First Time Cruisers - Get On Board

| July 29, 2013

The cruise industry is looking out for you, first-time cruisers

"Cruise confidence" is down 12% - but who is at fault here, the cruise lines or the media?

How many times have you said to yourself, "If I had known how great this was going to be, I would have done it a lot sooner?" That is what the majority of people end up saying about their first cruise. The vast majority of people who take one cruise will take more; in some cases dozens more. The biggest surprise is the quality of the ship board experience; the food, service, activities and easy access to great ports of call.

But in the last few years, cruising has taken a real bruising in the media, where there is far more profit in sensationalism than accuracy. Let's examine how the media has been covering the cruise industry - and the effect it has had.

Perception Vs. Reality

From a pricing perspective, cruises are incredible bargains right now - yet the quality of the cruise travel experience has never been better. Why are prices so low? The answer is the media.

"Perception is Reality" is a phrase commonly used in the advertising industry. Of course, that is logically more of a slogan than a factual statement; however when it comes to purchase decisions, perception becomes the primary factor. In the old days, news and advertising were considered to be church and state, the news would never be slanted in any way in order to increase viewership, and hence make more money. But the media has found a treasure trove for viewership lately - bashing the cruise industry.

Predictably, the last year has been a marked drop-off in first-time cruisers who used to represent nearly half of the passengers on any given cruise, but as a percentage has dropped by nearly double digits (depending on the cruise line) since 2011. This is largely because of just two singular events; the grounding of the Costa Concordia, and the loss of power on Carnival Triumph.

However, what you may not know (as a first-time cruiser) is that the Carnival Triumph story was a ratings bonanza for CNN at a time when they needed it the most. Like a shark sensing fresh blood in the water the media became relentless in reporting anything that even suggests anything negative about cruise ships.

Significantly, this media coverage has radically biased formerly potential first-time cruisers in the last few years, but the same coverage has had almost no impact at all on experienced cruisers. Why?

Ask yourself this, did the derailing of a train killing over 60 people in France last week change your perception of train safety? Does the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die in automobile accidents every year stop you from ever using your own car? No, because you have personal experience with these things.

Should You Believe the Media?

In my opinion - regardless of your personal politics, age or interests, one thing in this great nation that has been radically transformed in the last few years is the mainstream media. When I was younger the news media made it a much higher priority to be accurate in news reporting, and they would not report anything at all unless it was a verified fact.

This has all changed due to a number of reasons -

(1) News as entertainment. Once major television networks were the primary providers of news, and generally only for an hour a day. Reporting news did not have to be a profitable enterprise since the money at networks was made by selling commercials during entertainment shows. But today there are several news-only cable networks that must make a profit to exist. They feed on any story with traction regardless of how innaccurate it may be. In fact - the voyeuristic conversations coming from the "poop-cruise" meant solid gold ratings for CNN - and the longer it remained an uncorroborated story the longer the network was able to play up the worst angles about the story.

(2) The Death of Newspapers. Before the Internet, and after the advent of cable news, newspapers were the most trusted outlet for reporting news. They made their money from classified ads and other display ads for shoppers. Today newspapers are quickly going out of business since they cannot even charge for a classified ad, people use Craigslist. What used to be a very valuable source of qualified information has all but disappeared from our society.

(3) The Internet. The Internet is full of information and there is absolutely no law or watchdog that assure any web information has to be accurate. Almost any uncorroborated claim in the world can be made on the Web as long as it isn't libelous. Worst of all, this is where most people get their news these days - often from forums, FaceBook and other "hearsay" web sites where accuracy of information isn't even considered.

These factors have changed the news industry, and so when it comes to the truth about cruise ships - an industry that few people have ever fully understood, the web is full of sensationalistic web sites with uncorroborated allegations, many of them existing solely for people who the cruise linesto take responsibility solely because they are big, have money, and no one else can help them.

Sadly, the media and members of congress have also started feeding on the same "allegations as fact" premise.

Here is a video about the congressional hearing on cruise safety held just last week:

This is a part of that video transcript:

"According to the committee report, the number of crimes is 30 times more than those reported publicly, the report says, since 2011, cruise lines have reported 959 and crimes to the FBI while the coast guard reported only 31 alleged crimes publicly."

Do you notice it says the cruise line reported the crimes - but that it was the Coast Guard who did not post them publicly? So, why is the story all about mistrust of the cruise lines? Does that even make sense? Why didn't the Coast Guard post them, because they remain uncorroborated, non-adjudicated storie of "crimes" where there is no investigation ever planned. The fact is the FBI heard these reports and chose not to accept the cases. To the Coast Guard, that meant something.

Cruise Misconceptions

More and more I see people who have never cruised saying they never will. But the cruise misconceptions have changed. It used to be "I don't want to be confined to a ship," "all there is to do it eat," and "I'm afraid I'll get seasick."

Today it is . . .

  • "Cruise ships are not safe" But statistically cruising is still by far the safest form of transportation possible - despite the cruise events that have dominated the news recently.

  • "Cruise ships are too crowded" This may be true in some cases, but there is also a larger variety of cruise ships available than ever before, so you can choose how 'crowded' you want your ship to be. Yes, you can opt for the bigger vessels chock full of fun things to do (I have had plenty of fun aboard these cruise ships). Or you can choose a much smaller ship with different ports of call every day of the cruise, including overnight stays in places with more to see.

  • "You only get a taste of the destination" - In fact, I have had richer, more fulfilling land experiences during cruises in one day than I ever thought possible. The key is that cruise lines are experts at landing you in a port of call with a variety of tour options available. This instant access to the best tours and sites in any given location is the key to cruise vacations. On a cruise ship you travel at night and arrive refreshed in the morning ready to seize the day.

First-time Cruise Advice

My advice to you is this - do NOT listen to the media about cruise ships, unless you really want to take cruise advice from someone who has never been on a cruise. If you want to see a certain part of the world or if you just want the experience of going to sea - ask someone with lots of experience on the subject. I am sure you will find something better than you ever expected. The numbers of experienced cruisers who still continue to fill cruise ships tells me this is a fact - and that's the news for you.

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