Public opinion travel polls will steer you in the wrong direction
I just received my latest issue of Travel + Leisure featuring "The World's Best Awards 2020," and it reminded me about a I call I had with one of my clients a couple of months ago. They had read another poll and based on the results wanted to try a different cruise line that was highly rated in that poll - this would have led to a disastrous choice.
I knew this clients very well and knew this cruise line, while highly ranked in the poll, would not be right for them at all. The problem with most public opinion polls is that they ask a general audience for their preferences and then aggregate all the data to a single ranking for each cruise line. And that is the problem - there is no context and the rankings are pretty much meaningless.
This isn't or shouldn't be how you make a cruise or vacation decision. It isn't even a starting point. Let's take the recent Travel + Leisure "Cruise Lines" rankings as an example. In the "Mega-ship ocean cruise lines" category the top rankings were #1 Disney, #2 Cunard, and #3 Holland America. So what's the problem?
For one, definitions matter
What's a "mega-ship?"
To start with, Disney's and Cunard's ships average less than 3,000 passengers while Royal Caribbean's mega-ships hold 5,500 - 6,200+ passengers. Most people would not classify Disney's nor Cunard's ships as mega-ships based on passenger capacity. So this group ranking is misleading at best.
Rankings Miss the Key Reasons You Select a Ship
Very few people call and say I want to be on a mega-ship or a small ship. Instead they have a number of personal preferences and values that they want fulfilled on a cruise.
For example, do you enjoy a lot of activities, entertainment and action or do you prefer a more serine and tranquil environment? Do you like lots of joyful screaming kids or is a more adults-only scene more desirable? Are you comfortable with cuisine close to Chillis or Applebees, or are you looking for fine dining and Michelin quality cuisine? Are you comfortable with a Courtyard Hotel-type stateroom or do you want it to be more like a Ritz-Carlton suite? Do you expect top notch service to anticipate all of your needs or do you prefer to do things on your own? Are you social and like to meet fellow guests, or do you prefer to be on your own? Do want to discover new destinations, cultures and people, or is the ship your primary destination?
Different people rate the same thing differently
Those are some of the right questions to ask and that is how we work with clients to select the best cruise matched with their individual preferences, values and needs. With this in mind, let's go back to those rankings. Take a look a the first three top ranked lines, Disney, Cunard and Holland America, and see how useless these rankings are.
Disney's target market is families with young children. The atmosphere is casual, loud, bright colors and food geared to families. Cunard is the opposite, an older crowd which enjoys a very formal atmosphere with higher cuisine expectations. Holland America has an even older crowd that enjoys a more casual environment and is more sedate with moderate cuisine expectations. These lines have very little in common.
Most people who cruise on a Norwegian Cruise ship enjoy the atmosphere and food, and give Norwegian high marks. However, most people who regularly cruise Crystal Cruises would give Norwegian's atmosphere and food a very low ranking. Neither is wrong, they just start with different expectations. So comparing the two cruise lines, or Royal Caribbean to Cunard, makes no sense just as the expectations of a Chevy and Rolls Royce buyer have little in common other they are both looking for a car with four wheels.
Select a cruise line & ship based on YOUR preferences
So when you see cruise or vacation ranks, just flip the page. They really don't mean a thing to you! Instead ask yourself these questions:
1) What's the theme or goal of this vacation? Is it romantic, an escape, a celebration, or a chance to reconnect with family or friends?
2) What's the lifestyle or setting that appeals to you? Do you want to live in luxury with excellent service? Or do you want something more mainstream like a Courtyard Hotel experience? Or is this a budget focused trip?
3) What social environment do you want? Kids or mostly adults. Active, boisterous, energetic or quiet, tranquil and subdued? Younger crowd or older crowd? Are beverage packages important to you? What kind of entertainment do you prefer onboard?
4) What are your food service or cuisine expectations? Casual or fine dining.
5) What activities do you hope to do? Stay on the ship, adventures, casual walking through cities, wine tours, culinary tours, or have a private driver show you the town?
6) How open and comfortable are you with different cultures?
7) Which destinations do you want to see?
Throw out the rankings, work through these questions yourself and select your cruise based on your answers. Better yet, give us a call and we'll help you make better cruise decisions.
I help you make better vacation decisions!
Blog author. Former travel editor for Compete Magazine, awarded top 25 travel writing blog 2018 & 2019..