This is an interesting topic that I brought up to Paul, over dinner on the Epic transatlantic crossing. First of all, this really is a nice site, which I have been reading over for the past couple of weeks. I have been an active member of Cruise Critic & Flyertalk (which is part the parent company for Cruise Mates) for several years. I am impressed by the quality of discussion and interesting insights to travel.
Paul, you are an impressive man with a strong knowledge of your field. It was a pleasure to get to know you over the seven days. It's interesting that one of my main questions to you was about this very topic: cruise compensation and travel reviews. In our conversation, I had brought up Stern, the Fielding Guide, (which were the best cruise guides I have seen) and Peter Greenberg. It was Greenberg that wrote about the perils of comped travel in this book, The Travel Detective.
After sending you the Frommer review of Epic I did come to some conclusions. Unlike Frommer, Stern & others, I do believe large ships can make for an enjoyable nautical vacation if they (the ships) are well designed. A good example of large ship designs that work is the full fleet of RCCL. On my May, 13 night transatlantic on the Adventure of the Seas, most of the passengers continually commented, "where are all the People, this ship is sailing full"???
This above all else was my problem with the Epic. It by and large is poorly designed and executed on many, many levels. The attractiveness of the ship, both inside and out is shoddy. The public rooms are poorly designed and executed; with the use of space and reasonable public walkways. From what I witnessed, I believe much of the ships interior to be of reclaimed materials. There is no "new smell" to this vessel. The color scheme is very dark, with no nautical touches (I do mean none, including ship related art) inside the ship.
Furthermore, the ships main entertainment venues are much too small for the 4,000 passenger load. A prime example of this is the Spiegel Tent that is much smaller than what is shown in the brochure. The problem for the Epic, is that it has nothing like Royal's Royal Promenade. This is a very helpful large space that spans the full length of the ship; enabling people to easily move thought the large vessels, without serious bottle necks.
Reading through the various reviews, I believe this is one key reason why Frommer, Stern & others have difficulty with these new large vessels. They want ships that look and feel like ships. Frommer would be right, on the idea of just docking the Epic in Biloxi as a new Casino Resort.
Many of the reviews I have read by professionals leave a lot to be desired. Most in my opinion are propaganda to satisfy their advertisers. I mean really, how could the marketing department at Royal Caribbean have gotten better paid coverage of Oasis: than that shown by the "live" coverage by Cruise Critic? It was like a true infomercial for Royal Caribbean. They should have been given RCCL stock for their Epic effort. Sometimes the very best marketing material comes for free, by the supposedly unbiased media. Thus most of what Peter Greenberg says on this topic is right on the mark.
Through my travels I have found the various opinions of travel agents I have met to be invaluable. What would they (whom have relationships with their clients) recommend? There was a time when I was close to booking the MSC Posea. I had a luncheon with six travel agents from Canada (on Celebrity Century) and they (along with my Orlando TA) talked me out of it. Reading the "fluff" reviews I would have known no better. Thus, the point I want to leave for discussion is that, in many instances TAs are our one of our best resources. Their livelihood is determined on their recommendations, rather that advertising revenue.
Paul, thank you again for everything: it was truly a pleasure to meet you. Your right, the cruisemates group is quite different than I am used to with Cruise Critic. I would strongly recommend that many of you look into using the resources of Flyertalk.com. They are among the most knowledgeable people I have come across, for travel related information. It's odd there is not more interaction between these two sites. They actually mention Cruise Critic on their cruise section. Yet, oddly both (cruisemates.com & flyertalk.com) are owned by the same company. Paul, I would never have realized this; nor would most Flyertalkers. :razz: