Posted by: Tom Baker | July 11, 2009

What is the difference?

EquinoxFriday, May 22, 2009


What Is The Difference?


As many cruise lines slash fares to keep passengers vacationing at sea, it has become more and more confusing to determine the brand differentiation especially for the first time cruiser. While there are plenty out there who say “A Cruise Is A Cruise”, I do not prescribe to that nor does the individual cruise line that has spent billions of dollars on branding and building specific types of ships that cater to different types of lifestyles, needs, and vacationers.

I did a cruise show this week and was horrified to find the number of brand samplers who have cruised the gambit from Carnival to Holland America and could not really determine what their own niche was nor did they feel they had proper advice on qulifying experiences to better enhance their vacation.

The cruise industry executives repeatedly tell me that there is a trend among internet purchasers of cruises to just buy cheap. This means in many cases the vacationer has no real guidance to qualifying their experience or finding the right choice. While some of you might say, I know what I want and can figure it out negates the true experience of an experince unbiased travel professional who has a career learning the ins and outs of the cuise busines and really understands the individual brands to help the guest make the right vacation, destination, and cabin choice for his vacation. By the way, the advise is usually FREE and much better than an online biased opinion or a direct cruise line booking who has one single agenda-sell that brand only.

I am going to talk about three large ship categories today. They are the Contemporary (mass market), Premium (upper market), and Luxury (high end), large ship experience and the lcruise lines in-order of quality (my opinion).
I will cover the nuances, strengths, and weakneses of each so here goes!

Contemporary-Mass Market Cruise Lines

Carnival-The Fun Ships
Strengths- affordable, relaible, excellent food, service, and entertainment, very good Camp Carnival for kids, always fun and vibrant with great live music onboard and fun casinos
Weaknesses- caters to a party crowd with many smokers especially on shorter cruise itnieraries, fleet is not consistent and has many older ships (Fantasy Class),
Best Ships To Sail On: Conquest Class or Spirit Class and the NEW Carnival Dream
Rating: 3-4 Stars

NCL-Freestyle Cruising
Strengths- Freestyle dining with many alternative fee based options, incredible suites and penthouses, spotlessly clean ships, fun atmosphere, chic Vegas style decor, and affordable
Weaknesses- service can be spotty, some of the older ships have tiny cabins and awkward layouts, entertainment varies from ship to ship.
Best Ships To Sail On: The Jewel Class and the New Norwegian Epic
Rating: 3-4 Stars

Princess- The Love Boat
Strengths- overall decor is consistent throughout the fleet, large ships with varied entertainment programs, affordable long cruise itineraries, food in alternative venues is excellent, Movies Under The Stars
Weaknesses: spotty service and food, some older ships need refurbishment, used to be a premium cruise line but lowered itself to compete directly against Royal Caribbean creating massive ships with up to 3600 passengers.
Best Ships To Sail On:The Coral or Island Princess and the smaller Princess ships (ex: Rennaissance Class)
Rating: 4 Stars

Royal Caribbean-The Nation of Why Nots
Strengths- excellent ship design, architecture, and layout, incredible facilities and array of cabins, best contemporary branding giving the impression of upscale for the mas market, excellent childrens programs, past passenger program, and untouched exciting onboard cruise atmosphere..Caters to all age groups
Weaknesses- some older ships are worn and tired, food is inconsistent ship to ship, company management is very arrogant and elitist-sorry!
Best Ships: Voyager and Freedom Class, and NEW Oasis of the Seas
Rating: 4-Stars
Premium- Upper Market Cruise Lines
Celebrity Cruises-Starring You
Strengths-gorgeous marine architecture, contemporary style, innovative cuisine, personal service, lots of fine attention to detail, constant refinement of product
Weaknesses-older ships are worn, brand gets confused often with parent company Royal Caribbean, and prices are often too low for quality product offered
Caters To: a more mature crowd 57+
Best Ships: Solstice Class and Millennium Class
Rating: 4-5 Stars

Holland America Line-A Signature of Excellence
Strengths- reinventing a traditional company into a relevant leader, warm and gracious service, excellent food, spacious cabins, well appointed, decorated, and quality enrichment programs like Culinary Arts At Sea, Onboard Lectures, Microsoft Digital Workshop,
Weaknesses- older ships needs refurbishment but works are underway, ships are too low key at night, entertainment is spotty, sometimes language with Asian staff can be a barrier, and prices are too low for quality given driving in a lesser caliber crowd at times. This causes the brand to suffer from differentiation.
Caters To: a more mature crowd 60+
Rating: 4-5 Stars

Luxury Cruise Lines (The Ultimate Experience for the Sophisticated Traveler)

Regent Seven Seas-Luxury Goes Exploring
Strengths- large ships catering to only 500-700 passengers in all-suites, all inclusiveness, open seating, elegant atmosphere, multiple dining options, casual country club dress code, high crew to passenger ratio, attempt to deliver a most personal guest experience. Equates to a Four Seasons Hotel and is expensive.
Weaknesses-service is sometimes spotty, ships seem like a ghost town at night due to large public areas and few passengers, and entertainment is VERY low-key
Caters to: 65+ and affluent to wealthy
Best Ships: ALL three are superb!
Rating: 5-stars

Crystal Cruises-The World’s Best Cruise Line
Strengths- overall winner of top luxury awards in the entire travel industry for more than 15 years, superb food and service, large ships catering to well dressed crowd, exceptional alternative dining venues, the BEST enrichment program of any cruise line, excellent entertainment options, ships are spotlessly clean, very high crew to guest ratio. Equates to For Seasons/Ritz Carlton crowd and is expensive.
Weaknesses- standard cabins are smaller than competition, two seating’s for dinner, some itineraries are redundant to high number of repeat guests but this is due to it being only a two ship operation.
Best Ships: All-there are two and they are excellent
Rating: 5-6 Stars

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