I never thought a day would come when I didn’t love everything about cruising.
But, with tears in my eyes, it only seems fair that I share with you the reasons I feel the way I do…
How I fell in love with cruising
My love affair with cruising began eight years ago to the day.
The first time I ever saw a cruise ship was when I stepped aboard Allure of the Seas.
As we sailed away from Miami, cocktail in hand, on our dream honeymoon, we were completely in awe.
I was hooked. As soon as we returned, we booked another cruise.
Not long after that, I began cold-emailing cruise companies begging for a job.
Luckily, the very first email worked! I joined the marketing team at a large cruise travel agency, where I spent the next five years immersed in all things cruise.
It was heavenly.
During the global pause, we’ve all suffered from cancelled cruises. But for me, the cancellations started a little before that.
In late 2019, I had a Bahamas cruise cancelled due to Hurricane Dorian and a European cruise cancelled due to a technical fault with the ship.
Each time, the cruise lines were a dream to work with. Their attentive teams, flexible policies and generous credits made rescheduling and getting refunds a doddle.
When the pandemic hit and everybody’s cruises were cancelled it was, of course, a different story.
Refunds took months. But we didn’t mind. Travel agents and call centre workers became our new heroes as they worked tirelessly to pick up the pieces of our disrupted travel plans.
Travel agents have been, and still are, working harder than ever. And those that are self-employed aren’t actually even earning any money for much of the work that they do.
Initially, the cruise lines offerings of compensation seemed incredibly generous, with most offering at least 125% credit to anyone whose booking was affected.
Getting through lockdown
When the ships stopped sailing, I immersed myself deeper in the cruise world.
It gave me hope and something to look forward to during difficult times.
During lockdown, I posted daily videos on my Instagram stories, offering helpful cruise tips. I scoured the web for the best cruise deals and shared them with my followers. I spent hours in my DMs, helping people to plan and re-plan their cruises.
I never made any money from these activities, I did it for the love of cruise.
My first cruise of 2021
In May 2021, I became one of the first Brits to cruise when MSC Virtuosa set sail on her maiden voyages from Southampton.
Only 800 guests were allowed on board a ship that had a capacity of 6,300. It was blissful.
The cruise went without a hitch, and I was overjoyed that cruising was back.
Although I knew that we were spoiled on this cruise, I had no idea how much things would change over the coming months…
Our Disney cruise
Next up was a Disney cruise with my husband and kids in July.
Without the pandemic, we would probably have never been able to take a Disney cruise, as sailings in Europe were rare, usually at least seven nights’ long and way over our budget.
Yet the introduction of short cruises from our nearest port, Liverpool, made DCL accessible to us.
Our Disney cruise experience was truly amazing. It was everything we dreamed a Disney cruise would be.
However, as I explained on the DCL Duo podcast, the pre-cruise experience was not so great.
Honestly, I think I spent more time planning the cruise than we actually spent on board the ship! There were so many hoops to jump through with PCR testing and form-filling.
We were told that there would not be enough spaces for everyone to attend the kids club, the speciality restaurants and the shows. We were invited to log in 30 days before the cruise, at 5 am on the dot, to reserve our spots.
However, before reserving anything, we had to complete the online check-in which opened at the same ungodly hour.
Disney’s online system just couldn’t handle a shipload of guests checking in simultaneously.
So, two hours and several coffees later, I was still frustratedly watching a blue circle spin around on my screen. Photos I tried to upload were rejected for different reasons on each attempt and the system repeatedly crashed, offering only an image of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves and a message that the website issues were being worked on.
If you’ve taken a Disney cruise this summer, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with those dwarves!
Although the online check-in was nothing short of horrendous, all was forgiven the moment we boarded the ship and we enjoyed a truly magical cruise.
Next up was another cruise on the beautiful MSC Virtuosa. This time with the kids, plus an extra 4,000 or so guests.
This was nothing like my first MSC Virtuosa cruise.
It soon became apparent that there were not enough staff on board to effectively deal with the number of guests.
Lunch in the main dining room was a two-hour affair, with drinks often taking 30 minutes or more to arrive. Every guest had a free drinks package and the poor staff were working like crazy trying to serve everyone.
Reminding guests to wear masks, to wash their hands before entering restaurants and to social distance weren’t jobs that the MSC staff were tasked with on this cruise. They had enough to deal with.
As a result, around half of the guests ‘opted-out’ of the supposedly mandatory mask rules. People crowded into lifts and hot tubs and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder at the self-service buffet.
I suppose that some passengers might have assumed that because everyone had a lateral flow test before boarding that the ship was a covid-free zone. That wasn’t the case.
My daughter has caught norovirus on a cruise before, and I’m aware of how quickly germs can spread on a ship. We couldn’t share salt and pepper shakers then, why was it okay now?
During the cruise, rumours began circulating on social media that covid was spreading on the ship. One lady claimed that MSC Cruises had tried to charge her £100 for a test for her son who was unwell, a claim that MSC Cruises denied.
