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Have Declining Prices Led to Declining Civility Onboard?

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Though there have been a few hiccups along the way, since Sept. 11/01 the price of cruises have quite consistently floated near historic lows; the latest drops beginning this past year as the world economies battled recession.

Along with the declining prices we’ve seen more complaints about the decline in quality of food on many ships, and the decline in the levels of service, and the increase in “nickel & diming” onboard. Have we also seen a decline in the quality of the cruise passengers?

While all of use enjoy the benefits of less expensive cruise vacations, are we also becoming leery of the lower standards that come with it, including the lower standards of behaviour that some believe have come with it?

Some argue that there’s been indicators of this building in the cruise industry for several years. When such things as evening dress codes continued to be relaxed over the past 24 months or so, they state that those policies have also led to a less stringent code of behaviour and civility for the passengers.

These types of statements aren’t necessarily new; over the years we’ve seen many people voice complaints about some sailings from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it’s been quite common for locals to be offered extremely low pricing on cruises which weren’t selling well. I think some of the conflicts in those situations may have been caused by the differences in culture and social mores. And that could indeed be the same cause of friction we’re seeing in other cruise areas.

As the world of cruising has opened up for people who previously could not afford to cruise before, perhaps their social norms are different enough from other cruisers to be seen as conflicting with the standards of more affluent long time cruisers.

No doubt there will be those who read this blog, and think of the discussion in terms in class.
But, I think that may be the very short sighted view of the topic.
I believe it’s more a case of people being less accepting of the diversity that lower cruise pricing has brought to the passenger base of cruise ships.

For many years Carnival Cruise Line gained the reputation of being a “floating frat party”. The reputation, whether deserved or not, had many people claiming that Carnival cruises were only suited for those who wanted a non stop Spring Break Party atmosphere. For years Carnival has battled the negative views which came implied in that reputation. They put new policies in place, including restricting the minimum age for passengers booking without being accompanied by parents or guardians (which was later followed by most other cruise lines). Yet, even today there is the occasion breath of that long dead reputation.
In the past 2-3 years, on several Royal Caribbean ships, they experienced problems with groups of teenagers getting out of control, vandalizing the ship, and such ridiculous things as throwing deck furniture overboard. In reaction they put curfews in place to curb such activities.

Though not common place, there’s certainly been anecdotal evidence supporting the view of the decline of civility onboard. Perhaps this is because today’s media is more interested in the reporting of these incidents.. that existed but were never reported before. Or perhaps it’s because the growth of the “information highway” has put the cruise industry, and every incident which occurs, under a microscope.

Of late there’s also been reporting that due to declining prices there are more people who’ve cruised on the mass market lines attempting to “move up” and give the luxury cruise lines a try. Perhaps an attempt to return to the more traditional cruise experience they remember.

One of the big attractions to me about cruising is that I’ve always felt a comfortable acceptance by passengers of the diversity of other passengers onboard. I’ve always felt the community or society created on a cruise ship was the most accepting I could experience anywhere. And frankly, I personally believe that is still the case.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe this acceptance of diversity onboard has disappeared, and the civility and compromise necessary to create a meshed society onboard has diminished? Is it getting worse? Are tensions onboard mounting?

Is any/all of this a result of lower prices and economic problems, or is this entire topic simply blowing isolated incidents out of proportion?

If you think the problem does exist, is it a reflection of the problem of society in general becoming less accepting of diversity? What a shame that would be after all the gains we’ve made!

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Kathy
Time October 14, 2009 at 4:51 am

Kuki, Lets face it,Joe 6 pac & his family have discovered its now cheaper to cruise than drive across country. Joe doesnt own a suit& no one is going to make him buy one. Wifey loves her jeans, not cocktail dresses. As long as Joe and his kids stay on CCL?RCL I am OK with it.Cruise lines have personalities.Went on X this Spring after several yrs. absence, one taste of food I felt like I was home.I also realize that the $120(1995 rate), nite Inside cabin I just got on X for $80 as single will result in perhaps a less sophisticated cruisers moving up.Fine as long as they respect the ship & staff. And dress code. I like that X is pricing its older ships affordably. Keep up the interesting articles.

