Time and again, season after season, the cruise industry has shown that it’s got the right stuff when it comes to surmounting challenges. Hand these leaders a lemon and you’ll get back seagoing lemonade every time, likely with a cherry on top.
The poky economy of recent times may have dealt them a deckload of new decisions to make, but the resilient cruise industry continues to navigate the waters with seamless skills. Not to mention new ships. In 2012 came fresh-minted itineraries and trendy activities. Convenient homeports, shorter cruise options, and value-added deals. Creative adventures in advertising, marketing, and social media.
Armed with 2012’s passenger feedback and advances in technology, the industry intends to rock the new year with a wave of high-impact ideas—no small number of which are aimed at luring young newcomers to join their happily onboard predecessors.
Norwegian Cruise Line (ncl.com) cites positive passenger feedback on innovations of this year—among them the newsy Studio accommodations designed and priced for solo travelers—as stimulus for adding guest favorites to Pride of America when it enters dry dock in March for a $30 million enhancement.
After a June debut this year, the 3,690-passenger Carnival Breeze (carnival.com) made a series of Mediterranean journeys from Barcelona. Following a transatlantic crossing, Breeze kicked off year-round 6- and 8-day Caribbean cruises from Miami beginning Nov. 24, 2012. New concepts aboard Breeze include Carnival’s first Thrill Theater, with interactive special effects that make viewers part of the movie, and the line’s first full-service sushi restaurant.
In another first, Carnival Glory operated a series of jaunts from Boston—roundtrip 4-day (St. John) and 5-day (Halifax) eastern Canada cruises from June 10 to July 26, 2012. The popular program—“long weekends,” Carnival calls it—is slated for a rerun in 2013.
In 2012, Disney Cruise Line (disneycruise.com) launched Disney Fantasy as the fourth ship in the fleet—and took aim at “making it easier than ever for families to enjoy a Disney Cruise Line vacation by offering cruises from a variety of regional homeports,” says DCL president Karl Holz. “In 2013, we are excited to add even more variety to our offering of itineraries from the Port of Galveston,” Holz adds. “The addition of shorter getaway cruises and voyages that call on our most popular port of call, Disney’s Castaway Cay, rounds out an impressive array of itinerary options from Galveston.” Rates for 4-night cruises departing from Galveston start at $400 pp dbl.
We were able to join in on the Disney Fantasy festivities earlier this year, remarking, as writer Taylor Harker wrote in her onsite (September 2012), that, “Any parent seeking some R&R during their vacation might not immediately opt for a Disney cruise, concerned that it’s going to be long days with thousands of screaming, crying, and badly behaved children. Well, we can say from first-hand experience, that just doesn’t happen on the Disney Fantasy, so tell parents it’ll be a vacation for them, too.”
Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.com), meanwhile, debuted Celebrity Reflection in the latter part of 2012, and began sailing the Caribbean this month. Celebrity Reflection boasts a number of industry firsts, including AquaClass Suites, Signature Suites and the ultra-luxurious Reflection Suite, the first to include a glass shower extending out over the edge of the ship.
Clients in search of smaller, more intimate vessels found a grand abundance in 2012, thanks to the exploding presence of river cruising.
Viking River Cruises (vikingrivercruises.com), a major player in the explosion, is staying on course with six new ships—the 190-passenger Viking Longships—in 2012, and eight more on the way in 2013. Which means, in a span of two years, the company has increased passenger count on its most popular European itineraries by over 100 percent. Several new itineraries will set sail in 2013 along with a new 3-day land tour extension taking in England’s Oxford and Highclere Castle (billed as the real “Downton Abbey”). Rates start at $1,656 pp for an 8-day cruise on European rivers.
According to Rick Shively, who attended the Viking Longship christening in March 2012 in Amsterdam and wrote an onsite for the May 2012 issue, Viking Longships Invade European Waters, “One thing that hasn’t changed on the longships is Viking’s well-deserved reputation for service. Room service is impeccable and even with many new cruise staff, dining service was excellent. Embarkation and debarkation was seamless, with friendly and knowledgeable staff throughout.”
