MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises have hit back strongly against negative comments made about them in a newly published survey by consumer group Which?
The annual cruise poll of Which? members rated MSC Cruises as the worst line with “poor customer service. Surly staff and mediocre food” and a customer score of 57%
But MSC Cruises criticised the report as “inaccurate and unrepresentative” and called for the methodology to be improved.
P&O Cruises was criticised for its “social atmosphere” on board with several repeat passengers complaining that standards had dropped and it was akin to “Butlin’s on the sea”. However, the British line received a “respectable” customer score of 71%.
A spokesman for P&O Cruises said in response: “We continue to see cruising rise in popularity across all demographics and age ranges, many of whom have learned to appreciate cruising by going on cruises with their families while growing up and who are attracted to the flexibility and choice available on cruises from discovery to dining; exploration, knowledge, learning and adventures onshore.”
The poll of 2,253 Which? members taken in September placed Viking Ocean Cruises top followed by Saga Cruises, Azamara, Hurtigruten and Silversea.
The bottom five were MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. P&O Cruises came sixth from bottom in the rankings.
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: “Cruises shouldn’t be about long queues, expensive extras and rubbish excursions, especially when you’ve already forked out thousands of pounds for your trip and have limited choice about how you spend your time and money on board.”
However, the results were based on small numbers of responses, with just 67 for MSC Cruises, while P&O Cruises attracted the highest number in the survey at 504.
MSC Cruises argued that the small sample size was not representative of the overall passenger experience following a 37% rise in passengers from the between 2018 and 2019 and three million taking cruises with the company worldwide last year.
The line said: “MSC Cruises is particularly disappointed with the methodology used by Which? as well as the commentary provided within the report.
“The survey fails to recognise the vast difference in what the cruise lines offer as an experience, comparing products that cost £630 per night and products that cost £130 per night without stating what is included.
“This makes for an inaccurate comparison and as a result is misleading for consumers.
“Whilst this is the second year MSC Cruises have featured bottom of the report, Which? stated that for the 2018 report they surveyed people who have cruised with MSC Cruises in the last year, and for the 2019 report people from the last two years, this shows they have only surveyed an additional 21 people and as a result we had a minimal chance of improving our score given the incredibly small sample size.
P&O Cruises ambassador Gary Barlow to perform on Iona
“Whilst we are always grateful for the feedback and are constantly working to evolve our product offering and passenger experience we feel that this ranking is unrepresentative of both our brand and the cruise industry as a whole.
“The report does not give enough information to allow readers to make an informed choice on what they think is value for money based on what the cruise includes.”
MSC Cruises said it approached Which? for a second year running asking for a meeting “to help educate them on the cruise industry and to discuss suggestions as to how this report could better represent the cruise industry”.
The line added: “Whilst representatives from Clia, including an MSC Cruises team member did have a meeting to this effect last year, the report has been issued in exactly the same way which is very disappointing.
“Once again we have requested another meeting in the hope of looking for a fairer, more representative study with a distinct improvement in the methodology.
“At MSC Cruises we really believe there is a cruise for everyone and we hope that this inaccurate, unrepresentative report does not put future cruisers off investigating cruise, the fastest-growing holiday segment in the world.
The P&O Cruises spokesman said: ”We work relentlessly to improve and enhance the guest experience for P&O Cruises guests across all our ships.
“In May we will launch our new flagship Iona which will feature enhancements to already successful brand signature venues from the existing fleet, as well as features newly developed for Iona.
“These include a breath-taking three-deck atrium in the heart of the ship as well as SkyDome which will be a world-first at sea and offer a unique space for relaxing in all weathers and providing entertainment, featuring aerial performers and a wealth of live acts.
“Iona will be the first new launch for P&O Cruises in five years, and will be the most environmentally efficient ship in P&O Cruises history.
“It will use LNG to generate the primary source of power reducing exhaust emissions to support the company’s sustainability goals. Iona will be named on July 4 in a celebration which forms part of Ionafest which will feature Clean Bandit, Trevor Nelson, Jo Whiley, Alex James and Sara Cox. We are also very proud to have just announced Gary Barlow as our brand ambassador.”
Clia claimed that the survey “does not tell the true story and is entirely unrepresentative”.
The cruise line trade body said: “We have previously raised our concerns regarding how the survey has been conducted, such as its limited sample size.
“We remain disappointed that these concerns have not been addressed, but we continue to remain willing to engage should the survey authors decide to adopt a fairer approach in future.”
A Clia spokesperson said: “Cruise holidays are becoming increasingly popular as more and more passengers are appreciating the incredible experience, value, and fantastic onboard service offered by cruise lines today.
“Not only are more people choosing cruise holidays, with 32 million people expecting to travel on a cruise in 2020, but they keep returning too, with 82% of cruise travellers saying they are likely to book another cruise in future. In fact, the cruise industry enjoys one of the highest ratios of repeat customers within the travel industry.”