Comment from big apple
Time October 14, 2009 at 7:11 am

Having cruised since the 50,s I have seen a real shift in those who can now afford this type vacation however carnival has done an excellent job in changing their image from the party days on the Mardi Gras The cruises of less than a week on some lines tend to reflect the party image and I have found that those cruises of more than a week will cater to a more affluent group and will not make any distinction as to the cruise line. A good example was our most recent 49 day cruise on Carnival,s Splendor in which most of these were seasoned cruisers and very well behaved and very aware of the ship,s rules concerning dress code etc.For those of you that desire a more reserved cruise i would like to suggest either Celebrity OR Holland American for the main line cruises.Princess or RCL appear to position themselves in the middle with RCL appealing to the families with children.Love cruising and would only wish that the cruise lines would consider not enlarging the size any farther.

Comment from Mike M
Time October 14, 2009 at 8:04 am


This is a hard one to really figure out. Cruising has definitely become more popular then it was ten years ago and a lot more popular then twenty years ago. For many years many people thought of cruising as something only “rich” people did and you were always in a tuxedo at night and designer swim wear or Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts during the day. (Maybe dark socks and sandals) 🙂

That image has changed and cruising has become more affordable to a wider demographic. It has also being promoted more than ever before. Ten years ago the primary TV advertising was Kathy Lee singing “Ain’t we got fun.” You rarely saw a TV ad for another cruise line. Now Royal Caribbean and Carnival are heavily advertised. (There was a Carnival commercial on the TV just a few seconds ago) This advertising has drawn in more cruisers.

Since 9/11 cruise pricing has often been a bargain and with almost ten years of bargain prices the pricing scale is now the “norm”. Talking about how expensive cruises “used to be” I feel is no longer valid. The pricing scale has changed and the cruise lines have changed to accommodate the cruisers that their advertising and pricing scale has brought in.

The pricing and advertising, along with different activities, relaxed dress codes and more of an emphasis on “action” versus relaxation have made the demographic younger and people who don’t want the traditional dress and activities like Bingo and napkin folding. They want rock walls, ice rinks, jet skis and other action oriented activities. The ship is now the destination and the ports are just places to stop and shop for many people.

But has this attracted a passenger that is less civil? Perhaps it has attracted a wider demographic that the cruise lines haven’t really prepared themselves for. They want a wider range of passengers and more of them but they have to be careful what they wish for because without preparing for this they will have more incidents. If you have more younger people there will be more incidents of rowdiness but these people also spend more money when they are onboard. There a lot of veteran and older cruisers who will get off a seven day cruise with an onboard account that is less than $200. Two thirds of that goes for gratuities so they didn’t add too much to the bottom line. A bartender on Carnival Pride remarked about some veteran cruisers that: “They come aboard with a clean Hawaiian shirt and a $20 bill and never change either one.”

I believe the incidents of un-civil behavior have increased but not to epidemic proportions. They are magnified because of today’s media that views the cruise world as a “closed” environment where secrets are still kept and incidents occur in a closed environment, far away from home and because of this closed environment the media will automatically think something “bad” is going on behind the scenes.

In my ten years of cruising I’ve only experienced four or five incidents of “un-civil” behavior. Two or three were obnoxious drunks and the others were just jerks who felt that the ship was their private yacht and their personal rules were how everyone else should behave. I.E. People sitting in a smoking area and “bitching” to people who were smoking or a person who made a point to voice their disapproval of cell phones when they saw me making me a call on the top deck of a ship and out of earshot of anyone.

The dress codes have definitely deteriorated. I love the relaxed dress codes but many people interpret them as “anything goes”. On my last Carnival cruise there were cutoffs, tank tops and wife beater shirts all over the dining room, even on formal night. I have not seen that on NCL, Azamara or Oceania. Azamara and Oceania are not low priced cruise lines and on NCL I’ve only done longer cruises, since full Freestyle was implemented, so that may not be a good comparison.

No matter what today’s cruises bring in a large cross section of society and because of having a greater diversity of people there will problems that the cruise lines must deal with that they did not when cruisers were more “homogeneous”. However it works out I do believe there will be niches for all cruisers who want different experiences and demographics.

Take care,

Comment from Trackypup
Time October 14, 2009 at 8:31 am

I don’t believe your income bracket dictates your behaviour.

