Back at the turn of the 21st century cruise ships were often classified as budget, mass market, premium, and luxury. For example, Costa was low price driven as a budget brand; Carnival with their ”Fun Ships” was categorized as a mass market product; Holland America Line as premium level ships and Silversea as a luxury line. Then things started to get a lot less defined as mass market ships added top end suites, premium priced ships often offered best-value low pricing, and the luxury category added companies like Azamara Club Cruises which could be categorized as a “Luxury Lite” vacation choice.
Mega Ship Race to the Biggest
While mega-ship competition heated up with bigger and bigger ships being ordered, smaller, niche cruise lines were forced to redefine their products to remain competitive in the ship building arms race. Now we have Royal Caribbean as the winner in the mega-ship position with the advent of the Oasis and Allure of the Seas. And, we have Regent Seven Seas fortifying its luxury position by adding free shore excursions and now free pre-cruise hotel stays to its mostly all-inclusive (albeit pricey) cruise vacations.
Increasing Onboard Revenue
What didn’t change (with the exception of the very most expensive luxury products) was the cruise lines goal of adding as much new onboard revenue they could to offset continuing low cruise prices. New added charge restaurants, new gaming (Texas Hold-Em), new spa additions like private cabanas, and the addition of added tipping fees charged to all customers, are some of the additions. The days of the inexpensive, duty free liquor for onboard drinks is gone, and new drink and wine packages have become common and widespread—at a price.
Still, for the price, a cruise vacation is still an amazing value. Great food, good entertainment, amazing ships, quality service and excellent itineraries make a cruise a hard to beat deal.
Blurring of Classifications
What we have seen is a blurring of various brands. While most cruise customers prefer the wider choice of verandah staterooms, now they can even choose an inside balcony stateroom on the two new Royal Caribbean mega-ships (with views of neighborhoods or the sea through the open stern). And, if price is of little concern, many ships offer suites in excess of 1,000 square feet and include personal butlers.
Certain standards have remained a little clearer when it comes to various cruise lines. For example, luxury cruise lines offer smaller, more inclusive, more intimate and service intensive ships. Premium lines such as Holland America and Celebrity usually offer slightly larger basic balcony staterooms and are slightly more consistent in offering a good quality service and food level on every one of their vessels. And, as far as the big guys are concerned, you can choose ocean going water parks, 3-d movie theatres, wave riders and gargantuan onboard spa facilities as a few of their product improvements.
How do you decide which is best for you?
What all of this means is that someone choosing a cruise vacation is well served to use the services of a top notch professional cruise travel agent/counselor for both advice and for ferreting out the best values. And, best of all, with the exception of perhaps some small fees, the services of a good travel agent are a great value in and of themselves. A good cruise travel agent can decode and remove the confusion that is now part of understanding the cruise industry.
Rich is the author of Vinnie the Cruise Dog, a primer for first-time cruisers. He specializes in making custom cruise and land vacations for his demanding clients. His favorite cruise is his next one!