The latest to make a splash on the river cruising front: A-ROSA River Cruises (arosacruises.com), which has operated cruises on the Rhone/Saone, Rhine/Mosel/Main and Danube rivers since 2000. For the first time next year, three of the brand’s ships will be devoted exclusively to the North American market for 7- to 14-night sailings, with David Morris International managing the product launch.
Says Judy Parker, senior v.p. of marketing for David Morris International, “In 2012 it was difficult to open a magazine or read an industry news brief without the mention of the phenomenal popularity of river boat cruising as the newest consumer hot-ticket choice for vacations. Both electronic and print publications announced cruise manuals, feature articles and award nominations specifically for this new darling of the travel scene.” Taking note of the sold-out sailings, Parker says, and seeing “the perfect storm of events to step across the pond,” in 2012 “Markus Zoepke, COO, and Lars Clasen, CFO, moved forward with the plan to dedicate three of their 10 ships to the U.S. and Canadian markets for the inaugural 2013 season.”
Rates for a 7-night itinerary start at $4,952 pp, including air, transfers, shore excursions, gratuities, and alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and wine with lunch and dinner.
Closer to home, InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises (innerseadiscoveries.com) staged a newsmaking 2012, joining forces and unveiling new branding christened Un-Cruise Adventures. In May 2012, the line’s 86-passenger Safari Endeavour and 76-passenger Wilderness Explorer emerged from extensive renovation projects to ply a summer schedule in Alaska (rates start at $1,895 pp dbl), bringing the fleet total to three expedition vessels and three yachts sailing in Southeast Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, the Hawaiian Islands, Columbia and Snake rivers, and Coastal Washington and British Columbia.
“With additional boats added to our fleet, we’ve been able to diversify our offerings,” says Tim Jacox, executive v.p. of sales and marketing. “We now have three different adventure styles—Luxury, Active and Heritage—but as Un-Cruise Adventures, they share the common thread of an enriching travel experience.” According to Jacox, the line’s new concept of “Un-Cruise” means “unrushed, uncrowded and unbelievable. Most people who choose to travel with us identify themselves as adventure travelers, not ‘cruisers.’”
In 2012, agents were sent the line’s first brochure detailing InnerSea Discoveries’ Active Adventures combined with American Safari’s Luxury Adventures and Heritage Adventures.
Back in March 2012 in the Small Ship Cruising in the U.S. story, Jacox let us in on a little secret when he confessed that, “The real stars [of these cruises], which number in the thousands, are the bears, whales, dolphins, eagles, icebergs, waterfalls, trees, indigenous peoples, and yes, real stars in the sky seen from the deck of a small ship anchored in an isolated cove with no one else around.”
a culinary feast
Once aboard their magic carpet of choice, 2012 clients discovered that specialty dining, accompanied by burgeoning wine lists and beverage packages, has become an attraction in itself. And so have culinary-themed cruises.
Foodies who chose a Culinary Arts voyage with Silversea Cruises (silversea.com) in 2012 witnessed the skills and snared the kitchen secrets of top international chefs and rising stars, often (itinerary permitting) accompanying them on provisioning trips to international markets. In addition, they were treated to food and wine pairings, tasty regional dishes, and a 5-course grand gourmet dinner.
Oceania Cruises’ new Riviera (oceaniacruises.com), launched in May 2012 (with Caribbean rates starting at $1,850 pp including airfare), sports the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, which caters to all talent levels with classes such as “Healthy Cooking” and “Emerging Cuisines.” Also, Riviera debuted Culinary Discovery Tours, providing guests the chance to join a chef in visiting markets, cheese makers, chocolatiers, and vineyards. For 2013, they expanded these tours to include the South Pacific.
