Here They Go Again: Cruise Critic Readers Pick Another Fight -- and Win It

February 7, 2011
(6:15 a.m. EST) -- Celebrity's new "X the Rules" marketing campaign, which debuted on January 18 and aimed to upend commonly held views about cruise ships and distinguish Celebrity as the most sophisticated big-vessel line at sea, is the latest idea to take the fall at the swordpoint of Cruise Critic's community.

Indeed, when it comes to designing itineraries, tweaking restaurant menus, changing loyalty program components, issuing new rules about tipping and smoking, and, the latest -- creating marketing campaigns -- cruise lines don't always get it right. Often it's the famously passionate members of the Cruise Critic community who let them know.

No one will forget the outcry over Carnival's past updates to its "banned items" list, which have included both hair dryers and bottled water. Then there was the fury over Celebrity's decision to charge passengers to use its thallassotherapy pools, the stink over Royal Caribbean's decision to eliminate one of the most popular benefits of its Crown & Anchor program, and the shock over Norwegian Cruise Line's attempt to discontinue bottle set-up service in cabins. Even luxury line Seabourn hasn't gone unscathed; it had a huge controversy on its hands when it decided to close the Restaurant for breakfast and lunch on its new Odyssey. In all of these cases, cruise lines backed down in no small part because of the input from Cruise Critic's community.

In Celebrity's case, within 24 hours of the new ads launching, loyal Celebrity cruisers flocked to the boards to protest the campaign, saying it was sending the wrong message. Member PartyAllDaTyme summed up what hundreds of posters were articulating. "I believe much of the consternation on the part of Cruise Critic members stems from the mistaken belief that Celebrity intends to relax or even eliminate many of the traditional 'rules,' such as the excellent smoking policy, any semblance of a dress code for formal nights, and worse, in favor of attracting a younger, more rebellious clientele," he wrote.

One week later, Celebrity President and CEO Dan Hanrahan held a virtual Q&A in an effort to clarify the line's aim with "X the Rules." And after some careful consideration, he returned a week later and posted the following:

"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] we have decided to move away from the 'X the rules' ads."

Read the whole story of how Celebrity loyalists "X"ed the marketing campaign.

Not wanting to rest on their laurels, what's next on the radar for the community members who have made Cruise Critic the most passionate and respected group of cruise travelers in the world?

One line has actually decided on a similar backtrack. Cruise Critic contributor Sue Bryant tells us that last year, fans of Azamara (ironically a sister line to Celebrity) complained on the forums that its traditionally longer-than-a-week, more exotic itineraries had been replaced by seven-nighters -- a cruise length Azamara executives had thought would appeal to a younger, time-poor audience.

Azamara listened, according to Bill Lieber, the cruise line's social media executive, and changed the itineraries back to more traditional cruises, which required a massive effort. "Frankly," Lieber told an assembled throng at London event last week, "I'm so pleased... to see for myself that the Cruise Critic process really makes a difference in connecting customers with executives."

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief