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Best Cruise Value 2013

     After a lot of prodding by friends and contacts within the cruise industry, I finally decided to jump into the modern era and create both a LinkedIn page for myself, and a Facebook page for WOCLS. When thinking about what I would like to share on our Facebook page with members and fans I decided I would focus on items that I have no cost effective way to share within the confines of Ocean & Cruise News such as photographs. I therefore began the task of sorting through the photographs I have taken of my recent cruise experiences, plus photographing some of the collection of ship and cruise memorabilia I have gathered over my cruise lifetime. Some of these pieces are advertisements, flyers, posters and even brochures from the earlier days of cruising from lines like P&O, Matson, Cunard, Holland America, United States, Moore-McCormack and others. Like most of us, before I finish one project it seems another deadline comes up and I end up juggling many tasks simultaneously. So, when the time came to sit down and write this year’s Best Cruise Value Awards article, I did so surrounded by cruise artifacts from the past waiting to be photographed and posted to our Facebook page.

     Interestingly, as I sit at my computer to begin this article I have cruise offers from today just to my right, and offers from yesterday to my left. To my right are a list of current cruise specials which all appear too good to be true. There are 7-Day Caribbean cruises aboard the beautiful new Norwegian Epic from Miami starting at an unbelievable $328.00 per person from a listing on their website, or there’s an offer I found on Holland America’s website for a Caribbean cruise in a desirable Verandah stateroom from only $499.00 per person. Prefer an early European voyage? How about a 14-day Passage to Portugal & Spain aboard the Noordam March 21, 2014 for as little as $699.00 per person? A quick glance to my left reveals an ad from 1979 featuring Holland America’s 7-Day Bermuda cruises aboard Volendam with prices starting at $525.00. Peeking out beneath that is a 1950’s ad for Transatlantic crossings aboard the new ss America with prices from $160.00 Tourist, $200.00 per person Cabin and $295.00 First Class. When absorbing what I was in the middle of,  it would seem cruising has always been a phenomenal value and I doubt too many fans of cruising would disagree.

     What many of our readers may not realize is that $525 in 1979, if adjusted for inflation, would be equivalent to $1693.23 today. Yet the cruise lines today, offering fleets of the largest, most magnificent, most innovative and most expensive ships ever built are still offering the same low prices as decades earlier with little of no adjustment for inflation. That is simply amazing! Unfortunately, incredibly low pricing does not always equate to the best value for your dollar. A cheap price on a given ship is not a bargain if the ship or cruise does not fit your lifestyle, interests or is simply not for you. I am sure we can all relate to the fact that many of the features of today’s cruises are never experienced by some of the passengers by their choice. While the word value is often mistakenly associated with a low price alone, its true meaning is really the feeling you get when you feel you received an excellent buy, on a product you desired, based on the amount of money that you spent regardless of the price point. Price of course has some relation to value, but a low price does not create value. What has the greatest influence on value is achieving the feeling that you got everything you expected and possibly even more.

     Interestingly, the value that the consumer today is looking for in their everyday purchases has always been a very large part of the cruise industry. One reason that cruises are so popular today is due to the fact that people perceive them to be a better value than is received on a land based vacation. Cruise lines have always stressed the value aspect of a cruise, but with the greater awareness of today’s consumer on getting value, some cruise lines are overusing the word by self-proclaiming that they offer a better value than other cruise lines. You should take these claims with a grain of salt, as in the end, it is you, not the cruise line who determines the true sense of value.

     Our Best Cruise Valueranking is done for each of the major classification of ships. Once the determination is made as to which line gives the best value in each classification, we make the determination as to which cruise line, from all the categories, offers the Best Overall Value in cruising. By definition, our classification of ships is to group ships which offer a similar style product and generally appeal to an audience of people sharing the some common aspects.

     No matter which classification you are considering, you will find some difference in the pricing between the different cruise lines. When you are making your own judgment about the value of a particular cruise, look to see exactly what you are getting in return for any extra money that you are spending. In order to give you better value, each increment in price should bring you some additional benefit or value. However, any additional benefit or features that you may receive should be features that are appealing to you.

     While there are no hard and fast rules as to what a cruise line needs to do in order to instill a feeling among passengers and others that its cruises offers a better value than others, there are some basic criteria that we have found in our own travels that can add a sense of value to a cruise, such as the providing of enough extras without additional charge, and the willingness of the staff to make reasonable exceptions, when warranted, to ensure the satisfaction of the passenger, rather than adhering to rigid rules.A cruise line can also add value to its cruises by offering passengers more choice, such as in alternative dining, provided it does not lessen the choice, quality and comfort of the meal served in the main dining room. Cruise lines that put forth the extra effort to offer a wider range of choices yet still maintain a high level of quality clearly are giving passengers better value. Other things that can influence the sense of value are things such as providing a full range of activities, shore excursions and entertainment that allows passengers a choice, and presenting more amenities than other cruise lines without charging more.

