by Chris Dikmen updated March 2015
Tasteless food is much more easily swallowed by adding a pinch of salt. Hence the saying "take it with a grain of salt." The same could be said for reading what others have to say about a cruise ship, cruise line, or destination. With the advent of the Internet, EVERYONE now has the ability to share their opinions and views with the world. Pre-Internet, consumers relied on "professional" reviewers and editors who would review products and services in newspapers and magazines. You would think that the flood of available information would make the decision process easier. Actually, it may have the opposite effect. Now consumers feel compelled to digest a mountain of information before making any purchasing decision.
Consumers have more information at their fingertips than every before. Cruise review websites, like CruiseReport are a great resource for information and have become part of the cruise shopping process. Cruise Lines are motivated to provide better customer service and value to prevent negative reviews from appearing on websites. Overall, the existence of consumer and professional reviews helps to improve the quality of the cruise industry.
Many websites, CruiseReport included, offer you the ability to read what non-professional, everyday consumers have to say about a cruise line/ship. Then there are the ubiquitous comments that can be found on social networks and forum websites. While this information serves a valuable purpose, there are a few things you should always keep in mind.
Negative comments are more common than positive ones.
People, in general, are simply more motivated to complain than to praise. Part of the reason is that people expect a good experience when they travel, so many do not feel there is any reason to take the time to write about it, after all, that is what they paid for. However, when someone has a bad experience, they are often motivated to get revenge on the cruise line or destination by putting out a bad review.
Consider the credibility of the reviewer
If the reviewer has nothing good to say about the cruise line/ship, it always makes us question their objectivity. After having sailed on more than 80 cruises, I have never been on a ship where I could not find something to praise. Years ago, we had a pretty bad experience on Delta Queen Steamboat (on a boat that no longer exists). It was so bad, we actually jumped ship, got off early, rented a car and drove home. Now that's bad! Our complaint had to do with the accommodations to which we were assigned. The stateroom was so noisy, we were unable to get any sleep for three nights in a row. Fortunately, it was a river cruise in the USA and we had the option of getting off and driving back to Dallas. Nevertheless, the food, entertainment and lectures on board the ship were all excellent. Also, our experience with the accommodations was not the same as everyone else on the boat, we just got stuck with in a cabin in a very bad location.
Some consumer reviews are unfair and unreasonable
We receive approximately 25 reviews per week at CruiseReport.com and we read each and every one before they are put online. If we consider a review to be grossly unfair, we simply do not put it out for public consumption. Some "reviews" are nothing more than a copy of a complaint letter to the cruise line.
Look for other supporting reviews
If you read a negative review about a cruise line/ship, take the time to look for other consumers who have written similar experiences about the same subject before letting a negative comment sway your decision. If you can find three or more consumers with similar complaints, then a problem may actually exist. If one person hated the cruise and every other review you read praises the ship/line, then you might want to ignore the negative comment.
Read responses to the review
On CruiseReport we allow people to comment on each review submitted. So, if someone disagrees with the reviewer's point of view, they can make their thoughts known. Review comments are shown at the bottom of each review page. Cruise lines also have the option of commenting on reviews.
Post questions about a ship or cruise line to social networks
There are many forums and social networks targeted at cruise enthusiasts. CruiseReport has a Facebook page where you can post your questions or comments. Most cruise lines also have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts where you can interact with the cruise line directly.
Look for "Featured" reviews
On CruiseReport.com, we identify consumer reviews that we feel are exceptionally well written with a Featured badge next to the review title. To see a list of all current Featured reviews, click here.
Professional (Editorial) Reviews
In addition to consumer reviews, there are the professional/editorial reviews that you can find on many websites, in newspapers and in magazines. On CruiseReport, we feature our latest editorial reviews on our home page, and on the Editorial Reviews page. You can also identify our professional/editorial reviews by the Editorial badge next to the review title.
Professional reviews are typically written by travel journalists. Some travel journalists are freelancers who earn a living by selling their articles to magazines, newspapers and other journals. Some may work full-time for a particular publication or website. At CruiseReport, the majority of our editorials are written by myself and my girlfriend/business partner, Rickee Richardson. Admittedly, we are not professional journalists by education. My background is in Internet technology and Rickee's is in airline management. Nevertheless, we are extreme cruise enthusiasts with a passion for the industry and are basically self-taught when it comes to our journalistic skills.
