Making Sense of Online Reviews

When deciding which cruise line to take or even to take a cruise at all, many people turn to online consumer reviews for help.    However, these types of reviews can be misleading if one doesn’t have a system for making sense of them.  Cruise Talk would like to offer up the following tips for understanding reviews and utilizing them for your decision making.

Understanding Types of Reviewers

There are many different types of reviewers.   If you can recognize the type you can decide how much credibility to give the reviewer.

Cheerleaders – These people love their favorite cruise line and will write glowing reviews about every aspect.    Sometimes when they go on another cruise line they can make nothing but negative comments about the other cruise line.  Be careful about reviewers who are already in love with another cruise line, because any thing different will not meet their expectations.

Grumpmeisters – This is our nickname for people who do nothing but complain 24 hours a day about everything.   They probably do this in their every day lives, at the bank, in the grocery store, at the church meeting, at the fast food place and the finest restaurant.     When they go on a cruise, nothing meets their expectations.  They are often rude and condescending to the staff and other passengers.  Their reviews often complain about relatively small matters that they turn into major issues.

The Grudge Holder – The person had a major problem on his cruise, perhaps a mechanical problem, norovirus,  or missed port.   They often will report the same review in as many sites as possible and repeat reviews under different user names.     Often he may be a Grumpmeister who did not get his issues resolved.  Many times they did not give the cruise line a fair chance to make amends, or when then cruise line did attempt to resolve the issues they were rude and inflexible.  I’ve even seen reviews trashing a particular cruise line when the poster was obviously guilty of egregious behavior in violation of the cruise line policy, for example cursing at an employee.   Quite often the details of their review don’t seem to make sense to a logical person as they are leaving key details out of their review.

Uninformed Traveler – This is someone who doesn’t travel much and didn’t do “due diligence” before booking their cruise.   They complain about the normal procedures like  assigned dining, dress code, price of drinks, and mandatory tipping.     I read a review once from a guy who won a free cruise and then trashed the cruise line because he had to pay tips.  He said he ate in the buffet and put a do not disturb sign on his room so that he would not have to tip waiters or room stewards.   His review started out with a statement something like “Such and Such cruise line rips people off.”

The BraggartThis person’s reviews are often filled with big flowing poetic words and tons of examples of how much better things were on their last cruise or when they traveled some where else.   This person is trying to show how their superior knowledge of the world gives him the right to criticize every minute detail.   This reviewer preports to know the difference between an excellent cruise and an inferior cruise and they are going to prove it to the rest of the world through their review.  Often they list many details on both the positive and negative sides, but give the overall experience a bad review.   I’ve read just the positives from some of these reviews and thought that it would have been a wonderful cruise for me.   I then read the negatives and thought “Is he really complaining about that?”

Experienced Helpful Traveler – These types of review probably make up about 50% of online reviews.   While this reviewer might mention past travel experience or previous personal experience it is not in braggadocios tone, but rather to provide back ground and context.   The reviewer provides lots of detail and specifics.  If they are trying a different cruise line they usually point out things they liked better on one or the other but don’t disparage either one.  If they have much experience with the particular cruise lines they will often point out things that were different from their last experience, for better or for worse,  either positive or a miserable experience, this cruiser lists specific about the foods, activities and features of the ship they enjoyed or disliked.  Quite often these reviews are over-all positive, though the details about the weaknesses might point you to a different line.


Throw Out the Highs and Lows

Probably the best plan in determining if a cruise is right for you is to read the balanced reviews.   The “all positive” reviews might be a bit to “Pollyanna”, and the completely negative ones probably originate from some of the nare-do-wells mentioned above.   This is not to say that an all negative and all positive review is completely invalid, but that the more balanced reviews will really help you better in your decision making.   Balanced reviews will list many positives and negative and  give you a balanced perspective to determine if the positives out weigh the negatives.  Generally most cruise reviews tend to be on the positive side because the competition in the industry keeps the quality and value of the product very high.


I recommend websites that specialize in cruising with many different reviews from experienced cruisers.  has over 60,000 user reviews. has reviews of many different cruise lines including over 1000 reviews on Carnival cruises alone.   Other general review sites like also have cruise reviews but they are not as numerous  and as current as the a fore mentioned specialty sites.