     What also should be considered are those things that take away from the overall sense of value. A few examples of this would be when a line is out of step with the other lines that offer a comparable cruise experience, such as suggesting a higher level of tipping; having higher on board prices for such things as drinks and shore excursions or not offering passengers as many choices in dining, entertainment or enrichment venues.

When reading our annual Best Cruise Value Awards, please keep in mind that, by themselves, a designation is not a guarantee that you will receive the same sense of value that we put forth unless it is the type of ship that best matches your own personal profile.

Our Best Cruise Value Awards for 2013 list the lines that we believe are currently offering the best cruise value to experienced cruisers in each of the major categories. Consistency is something that a number of cruise lines have been able to achieve, with many lines repeating their best value status again this year. The following are the cruise lines which are awarded with our Best Cruise Value for 2013, along with a brief comment on each winner:

WINNERS

ULTRA-DELUXE, 6-STAR +: Seabourn Cruise Line.

Seabourn Cruise Lines wins our Best Cruise Value award in this very prestigious category for a second year in a row. Their impressive luxury fleet is comprised of 3 imposing 450 passenger super yachts with the building of a fourth just announced. The original three smaller, more intimate, 208 passenger yachts will be phased out over the next 2 years. All Seabourn ships offer a sense of style and elegance that combines with exceptional onboard amenities to make a cruise aboard Seabourn a “Best Cruise Value”. In addition, Seabourn offers their spectacular fleet, and all their amenities, at fares generally lower than other 6-Star+ ships.

ULTRA-DELUXE, 6-STAR: Crystal Cruises.

Crystal Cruises and their Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity have dominated this category and once again have captured our Best Cruise Value Award. Crystal provides the perfect example that one doesn’t need the newest fleet to offer a consistently amazing cruise experience. Crystal’s formula for success is based on a formula of strong emphasis in dining and service areas, onboard enrichment programs, and a keen eye for detail. The roominess of their ships combined with their polished European service, outstanding variety of public areas, top quality entertainment and outstanding enrichment programs make Crystal a consistent winner in this category.

HIGH-DELUXE, 5-STAR+, Large Ships: Holland America Line.

Like their counterpart in the higher 6-Star category Holland America continues to provide an exceptional value to its passengers. While some of our seasoned members have bragged about Holland America in the past have recently noticed small changes they deem unfavorable, the vast majority of the report cards received continue to relish Holland America with high praises. For the same prices, and often less, than those being charged by other cruise lines Holland America continues to provide its passengers with an old world ambiance, friendly yet excellent service, fine food and many extra touches that passengers do not expect and do not get on other lines within this category. Also adding to the sense of value is the strong consistency of the product that Holland America delivers across its entire fleet.

HIGH-DELUXE, 5-STAR+, Small ShipsOceania Cruises

With their smaller and very elegant 30,000-ton ships and their new 60,000- ton Riviera and Marina, Oceania has an outstanding fleet of beautifully appointed ships. While Oceania and most other cruise lines in this bracket work to get buyers to “step up” to their cruise line, Oceania has also excelled in the far more difficult task of impressing someone stepping down. Oceania receives accolades by providing a high number of private veranda staterooms serviced by a very attentive European staff. Their fleet wide flexibility of open-seating dining in a variety of unique restaurants, with the two newest ships offering the largest selection of no cost specialty restaurants afloat, and an amazing level of impeccable service combine to make Oceania a real gem in the cruise industry. This is made possible by staff-to-guest ratio that is among the highest in the industry. Their interesting and diverse itineraries combined with very competitive pricing make it is easy to see why Oceania Cruises once again wins our Best Cruise Value Award in this category.

DELUXE, 5-STAR: Celebrity Cruises.

The introduction of Celebrity’s Solstice Class of ships raised the bar for all cruise lines in this category. While priced comparable to other ships in this popular category, the extra degree of effort put forth by Celebrity is quickly noticed by its passengers. Members are quick to mention how their expectations were more than exceeded. Celebrity continues to concentrate on the areas that are considered most important by those traveling on a Deluxe, 5-Star ship food, dining and service. Their ships are modern, elegantly decorated and offer a comfortable sophisticated cruising experience. Celebrity offers a great cruise value combined with a great cruising experience, which wins them a Best Value Winner in this category.

SUPERIOR, 4 STAR PLUS: Carnival Cruise Lines.

