Royal Caribbean takes the prize yet again for Best Large Ship in the Cruise Line category in Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards—that’s nine times in a row travel agents have decided that no other cruise line surpasses RCI when it comes to offering the best of the best on board the “big guys.” And who can blame them—this month, in fact, Royal Caribbean is sailing off onto the high seas with the largest ship out there, the eagerly awaited, 5,400-guest, 2,700-stateroom Oasis of the Seas. And what an eye-popper it is.
“We definitely upped the ante to a point that I don’t know if we can even outdo ourselves,” says Vicki Freed, senior v.p., sales and trade support and services for Royal Caribbean International. On the Oasis, says Freed, “People can zipline across the ship, they can watch the Broadway musical ‘Hairspray,’ they can go rock climbing, or go on the FlowRider, a surf simulator. It’s all about giving consumers options and choices.”
The array of options and choices, in fact, reads like a 5-year-old’s wish list to Santa. For instance, there’s the new neighborhood concept with seven distinct themed areas including Central Park with lush tropical grounds spanning more than the length of a football field, as well as Boardwalk, inspired by the nostalgic seaside piers of yesteryear and featuring the first-ever carousel at sea. There’s also more dining flexibility with the introduction of My Time Dining and Family Time Dining. And then there are the 2-level loft suites, with floor-to-ceiling, double-height windows that offer grand views of the ocean, not to mention the much-anticipated AquaTheater, which will be a pool area during the day—albeit not any old pool—and come nighttime offer theatrical performances with acrobatics, water ballet, and professional high diving.
“There are also 24 different dining options,” points out Freed, “the first Coach handbag store on a cruise line, the first cupcake shop at sea—The Cupcake Cupboard—and these are not your run-of-the-mill cupcakes, and we’re going to be offering special parties and classes.”
Indeed, Royal Caribbean knows how to stay at the forefront of the cruising industry. “We stay ahead of the consumer trend,” says Freed. “I think we are keeping products fresh and innovative, so I think we are the leader in terms of the branding of the industry.”
Yet, she says, “We don’t allow the hardware to be the main driver of customer satisfaction. We believe it’s a combination of superior hardware, very innovative ship, the service…it’s the whole 360-degree circle of what it takes to become the best large ship.”
There’s no denying that Royal Caribbean truly stands out when it comes to offering superb ships, but it’s the other Readers’ Choice Award that really resonates with the cruise line—the Best Cruise Line for Travel Agent Support, an award the cruise line has received for five straight years. “For us to get recognized by travel agents when they sell many different products and cruise lines—we view that as quite an honor. I mean, that is so meaningful to us. It tells us that we understand their needs, we’re in touch with them, they like working with us, we enjoy working with them. So for us, that’s the Academy Award of all awards.”
Interestingly enough, as Freed says, Royal Caribbean has purposefully stayed away from offering a one-stop rewards/incentive shop, so to speak. “We are going to continue to support the travel agents based on the kind of support they need, so we don’t have a one size fits all and that’s really important because more and more cruise lines are moving to a one size fits all. We really have to understand the travel agents. For some, face-to-face visits are important, while others are maybe fine with just e-mails or phone calls,” she explains. “We really have to adapt our training and we work with travel agents the way in which they want us to work with them. For us, as I always say, we are going to continue to earn the travel agent’s business one booking at a time.”