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Should You Pay Attention To Bad Cruise Ship Reviews?

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Spend enough time reading bad reviews of the cruise ship you’re about to board, and you might just find yourself ready to cancel the trip. But not all reviews — good or bad — should be given the same weight.

So when reading reviews, how do you know which to trust and which to approach with a healthy dose of skepticism?

Bad reviews of the Norwegian Breakaway very nearly kept me from sailing the ship… which has since become one of my favorites. (Photo: NCL)

The Reviews That Nearly Kept Me From Ever Cruising

Before my first cruise, I began looking up reviews of the ship I’d be sailing, which happened to be the Norwegian Breakaway. The ship launched in 2013, and I began researching my March of 2014 trip soon after.

The more I read, the more terrified I became. What kind of deathtrap had I booked passage on? Reviews cited everything from awful food to surly crew members. More than a few times in the months leading up to the trip, I considered canceling.

READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About Stateroom Categories 

Had even one-tenth of the horrors I feared I’d face actually materialized, I suspect I’d have been a one-and-done cruiser. “Been there, tried that, never again,” I’d have said. Instead, before even getting off the ship, I’d booked my next cruise.

So where, you may ask, does the disconnect come in?

The Truth About Bad Cruise Reviews

It’s a sad fact that people are more likely to complain than praise. If they go to a restaurant and have a fantastic waiter serve them a terrific meal, they might tell their friends. If they have a bad waiter serve them mediocre food, they’ll write a bad Yelp review, post about the offending restaurant on Facebook and essentially tell everyone whose path they cross to avoid the establishment in question. The same can often be said of cruisers… especially those who are first-timers.

Food can be incredibly subjective. What one person loves, another might hate.

When reading reviews, there are definitely things you can use to help determine just how much weight to give the expressed opinions. For example, here are a few red flags:

  • Are the things the reviewer complains about issues such as rainy weather or encounters with rude passengers, neither of which the cruise line has control over?
  • Is the reviewer complaining about things which indicate they didn’t do the necessary research?
  • Does the reviewer talk in terms of absolute negativity, such as “everything was awful” or “nothing was edible?” (That might indicate that they’re either exaggerating or impossible to please.)
  • Does the review contain third-party complaints, such as “I heard people say” as opposed to relating their own experiences?

The Truth Lies Somewhere In The Middle

Just as there are bad reviews which might not be trustworthy, the same can be said for some great reviews. We all know a “cruise apologist” who, no matter what happens, will put a positive spin on the experience. If the shower in their bathroom flooded the floor, they’d say, “Yes, but at least that made it easy to wash our feet!” They spend many hours defending their favorite ships against any and all criticism, no matter how valid it may be.

People who blame storm clouds and bad weather on a cruise line may not be writing the most helpful of reviews.

And so, as with most things, the truth can usually be found lurking somewhere between those declaring a ship to be a nautical nightmare and those insisting it’s a heavenly haven. In that middle ground lurks the cruisers who basically set forth a list of pros and cons.

READ MORE: 10 Things First Time Cruisers Need To Know

“Service was slow in the dining room, on several nights” they might say, “but it was much better on others, and the food was great.”

They’ll point out that there at times, the ship can feel overcrowded, but add that it was easy enough to find cozy corners in which to escape the madness. Often, they’ll recognize that some of what they found fault with had less to do with the ship than themselves. “I probably should have looked at the deck plans,” they’ll admit, “and realized that our stateroom was underneath a bowling alley! Oh well, live and learn!”

Ultimately, reading reviews may help you make certain decisions, but they shouldn’t necessarily be what guides you toward selecting (or eliminating as an option) any particular ship or cruise line.

Instead, research will be your best guide. I’ve long said that the biggest mistake any cruiser can make is winding up on the wrong ship or even the wrong cruise line. This is not a “one size fits all” industry, and should never be approached as if that is the case.

Why Research May Be More Important Than Reading Cruise Reviews

You’re going to spend a fair amount of money on your cruise, so it’s important that you spend a bit of time figuring out exactly what you want to get out of the voyage. Yes, factors like price and itinerary are going to be important. But so are things which involve your personal tastes and expectations. Do you want a new ship with all the bells-and-whistles, or would something more intimate be your style? What’s included in the price of your cruise and, just as importantly, what’s not?

Research will help you figure out if a ship is right for you. For example, iFly on Anthem of the Seas is super cool… but is it something you’re actually interested in? (photo: Royal Caribbean)

Research can help you narrow down the plethora of options to a few ships… and at that point, reviews might help you come to a final conclusion. But remember: Don’t read one review, or even reviews from only one site.

And as you’re reading reviews, make sure to do so with your own vacation needs in mind.

For example, if someone complains about how crowded the pools are but you’re not interested in swimming, their issue — no matter how valid — doesn’t really impact your decision.

If the reviewer found it difficult to get into the specialty restaurants, and you’re a foodie for whom that experience is going to be important, that might be something to look into.

What’s my best advice as to how you can figure out which voices are with listening to?

  • Look for reviewers whose vibe feels similar to yours. Does it seem like they have the same interests, and are looking for the same type of experience you are?
  • If they have multiple reviews, read more than one. See if not only their tastes align with yours, but their opinions seem to remain consistent.
  • Give more credence to reviewers who take a “middle of the road” approach, presenting both negative and positive aspects of their experience.
  • If you find reviewers who you trust, make note of their names and where they write reviews. They might prove a solid resource when you’re researching your next sailing.

Have you ever read awful reviews only to have a fantastic vacation on the ship in question? Have you ever let bad reviews scare you off? 

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