Comment from Peter
Time October 14, 2009 at 8:43 am

Kuki: Thank you for the excellent article on the decline in the quality of passengers as prices have declined. The law of supply and demand clearly demonstrates that as price declines, the supply of passengers will increase and appeal to a much less sophisticated crowd with the attendent social problems with you have outlined. As a frequent cruiser, I have adjusted my habits with Carnival so as to never cruise with them during any period in which students are on vacation from school. Aside from school vacation times, I find that Carnival a reasonably good job of maintaining a good cruise even with Joe Six-Pack and his wife on board. Their cruises longer than 7 days and European trips are a pleasure. Carnival and RCCL advertise to the low-end market and don’t expect them to give this up because when it comes down to it, it is money one way or the other. So, if you want to avoid the rif-raf, avoid school holidays of Carnival and RCCl or cruise with the more sophisticated lines.

Comment from Beenie Weenie
Time October 14, 2009 at 9:22 am

Like most industries, if they have to lower tickets prices, the revenue has to be made up in volume. The more people you have in a concentrated location, the more incidents of declining civility one is likely to encounter and there will be more people there to witness the altercation.
I have seen aggressive, provocative behavior out of people from all classes and really believe that what we’re discussing here doesn’t boil down to simple demographics. I don’t think that because people who previously couldn’t afford to cruise, and now they can, automatically boils down to a lesser civility. I do think you are right that we have greater exposure to news of such incidents though and I think in some ways some segments of society have become more selfish, less chivalrous… watching out for #1, and as I say that, I am sometimes surprised at the goodwill people will go to great lengths to extend to one another. I hate to say this, but it’s really a numbers game in my opinion. There have never been so many people cruising before, and the more people there are on the seas, the more incidents will occur. Mark my words, with the advent of the Mega ships and larger numbers of people on them the more you will hear reports of these sorts of problems. Just like comparing the crime rate in my little town of 2,000, to the town, to the nearby town of 30,000. More people…more problems.

Comment from Mike
Time October 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

I don’t think it is anymore common on a cruise now days than in general society. We have seen a decline in behavior among people of many age groups. Call it lax values, lower standards of behavior, loosening of social moores. Behaviors that were not tolerated 15 years ago (or at least kept in private) are now socially permissible.


Comment from Trip
Time October 14, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Civility in general has found a new low in recent months…calling the president a liar, and throwing a shoe at another, & Kenye West and Serena Williams, just as a few examples…..times have changed forever, sadly. Our cruise last week had a wonderful cross section of ages & races, and to be sure, all dfferent levels of economic situations as well, and everyonwe seemed content:)

Comment from Dave Beers
Time October 14, 2009 at 5:51 pm

I agree with the other comments that civility on cruise ships is really just a reflection of what we see daily in society. Class has nothing to do with the ability to pay more for a cruise. I’ve encountered the insufferable rich snob, but I’ve also encountered those with much less money but much more respect for their fellow man. I’ll gladly choose the latter.

Comment from Rob H
Time October 14, 2009 at 8:16 pm

More people have discovered cruising because of better advertising , ships made and tailored to cruising not because of income brackets.
Being on a cruise vacation is now an option to be evaluated for destination, ease of travel, expense vs. airplane time and travel, hotels, inclusive land resorts.

It comes down to good manners and respect for your fellow travellers plus the cruise companies learning to enforce rules on expected behaviour.

People or their parents must assume responsibility for folks in their care or themselves.
You have the same issues on land resorts or local bar scene but the owners normally take action and have staff assigned to ensure people have a good time but not allowing rude behaviour or abusing the premises.

Comment from Kuki
Time October 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Dave.. I was kind of hoping this discussion wouldn’t go there. It’s much too sterotypical, and besides there’s reverse prejudices as well.

I think Trackpup stated it well.. income doesn’t dictate behavior.

There’s no way to prove it, but perhaps the stereotypes working both ways is part of what causes less acceptance of others and thus less civility towards one an other.

Comment from Captain Tennille
Time October 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm

No more or less civil than usual. I think the statement referring to the declining “quality” of cruise passenger is in very poor taste indeed. I know some wealthy folks who are utter a**es in public. On-cruise behaviour has not changed at all, from my viewpoint. Some of the peeves mentioned above have always existed, and they exist everywhere, not just on a ship. I guess it’s a cruiser’s favorite past-time to complain.