We also feature reviews from freelance journalists like John and Sandra Nowlan. John and Sandra typically write for newspapers and magazines and they often use CruiseReport.com as a platform for their online reviews.
Even Professional Reviews Require "a grain of salt"
Just because a cruise review is written by a so-called "professional" journalist does not mean everything in that review is iron-clad. As a consumer, you should still remain skeptical. Most travel journalists are invited to cruise inaugurals and ceremonies so that they will write about the new ships. These media events are paid for by the cruise lines and are designed to promote the ship and cruise line. Often, journalists are wined and dined by the cruise line during a media event. There is nothing wrong with that, but you should be aware that a 2-day inaugural sailing of a ship full of journalists and travel agents is not going to result in a fair and thorough evaluation of the ship and crew. It is simply impossible to accurately depict a real-life cruise experience on a 2-day sailing with industry professionals designed to gain "good press".
When journalists travel on a week-long or longer sailing, it is common for the cruise line to provide the journalist with complimentary cruise accommodations. Some cruise lines even provide air transportation and other complimentary items during the cruise. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but it is something you should, as a consumer, be aware of. It would be impossible for a travel journalist to pay for all of the cruises they take and still earn a living. However, when a cruise is complimentary, a journalist may be less likely include negative comments in their review of a ship. And, with printed media, there is always the concern about potential advertising dollars spent by the cruise line being put in jeopardy by releasing a less-than-glowing review. Let's face it, cruise lines want good press when they send a journalist on a cruise.
Just as you should always be skeptical of a consumer-written review that is completely negative, you should be equally skeptical of a professional review that is nothing but positive and glowing.
At CruiseReport, we have a policy of being fair and balanced (to borrow a phrase from a popular news network). When preparing our articles, we try to focus on the positive aspects of the cruise. However, if we experience a problem that we feel should be mentioned, even if it is "negative", we will include it in the review. However, before we include any criticism, we first analyze whether or not it is potentially a one-time occurrence, which can happen with any product. We also analyze the cruise line's ability to deal with a problem or complaint. When the staff deal with a complaint effectively, it says a lot about the cruise line and actually becomes a positive thing to mention in the review.
There is no question that our review policies have prevented us from being invited on some cruise lines. I can only assume that these cruise lines expect nothing but glowing advertorials of their product. Unquestionably, there is no shortage of "journalists" who will say nothing but glowing, positive things about their product. Cruise lines that are featured on CruiseReport are confident in their product and are willing to undergo the scrutiny that we insist upon. We always allow the cruise line to preview a draft of our reviews and give them the opportunity to respond. If they do respond, we always include their response in the review. That's only fair.
No Single Review Is Perfect
When you read a review you are only getting one person's perspective of a small slice of time on that ship or destination. You might get a completely different analysis from another guest on the exact same cruise or visiting the exact same port-of-call. Also, the same person may have a completely different experience sailing on the exact same ship/destination 3 months later. A review is nothing more than a snapshot in time. Cruise ships are very dynamic. They change their itineraries, the guest mix can change dramatically from one sailing to the next, and crew members come and go throughout the year. Even the weather and sea conditions can impact a guest's impressions. All of these factors can determine the experience you might have on a particular ship. This is why it is so important to read more than one or two reviews of a ship/cruise line. As you do more research, a pattern will develop. If there truly is a serious problems with a cruise line or ship, it will show up in multiple reviews by different people.
So Who Can You Believe?
At the end of the day, you have to follow your gut. You should never trust any one person, website or publication to drive your decision. As a consumer today, you will simply have to do your research. And, don't forget to rely on the advice of your travel professional, after all, they have a vested interest in your satisfaction. The good news is that the plethora of information available puts you in a much better position to make a good decision. Always keep in mind that, regardless of what one person may have to say about a cruise line/ship, there will someone else with a completely different view.
Just remember to take everything you read with a grain of salt.
Some other good sources of professional cruise reviews
Over the years, we have come to know and trust the opinions of a few other journalists in our industry. We have traveled with Linda Garrison many times over the past 13 years and have found her reviews to be thorough and accurate. Linda is the cruise editor for About.com. We have also had the pleasure to sail with Aaron Saunders who has an excellent cruise blog, From The Deck Chair. Of course, there are other good sources out there, but these are two we can recommend.