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Are We Justified In Expecting Every Cruise To Be a Luxury Vacation?

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The vast majority of people who go on cruises fill out their guest comment cards at the end of their cruise sending the cruise lines a message that they believe they received good or excellent value from their cruise vacation.

So, why is it then that we also see such a large number of posts and Blogs on the Internet complaining, and saying the opposite? Has the cruise community, including past passengers, as well as writers whose job it is to cover the industry, lost touch with the reality of what one can reasonably expect from their cruises?

The industry has certainly changed. Some say it has evolved; others say it has regressed. But, more and more it seems the case that cruisers are expecting every cruise, at every price point, should supply a luxury vacation.

On land there’s few who would expect a breakfast at an International House Pancakes to be the equal of the hottest new “breakfast boutique” in town, that charges twice the price. No one would expect a KIA to offer an equal ride and driving experience of a Mercedes, or even a Ford. No one would expect to buy clothing at Sears, to be as finely tailored, or have the long term wear ability of clothing purchased at Hugo Boss. It’s not that most of us don’t happily buy the lower costs and services. But we seem to do so with a better understanding of the resultant differences that come with the lower costs than we do when we purchase a cruise.

Far too many people think they can interchange the words cruise vacation and luxury vacation. We really do need to have a better understanding of justifiable expectations between a $49/day cruise; a $150/day cruise; a $250/day cruise, or a $500 – $1000/day cruise.

No doubt advertising and the image of cruising leads people to expect more than the resulting reality. But that is the case with many land based products as well. Yet it seems people are more willing to go through the thought process of sorting through those misconceptions to a better grasp of the reality than they are when addressing the topic of cruises.

For example, I frankly don’t “get it” when I see people complain comparing food on a cruise ship to food at, say Denny’s, when all too often they’ve paid the equivalent of Denny’s-like prices. Simply put; there’s nothing wrong with Denny’s food, particularly if that’s what you’re paying for.

For most people it’s probably easy to understand the differences one might expect between a $100/day cruise and a $500/day “luxury” cruise. But, to avoid disappointment we truly need to do a better job of understanding the “expectation differences” between the less drastic price level variances, as they can be (and fairly should be) quite significant.

On most cruises, even the inexpensive ones, one can expect to be treated “royally”, but depending on how much you pay, it’s difficult to expect that in all circumstances you’ll live like royalty (with accommodations and surroundings), or dine like royalty.

When spending $500, $600, or even $1000 for a cruise I’m telling you honestly you cannot expect a “luxury cruise experience”. Though I have no hesitancy at all in saying you can expect a fun time, and full value for your money from your cruise experience.

With a cruise (as with many things) expect to get what you paid for, and more often than not you’ll disembark as a happy cruiser.

– A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Paul Motter
Time September 15, 2010 at 11:25 am

You ask…

“Has the cruise community, including past passengers, as well as writers whose job it is to cover the industry, lost touch with the reality of what one can reasonably expect from their cruises?”

Undoubtedly I am seeing an emphasis from the cruise lines away from mainstream media and towards the press they can rely on for sheer “fluff.”

These days a cruise line doesn’t want to take a chance on any writer that might say bad things about them in the press.

It reflects what is happening in political press, either you are with us or you are against us, but we can’t tolerate you expressing a real opinion.

As far as expectations of cruise go – I just ran a poll about extra charges on ships, and it was obvious from the answers this is a real hot-button with certain cruisers. The ones who spoke up were admamant about NO extra charges on ships. Meanwhile, the vast majority just didn’t care to post – they are more indifferent about added charges than the people who are against them are ardently against them (does that make sense?).

Comment from Bill
Time September 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm

The way I see it, the more inclusive a cruise is, the more those of us who cruise merely for the experience of cruising help pay for someone’s indulgences other than our own. Bare-bones cruises and luxury cruises get to sail on the same ocean, and I prefer the former because it delivers all I want. If I decide to add more, it is there for a price. Have those who are ardently against extra charges ever hear of Seaborne?

Comment from Ashlee
Time September 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

The problem with this cost basis comparison is the vast variation found in room rates on a given ship. I get the same basic cruise experience for a $500 per person a week cabin that a customer on the same ship can pay as much as $5000 or more a week for. Yes they get a bigger cabin and a private balcony to say nothing of an outside vs an inside cabin but once I step out my door I have access to everything that they have access to on the entire ship, can go to the same shows they go to, and get to eat the same food that they get to eat. And when I come back to my cabin or seat down at the dinner table I’m indulged with the same level of service they are. Of course people that paid the high end price are going to be less forgiving of food quality then somebody that got a bargain basement price. You can’t have a comparable experience on land. You aren’t compelled to eat at the Shoney Breakfast buffet if you are spending your nights at the Ritz Carlton. You can’t be forced to watch off broadway level talent because of the hotel you choose to stay at in New York.

I personally despise the nickel and dime nonsense that goes on in today’s cruise market because it cheapens the experience. It makes it tacky and reminds me of nothing so much as a tourist trap like Niagara Falls, or Las Vegas before it went cooperate back in the 90s. I just don’t want a vacation filled with Hucksters and flim flam artist trying to fleece me for every last dime in my purse.