When comparing different cruises, ships, or lines, it is important to get a variety of opinions.   The cruise lines serving the US market provide a quality experience, but not every one’s taste and preferences are the same.   Reading lots of different opinions will give you a broad spectrum.

You can also play the game of trying to identify the above personality types in the cruise reviews.   You’ll find many reviews will fall into the Experienced Helpful Traveler category, but when you find a reviewer that obviously fits into one of the other styles, you’ll know how to put that review into perspective.


Highly detailed reviews provide the information for perspective cruisers to make their own judgment about which cruise line is right for them.    For example, because everyone’s taste in food is different, dining reviews can be really subjective.  If a review simply says that the food in the the main dining room was awful, that doesn’t tell you much.   However a detail like “the food was too high brow, all I wanted was a burger and fries with ketchup” provides more insight into the type of food actually served.   When another  reviews says “I loved the food, especially since I could get escargot every night” the burger lover might steer away from that line.

Details also make a difference in describing the type of activities on board.   One review might rave about the belly flop contest and another might disparage it.   What’s important is that the reviewer gave the specific detail of the belly flop contest.     On can decide for themselves if that would make or break their cruise.

Focus on the details that are important to your over all cruise experience.  When I read reviews, I look for details on customer service and dining experience, as they are the most important aspect of a cruise for me.  Others might have specific concerns about state room amenities or spa services.   Everyone has different expectations, details that praise or disparage those aspects of the total cruise experience provide the information to perspective cruises to find the best cruise for them.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

I have looked at a reviews that have trashed everything about the cruise and come away with the thought that I might have actually enjoyed that cruise.   The reason is that all people like different things, and again the things that make one person happy might ruin another’s cruise.

Carnival is know for its fun activities,atmosphere and overall value.   I picked a random Carnival Ship, the Splendor, and read the online reviews looking for details on which I might share the reviewers thought or  take a contradictory position.     On the positive side many cruiser reported meeting great people, good night life and good shows, especially the comedians.  I do enjoy nice people and a good comedian, so that would be a positive.   On the negative side, many people reported bland food and lousy entertainment.   Good food is important to me so that might be an area on which I would have to do even more research.  Another example reported   “They only played old music in the disco.”  I  like to hear old favorites, so this would be a positive.   Another reviewer mentioned 24 hour pizza but since my husband and I  try to stick to a low carb diet, that wouldn’t be a plus for me specifically.      One review mentioned the wonderful steaks in the specialty restaurant.  That detail might help me in deciding if I  want to include specialty dining in my budget.

In almost any set of online reviews one can find positives and negatives.  Most of my recent cruises have been with Celebrity.   I would probably give all of my Celebrity cruises 4 1/2 to 5 stars on a 1-5 star scale.  However, online reviewers rate Celebrity any where from 2-5 stars, with the average probably being in the 4 1/2 range.     One of the first Celebrity reviews that I read  in preparing this article complained of “too many days at sea.”  That detail is important to me, but only because I love sea days and actually look for itineraries that maximize sea days.   One review talked about how boring their transatlantic cruise was.   The writer said that poor activities and a poor cruise director made the experience very dull.  She said that there was no night life after 11 pm.    Another review of that same cruise reported it to be her best cruise ever.  The second reviewer said she loved the lectures, live cooking demonstrations and the activities that involved some of the crew.   These two reviews provide different perspectives from different cruisers on the same cruise.   If you like lectures and cooking demos, then this was a great cruise, if you prefer nightlife, then this was not the most ideal cruise.  Every cruiser has different tastes and preferences.

Making the Most of Online Reviews

In summary, online reviews can be a good resource for determining which cruise to take if you utilize them correctly.   The can be most helpful when you first identify the writing style, throw out all the extremes, and focus on the details.   Once you have done this, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not a particular cruise line is right for you.   While no cruise lines can meet everyone’s needs, most cruise lines  often offer a wide variety of accommodations, food, services and activities to please a wide variety of customers.    Online reviews can be a useful tool in the decision making process.