This was the first time I had ever looked forward to the end of a cruise.
As it turns out, my family was absolutely fine. Our experiences were nothing more than niggles in the grand scheme of things and they didn’t seem worthy of moaning about.
Sadly, the same isn’t true for every passenger on that cruise, as I have since discovered.
It’s been reported that over 100 people contracted COVID-19 on the cruise, with at least three people tragically dying.
It’s important to note that these are all unofficial reports taken from a Facebook group set up to support people who had fallen ill as a result of their cruise. The actual numbers are not publicly available.
I would also stress that other ships have not seen the same issues as MSC Virtuosa. Guests have worn masks, have been reminded to distance where required, and as a result, there have not been any other reports of superspreader infections.
I would still consider the vast majority of cruise ships to be safer than hotels.
Harmony of the Seas
My next cruise is set to be Harmony of the Seas in a few weeks time. Although at this late stage I have no idea whether we will actually cruise.
I booked this cruise a year ago and paid for it with Future Cruise Credit. However, the cruise I’m being offered now falls some way short of the cruise I signed up for.
According to the travel agency I used, Royal Caribbean has changed my flights. Instead of the direct Manchester to Barcelona flights I booked, we now have indirect flights going via Frankfurt!
Instead of an easy two-hour trip, I’m now expected to get the kids out of bed at 2 am, take a flight to Frankfurt, hang around the airport for a few hours and then take another two-hour flight to Barcelona. We would land in the afternoon and make a quick sprint to join the ship just before it departs.
I’m not doing it. Aside from the fact that it’s not what I booked, taking unnecessary flights just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do given the pandemic (and climate crisis!).
It’s currently looking like we’re expected to pay for a second set of flights and transfers in addition to the ones we paid for that were changed.
The travel agency has been attempting to sort this out for several weeks and as the cruise date draws nearer, I’m becoming more stressed.
Even if we do cruise, we wouldn’t be able to leave the ship all week.
The stop in France has been removed from the itinerary. Majorca won’t allow children to get off the ship. And we can only get off in Italy if we buy Royal Caribbean’s excursions.
Of course, these are government requirements, but I do think that Royal Caribbean could have done more to help.
Initially, there were some relatively cheap excursions (£500 for three half-day coach trips), but these sold out within a couple of days while I was trying to fix the flight issue. There are now no family-friendly excursions left at all.
Those without kids (or with older ones) do have some options, but they’re all so expensive! Sure, we’d love to take a day tour of Rome. But not for £1,325, thanks.
How I feel now
It pains me to say that I’m falling out of love with the cruise industry.
But, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I regularly receive messages from people who feel they’ve been given an unfair deal that has cost them time and money.
Oftentimes, changes to plans have been unavoidable. The ever-changing government rules and guidelines have made it incredibly hard for cruise lines to keep the plates spinning, while not turning a profit for quite some time.
While I sympathise and understand that they have a huge task at hand, I do feel that some of the cruise lines could be doing more for their guests.
The reason people return to cruising again and again is often due to the outstanding levels of service that they receive. If this continues to slip, what else is there?
The promise of a stress-free holiday with the freedom to explore multiple destinations just can’t be kept any more in these unpredictable times.
And without the same high levels of customer service that cruisers have come to expect when they part with their money, cruising will begin to lose its appeal for some.
I believe that the cruise lines must invest more in supporting their workers both at sea and on land.
There must be enough staff on board to keep people safe. There must be enough staff on land to answer the phones when people need help with their bookings.
I get that finances are tight and I don’t envy the decisions that must be made by those at the top.
But cutting corners by understaffing, booking flights that nobody in their right mind would book for themselves and hiking up the price of excursions just isn’t the right way to do it, in my humble opinion.
Where this leaves me
I was nervous about airing my dirty laundry concerning my changing attitude towards the cruise industry. But, I feel it’s only fair that I share my downs as well as my ups.
Comment trolls sometimes criticise cruise bloggers and vloggers for not being honest. They believe that we’re all just given free trips in exchange for glowing reviews.
Well, my cruise blog has been read two million times and I’ve never received a free cruise because of it. So losing my so-called ‘perks’ isn’t something I’m worried about! I’m more concerned with helping my readers in the most honest way I can.
Some of the people who boarded MSC Virtuosa last month are no longer alive on this Earth and the thought of that has definitely affected me. I can’t even begin to comprehend what their families must be going through, as well as the families of anyone who is fighting for their lives in hospital at this moment.
I know that despite the changes, the cruise industry still has the potential to offer fantastic holidays. Every day, thousands of people are having the most amazing experience at sea.
I’ll also continue to send out weekly emails to the people on my list. (You can join that here if you’d like to keep in touch).
And I’ll (hopefully) take the five cruises I have booked!
But, if you wonder why I may not be shouting quite so loudly about the latest cruise news on social media, booking more cruises for my family and sharing the best cruise deals I find with you, this is why.
I hope you understand.