Comment from Kuki
Time September 19, 2010 at 8:53 am


The life of someone who paid 10 times what you might for the same ship, will have variances to your vacation.

They’ll have to decide for themselves if the “variences”, like reservations in the better restaurants, seats for the show, invitations to dine with Captain and officers, etc are enouh to still find value in what the they spent.

On the other hand… paying $500 for that cruise and then complaining about “nicket & diming” is a bit odd. At those LOW fares you’re the “nickel and dimer”; you’re nickel and diming the cruise for the cheap fare.

You want them to give you that low fare, and then avoid selling you anything else onboard, other than what you choose, and search out.

For them to get you on the cruise, and to anticipate they’ll get no further revenue out of you, the fare would have to be at least $1000, or more, which you most likely wouldn’t care for either.

Either way, it’s still all about the value you get for what you do decide to spend on the cruise.

And imho you do have to expect less when paying less (though it most likely still gets you great value).

Comment from laineypainey
Time September 21, 2010 at 7:31 am

Kuki this is a good point and I’m glad you’re making it. Working as a cruise consultant, one thing I get really annoyed about is the people who do pay a basement price and then complain about it. Me myself, when I go on vacation I’m not looking for cheap, and working in this industry I’ve come to realize that no, the people who think they are getting the same thing for a lower price are not correct. Having a nicer room is important to me; going with the better cruise line is important to me. Not all the time- of course there’s times when I just want to go but not pay as much- but more often than not, I’ll spend more to get that better quality.

Also, I get very agitated when people complain about the huge amount of money they are spending (500$ per person is not a goldmine, sorry) and how they don’t feel like they are a valued customer, so when they complain about their dinner not being steaming hot by the time it hits their mouths they feel like they should be given a room upgrade, or a free future cruise, or shipboard credit. This sort of mentality, the “give me” mentality people need to realize is not affective- the cruise lines are now attracting a whole new market these days, there is no reason for them to worry about someone who is going to complain and harass them about every little detail and people should think about this before considering their interior 1a cabin a “premium price”.

I think Paul makes a fantastic point about the media and how they fear a realistic opinion, and that is a sad thing I think has spread not just in cruise reviews but also into other aspects of media as well.

I have noticed in my cruises, the cruise lines who charge the least are usually the ones with the most onboard expenses- such as Carnival, Norwegian, and Princess, whereas cruise lines with a higher rate- yes you still can spend more but it’s not as insisted upon. People don’t think about this before they shop for just the lowest number, but they should take it into consideration

Comment from Robbie Fields
Time September 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

The sine qua non of cruising is luxury. Once you remove the “luxe”, all you have is a second class ferry, plying the oceans.

20 years ago you could expect caviar on HAL. 10 years ago, the norm was still lobster tail once per cruise, even on the cheapest lines.

These days you’re expected to pay extra for the above. I don’t. There remain still wonderfully delicious meals in the MDR, always offering dishes that I almost never order on land, viz. Duck a la orange, Beef Wellington (perhaps not for much longer!).

But the essential details are fine preparation, presentation and professional service. And ambience.

Now let’s just step back and smell the (garlic) salts … the MDR’s are the most elegant that they have ever been. Carnival used to be tacky but with surprisingly good catering. Well, I was blown away by the Spirit class MDR, truly a magnificent space.

Service : this is an uphill battle for the lines. The fussy European waiter is long gone. Some of the new hires just don’t cut it in terms of savoir faire nor in personality. But there’s good news : the lines are hiring a lot of guys from India. Get a waiter who has served his apprenticeship at the Taj and you will be well looked after.

So gentlemen, I disagree with the notion that low fares cannot warrant a luxury experience.

Remember when Premier Cruise Lines and the Dolphin Iv (gasp!) used to have some of the best food out of Florida ports?

But ultimately, courtesy and care are the essential ingredients for a luxury cruise and those are simply priceless.

Comment from Ashlee
Time October 1, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Honestly I think some assumptions were made here about my preferences that are not correct. I’ve ALWAYS been pleased with my cruise experience. I can’t remember every filing a complaint with a cruise line, marking a guest service card poorly, or making endless nagging complaints while on a cruise. As a matter of fact I find such people to be nitpickers and fault finders that are simply unable to enjoy themselves and have a good time on vacation. I also do not automatically book the cheapest fair available when I cruise. Most of my cruises have been with RCCL and Celebrity, which hardly give the bargain basement prices that Carnival or even NCL and Princess do in some cases. I don’t even book the lowest deck in the lowest price category, but usually a cabin somewhere in the middle price tiers and around the middle of the ship. I used to insist on an outside cabin when I started but I found out on my third cruise that I could get just as nice an experience with an inside cabin (that was identical to the outside cabins I had enjoyed with the exception of an absent window or porthole) for a couple of hundred dollars less, money that I was then free to spend in the Casino, the gift shops, the shore excursion desk, or on drinks by the pool. I would be happy to pay more for my cruise if it did away with the “gold rope by the inch table” set up in the hallways or gave me the opportunity to get a 50 cent can of coke without having to sign for it or present a card for it that I had to buy at the beginning of the week.

