Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

As the cruise industry restart continues, among the most positive data emerging from these sailing are record high guest satisfaction scores.

Executives at cruise lines large and small have said that guests on this summer's sailings were happier than they'd ever been. They attribute it to various factors.  

One factor that can't be overlooked is that if you were on a ship this summer, you were likely to be a cruise fan who had been champing at the bit to get back onboard -- and that feeling of excitement has trickled down into the comment cards.

"People want to go out and see the world," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, marketing and trade support and services for Royal Caribbean International, on an episode of Travel Weekly's The Folo podcast. "They are tired; there is fatigue everywhere. People are saying, 'I want to get out and live.'"

Her boss, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain, during the Seatrade conference's annual State of the Industry panel in late September also pointed to cruisers who were very happy to leave "their confined existence."

But more significant to the positive onboard mood, he said, is that the crew onboard is "so excited to be back, and that is so contagious."

"Every letter I get, even the complaint letters, remark about how extraordinary the crew members are," Fain said.

He added that guest satisfaction scores at Royal brands were at a level "we never imagined we'd been dealing with."

Harry Sommer, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO, told Travel Weekly last month that the line's ships that have returned to service are experiencing "the highest guest satisfaction rates in the history of the company.... People seem to be enjoying the experience we're providing."

Same for Seabourn, said president Josh Leibowitz, where guest ratings are the highest they've ever been for the brand's two ships that have returned to service. He attributed that in part to improved offerings.

"During the pause in operations, we made the decision to innovate even if we could not operate," he said. "We developed hundreds of new recipes, trained our team members on new ways of serving guests to exceed expectations and we invested in new experiences. With the ships we have back in operation, we are setting new records for positive guest feedback."

Another big contributor to guest satisfaction seems to be that the ships are operating at much lower capacity. For someone looking for shorter lines at the coffee shop and less stress about snagging poolside loungers, there has never been a better time to cruise. Of course, for those who like the energy of a full ship, it might be worth waiting until next year.

Gene Sloan, cruise editor for the Points Guy who has been on 10 cruises since June, said on the same episode of The Folo that the majority of passengers he's spoken to "are just loving the lower occupancies." Of course, he said, "some people say they miss the excitement when there's 4,000 people on the ship."

"If you go to the rock climbing wall or to a bar and you want to sit at the bar -- on a regular cruise it might be packed -- we didn't see that," he said.

Sommer concurred, saying that NCL ships, which are sailing at 50% to 60% capacity,  offer "lots of social distancing, lots of space."

"It's just been a fantastic experience," he said. "On a typical ship sometimes, you know it's busy during peak dining, or it's hard to get an appointment on at a spa on a sea day, or the gym can be a little bit busy at 8 in the morning. But because of the reduced capacity, everything is open and there's really no lines anywhere."

And if you are someone who likes big ships but a more adult experience, this is the time to sail. NCL, for example, does not allow any unvaccinated passengers, meaning there are no guests under 12 on its ships right now. Carnival Cruise Line, which says that it normally carries more children than any other brand, is keeping its ships to a minimum of 95% vaccinated, meaning there are almost no kids under 12 onboard.

Finally, and for me, the most enjoyable aspect of being on a cruise this summer was how safe it seemed. I can't think of any other vacation venue where north of 95% of people around me were vaccinated, enabling people to feel -- and this has been said so many times it now sounds almost cliche -- normal

This report was updated Oct. 12.

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