Holland America Line (hollandamerica.com) introduced a new Master Chef’s International Dinner in the main dining room, offered per cruise with signature cuisine from six continents. The 20-dish menu includes appetizers, entrees and desserts, as well as wine pairings from each region. Then there’s “An Evening at Le Cirque” —an onboard re-creation of the legendary restaurant and its award-winning dining experience. On HAL ships, one evening per cruise, the event is presented in the line’s chic Pinnacle Grill. In collaboration with Le Cirque’s executive chef, it’s a happening a la Holland America, reflected in Le Cirque-styled menus, wine selections, table decorations, and fanciful orange Le Cirque china—right down to the restaurant’s justly famed creme brulee.
Oenophiles united to toast the expansion of Celebrity Cruises’ beverage packages and, throughout the fleet’s various venues, the uncorking of a full-bodied wine program. In the line’s Classic and Premium beverage packages, passengers were welcomed to sample substantially increased choices by the glass along with beer and spirits. In the Premium package, more than 80 percent of the wines—many of them new to Celebrity—are now available by the glass.
Norwegian introduced a new Specialty Dining package called Signature Trio, featuring dining at three passenger favorites—the steakhouse, the French bistro, and the Italian restaurant—for a special rate of $47 pp.
The offer is extended fleet-wide, but it is not available for purchase on board. Clients with a cruise reservation who wish to buy the package can log into their “myncl” account online, or call Norwegian reservations.
For a crowning touch to dinners in its specialty restaurants, Norwegian created a new wine offering, Viva Vino, with savings of up to 25 percent on a variety of quality vintages from the line’s new wine list. Viva Vino includes three packages with four, six, or eight bottles at discounted prices for passengers to enjoy throughout the cruise—in bars, lounges, and restaurants, or in the comfort of their stateroom.
And in 2012, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (uniworld.com) began offering an all-day Bistro Menu to give “our guests more flexibility and dining choices. And we continue to offer our Epicurean programs,” says Guy Young, president, “on many of our itineraries which are designed to give our guests a more immersive experience with the wonderful food and wines of Europe.”
Agents who are steering clients toward onboard discounts and other irresistible values should take a look at Holland America Line’s Early Advantage promotion. “We typically have some things in early December and January,” says Erik Elvejord, HAL’s director of public relations. “Early Advantage features free upgrades on select sailings, as well as savings of up to 50 percent by combining two cruise itineraries on select Collectors’ Voyages in Europe.”
“On some sailings,” Elvejord continues, “free and reduced fares are available for third or fourth guests who share the same stateroom. A family of four can take advantage of free or reduced third and fourth guests in the Caribbean with fares starting at $699 for the first two guests, and the third and fourth sailing free. Guests also may book an ocean-view category for $999 and receive a complimentary verandah upgrade.”
let’s get social
Social media, no surprise, is gaining strength. Points out Joan Lovell, Virtuoso travel agent at Cadence, “Social media is helping cruise lines in getting the word out about the ships themselves and their destinations. We at Cadence have a daily Facebook page whereby we highlight certain cruises and cruise groups and find this to be very helpful with our clients.”
Viking, for the first time, converted its 148-page brochure to an interactive “e-brochure” for computers and tablet devices, along with 40 imbedded videos. The Viking community on Facebook recently surpassed 225,000, the company says.
Norwegian is stirring things up via Twitter with its weekly #FoodieChats from the company’s new test kitchen at Miami headquarters, generating a worldwide following of over two million. To experience the flavors of Norwegian Breakaway, a group of South Florida foodies were invited to eat and tweet from the test kitchen. Norwegian’s Twitter following is averaging 100 new followers a week, the company says, while Facebook fans number over 312,000.
Following up a celebrity skating and diving competition aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (cruisingpower.com) this year, RCI kicked off a Facebook promotion in which fans could view the events and vote for their choice competitor, with prizes that included a 7-night Caribbean cruise for two.
“To better serve the needs of travel agents, we reorganized our sales department in 2012,” says Brad Ball, director, corporate communications. “Silversea has added an inside team of cruise consultants for agency sales. These individuals will work alongside a contingent of account executives assigned to support the field sales force and provide real-time, full-service support to travel agency partners.”