I found your to be post an interesting and well crafted statement of an oft repeated question on the boards. In a sense, you answered your own question in the second paragraph.
I wanted to set out again that all Cruise Lines and Ships within the lines are not created equal. There is a reason why Royal Caribbean purchased Celebrity and why Carnival Corporation owns several different lines. In the Premium brands, which is what we are talking about here, there are significant and clearly identifiable differences in the cruise products offered... differences the Industry measures by certain rules of thumb, so to speak. At the top of the Premium brands, you have two lines... Celebrity and Holland America. Just under them, in a band unto itself, you have Princess... then there is a broad swath in the middle which includes Royal Caribbean, NCL and Costa, then at the entry level you find Carnival, Regal and several other lesser brands.
This positioning is based upon some Industry standards, namely Space Ratio's, Crew /Passenger Ratio's, $ expenditure on food per diem, selling price per diems and so forth. Some of these considerations may be of no importance to you personally and none of this means that one cannot prefer a middle line, such as Royal Caribbean over, say Princess.
After looking at all these considerations, one must look at the different "styles" unique to each line and unique to different ships within the lines. The cruise product you experience on, say, Voyager of the Seas is quite different from the cruise product on Grandeur of the Seas... although there are some underlying similarities.
In short, a cruise is NOT a commodity, in the sense of an airline seat, but, rather a high ticket vacation purchase that offers the best value in the Travel Industry. It is also a purchase that requires careful evaluation by the first time or infrequent cruiser if he or she is to realize the best value for the dollar spent.
A good Travel Agent, with experience in cruise sales, can help lead you through this maze. The agent will be experienced in matching clients' life styles and personal preferences, budget constraints and so forth with cruise lines and ships. Advice you receive on the boards can be quite helpful, but frequently you will see a preference for one Cruise Line or ship mentioned, but you have no way of evaluating what standards the poster has applied in making the recommendation. A professional agent is trained to make recommendations that match the clients' needs, rather than his or her own.
I'd make one more comment... the key word in NOT price... but rather "Value", of which price is just one component. In this complicated marketplace, the "best price" or "lowest price" may or may not be the best value for you.
Let us know what you finally decide. Since 85+% of first time cruisers say it was a great value for the money and that they wish to cruise again, we are sure to see you in these parts again!
Good luck with your choice!
Post Edited (12-05-02 07:44)