Think of this as a state of the union, for cruising.
I just got off Crown Princess on a spring break cruise. Opted to go with Dad to the Western Caribbean instead of friends on a shorter Bahamas run. Either way, it was a real kick to what has been happening to cruising over the past few years. I'll break this down to the individual problems and then a concluding bit to tie it all together.
Want Service and Good Food? No Longer Included.
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, you paid one price and one price included all - immaculate service, 5 star food, amenities; essentially, "the works." Now, things have changed, and they have changed drastically. Want good food and decent service? Be prepared to shell out $25 cover.
Dining service is no longer your table only; waiters now cover up to six (yes I said six - I spoke with a variety of dining staff about this, and this is the highest I have heard so far) tables during peak dining hours. Now, this is insignificant if I am dining at Chili's down at the student union, but I am on a cruise - paying to be catered to. Speaking of catering, food quality has also taken a massive hit. The majority of food I ordered (and I often told them to bring me the entire menu on various nights) was either under/over cooked, and far from top quality - I could argue I've had better steaks for $10 at [insert your favorite $10 steak restaurant here].
I am told the specialty restaurants provide somewhat better food and service - as to personal experience, I cannot attest to it. I have not been willing to spend more on a cruise I have already spent large amounts of money on.
One might argue that the food quality and service might be limited to the one line/ship/etc... but I am beginning to raise flags on that; this is probably the fourth or fifth cruise with the same recurring issues and my last 4 - 5 have been with different lines and ships.
Bigger is Not Better. I Point to Royal Caribbean for the Problems.
Royal Caribbean has changed the industry. For worse. Honestly, if they had stopped with the Voyager class it may have been alright, but they have continued to go bigger and bigger. Significance? Well by going bigger, they seem to have left the impression on people that cruising is no longer a service and more of an entertainment - think theme park.
The objective of a theme park is to get as many people in, rip them off (one price is far from all inclusive), provide them entertainment, and forget about service and food. Going back to cruising, while this works well with new cruisers that have nothing to compare their experience to, the older and more experienced (such as many on this board - myself included) will take notice.
Now this all ties back to RCI - the initial "bang" came with the Voyager ships, and kept going, and slowly it spread. In fact, it's taken 10 years for it to catch on. However, I am now convinced that the mainstream cruising industry has changed.
Good Ship Designers? Anyone? *Cricket Cricket Cricket*
Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic, but still, expanding the capacity of ships and reducing the public space relative to capacity is a terrible idea (see Norwegian Epic). Also, this comes as a public service announcement to Princess Cruises - fragmenting your decks vertically, horizontally, and in general, every which way is a guaranteed way to annoy people, particularly when you are stuffing the ship with 3200 people. From what I hear, this applies to a handful of other lines as well.
Placing the basketball court behind the smokestack - bad idea. (this is more of a go at Princess, but I'm sure several lines have similar badly placed amenities)
Low quality screens for "Movies Under the Stars" - bad idea (if the Dallas Cowboys can afford a decent high quality screen, you can too).
Also to be kept in mind - this is more operational, but I'll keep it under design - tendering large numbers of people using a "pick a number" based system is a terrible idea. Let people go on shore on a first come, first off basis. I really did not pay to sit an hour plus in a dining room waiting for my tender ticket number to be called out; or even better, switch to a swipe card based system - save the paper and the trees. Either way, fix the tendering operations.
As you can see, cruising has changed, and it has changed a lot. All for the worse. I am still waiting to see what good comes out of all this. Certainly, nothing good has been done for the 18 - 21 crowd (although the teens are getting much better facilities and amenities). I still look forward to my next cruise and seeing what more changes are in store for this rapidly growing industry.