that reviews are a personal thing but when you read about bed bugs, dirty sheets and stopped up toilets, it makes me think that maybe, just MAYBE cruiselines are growing too big to true competitors anymore. It seems that the corporate leaders of these lines aren't really listening or reading what their past passengers have to say (with exception of MSC on this website) to correct these issues. Lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Celebrity that once used to be "upper crust" when it came to sailing, now seem to fall into the same category as Carnival YET Carnival reviews seem to over shadow many itineraries and passenger happiness of these lines. My thought was why pay $200pp more for an itinerary on one line when another is $300pp less from the same port with the same itinerary? I would at one time be willing to pay the extra for the more personalized service but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. It seems that when the cruiselines make their ships larger and keep the crew smaller, the passengers suffer thus leading to poor reviews. I sailed NCL and loved it albeit back in 1992. I have been on 2 RCCL cruises and found them OK (not "wow'd). I have sailed Princess and enjoyed the cruise. But, my past 5 cruises with Carnival were a blast ALL 5 times. What do you think is missing here? To me it seems the major lines are growing to big for their britches. I look forward to hearing what my fellow veteran cruisers think.

10 Answers

I am, by no means a veteran, But I have been asking some of the same questions. Cruise lines have taken the industry to higher levels, with size being the thing. They believe that Bigger is Better..... There have been many reviews about the lack of service in all industries, cruising included. Corporations are buying businesses all over with the $ being the bottom line and the reason they exist.

I would suggest that when the experience cruiser books a cruise from now on that they send a note to the customer service department of the cruise lines that they did not pick and tell them why they did not book with them. I work in the electrical wholesale industry. My customers have no problem saying to me why I did not get the order or project, I actually encourage that as it gives me ammunition to talk to the suits.

As consumers we can make an impact on industry by voting with our pocket books.

Now, As an aside....

As a Canadian, I have always had access to Cuba, With the recent development with your President Obama... How soon can we expect stops with cruise lines to Cuba....Just sayin...

And Tim.....

Some of the cruise lines ARE getting to big for their britches. I will spend money for a cruise, on a cruise, in port, pictures, booze, and tacky souvenirs...I just don't want to be nagged about it from hard sellers on board.


I tried Carnival Cruise Line on the Paradise for the 4 night trip to Baja, it was great. Years later I did 3 more shot trips with Carnival on the Inspiration (this year). The service, food, entertainment were great, the ship is older and mid size but clean and well kept up. I enjoyed them enough to do Carnival in the Caribbean on the Glory. They glory is newer and larger. The service, food and was not as good as the other ships. The design had the smoke from the Casino polluting the air on most of that deck, even into the closed off Piano bar. The food was not hot at dinner, people noisy in the hall ways, kids slamming doors at 2 am, the front desk would not do anything about it when complaints were made. I think all lines have good ships and bad ships. As Consumers it is up to us to research a ship and show our support or lack of it with out vacation dollars. The larger ships do have a lower ratio or crew to guest.

Hey Tim,

I was expecting a little more responses to your original post.

I believe this is an issue that should be discussed.

What are your thoughts?

Sorry John. I just started a new job and being on the bottom of the ladder, the hours fluctuate a lot. I agree with you about how, like with other corporations, as cruise lines continue to grow such as through acquiring other lines, they begin to lose sight of their true mission. Their true mission is to serve their passengers in a way so they want to return. When I first started cruising back in 1990, there was no such thing as pre-paid tipping. When I cruised back then, I actually enjoyed the last night of the cruise where we would show our appreciation to those crew members that served us well. Now with the pre-paid tipping, it seems that even the crew, knowing the tips are coming without question aren't so concerned about exemplary customer service anymore. Now don't get me wrong, I have come across many wonderful crewmembers since they instituted the pre-paid tipping policy yet have found many that have a "just doing my job" attitude. I also know that as ships get larger, the crew onboard ratio to passengers doesn't seem to match the demand. This can be read in many reviews of many ships. In my opinion, I feel writing to cruise lines about why you didn't sail with them will fall on deaf ears. What I do and have always done, is I send a letter to the corporate office of the ship I sailed on with a review of my sailing regardless of good or bad. But the trick is to MAIL (not email) your review. And expect a response to take 90 to 120 days but I have always gotten a response. Cruise lines need to realize they do have competition. My sticking point is how it seems they are downsizing what they offer to passengers (such as RCCL's talk of removing the MDR completely) as they continue to acquire other lines. As for my country's relationship with Cuba, I will not comment because this is not a political platform. I'll save my remarks for CNN.

1st, I look forward to the American point of view on the Cuba situation.

But relating to this forum. I have always enjoyed a good relationship with the suits at corporate office for both NCL and Princess. A few months ago, I was invited to a discussing forum with a senior marketing Vice President from Princess. Ncl suits regularly answer my e-mails. But, I believe the original point that you were trying to make, is there is a separation of the reality of customer service and the expectations of the consumer. The larger the ship the lower the level of service due in part to the cost of operating to the corporation. This will be debated for quite a while.

I have been on 91 cruises , I see little cut backs on things to save money , all the cruise

lines are doing that , as long as they keep the price of the cruise low , I can live with the cut backs on little things

I have been on 50 cruise and I do notice a difference on cruises. Many items that were once complimentary or included are now extra charge. For example just in the MDR, cappuccino used to be included and now is extra. There was always a lobster dinner on every cruise; now sometimes you don't even get that. Amenities in the bathroom used to always be included. Now a major cruise line only stocks them for repeat customers. MSC doesn't do towel animals. I heard from my sister that at the captain's cocktail party on Princess they received a voucher for a drink not the drink itself.

I used to joke that soon the cruise lines would make you pay to dine on the ships. I don't joke about that any more.

Once ads used to say that cruising is great because everything is included except drinks. That is not true any more. Cruising is no longer all inclusive.

These are just small things but they add up.

What disturbs me even more are the reports of indifferent front desk personnel, poor cabin service, plumbing leaks, lost luggage, lukewarm food, poor food, etc...I think that cruise lines are taking the joy out of cruising. I honestly don't think it is just a problem with the larger ships. I have had excellent food and service on the Allure & Oasis. What I think is the problem is that they are trying to keep prices down to be competitive. Maybe it is also hard for them to get good staff.

I read a book about cruising and the author said that they had bed bugs in their stateroom. OMG! Of course hotels have similar problems.

Now we read about mechanical problems and norovirus. I brought a ton of medication with me on my last two back-to-back cruises and luckily did not need any. But, passengers all around me were sick. I was just lucky.

I think that bad reviews now outnumber good reviews of ships.

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.

Once we accept that mediocrity is the norm for anything we do and anything we buy, there will always be a mediocre provider. Once the population votes with their pocket books and the large mothercorps realize this, then service levels will return.

I can remember back in the 80's and 90's my mom would say if you can get a cruise for $100 a day or less your doing good. $100 in the 80's ad 90's is worth a lot more then $100 today. The prices have not gone up but food, fuel, labor and advertising has. So of course lines have cut back. Stop and think of what it cost to go on vacation on land, say a week in San Diego. A hotel room will run you about $200.00 a night, food will run another $100 a day and entertainment $ 50 So for a couple $500 a night not including your gas and car to get around in since everything will not be in the one location like a ship. Cruising is not what it used to be and is better then what it may become. It is still a great vacation value. If you miss the niceties go for a higher grade cruise line. I can enjoy myself on Celebrity and on Carnival, I just know what to expect with what I book. Cruising has turned into the affordable vacation. They have to offer low prices to get you into the ships in this economy, so they will nickle and dime you to make a profit. It is business 101


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