Thursday, May 26, 2011

Future of Cruising – Kid-Friendly or Kid-Only?

Celebrity Solstice, Docked in Santorini
I took my first cruise in 2002 and have been hooked ever since. I am by no means a cruise expert, but I do love this popular vacation option. (see my post Save Money-Take a Cruise?) If done properly, cruising is not only a lot of fun, but can be a great budget travel option as well. Unfortunately, the cruise lines seem hell bent on taking some of the magic out of cruising.
Disney Cruise Line is probably to blame. I love Disney and they have done a great job of defining their cruise niche. I always thought Disney was a welcome addition to the cruise universe as I believed it would be a magnet for families, thereby reducing the number of children on other mainstream cruise lines. I have no problem with children in general, I actually like them in small groups. But I don’t have any and frankly the last thing I want on a relaxing trip is to be annoyed by the braying of hundreds of children dashing around and doing cannonballs in the pool.
Pool Area, Celebrity Solstice
Pool Area, Celebrity Solstice
Some of the cruise lines understand this and have sought to cater to individuals who don’t want to be trapped on a floating preschool for a week. While they do offer children’s activities, it is not their main focus. Most notable in this ever shrinking category are Celebrity, Holland America and Princess Cruises. The other main lines, Royal Caribbean (which owns Celebrity), Norwegian and Carnival seem to be headed in the extreme opposite direction.
These lines have always catered to families, which is fine. I cruised with Norwegian (NCL) in 2002 and Royal Caribbean (RCCL) in 2004 and both were amazing trips. There of course were a lot of families on board, but the focus of the ship was not to cater to children and so their presence was not annoying. Some recent events though seem to be changing the focus of these cruise lines completely.
Disney is successful because it is Disney. Its movies and characters are world renowned icons. Wanting to capitalize on the success of these character cruises, RCCL recently entered into an agreement with DreamWorks Animation to bring Shrek and other animated characters on board and NCL has an agreement with Nickelodeon to offer the same experience. (What happens if Sponge Bob falls in the pool?) Additionally, on their new ships you find everything from vast water parks to multistory video game experiences. Combined, I do not get an image of quiet relaxation. Rather, I imagine these new ships to be veritable floating amusement parks. That’s fine if that is what you truly want in a vacation, but for me, and millions like me, it is strong incentive to avoid these ships at all costs.
Lindblad Expeditions Ship
Lindblad Expeditions Ship-Not an Amusement Park
I understand why the cruise lines are doing this, they want to increase the numbers of families on board and make more money. That’s fine, no problem with capitalism. However, that is not their audience, as much as they would like it to be. According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the average cruiser is over the age of 50, travels as a couple and takes multiple cruises. Shrek does not appeal to this demographic! Giant, kid infested water parks is not enticing for people who want to get away from it all. Hell, I’d need a trip to just get away from the ship.
You may ask what set me off on this tirade. It was the introduction of the new NCL Epic, the latest megaship to be launched. I was sincerely excited about the Epic and was even anticipating a future cruise. That was until I read the feedback from the first cruisers on board this behemoth. I love megaships, I really do. I like the feeling of being in a small city at sea. I was appalled though at the images coming back from the first few days. It seems to me that it truly is more of an amusement park than a cruise ship.
Cruise vacations are events. They are not usually entered into impulsively, they are instead thought out for many months and sometimes years. People ultimately cruise for the relaxation, civility and luxury of it, something at which the cruise lines still excel. No where else will a waiter remember your name and your favorite food and drink. No where else can you nap while watching the ocean race past. No where else can you see some of the most spectacular sights of the world from the water.
That is why I implore the cruise lines, please do not sell your soul. Please do not abandon the formula that made cruising the popular activity it is today. Do what you know best, and do it to the best of your ability. I still love cruising, but I will certainly be more discerning when choosing my next cruise vacation.
What do you think? Am I overreacting or have some of the cruise lines gone too far? Also, I haven’t been on the new ships yet and I look forward to being proven wrong.

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