Cruise Reviews Editorial Policy
by Paul Motter
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Review Criteria, How We Compare Ships
CruiseMates Cruise Reviews Editorial Policy:
It is only fair for our readers to know how these cruise reviews come about. CruiseMates has been online since 1999, but the root of these cruise reviews started with author Anne Campbell who wrote the Fielding's Guide to Cruises in 1994 and 1995, and started Cruise Critic in 1994 as founding editor along with Kathleen Tucker, who is still with Cruise Critic. Anne Campbell and Paul Motter started CruiseMates together in 1999.
Since the Internet started it has struggled to become a profitable medium. Today it is profitable, but not enough to pay for a reporter's cruise fare upon every cruise ship in the world. The number of cruise ships in the Western World cruise fleet alone is greater than 150.
To give full disclosure, when doing unescorted individual cruise reviews it is our policy to accept a stateroom upon a cruise ship in gratuity. We pay for our airfare to get to the cruise ship and we pay for all the usual expenses the average reader is responsible for; taxis, onboard expenses, beverages, alternative dining, spa treatments, shore excursions and gratuities for our service staff.
To the best of our knowledge, this practice is common, especially for cruise reporters compiling an extensive set of cruise ship reviews for the entire CLIA cruise fleet. It is fiscally highly improbable, if not impossible, that such an olio of cruise reviews could be compiled any other way. If any other cruise review source has a different policy we are not aware of it.
There are newspapers that do not allow their reporters to write articles based upon cruise ships providing complimentary staterooms. One is the New York Times and another is the San Francisco Chronicle. The former is in deep financial trouble as I write this, and the latter may fold any day now. Neither of them has a complete set of cruise ship reviews. I cannot speak for individual cruise guides; Berlitz, Fieldings, Frommers, Idiot's Guides, etc. But I can tell you I have seen writers from each of these publications on the same press trips I have been on. I am not saying this is an indication of anything, their own policies should be disclosed on their own web sites.
Cruise reviews are by far the most popular cruise-related articles on the Internet. Unike hard copy guide books and magazines, the Internet does not support the cover-price or subscription business model. Our sole means of making money to support this web site is advertising.
Each factor of this disclosure makes the following oath of objectivity that much more important. We believe that once you understand our journalistic approach, and you have read our articles, that you see that we are NOT afraid to write the negative articles about the cruise industry. You should be willing to admit that it is possible for us to be ethical, candid, honest and unbiased in all of our comments, whether positive or negative, about cruise lines and their ships.
Our Oath of Objectivity
We are fully aware of the potential perception of conflict of interest. We hope the fact that we make this disclosure serves as a vital indication that we are sincere in striving for the highest journalistic ethics.
Our promise to you is objectivity and fairness in each of our cruise line and ship overviews. Our sole priority is to write useful reviews for our readers based upon factual knowledge. We eschew opinion-based writing in our ship reviews to the point of deleting any adjectives we feel make them sound too much like opinion pieces.
We maximize our objectivity by focusing almost exclusively on the factual details of each ship and the onboard experience. We do not write "cruise reviews" like a daily synopsis of our personal cruise experience - a practice common in our reader reviews. We write "ship reviews" to describe the physical aspects of the ship, both in hardware (the ship and its decor) and the software (the food and service).
For example, we describe cabin categories and their sizes, the nature of the stateroom and theater entertainment, whether or not laundry services are available and other information such as whether it has US-style electrical outlets and supplies hairdryers. We hope to cover most of the details of record we know most cruise buyers need to know.
If you want to know more about a ship, specifically personal opinions on the decor, food and service, then we highly recommend our reader reviews. Opinion writing is exactly why our reader reviews exist and are so popular. Their reviews tend to describe personal experiences they had with the staff, explicit opinions on the cuisine, reviews of the onboard entertainment, and they are sure to tell personal experiences in which something went wrong.
