Cruise Lines in Alaska Critique

Click to go to the website.

I've spent quite a few hours last weekend trying to select an appropriately-timed and appropriately-priced cruise to go on with my girlfriend this upcoming August.
The site, in general, isn't the worst in terms of layout and design, but it certainly isn't the best either.

In terms of graphic design, the website mostly uses a muted white / pastel purple / pastel green color scheme which is appropriate for its main theme: Alaska. However, as one looks at the subtitles, the much-brighter orange not only eludes the toned-down mood but also makes the color scheme convoluted. Provided the sea-blue and iceberg-blue from the pictures, a not-overly-saturated blue would add that extra bit of excitement and adventure the orange was intended for while preserving the feel. The fonts are a disaster: the slightly modernized serif of the "Alaska" in the logo combined with the heavy sans "CRUISES" doesn't at all match any of the medley of strictly sans serif fonts of the body, with no titles appearing in fat all-caps. The upper-right corner graphic discrepancy is how I saw the page in Google Chrome, Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and IE 8, and I'm using a standard 19" resolution, so it really shouldn't be there.

The text, on the other hand, despite reeking of exaggerated advertisement, is both cohesive and concise, with no blatant grammar, and speling errors showing (pun intended) or apostrophes missing, at least from what I've read so far. The designers made a good choice of keeping descriptions down to two or three lines, making the sans serif quite pleasantly readable, while never as overwhelming as, for instance, this critique is.

The top menu is kept simple and efficient, with just seven links that recur no matter which page one is viewing, making it easy enough to go back to any of the possible "start" pages that may vary depending on the visitor's intentions. Button positions and links are categorically separated, with cruise lines front-and-center on the home page and Alaska-related information links on the right nav-bar.

The navigation is more or less consistent through the website, with a line denoting current hierarchical position on the page (windows-explorer-like) whenever the user selects something more specific than the root page. This gives enough feedback for the user to determine where she or he is, as well as shortcuts to go back one or two levels up instead of going all the way back to the Cruise Lines page. You may note that I selected the Cruise Lines page to begin navigation, and, in fact, that is the page linked-to by Google, which suggest that most users start here, not at the home page.

The search engine is not very well organized, although always there when the visitor is searching, and available at the home page as well. What I didn't like was that when I conducted the search, all of my search information was erased from the engine, while the search UI maintains its position and appearance. I've impulsively tended to go back and change some of the search parameters, only to discover that I've accidentally searched for some default and very broad ranges of data with one parameter modified. The site would be more useful if they retained the search choices after the search is made. The "Modify Search" button is quite unobtrusively placed in the upper right corner, left of the actual search engine, and when hit leads to open a redundant search engine panel across the main reading area (was the motivation to always provide the user with a choice to start a completely new search altogether? This doesn't occur useful, since most people are interested in what they're searching for at the moment or something similar). Within that search panel, if the prior choice was a particular cruise line, the user has to figure out that he needs to select "Any Cruise Line", since the choices are now limited to only that and the cruise line currently selected. Mysteriously, when the user selects "Any Cruise Line" but doesn't yet make a search, the next time she or he presses the drop-down dialog, all of the cruise line options reappear and he can switch to a different one. This is not only hard to discover but counterintuitive and ponderous to use.

In terms of information organization on the leaf pages, the sailing dates were inconsistent (when I've selected a particular cruise, the sailing date was either the previous day or the next day). Moreover, if I selected a particular cruise at a particular date, the system returned a page (not a different-party one) listing the cruises on that particular ship but for all of the dates within some range, not just the one that interested me, so I had to check whether there was a date inconsistency in that long list. The prices were also inconsistent with the "search results" page in one or two cases. It was hard to determine what were the terms surrounding the "combo" deals which included a night in Seattle or some land tours but spanned over a longer period of time, beginning earlier than what I've browsed for, and listed in the same results page since the sailing dates matched. It was at first hard to tell what was the name of the cruise line and what was the name of the ship, since these were given as links, with no discrete labels or tooltips.

Final verdict: the site needs some major coding and basic design-choice revisions. Despite a seemingly-conventional layout, seldom did I feel like I was in complete control or could easily obtain the information I've needed at the moment. The site did not provide any ratings or links to review pages, so I've browsed for these separately based on the cruise line and the name of the ship elsewhere. Some information I could obtain, but I most likely won't use the same website next time.