Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Almost every industry has organizations or membership bodies which help set a standard of activity and service among their members. Cruise and travel are no different.
Speaking specifically to cruises, there is one major organization which helps determine best
practice and how to employ it, CLIA.
What is CLIA?
Cruise Lines International Association or simply, CLIA, is the cruise industry’s largest trade association. Together, various tiers of subscription among cruise line members represent more than 95% of all ocean cruises, river cruises, expedition cruises, and even a growing handful of major yachting experiences.
Founded in 1975, today it’s just about the only such organization, having absorbed the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) in 2006.
I know what you’re thinking, isn’t it a bad thing that there’s only one such trade body? Doesn’t that mean less competition? Isn’t less competition a bad thing?
Although CLIA represents the lion's share of the industry through its membership, those figures are tallied by passenger numbers, which may favor larger cruise lines with larger ships. The picture may be different if the number of vessels or market capitalization were the determining figures.
Membership isn't mandatory and there are plenty of great options for you to cruise safely and comfortably which aren't CLIA members, but you'll see why we typically trust those businesses which help set higher industry standards through the trade body.
Different levels of service, one vision for success
I’d argue that competition among cruise lines has never been better, with more new cruise lines popping up all the time and more options for different types of experiences available for all new and existing fans of cruising!
It is in part because of the success of cruising that we can enjoy such variety. While the news in 2020 would have you think that many ships are destined for scrap on the coast of Turkey, the reality is that there is always churn for any industry and that older ships must be repurposed (occasionally recycled) or refurbished by new owners.
It is through the downcycling of cruise ships that we get inventive cruise lines such as Celestyal Cruises. An older ship’s life is extended with good maintenance, a few critical upgrades, and then a more novel approach to delivering inclusive services or, as in the case of Celestyal, truly specialized and port-intensive itineraries for people who’d rather be ashore than on board.
Having only one industry leading trade association means a more consistent approach to delivering the basic cruise experience, allowing specialties to flourish.
Does that mean that all CLIA cruise lines are the same?
There are so many options today for different sizes of ship and styles of cruising, it can be overwhelming for even the saltiest of sea dogs.
Part of CLIA’s work is to educate the travel professional community and to help provide a more objective set of tools for comparison in the hands of cruisers.
While each sailing is unique, if you know that the cruise lines you’re considering for your vacation hold themselves to high standards of hygiene, safety, and other best practices, you can focus more of your time discovering what to enjoy on the ship or how to spend your day in port.
Are there any CLIA member cruise lines you don’t recommend?
While Odyssean Travel exclusively serves American and Canadian travel enthusiasts, we're not the only ones setting sail! While we make up the largest percentage of all cruise passengers, there are different audiences and cruise lines to serve them.
Those cruise enthusiasts on the other side of the globe have their own way of enjoying their vacation time and it doesn’t always feel as relaxing or enjoyable for our clients and the way you've told us you like to enjoy your vacation.
For example, we don't book lines such as Aida, Costa or TUI. There's absolutely nothing wrong with their ships or their services, we don't book them for our client travel because we have no history, we aren't able to leverage those great relationships we enjoy with other cruise lines to help support you in your cruise success.
We don't have a booking history with them because we're a US-based business catering to English speaking cruise enthusiasts visiting Europe as international arrivals.
As German or Italian based and focused cruise lines, they tend to market their itineraries and style more toward those German or Italian passengers and the way they like to travel.
This can be a great experience, but if you wanted to live la dolce vita or drink steins with the wurst of them (see what I did there?), you’d probably just go on vacation to Europe.
Are there cruise lines you’d recommend that aren’t CLIA members?
We have grown to trust a few cruise lines because we've seen or experienced how they deliver to the expectations of our clientele, despite not yet enjoying CLIA membership.
Pandaw River Cruises for Southeast Asia river cruising, offering a simple yet classic feel to more adventurous itineraries. Some of Odyssean Travel’s earliest river cruise clients sailed with Pandaw to great acclaim, with some excellent opportunities to charter an entire ship during 2022 expedition sailings of Vietnam or Cambodia!
Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection is another easy suggestion, even if they've not yet sailed with any passengers due to pandemic-related delays. You won’t find much information on the internet, it’s an exclusive experience and they want it to stay that way – but if you’re already a fan of their hotels, you might enjoy their unique take on the cruise lifestyle.
Hurtigruten is a great adventurous cruise line with expedition vessels named for the very explorers who’ve inspired generations of seafarers. They regularly take the cruise industry to task, self-describing newer additions to their fleet as revolutionary in their hybrid engines and rugged take on luxury.
I’d almost describe Hurtigruten as cruise counterculture, you should give them very serious consideration for your dreams of the polar regions, including Antarctica or Greenland.
There are also a number of very serious market entries from smaller brands offering a more yacht-like experience. Atlas Ocean Voyages or Ritz-Carleton Yacht Club for example. They're too new to review, I hope to have opportunity to share something more meaningful, but it is exciting enough to have wholly new cruise lines to anticipate when cruising returns.
Voluntary membership, participating by choice. It's all about choice
International & maritime law is not set by CLIA, in most instances it is the coast guard and major local or global health organizations which oversee the basic health requirements or safety obligations of all vessels, not just cruise ships.
Through reporting on the industry, advocacy, and setting high standards among industry best practices, CLIA helps lead member cruise lines to deliver a better experience. One which surpasses those minimum requirements.
It is not an industry requirement to be a CLIA member cruise line in order to sail ships. They volunteer to become members, they choose to exceed the minimum standards set forth by those governing bodies.
It is not a requirement of the travel community to be CLIA members in order to recommend and book cruise vacations. Just as cruise lines volunteer as members, so too do industry professionals such as myself and the team here at Odyssean Travel.
You get to decide which cruise lines you trust with your next cruise. I'd like to think that choosing a business which values higher standards is a great place to start planning.
Here at Odyssean Travel, our mission is pretty simple. We want you to make better vacation memories with the people who matter most in your life.
Because we’re a small, family owned business, we need your help to spread the word so we can aid more travelers in this mission! Simply by sharing this post or even just leaving a comment will help us help others enjoy a better, more memorable trip.
You can find answers to your cruise & travel questions in our friendly online community, our Travel Society and online forum (click here).
If you enjoy a superior level of service and want an unforgettable vacation experience of your own, contact us now to arrange a complimentary One-on-One Discovery Session with a qualified, professional travel advisor (click here).