The hidden cost of low cruise fares is revealed in the latest issue of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, published tomorrow (October 1).
Author Douglas Ward discloses some of the tricks used to keep prices down – from smaller food portions to weaker coffee; reduced levels of service to cut-backs in staff training.
He still highlights cruise holidays as the best value around, and says British families need look no further than the Mediterranean or Northern Europe where prices continue to fall because cruise lines have moved more ships into the region.
While he commends the newest, largest ships for their variety of children’s facilities, Ward’s favourite vessel remains an odd choice: he has consistently rated the 29,000-ton Europa above all others for year after year even though it caters only for an elite – mostly German – audience, and (according to a friend who cruised on the ship earlier this year) is beginning to look older than its 12 years.
Douglas rates the 3-star Michelin-star cuisine and classic service of Europa much more highly than the basic facilities on board National Geographic’s ships Sea Bird and Sea Lion – missing the point that these are about adventure and expedition to some of the world’s wildest places rather than travelling in sybaritic luxury.
Using his quirky points system – under which virtually identical vessels are sometimes awarded widely-differing scores for entertainment and the cruise experience – Europa is placed above Seabourn Quest and Seabourn Odyssey in the small ship (200-600 passengers) category.
Seadream II scores two more points than identical sister Seadream I to take top spot in the Boutique ships (50-200 passengers) class, with Hanseatic in third place.
Oceania’s new ship Marina shares joint second place with Crystal Symphony in the Mid-sized (600-1,600) category, beaten by Crystal Serenity in first place.
Ward’s ratings system breaks down completely when it comes to Large (Resort) ships – into which by far the majority of popular cruise ships now fall. With the world’s biggest catering for more than 6,000 passengers, and with almost all newbuilds providing for 3,000 or more, it’s crazy to have everything above 1,600 passengers in this category.
Even crazier to score the three highest-rated ships – Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria – on the basis of the service in their elite Grills Class when the majority of passengers pay less to travel in Britannia Class.
Come on Douglas, and Berlitz, it’s time to change the ranking system. You might not choose ships like Norwegian Epic, Carnival Dream, P&O’s Azura and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas as your own personal favourites, but these – and their sisters – are what the majority of cruise passengers travel on. And they deserve proper consideration if your guide is to retain its position as cruising’s Bible.
It’s no use introducing iPhone apps and other trendy gizmos if the basic premise of the guide remains rooted in the past.
- Fully updated and revised and now in its 27th year, the Berlitz 2012 Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships, is available from October 1, 2011 (688 pages, £17.99). The Berlitz Cruise Ships 2012 App will also be available during October.