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Nearly 20% report problems on cruises

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Story highlights

  • Survey ranks Disney Cruise Line highest in customer satisfaction, Carnival the lowest
  • Some 18% of passengers report experiencing a problem on their trip, the survey says
  • But overall customer satisfaction with cruise lines remains high, report says

A cruise can be a stress-free escape from day-to-day life, promising all-you-can-eat buffets and nightly entertainment at a reasonable price.

But some high-profile incidents aboard ship have led to rough sailing for some cruise lines, with a new survey showing that 18% of passengers report experiencing a problem on their trip -- and walking away unsatisfied.

Nevertheless, overall customer satisfaction with cruise lines remains high, according to the survey from J.D. Power and Associates.

Conducting its first report on cruise line consumer satisfaction, the global market research company wanted to see how the industry ranked in customer service relations after a series of events that captured headlines.

Among the recent bad news: The Costa Concordia hit a reef off the coast of Italy in January 2012, killing 32 people.

Then there was February's Carnival Triumph cruise, which experienced an engine fire in the control room that led to a loss of electrical power for five days.

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    In May, Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas caught fire, forcing the ship to cut short the trip.

    "It is important for cruise line companies to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the service they provide to their passengers," says Ramez Faza, senior account manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D Power.

    "Cruises in general are not something you get on to go from point A to point B," Faza says. "It's more for the experience."

    Problems on cruise ships can vary from complications with a passenger's food to the steward being late to clean your cabin, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic.

    Five things we've learned about cruising

    Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America Line came in first, second and third, respectively, in customer satisfaction, while Carnival ranked last in the report of eight cruise lines.

    The survey measured seven factors that affect a customer's experience: service, state of the room, food, the efficiency of boarding and departing on the ship, entertainment, cost and excursions.

    "When you're on ship for a long time, there are bound to be problems," Faza says. "I think the biggest thing as a company is the ability to recover."

    When Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas had a fire in May, the cruise line didn't waste time in notifying customers of its recovery plan. Less than an hour after the fire was extinguished, company representatives tweeted details that passengers would receive a full refund of the fare paid and a certificate for future sailing.

    Though cruise lines are catering to the majority of their passengers' needs, Faza says the firms need to be more aware of positive and negative feedback and work on customer retention.

    Customers are often voicing their opinions regarding service through social media.

    "The ability to voice your opinion has made a huge impact," Faza says. "It's important for companies to even address these opinions and acknowledge their customers for the good and bad comments."