But in our professional ship overviews we attempt to describe the cuisine onboard without rating the gourmet quality of that food, per se. We are not expert food critics, but we do try to give you a sense of the style of each restaurant onboard. We will comment on whether we feel the restaurant lives up to its stated goals - especially with added-cost specialty dining rooms. For example, we may say "the vegetables appeared to have come from a freezer" or "we found the cuts of steak to be surprisingly thin". But we spend more time describing what is on the menu than how the preparation was executed. Now, if our dinner is slow and the food arrives cold night after night we will certainly include that in our review.
We eschew going into detail about what we feel are "one-off" personal experiences. For example, if our shower over-flowed or we had to wait 40 minutes for breakfast on one morning out of seven we probably would not mention it. Things can go wrong on any cruise ship at any time, and we do not feel it is fair to put a one-time experience into a ship review when it is an anomaly, not an intended or common occurence the ship.
In summary, we attempt to keep our ship reviews as detail-oriented as possible as opposed to opinion-oriented.
How We Accomplish Objective Ship Reviews
First of all, a more accurate phrase for what we write is "ship details" rather than "cruise reviews". A cruise is a very complicated item to review, it is your entire vacation including food, accomodations, entertainment, destinations and service. The truth is the range of styles in cruise ships is as diverse as you can imagine.
Using movies as an example: our goal is to describe the plot and name the actors and director. We do not write our personal feelings about the movie because we realize one person may enjoy an action-oriented movie starring "The Rock" while another might prefer Disney animations. Our job is to give you the synopsis of the movie. It is up to you to decide how much you enjoyed it.
We vow not to base our ship reviews upon our own personal preferences in cruises. Some people prefer days at sea, while others prefer ships that stop at many destinations. We make no judgements as to which is better, rather we may report on whether the cruise line tends to offer more sea days or port days, what a typical day at sea is like onboard, and how well the cruise line executes shore excursions.
Our vow of objectivity also means we will never let a single negative personal experience onboard any cruise ship affect our ship reviews unless we truly feel future cruisers are likely to experience the same thing. In those cases, we will definitely include it in our review.
Finally, we vow that our own personal experiences with any cruise line personnel, whether it is a CEO, an advertising representative or a waiter, will not affect our ship reviews. We write our reviews to give our readers an informed data-set of each ship's assets and deficiencies, and when we write anything negative we hope the cruise line will read it and ultimately take action to make it a better experience for our readers.
For the record - CruiseMates advertising is handled by a department in Los Angeles that also handles ad sales for several other web sites in the Internet Brands family. No one on our editorial staff is located in Los Angeles and the only communication I ever have (as editor) with the ad department is for them to give me the ad copy I need to include in my weekly newsletters. I do not know who is or is not advertising with us until I receive the ad copy just before the newsletter goes out. My newsletter editorials are always written before I see what advertising is to be included.
The only thing I know about our ad sales is what I see displayed in our pages. I am never informed on the start or end date of any advertising campaign. I make no decisions on where in the site any ads are included, neither am I asked what kind of copy I will be writing in advance so they can position ads in certain places.
Any one of our ship overviews may have been written as the result of a cruise taken with a stateroom supplied to us by the cruise line.
Reporters traveling independently to write a cruise ship review are personally responsible for all additional expenses; airfare, transfers, onboard beverages, specialty restaurants, shore excursions, Internet access and gratuities.
On certain press trips, hosted by a company escort for news-oriented articles such as a new ship debut, the cruise line might also provide airfare for the reporter and other amenities. These trips are similar to the "fam trips" cruise lines offer to travel agents. The purpose is to see something new and get the details behind it. We generally do not write opinion pieces, including our ship reviews, based upon these "fam trips" except in certain cases where we feel our opinion adds to the information being provided. In mosts cases this opinion is just as likely to be negative as positive.
Finally, to the best of our knowledge our policies are the standard for the cruise press industry. We cover cruise ships for a living and our focus is keeping our readers informed. We fully realize that without the faith in our reporting by our readers we would have nothing, and since we have something, we consider that a validation that our editorial approach works.
For that, we at CruiseMates thank you for your support. Without you we are nothing.
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