Royal Caribbean Goes Big

In the world of cruising, it’s not enough to be the best—you have to be the biggest and the first as well. And for a full decade, Royal Caribbean International has perfected that hat trick. In this, its 10th straight year of winning in the Best Cruise Line—Large Ship category, and sixth straight year taking home the Best Cruise Line for Travel Agent Support, senior v.p. of sales, trade support and service, Vicki Freed, says that it’s not just the ships that are large-scale—it’s the brand philosophy as well.

“It’s all about choice for the consumer,” Freed explains. “Even if the consumer doesn’t want to do it all, they want to know they have access to it all.” Take the line’s new, headline-grabbing ship Oasis of the Seas, for instance. On board, Freed points out, clients find a dazzling array of activities and attractions, from Broadway musicals, to water parks, spas for adults and for youth, a whole suite of hangout spots for teens, adventure options like ziplines and Flowrider surfing—and that only scratches the surface. Forget about decks; this ship is split into neighborhoods, including one modeled after Central Park in New York City. And then there are the superlatives: the deepest swimming pool at sea; the longest jogging track at sea; the first bar at sea that actually moves, rising and descending between three decks. “There’s always something for the consumer to do…and our staff want to wow the guest at every opportunity,” Freed continues.

But cruise passengers—perhaps because they have so many options at their fingertips—can be difficult to impress. The trick, Freed says, is anticipation. “We have stayed very focused in on keeping our product very relevant and innovative. We’re not just thinking that what we do today is necessarily going to be what the consumer wants tomorrow,” she explains. “Our product at Royal Caribbean, you can’t really say it’s a ‘me too’ product; you can’t say ‘oh, they’re interchangeable with other cruise lines.’ It really is in a very special category all by itself.”

In light of that strategy, it should come as no surprise that Royal Caribbean’s next big ship, the Allure of the Seas, set to debut this month, is in the same class as the Oasis, but certainly not a carbon copy. The results of the company’s partnership with DreamWorks will first be seen aboard the Allure. Clients can also look forward to stage shows ranging from the Broadway musical “Chicago” to the Cirque du Soleil-esque “Blue Planet,” to “OceanAria,” a performance in the Allure’s Aqua Theater featuring fountains and orchestral music.

Of course, cruise clients aren’t the only ones who can be difficult to impress. Royal Caribbean has also perfected the fine art of catering to the travel agent community, with a wide variety of programs in place to assist agents at every step of the sale.

“Travel agents are our lifelines to the customer,” she says. “We do our best to provide exceptional service in terms of compensation, and in terms of helping travel agents build their business.”

That goal translates into programs like the University of Wow, offering training to travel agents on just about every cruise-related topic you can imagine. “We have everything from courses on how to build group business to developing marketing strategy, to how to plan social media to get new customers, to geography,” Freed says. The company’s series of educational webinars is also available through the university, for agents to use in real time or in archives. And while product education is often its own reward, Royal Caribbean takes that philosophy to a whole new level. Agents who earn “expert” or “expert plus” recognition through the university are noted in the listings that consumers can use to find agents through “It’s all about driving business back to the travel agent,” Freed explains.

In 2011, Freed says, Royal Caribbean will also expand its presence at its ports of call. “We’re the largest player in summertime in Europe, with 11 ships,” she says. “Sometimes people don’t realize how big of a presence we have in Europe. Like we own the Caribbean, we own Europe.” Additionally, the line will return to New Orleans next year. And though 2011 won’t see the debut of a brand-new ship, Freed continues, several ships are undergoing renovations: Liberty and Freedom of the Seas will be done by the first quarter of 2011, with other ships coming back later in the year. It’s all an effort to stay in motion, to keep innovating and improving the guest experience.