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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cruise Reviews: The Good, The Bad and The Head-Scratcher

Somewhere along the line, this has probably happened to you. You go to a cruise review site to check out how people liked a ship you’re thinking of taking. The first review says it’s the best ever. The second review trashes it.

What a minute, you wonder, weren’t you guys on the same ship?

Ship reviews from cruisers certainly vary in terms of their usefulness. But that two reviews of the
same trip, the same ship at the same time can diverge so much is a down right head-scratcher.
 
I’ve found that for reviews of just about anything, whether they’re helpful comes down to how much you trust the reviewer, and how much the reviewer is just like you.

Know Thy Reviewer
It helps to know the following about the reviewer before acting on what you read:
 
Age—If you’re in your 20s, a review from someone in their 70s will most likely not be very relevant for you, as interests and energy level will not be the same.
 
Veteran or newbie—Because they’ve seen many changes to the industry over the years, veteran cruisers can become jaded. A review from someone after their first trip is likely to be quite different than someone just back from their 30th.

Time of year—You’ll often see negative reviews from a cruiser who unknowingly went during school vacation season. Sharing confined space with 600 children for seven days can tax even the sunniest disposition.

Stateroom selection—Not surprisingly, those who spring for a suite tend to be in a better mood then those who don’t, and their reviews reflect it. Even the inside, outside and balcony rooms vary so much on every ship that a smaller-than-average room can color the cruiser’s experience.
 
Ship location also matters—a lot. If a cruiser was up every night with disco music pounding over his head, you can bet he’s not going to be kind in his review.
 
So, What’s a Good Review?
For me, a useful review is one that is:

Specific—Don’t just tell me the food is good or bad, tell me why. Does the buffet serve the same cold salads every day? Is there a wide variety of hot entrees? Which ones are the best?

The right length—Be too long and you lose the reader. Be too short and you don’t add value. Stick to what most made an impression.

Break up text—This one’s from a professional writer’s playbook. Use subheads (like my “Know Thy Reader” and “So, What’s a Good Review?” above), bullet points and boldface. It makes for easy skimming.

Share tips—Give readers inside info that will improve their cruise. Like how they should reserve show tickets online before their Oasis trip. Or that they can get made-to-order salmon for lunch at the AquaSpa CafĂ© on the Solstice.

Balanced—Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me, but when a review is too good, I get suspicious. And when it’s too negative, I get irritated. I’ve seen too many reviews where people let one small bad experience on a seven-day trip mar how they feel about the entire experience. It’s not fair to the cruise line or to readers. Things happen onboard as in life. See the bigger picture. Be fair. And be helpful.

Cruise Review Sites
Here are my favorite cruise review sites and why:

Cruisecritic.com—There are two types of reviews of the ships and ports; by the website’s authors and by members, organized by cruise line and ship. There’s also a great search tool to get to info quickly. And a robust forum on a wide variety of topics with updates every day, all day long.
 
Cruiseline.com—This has fewer member reviews and they’re shorter, but the site verifies that the authors actually went on the trips they’re reviewing. And Amazon-like, it enables readers to comment on reviews.
 
The Final Word—Yours
I’d love to know—do you review? Why or why not? What do you think makes a great review?

Musing’s Top Tip, An Update: A few weeks ago, I mentioned that shipmate.com had a neat free app for Android and Apple phones and tablets for cruisers. They just announced an update to the app for Android with more features and an improved design. You can download it from Google Play.