Is the glass half-full or half empty? Because each experience can be heavenly for one person and hell for another, the answer lies with your own expectations. I've sailed all three lines (and more) mentioned and found each to have it's strengths and weaknesses, but enjoyed them all. Yes, IMHO, Celebrity has the best overall food, but not all their ships are equal. I found their service superior to HAL and Princess, but not every ship. Princess has far superior shows than HAL and Celebrity, but they don't have the elegance (IMO) or either line. Princess now offers "Personal Choice" dining, which allows resort casual or traditional dining; nether is available on HAL or CEL. Bottom line, I think HAL is great for 50+ pax, but not usually the line of choice for younger folks. Celebrity and Princess appeal to the 40's and 50's crowd, and Princess covers the various age groups best. None of my opinions will fit every ship or itinerary ; that's why we continue to try different cruise lines and ships. This way we can decide what's best for us, not someone else ;-) .
One man's meat is another's poison. I had a bad experience on HAL the one time I sailed it, but I found the Philipino/Indonesian crew to be outstanding. Best in the business. I found Princess the friendliest olf the three and Celebrity the most elegant with the best food. So they all have their strengths. It really depends on what you're hunting for.
You are confusing categories of cruise lines. Cunard and Crystal are in the "Luxury Brands". HAL, Princes and Celeb are in the Premium brands.
Industry ratings are based upon some abosolute measurements and do not obviously take into account person preferences, life style, etc., which may make one line more attractive to a guest than another... regardless of the ratings. I know people of substantial means who shy away from the Luxury brands altogether and prefer some lines at the lower end of the Premium brands.
Anyway, based upon space ratio's, crew/passenger ratio's, $ spent on food and a number of other considerations, the Industry ratings are basically as follows, in the Premium Brands:
At the very top are Celebrity and Holland America
Just slightly below is Princess
Then there is a broad swarth... in the middle...
including RCI, NCL, Costa
At the entry level, you have Carnival, Regal and a few others
Those are the placements based upon measurements outlined above. Personal taste now comes into play. Many frequent cruisers like them all, as I do... each offering unique cruise product. There are other differences among ships of the same line, itineraries, sailing dates, etc.
The Luxury brands are another story completely... for another day.
Your t/a can be very helpful in sorting out what line best meets the needs and life style of you and your traveling companions. It may bear no resemblance to the Industry ratings.
I agree with Ernie, ratings are JUST THAT-opinions. The lines you mentioned are all great in their own right. If you go looking for something to go wrong, believe me, it will.
If you go looking for a great cruise experience, but expecting some small problems, any of those mentioned will be of value.
> Princess now offers "Personal Choice" dining, which
> allows resort casual or traditional dining; nether is available
> on HAL or CEL.
Personal Choice dining is a farce. We prefer the traditional seating times where we have the same wait staff every evening so they get to know our likes and dislikes. On Princess, personal choice was a joke because most of the people lined up when the dining room opened. There was a lot of carping because many had to wait a half hour to 45 minutes to get a table. The solution was for them to make reservations. So now they had fixed dining times again, in actuality, the only difference being the time of their reservation vs. the fixed early/late seating times. If Celebrity only has fixed seating times, I view that as a plus. Besides, anyone that doesn't want to dine at the fixed times or dress appropriately can always get something on the Lido deck. JMO.
In our experience and my opinion(which along with money will buy you coffee), I'd rate them HAL, Princess, and Celebrity. We were not really thrilled with our Celebrity experience, as we found it only marginally better than Carnival, or RCI. It was ,most likely, just this particular trip. Hal's food was best, followed closely by Princess. Hal's service and attention to detail was hands down the best. Not that it means much but we are in our 14th year of traveling, have been with 5 different lines on 11 different trips. One big plus to cruising, I am a blue collar worker, and have been on every major continent except the arctic and antarctic(we could go, but why?)
I rated them like this because Princess offers a wider variety and options than HAL or Celebrity.
I've never sent back incorrectly cooked items on Princess or HAL. But, I have on Celebrity... too many times......
I give the nod to HAL. Princess and Celebrity ships vary too much to even try to rank them. The best Princess ships are, of course, the smaller ones if you are looking for quality of service, food preparation and presentation - Royal and Pacific. Celebrity....as much as I have sailed the line....with their different class of ships...each cruise experience on this line varies so greatly you can't even begin to rank them.
HAL IMHO delivers the most consistent product. It used to be Princess before the advent of Personal Choice.
I'll rate Celebrity higher than HAL by a hair but in all fairness I've not sail either line since 1999. HAL doesn't nickle and dime, there's a lot included. Celebrity charges for more, I didn't find it excessive.
There are just little things that Celebrity does that I notice that HAL doesn't do like serving red wine and white wine in different glasses suitable for each, serving between the palate sorbet, better presentation of food all around, and I like Celebrity's style in terms of the way they present things and serve things in their clubby areas like the Martini Bar, Michael's Club, and Cova Cafe. I liked HAL's buffet a bit better, but definitely preferred Celebrity's dining food, though HAL's was quite good as well. Though I wasn't served anything on either line at any time that wasn't done as requested I witnessed some food being returned on both lines for this reason. I've found plenty of complaints from people on both lines about the food, however Celebrity markets food more so they get bigger hits. While both lines do a very good job of keeping their ships in fine condition, Celebrity does a bit better, though both have slip-ups a times.
There are some things that take away from Celebrity like the silly souvenier glasses sold in the beginning of the cruise and mild hawking of Bahama Mamas in the lido area. HAL has wonderful features like the after dinner mints, popcorn served before movies, included fine coffee in the Java cafe, fresh flowers everywhere on the ship. I just can't put one of these lines that much on top of the other, but Celebrity felt just a bit more premium in service style than HAL to me. But, I feel I can make an argument for HAL as well.