I have read a lot of the posts on this board regarding the Driscoll article and I think it's pretty clear that most of us have the same sentiment: cruise lines are going downhill in terms of service and customer satisfaction. There is one simple explanation for this: the mass population.
What has happened to the airline industry has now happened to the cruise industry. I'd be willing to bet that most of us out there absolutely despise being in coach class when we fly. Why do we despise it? Because we're forced to stand in a long slow moving line to get onto the plane, then we're squeezed shoulder to shoulder in our tiny little seats, we have terrible food (if we are even lucky to get something other than a bag of peanuts) thrown at us by cranky flight attendants, and then we are forced to wait in line once again to get off the plane at the end of the flight. We're treated like the mass population while those in First or Business Class are treated like the wealthy elite. And why are we treated like the mass population? Because we ARE the mass population, the great unwashed, the masses. When what was once available to the select few is now available to the masses, there is a resulting loss in quality of the good or service in question. It is a natural progression.
Cruises are now a more appealing vacation choice to the masses than they ever were before. Who wouldn't want to sail away to exotic ports of call for less than $100 per day including all of your meals? The mass market is now being sold this unbelievable bargain, and that mass market probably doesn't realize that they're only getting what they paid for. An unbelievable bargain must be simply that: unbelievable. What the average first-time cruiser probably doesn't realize is that from the time he sets foot on the ship until the time he steps off, he is going to be subject to constant nickel-and-diming, from the outrageous beverage prices to the overpriced spa treatments and their hard-sell tactics, to the jackpot bingo (where the jackpot never seems to be much more than $1000 and the ship has taken in probably 10 times that amount). I can only wonder what the average first-time cruiser's shipboard account balance must be at the end of his bargain vacation, and I doubt he feels like he got such a bargain then.
And are those first-time cruisers satisfied with the level of service on their cruise? I'd venture to say that most of them are, only because they don't know what they're not getting. Those of us who have cruised in the past know the way things used to be and are probably a lot less satisfied than those first-timers. We're finding that what we used to EXPECT from a cruise (delicious, beautifully presented meals; friendly and courteous staff who would go out of their way to make you happy; elegant formal cocktail parties with the captain) either costs us more or is simply not provided. Cruise lines now appeal to the masses and their less-sophisticated tastes. (I am sure that last sentence will prove offensive to some readers, but it is a fact of life.) The masses demand much less than the Rockefellers of this world, and they get even less.
We should not have to pay extra now for what we used to get before for free, and we should not get less now than we did before for the same price. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way of the world and we're probably just going to have to make the most of it. I no longer expect personal service and superb meals when I go on a cruise -- I look for a bargain and prepare to spend a fortune onboard. After all, I am only one of the masses.
Your explanation of "mass transit" is right on. Wish you could have been a mouse under the table earlier this week when a bunch of travel writers -- all of whom were flight attendants at one time -- started in on air and cruise travel and the lack of "standards" as we knew them.
I must say that the fashion in which we stated our opinions was not as genteel as your well-put note.
There's a term in the construction industry -- Minimum Design Requirement. That's pretty much what's happening in the airline and cruiseline industries.
Do I sense a bit of snobbery in the viewpoint expressed by you and other veteran cruisers, i.e. that cruises should be for the wealthy only, as apparently they used to be, not something that the great unwashed multiudes should be able to enjoy?
If that is the case, then I fail to see why the folks at Cruisemates, etc. work so hard to promote cruising as THE vacation of choice for more and more people..
Perhaps what the cruise lines need to do to try to satisfy everyone is to offer two types of cruises: Traditional cruises with all of the formal trappings, personal services, etc. that were formerly offered, (and high prices to discourage the rabble from booking same}; and mass market cruises for the common people with rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, casual dining,etc.
I would never imply that cruises should be for the wealthy only. The point I was trying to make is that what has happened to the airline industry has happened to the cruise industry, and that it is an unfortunate but natural progression. True gourmet cuisine and personalized service have been replaced with more mainstream-type meals and less personalized service because those are the types of things that the mass market demands. The masses want ice skating rinks and rock climbing walls on their ships, and they don't necessarily care about butler service in their staterooms or formal cocktail parties with the captain. What appeals most to the masses is price, the bottom line, and cruise lines are giving the masses what they want, but they're also taking some things away (butler service, for example) and charging extra for other things (drinks, ice cream, etc.) to compensate. The cruise industry has changed, and some of us feel that that change is not necessarily for the better, but that's not going to stop us from cruising, either. We just have to change our expectations.
Sheila -- don't worry about Jim. Your reply expressed my feelings exactly but I couldn't put them into words. I will continue to cruise occasionally in the future becausethere's nothing like that feeling when the ship slips away from the dock -- I can almost feel my humdrum routine slip away also.
I don't think the writer meant to imply that cruises are for the wealthy only, I think she was saying that as anything gets more and more popular and caters to greater numbers of people then the result is a dilution in quality of service.
Anne wrote a great piece in the last newsletter that says that if you are getting tired of the crowds then try the luxury lines, they are quietly going for discounts as well, but it is more like the levels of food and service one used o get on all cruises.