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25 Years of Feedback: Cruise Critic Members Help Change the Industry

Cruise Critic

Sep 21, 2021

Read time
5 min read

One thing is for sure: The Cruise Critic message boards are full of opinions. Over the 25 years the site has been around, hot topics and issues raised by members have influenced and changed cruise line policy.

Cruise Critic carries so much weight for a few reasons. For one, the cruise lines know that Cruise Critic members are long-time sailing fans, and their opinions are usually based on experience. Two, cruise line honchos often read the message boards, so they can keep a pulse on popular -- and unpopular -- opinions and changes.

Here are a few examples.

Doggy Bag Debate

When Norwegian Cruise Line instituted a fee for room service in 2015 -- the first line to do so -- many cruisers quickly found a workaround.

Rather than pay the $7.95 convenience fee (which is now $9.95), people on board the ships simply began carrying leftover food back to their cabins from different dining venues.

The line issued a snack crackdown, telling passengers they could no longer bring their leftovers back to their rooms. At the time, the line said the policy was put into place because passengers had been observed spilling food and leaving dirty trays piled up in the hallways.

Cruise Critic members were outraged. A thread on the policy attracted more than 65,000 views, all upholding a passenger's right to leftovers.

A month later, the line reversed the policy. At the time, Norwegian's then-President Andy Stuart said the decision was made after getting considerable customer feedback from a number of channels -- including Cruise Critic.

Room service fees are now fairly standard on mainstream cruise ships, but no one else attempted to mess with doggy bags.

Bottled Water Ban

Most issues that cause a message board firestorm occur when -- as noted with the NCL example -- cruise lines ban something that has been a long-standing practice. Cruisers love their traditions, and anything that smacks of price gouging usually stirs the pot.

In 2015, Carnival Cruise Line put a ban on bringing bottled water onboard. The rationale: The line was trying to put more stringent controls on passengers who smuggled contraband alcohol onboard.

Carnival also said banning bottled water would streamline the boarding process. The line offered to sell bottled water to cruisers, and as an incentive, put it in their rooms so it was there as soon as they arrived.

Indignant cruisers protested. Many people said they didn't like the water onboard and preferred bottled. Plus, bottled water was easier for shore excursions.

The line eventually relaxed the rule later that year, allowing cruisers to bring water and other nonalcoholic beverages onboard, as long as they were in a can or cartons.

That's still the policy.

Bermuda Bound

Of course, not all campaigns are necessarily negative.

While Bermuda has always been a popular cruising destination, it was barely a blip 25 years ago. The country limited cruises to just six lines, and ships were not allowed to dock on the weekends.

Cruise Critic members launched a petition and letter-writing campaign aimed at getting more lines to put Bermuda itineraries on the schedule. The groundswell found a willing ear at NCL, which started leading the way to sailings to Bermuda.

Nowadays, weeklong cruises to Bermuda from New York, as well as Boston and sometimes Baltimore, are relatively common. The typical itinerary gives a cruiser three days at the island.

X Listens Up

Cruise Critic readers are very protective of the brands they love. So when Celebrity started an ad campaign, "X the Rules," in January 2011, Cruise Critic members were a might offended that their cruise line was encouraging them to break the rules.

In a Q and A on the message boards, members convinced then-President Dan Hanrahan to drop the tag line. In February 2011, he issued a mea culpa:

"I want to thank you all again for the candid dialogue and questions on the boards last week about our new ad campaign. Your feedback encouraged us to do some additional research -- and to use a different methodology than our prior research. And we got some interesting results," Hanrahan wrote.

While many people interpreted the campaign correctly, "there were other consumers who interpreted the line in a way that was not our intention at all. So, we have decided to move away from the "X the rules" ads. You'll see some modifications by this time tomorrow on our web site, as well as in future advertising," he said.

The replacement slogan released in July 2011 was more on target -- "Modern LuXury." Hanrahan noted that the new approach gave a better idea of Celebrity's cool designs, warm spaces and value for upmarket travelers.

Get the Jab – Or Stay Home

Perhaps the most recent way that Cruise Critic readers influenced the industry came just this year, in early 2021.

In a survey of email subscribers, Cruise Critic members were asked if they would get the COVID-19 vaccine so they could return to their favorite pastime, cruising. At the time --February 2021 -- vaccines were still in early rollout and it was hard to get one unless you met certain age, health or occupation criteria.

A wide majority of the survey's 3,000 respondents -- 81 percent -- said they would cruise if vaccines were required. Only 5 percent said that a vaccine requirement would absolutely deter them from cruising.  The other 14 percent said they were unsure.

Only a handful of lines at that point -- Saga Cruises in the U.K., as well as American Queen Steamboat Company in the U.S. -- had announced they would require a vaccine.

After the survey ran, more lines began instituting requirements. Crystal Cruises specifically mentioned the Cruise Critic results as a reason why they thought a vaccine mandate would be successful.

And so it has been for the past 25 years -- and hopefully the next 25 years going forward -- no matter what the issue, Cruise Critic always has its pulse on cruiser opinion.

Updated September 21, 2021
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