I don’t complain while on a cruise vacation and seldom do when I get home even in the privacy of my own home, but I hear plenty of it while I am on vacation. It’s almost laughable how fault finding some people choose to be during what should be the highlight of their year. It was my hypothesis that since I don’t know what cabin most of them are in maybe they are the ones who bought the massively upgraded suites and feel that they didn’t get their moneys worth. Essentially I am giving these complainers the benefit of the doubt here because I would prefer to believe that they had unrealistic expectations based on the amount they paid rather then to believe that they are just sour, bitter people that can’t enjoy what life has to offer.

The point which I think was missed in my original post is that you can not expect to get the same expectations from all the passengers even on the same ship on the same week because there is such a wide variation in what they paid for what is after all essentially the same vacation.

One last thing I would like to address here is this rather insulting attitude that many people have toward others who might think $500 is a lot of money. These people who do so can’t possibly know what the finances are of a person who thinks such a thing, what their obligations and commitments are, what their income is, where they live, or anything else about their personal life. It is up to each individual therefore to determine what THEY feel is a “lot of money” and it is insulting in the extreme for other people to belittle their opinions or set of values. Quite frankly it doesn’t matter whether the person in question spent $50 for their cruise or $50,000 for their cruise. It is not the place of somebody else to tell them whether or not they received fair value for the dollars they spent.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 6, 2010 at 5:47 am

The saying, “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” could translate to “luxury at sea lies in the eye of the beholder, or passenger”.

I have sailed on a few of the lines that get nailed for charging extra for things of late, only I sailed on them back in the early 1980’s. I am refering to cruise lines that are still sailing TODAY, not ones that were a memory of the past. The lines I sailed were vile then, in my estimation as per my experiences, and therefore, I will never sail them again.

Interesting, Robbie Fields mentioned a long forgotten cruise line, Dolphin, which did have some of the best food back in the day. Why? It was a subsidiary of Paquet French Cruises, a truly French product, which tried to enter the US market with the Dolphin IV. The last recession, which had a major inpact on the cruise lines, saw Dolphin, Premiere, and a host of other cruise lines fail. A history lesson, hmm? Well, lets go back to the late 1970’s, which saw the oil embargo, which saw the prices of anything made with a petroleum product go through the roof. Not just auto gas, but home heating fuel, cooking oil, man made fabrics, the list is endless. What happened then, to the (US/Canada) economies? Massive unemployment, surging energy costs, and for the love of cruises, ships, liners and cruises, the demise of these, as well as others, ship lines: French Line, Swedish America Line, Greek Line, Moore Mc Cormack and others. Fuel, baby, fuel, did them in. So, when some of you dolts gripe about paying for a steak, on a line that has always been tacky, so be it. The term, “you get what you pay for” rings true. Maybe it is greed that drives the mass market cruise lines, however, they learned their lessons decades ago, and you know what? They have survived oil embargos, inflation, deflation, and recessions. If paying extra for things that used to be free, so be it.

Luxury the word can mean anything and does, to many different people. Caviar, Iranian and Russian caviars, the caviar standards of the world, have seen supplies dwindle, pollution and devastation of the carps habitat due to modernization have made this once plentiful commodity scarce and expensive. Caviar is still available on Crystal, Oceania, Cunard, Seabourne, Hapag-Lloyd, and perhaps other lines. Lobster? Oceania holds the medal for lobster, whole Maine lobsters, at no additional.

There are two words that should NEVER be used to describe a cruise ship: Luxury and Gourmet. These words mean differnt things to different people.

As the cruise industry evolves, as do people, tastes, fads, it is comforting to know that there is indeed a cruise, a ship and a cruise line that will hopefully delight passengers well into the future.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 7, 2010 at 6:34 am

I just want to ad a post script to what so many passengers expect on a ship for “luxury” – luxury food items and non-food items, that are easily available OFF ship, in many retail markets in the States, and hopefully in Canada:

Caviar – many Costco Warehouse stores, and in major airports, Williams Sonoma, and at more luxury oriented super markets

Champagne – authentic French champagne, at great savings, Costco Warehouse stores

Smoked Salmon – be it Scottish, Norwegiasn or US product, Costco Warehouse stores, supermarkets and NY style deli’s, or Kosher deli’s

Lobster, sold all over New England, alive or in restaurants – also, live Walmart, at least where I live, and in our major supermarkets at $12.99 per pound, live Maine lobsters, and from Lobster Gram and other excellent on line sources

Linens 400 count plus cotton sheets, Costco Warehouse stores, Bed Bath and Beyond, Frontgate (catalog, store or on the web)

If you ever wanted a taste of sibaritic luxury, and maybe a touch of greedy indulgence at home, look at the above options. They may help you get over cruise angst, and tide youover until your next cruise.

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