Carnival Cruise Line has endured a tough year in the press after a string of problem plagued voyages seemed to unfold one after another. While this may have tarnished their image in the eyes of those onboard these voyages, and possibly some others, it did not appear to injure them in the eyes of most of our members. As the report cards came in it was clear that Carnival again places at the top of this category for value. Carnival has long been a favorite and despite the bad publicity Carnival continues to improve its onboard product while maintaining its very affordable low prices. The Carnival fleet offers a wide variety of ship sizes including their outstanding new Dream Class of ship, which many consider to be an impressive upgrading on previous ships. Carnival continues to put forth an extra effort in the important areas of service, dining and entertainment plus Carnival cabins are larger than on other cruise ships within this category and provide an excellent variety of amenities. Carnival continues to deliver the fun that it promises plus an outstanding value for you cruise dollar.

SUPERIOR, 4-STAR: Royal Caribbean International (RCI).

With the impressive Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas RCI has the largest and some of the most innovative ships in today’s cruise market. The ships of the RCI fleet are without a doubt some of the most uniquely designed and most impressive ships afloat. They are large high capacity ships serving the mass market but they also offer a well-executed product from embarkation to disembarkation at a reasonable price. RCI also offers interesting and varied itineraries both short and long duration. All of these reasons make Royal Caribbean International this year’s winner in this category.

STANDARD, 4-STAR: Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL).

Featuring the impressive new Norwegian Breakaway and soon her sister Norwegian Getaway NCL has combined fabulous new ships with their trend setting Freestyle dining options, innovative stylish cabins, new itineraries and on-board enhancements to grab the top spot in this category. Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer its passengers fine entertainment, varied food options and excellent cabin accommodations.

NCL offers flexibility in nearly all aspects of the onboard experience and with its widening variety of itineraries Norwegian Cruise Line is a true value winner once again.

SPECIALTY CRUISES: American Queen Steamboat Company.

The American Queen Steamboat Company specializes in river cruises aboard the magnificent American Queen, the only authentic overnight paddlewheel steamboat plying the inland waterways of America. Each itinerary provides a rich and one of a kind travel experience including excellent shore excursions, informative lectures and outstanding cuisine by renowned American chef Regina Charboneau. Initially off to a rocky start AQSC has settled into a consistency that features an impressive level of service and a special attention to detail. In doing so, AQSC has redefined this specialty market and is an easy winner for a second year in a row in this category.

SHORT CRUISES: Carnival Cruise Lines.

Carnival Cruise Lines again is a clear winner in this category of shorter, less than seven-night cruises. They provide the same excellent service, roomier cabins, dining and entertainment that won them the Best Value Award in our High, Superior, 4-Star Plus category, here on shorter 3 to 5 night cruises. Carnival’s reasonable prices make them a value winner in the short cruise category.

     Now that we have listed the individual Best Cruise Value Awards for each category we look to see which cruise line, amongst all the winners, offers the Best Overall Cruise Value . This decision is never an easy one, and has grown harder each year. This year after reviewing all the report cards, comments and our own experiences, three exceptional cruise lines come to the forefront; Oceania, Seabourn and Holland America. As in many competitions however, the incumbent is hard to beat. When we consider the consistency of the product over the years, something that is hard to achieve, the cruise line in 2013 that we continue to feel offers the very best cruise value, to the most cruise passengers, and is therefore awarded our Best Overall Cruise Value Award for 2013 is Holland America Line.

     Holland America has consistently offered their passengers more than any other comparable cruise lines at fares often priced much less than comparable cruise lines. While most all cruise lines are cutting back, including Holland America Line, they still provide their passengers with an added class and sophistication and numerous small touches that are either overlooked by other cruise lines or have been eliminated a result of cost cutting measures. More reasonably pricing should not mean less quality service and touches.

     Some of the elements that combine to make Holland America Line the best overall cruise value include its Signature of Excellence upgrades, the immaculate appearance of its ships and its friendly and professional Indonesian and Filipino crew, the extra effort to properly train and supervise its staff, the more extensive choice of dinner menus in its main restaurant, variety of alternate restaurant and all the little extras such as canvas tote bags, hot hors d oeuvres at cocktail time, chilled beer glasses and later lunch hours when in port.

Keep in mind that all cruise lines offer an exceptional value when compared to a land based vacation: however within the many cruise lines of today there are some that stand out above all others for value. Not all are winners in their individual category as there is only one top line in each category, but we have put together what we believe to be the top ten cruise lines offering the Best Value in cruises. The Top Ten this year are:

1) Holland America Line

2) Seabourn Cruise Lines

3) Oceania Cruise Line

4) Crystal Cruises

5) Cunard Line

6) Regent Seven Seas Cruises

7) Celebrity Cruise Line

8) Princess Cruise Line

9) Royal Caribbean International

10) Carnival Cruise Lines

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