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New Ships; And Why Smart Cruisers Might Want to Avoid Their Inaugural Seasons

Written by: Kuki

As cruise enthusiasts, and also cruise travel writers, it’s somewhat natural that we wait with baited-breath, or any trickle of news and/or pictures, or even artists renderings of new ships as they near completion.
The Cruise industry Public Relations departments do their very best work, with imaginative means of releasing tidbits of information, to help grow the anticipation for their soon to debut ships.
And we (as a group) eagerly cover every detail of every “reveal” about each ship, because we are by definition “industry enthusiasts”. Cruise travel writers are also trying to supply all the early information our readers (the cruise audience) are always hungry for.

Within the past year there’s been a bit of a boom in new ships setting out for their first voyage. Over the past several years there’s been a big change in the methods the cruise lines use to build interest prior to sailing, and then follow up to receive maximum media coverage.

One the biggest changes, and one I think presents some the opportunities for a lot of misinformation to reach the cruising public’s eye, is the two or three day “inaugural sailings” the cruise lines do often for media and travel agents only. From their perspective, the “short sailing system” seems to be effective, and it costs less to invite all these people on complimentary two or three day trips, rather than full length cruises.

Over a decade ago, when I first started writing for CruiseMates, every “press trip” was at least a full duration sailing of the new ship’s itinerary. On a full sailing those onboard at least had a chance to see if the ship functioned properly in full operational mode. Full sailings also gave the opportunity for those onboard to see if any blemishes in the systems arose, or issues with the physical plant, how the ship handled traffic flow, etc.

With the present system, of 2 or 3 night “media sailings“, and its inherent “time is short” mind set, it seems the cruise lines can quite easily “control” what they want you to see, experience, and report on while you’re onboard.

Indeed, the good writers, will find time to escape the activities they’re directed to, to examine other areas of the ship. But they are still restricted, simply because of the short time they have onboard.

I think it’s quite laughable when some outlets try to write an actual “review” of a ship, after a two night sailing. When I set out to a review a ship, I don’t even begin to think of the totality of a review until at least the 6th or 7th day. In my view… how can you review a ship, when you haven’t really yet experienced the full cruise.

Other media outlets exist that will only accept the broadest outlines of the most positive things about a ship from the writer’s who are assigned. Perhaps it’s not always because they want to keep their relationships with the cruise lines on a steady keel; in some cases it may just be lack of space.

In the case of the company I write for, CruiseMates.com, since I began this job over a decade ago, I have never been told what to write; never been instructed to only talk about the positives, and never been told my job might be at risk if I didn’t keep my reporting positive.  My instructions, from the beginning werer to write it exactly as I see it.

In fact, I’m very proud of the fact that my modus operandi has always been to try and describe and share the cruise experience that my readers are most likely to encounter if they were to sail the same ship.

Normally, I turn down any offers to do these two or three night media inaugural cruises for all the reasons described earlier in this blog. Yet, for several reasons I went, and recently returned from a 4 night inaugural sailing of Holland America’s new ship, The Nieuw Amsterdam.

I loved the ship’s interior design work, and many of its public rooms. I think this ship will soon sail satisfying even the most critical Holland America passenger.

But, as it true on most new ships leaving the shipyard, there are “new ship glitches”, both in mechanical issues, and in physical and organizations issues in the delivery of the well known high service standards of Holland America. It’s not that this is a Holland America problem. It’s just that my recent experience, and reminder, was on a Holland America ship. In the majority of cases, with new ships there are issues that are discovered only after the ships have been sailing with near full passenger loads for a period of time. Certainly they can’t be remedied until they are discovered.

As a result I am always surprised cruise line loyalists will often even pay a premium to be the first paying passengers on an inaugural voyage.

Yes- there are some nice things about being amongst the first on a new ship

- the first to sleep in that new bed

- the first to use the new fluffy towels and linens

- the first to use the new cutlery, etc., etc.

- being present at the christening ceremonies, and some “special” inaugural events and small gifts

… or in my case, I was the first customer in the Nieuw Amsterdam’s casino J

Yet, to my mind, the fact that you’re much more likely to encounter “new ship glitches”, such as new equipment malfunctioning, service issues, etc. takes me back to a philosophy I formed a decade ago, after sailing on the 2nd ever sailing of a new ship… If you’re a paying customer, don’t sail a new ship before allowing a fairly substantial shakedown period, to allow for them to get it right.

Delay, to allow them to have all systems running as they are meant to, before spending your vacation dollars!! (My guideline is approximately 3 months post inaugural).

In my opinion, the cruise lines would be wise to invite their longest most loyal customers on their new inaugural sailingss, at bargain basement prices; essentially telling them in advance that they are the test subjects to see what they’ve done right, and to tolerate any “new ship glitches”, as part of their “job” as passenger.

However, if you just “have to” be on one of the first sailings for the excitement, and paying full fare for the priviledge, know what it is you are buying, and don’t be lining up at the Guest Relations Desk to voice your complaints…. You made the choice!

