When it comes to complaints, though, most revolve around food and dining.
New cruisers are more satisfied with their cruise overall than seasoned passengers, and most book their second cruise with the same line.
These are among the key findings in an analysis of more than 14,000 reviews posted on Cruiseline.com for cruises taken from July 2013 to February 2015. Lines include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland America, Princess, Disney, Celebrity, MSC and Costa.
While new ships typically outrank older ships, scoring higher in quality, children's programs, entertainment and on-board activities, new and old ships have similar scores for service/staff and food/dining. In a few cases, older ships outrank newer ships.
Extra-large ships, those carrying more than 3,800 passengers, rate higher than large and medium-size ships, perhaps because they have more amenities and options, Cruiseline.com said.
First-time cruisers are more satisfied than experienced cruisers—rating service/staff, cabin/stateroom, food/dining and entertainment higher.
And 81% of cruisers book the same line the second time, with 55% choosing the same destination. Some 72% book the same accommodation meta-category.
'I was most surprised by the first-timers data,' said Faraz Qureshi, general manager of Cruiseline.com. 'We all know first-time cruisers are a major focus for all of the cruise lines but the data showed why these guests are so valuable. They typically rate their cruise higher than experienced cruisers and 81% of them book the same cruise line. [They're] easier to please and they stay loyal. Of course cruise lines are going after this segment.'
Getting the basics right is crucial since cruisers focus most of their review comments on the food, the service/staff and their cabin, Qureshi added. Innovative features like water slides and ice rooms initially get attention, he said, 'but when it comes down to it, cruise guests expect lines to deliver these three basic experiences above anything else.'
Reviewers' overall cruise ratings averaged 3.45 to 3.85 stars out of five stars.
Ratings dipped in the fourth quarter for the two consecutive years in the study. This may be due to factors like repositioning itineraries, pricing/clientele attracted during shoulder season or weather, the Cruiseline.com analysis surmised.
When it comes to what cruisers are most satisfied about, following service/staff, it's the accommodations. Destinations/excursions rank third, then food/dining and entertainment. On-board activities and children's programs trail. The range of ratings on a three-point scale was close, though, with 2.71 for the top and 2.41 for the bottom.
In its analysis of these findings, Cruiseline.com suggested that while cruisers enjoy the variety of on-board activities, they don't like additional costs and wait times/logistics.
When reviewers describe negative experiences, their top complaints, in order, are dining, smoking, 'nickel and diming' and missed ports. The analysis deduced people like more dining options, but not the up-charges. As smoking has declined, cruisers are more sensitive to exposure.
This is the first year Cruiseline.com has analyzed reviews. The company plans to continue doing this annually and will share the results with cruise lines, Qureshi said.