Comment from Tim Butler
Time October 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I agree with Trip and Dave….Passengers on cruise ships are just a reflection of what we have become as a society.

Comment from monkeythyme
Time October 15, 2009 at 8:40 am

In my forty-several years in the country entertainment business, Joe six-pack was very good to me. In my day job as a CPA, Joe six-figure has been likewise. But I have learned that both are equally prone to obnoxious behavior. Having “beer money and champagne taste” is one problem, but expecting to get champagne for a beer price is just as bad.
One of the things I cruise for is the diversity. After years of being the show, it is fun to have others be the show for me. The only ones who get under my skin are the angry people, and I can walk away from them with the consolation that they cannot walk away from themselves.

Comment from Lavona
Time October 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

The first time we noticed this was a few years back when the Royal Caribbean ship we were on had sold 7 day trips for dirt prices in Puerto Rico. The pools were full of empty bottles that the staff tried to keep clean, the noise level on the pool deck even during the day made it impossible to read. The people did not tip and were rowdy and disruptive. It made the cruise experience not at all what we had come to expect and enjoy.

Comment from Captain Tennille
Time October 15, 2009 at 5:10 pm

monkey thyme: I think the implication was that somehow wealthy people are naturally “better raised”. ie: If you take a poor man, and give hime some bucks, he remains uncouth. This is a fallacy. You can teach a fortunate person good manners. Whether he chooses to use them is another story. I can personally vouch for tons of folks who cannot rub two nickels together, but have impeccable manners. The problem now it seems is some people view cruising like a country club… “now just how did get in here?” Jeans in the dining room, muscle shirts in the buffet line, NASCAR talk in the elevator… etc. It seems to truly bother some people.

Comment from Suzanne
Time October 15, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I agree that it is simply a reflection of our changing society. We dress casually all the time and hatred and angry talk permeate our air waves every day. It has become a part of our daily existence and I think most have become numb to the crass behavior around us.

I do believe you will find more civility among the higher educated and wealthier folk, however, there are nasty people in all walks of life and economic situations.

I rarely experience angry people because I immediatley remove myself from that kind of negative energy. But years ago, I heard Maya Angelou speak and she said when you are offended by words or by behaviors of those around you, you SHOULD state your disapproval in a calm, non-judgemental way. “Excuse me, but I do not agree with that” or “Excuse me, I think your words have offended or hurt somebody”. When we stay silent, the energy put out by a wrong action or deed is allowed to travel and infect others.

I think our silence has allowed the dumbing down we see all around us, and not just on cruise lines.

Comment from Kuki
Time October 16, 2009 at 9:52 am

This situation is somewhat different than ” a reflection of what’s going on”… in that at least cruise ships used to be a bastion of “well mannered behavior”.

For that reason alone the differences may be more noticeable.

I agree with everyone who says that wealth is not the indicator to use as the bar.

I do think there’s more cause and affect releationship with what is considered “socially acceptable behavior” and the norms of behavior of the diverse sections of society who are now finding themselves coming together, sharing the same ships.

And tensions maybe rising when those living by the “norms” of their home community, expect those from other areas with different social norms to act the same as what they understand.

And those expectations work both/each way… not just the rich looking “down”, but the less rich looking “up” and declaring them all snobs.

Comment from GaNavy
Time October 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Kuki –
Sorry, but you invited the “class” comparisons in the way you framed your article – lower prices mean more passengers, and just who are those passengers? They’re people who couldn’t afford to cruise until prices were lowered. So rich man/poor man is naturally where the comments are going to go.

I have not noticed any lowering of standards of civility – if you think civility is measured by what someone wears, well good luck to you – and my reaction to the occasional obnoxious passenger is always the same: leave and go somewhere else onboard! Book one of those cheap balcony cabins, and relief is closer than ever!

Really enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work.

Comment from jaxon
Time October 22, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I can’t say that I have personally seen a decline in civility, but then I have only been cruising for a decade (with the exception of one cruise two decades ago). When I have seen obnoxious behavior, it’s been young people of my own cultural background, or another — isn’t that somewhat expected from youth? They tend to be self-indulgent, and oblivious to others’ need for more decorum.

I have seen rude behavior on Eurpoean cruises from adults, and I certainly formed some opinions regarding their ethnicity — yikes! the worst offenders were from my ethnic heritage.

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