Cruises are no longer what they used to be. They are today so different as to make you consider several all-but-astonishing recent developments, as follows:
(1) It is no longer possible to enjoy the more traditional pleasures of the sea in a low-cost ship. Time was when you could simply savor the relaxation of a sea voyage, lying on a deckchair, reading a book, viewing the expanse of the world's oceans, and carrying on conversations with interesting people. Today, the lower-cost, mass-market ships are so raucous and loud that you can scarcely find a quiet spot. The soundspeakers blare continuous commercial announcements or suggest various contests or emit eardrum-splitting rock. Some of the newer ships no longer have a library. Recently, looking for a quiet spot in which I might read a novel, I walked over half the ship to what I thought was a respite, only to realize that the lounge I entered had a bowling alley within it, featuring the periodic crash of bowling pins. To enjoy the former quiet pleasures of the sea, you need today to upgrade (paying extra) to a higher-cost ship, like those of Holland America or Celebrity Cruises.
(2) The emphasis of the low-cost ships is today on families. Realizing that they could best fill their cavernous vessels with parents and children, the cruiselines' effort nowadays is to compete in recreational facilities for the young ones, like bumper car rinks, or rock-climbing walls, or water chutes. You go to an upper deck and you are surrounded by frantic, gaily-cavorting youngsters scrambling from one mini-amusement park to the next. The idea, again, of lying quietly on a chaise lounge contemplating the sea is impossible. Again, you must spend more on an upper-class ship to avoid daddy-and-the-kids.
(3) Most cruiselines are today headed by avaricious financial-industry types determined to squeeze every additional penny from your time on their boats. You are charged extra for everything. You are given one place for a standard and unexciting meal, but several extra-charge restaurants for tastier fare. Even the ship's doctor bills you for prescribing a simple medication. You are entreated to go on outrageously-priced shore excursions operated by the cruiseline, which stuffs its victims into 45-passenger motorcoaches. On several Caribbean itineraries, you are brought not to an island peopled by locals, but to "private beaches" fenced off by barbed wire from the authentic life of that nation. You meet no one other than employees of the cruiseline. (You must carefully study the itineraries to choose those offering a true foreign experience, and once again, you find such better itineraries mainly on the higher-cost lines.)
(4) Decent lectures are disappearing from the popularly-priced ships, and evening entertainment becoming ever more mindless. Onboard casinos seem never to pay off, and merchandise in the shops is outrageously over-priced. As for those "art auctions" selling original "masterworks", the less said the better. Port stops are scheduled for just a scant few hours each day, so that passengers will remain at their chief obligation of spending aboard the ship. (Only the somewhat-more-expensive ships frequently schedule two nights in a seaside city like Istanbul or Haifa or Alexandria, so that you can have adequate time to explore the sights on land).
It hurts me to recommend an increase in your spending for a cruise. But I've reached the inescapable conclusion that the cheaper, mass-volume ships--the ones carrying 4,000 to 6,000 passengers--are no longer designed or operated to satisfy the needs of intelligent travelers.