So.. The question is… Do you LOVE to sail on inaugural cruises, or do you, as I do, prefer to wait until the ship is sailing in smooth seas (operationally)?

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Comment from Paul Motter
Time July 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Kuki…

As you know, I paid to sail on the first full sailing of Norwegian Epic, (in addition to being invited to a two-day media cruise once it arrived in New York).

I also went on a two-day media cruise of Oasis of the Seas, but I also paid to sail on the very first revenue cruise for passengers just to see how it truly operated with real people onboard.

With Oasis, several things we NOT presented on the media cruise which I later found had problems in real life: 150 Central Park and the AquaTheater shows being two good examples. But those were relatively small problems and the ship was mostly ready.

But Norwegian Epic was a completely different story. I am extremely glad I paid to go on the ship or else I never would have been able to form any opinion on much of anything. Epic was not ready at all (not NCL’s fault, but a fact of life).

NCL was extremely accommodating to me on that cruise – giving me access to every restaurant, the suites area, every show and even the crew area and engine rooms. I was greateful to them for that.

Unfortunately for NCL the ship definitely was not ready – the firsst three days I heard about nothing but problems from literally every passenger I met. Even after a week I was still hearing about broken televisions, phones, safes and bad showers (although the number of problems lessened a great deal over the course of a week).

I know none of the other media was able to try every restaurant onboard as I did (including the Courtyard Suites), nor were they able to see several shows such as Legends at Sea, and Second City’s “Presumed Murdered.”

The three cruise reviewers who did go on the 2-day European trip before me somehow completely missed all of the technology problems I heard about constantly for three days – How they missed them, I don’t know. But I have to say I found their coverage to be very lacking and almost completely irrelevent compared to what I saw once onboard.

But that is the problem with a 2-day trip – especially when one must fly to Europe to do it. Think about it – you fly overnight and arrive in the afternoon – you go to dinner. You have one full day the next day to do everything, and then you are off. But I believe two writers were on for the first media cruise and a revenue cruise – and that makes their coverage even more questionable.

Am I seeing some writers really wimping out when it comes to being negative? They may pick one or two things that are obvious to everyone and write about it, but otherwise everything is “great” and they say nothing new you could not have gotten from a press release. For example: the layout of Epic. Matt Hannafin got it right as did Peter Knego. It is a crowded, uninspired decor, with nothing special as you will see on Solstice or Oasis at all. Did you see anyone say that from the first European trips? no. But Frommer’s Matt Hannafin said exactly that, as did I.

But the two “main” reviewers we all know who were on in Europe I do not think nailed it at all. They missed the obvious shortage of tables in the buffet, the long lines for all shows, no one mentioned the stifling decor, and most of all no one mentioned the massive communications problems – no one could dial the front desk or room service for my entire cruise. They were on before me, so how could they miss that?

I recently did an article called “save the new ships for the early adopters” – ships are like the iPhone4, if you MUST have one you may get a lemon, its always better to let others be the guinea pigs.

Comment from Kuki
Time July 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Paul,

I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty engrossed in everything Epic of late. LOL

I think you’re right in that many media, and travel agents seem to write mostly promo pieces or announcements after these 2 or 3 day events. Often because that’s all they have time to see; they’re too busy eating and drinking :)

I give you credit for the doing full cruises on both Oasis and Epic, but honestly I think you did them too soon into their cruise life.

I’d bet many things on Epic will function quite differently in a few months. They’ll smooth the seas, so to speak.

That’s why I say, people shouldn’t get blinded by all the new ship bling, but rather should wait it out, so they get full value for their money, and the full experience a few months later.

As for Epic, I think our Hells Kitchen,Matt Sigel / Halloween CruiseMates group cruise is probably perfect timing to see that new ship.

Will look forward to your review then.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time July 15, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Yes Kuki – I completely agree with you. I went “too early” for the ship to be perfect, but that I wasn’t on either ship for pleasure, I was there to report on how the ship is (and will be) with more than two days to try to see eveything.

I am pretty sure I fully spelled out what were temporary problems and what were structural anomalies, etc.

Comment from Jose
Time August 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I am someone who has never been on a cruise EVER and I am researching everything before I decide to embark on a cruise. This is why I am grateful for realistic nitty-gritty reviews not some glossed over “every thing is great” cruise review by someone who obviously is afraid of losing THAT cruise line’s advertisement monies. In order words, they will not bite the hand that feeds them even if it is rotten lol. Anyways because I most likely will travel solo and the EPIC, with its solo studio cabins, peaked my interest. As you all pointed out – the ship is far far from perfect but, again, its brand new and will need extensive time to work out all the kinks. I love the analogy of the new iPhone 4 – I know lots of people who rushed and waited on line to have the first phones – only to have the infamous reception issues and hate it AND Apple. So I am going to wait, probably until next year.

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