Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone
A new generation of bigger, glitzier vessels has broadened cruising’s appeal and turned it into the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry. Today’s mega-ships now feature everything from deck-top water parks and Broadway shows to celebrity-chef-run eateries — in short, everything you’ll find at the biggest resorts on land, and sometimes more. How has the shipboard experience evolved, and what more is coming in the future?
We assembled four of the industry’s top executives in Miami late last month for a roundtable discussion on the topic: Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International; Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines; Kevin Sheehan, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line; and Frank Del Rio, Chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, the parent company of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania CruisesThe hour-long panel discussion was moderated by USA Today’s Gene Sloan and Veronica Gould Stoddart.
USA Today: Let’s start with a hypothetical vacationer who hasn’t been on cruise in a decade or two or three. What would surprise them?
Goldstein: They would find a very-high-level service, just like before, (and) a real attention to the needs of the guests that has always distinguished our category. They would find a main dining room experience where the wait staff was extremely attuned to their needs and would come to know (them) very well, (and) they would come to know the stateroom attendants in a way that is not normal if you’re staying in a hotel. True then, true now. They might see some of the elements of entertainment that they saw then, but … the entertainment has gone several dimensions up the ladder.
Cahill: Twenty-five years ago, the open decks on a cruise ship was basically a couple swimming pools and a bunch of lounge chairs. Today, there are rock-climbing walls, ropes courses, water parks, basketball courts. The biggest change is the variety of things you can do.
USA Today: You have mentioned the trend to more eateries on ship, in addition to main dining rooms. Could we see a day when main dining rooms disappear?
Sheehan: I think you have to balance it. There’s always going to be a big group of guests coming on that enjoy the big experience (of) the big dining room. On our new ship (Norwegian Breakaway), we’ll have three main dining rooms, so even within the included part of the fare, they have three different options. Then there are other (no-extra-charge) venues as well, including O’Sheehan’s, which is an Irish pub.
USA Today: But you’re continuing to add more extra-charge eateries.
Sheehan: With 20-something restaurants on Breakaway, we’re moving into new territory. Cuisine is critically important (to passengers). Geoff Zakarian is now going to be the chef for our new (extra charge) Ocean Blue restaurant, and (we’ll have) the trattorias and the Teppanyaki (restaurant) and French and a steakhouse. (We’re) just giving the person who wants to spend a little bit more to have a different experience every single night (what they want). You need to keep it exciting and different so that they want to keep coming back.
Sheehan: No … as long as you communicate it properly. When I came into the company (in 2007), we actually had not done that. When you got on the ship, you didn’t know what was (extra).
USA Today: We do hear a fair amount of griping from readers about what they say is more nickel-and-diming on ships. Is that fair?
Goldstein: What we’ve been able to do as an industry is add on this tremendous array of options, but there aren’t that many of the guests availing themselves of any one particular option. The user fee concept in that context makes sense, because if you don’t charge them anything for that experience, you’re either not able to offer that experience, or if you do, then every single person onboard is paying a tiny little slice of their ticket price for something that only a small percentage will enjoy.
Cahill: The key is finding a chef that works with your brand. For us, Guy Fieri is larger than life. He’s perfect for our brand. On an average cruise now on a sea day, we will serve over 1,500 burgers (from the Guy Fieri eatery), which is really incredible if you think about it. So, yeah, I think the celebrity chef (resonates), but the key is having the right person.
USA Today: Let’s turn to entertainment. We’re seeing more big brand name shows come to ships such as Blue Man Group (at Norwegian) and the musical Chicago (at Royal Caribbean).
Sheehan: Yeah, and our new ship will have three Broadway shows and, on top of that, the Radio City Rockettes. We think that’s the right recipe for the future. It’s critical that (we) keep doing things where people will say, “Oh, my God, that’s Norwegian Cruise Line. I want to take a cruise on Norwegian because they’ve got all that neat entertainment.”
Del Rio: Big shows aren’t a big draw for us. In our idea of cruising, every morning you arrive at this fantastic new port, and you’re off the ship for six, seven, eight hours to visit all these wonderful places. You come back onboard and have this wonderful meal, and you might go to the show or you might go to the casino for a while, but these folks are tired. We’re more of a sophisticated crowd, (and) a little older. They want to see the world as opposed to go on a big party.
Goldstein: Following on Frank’s point, I think it’s a strength of the industry that we’re not the same. There wouldn’t be 20 million people cruising per year, which we’ve now just reached as an industry, if they were all cruising with one idea. The variety that the different brands offer is crucial …
For us, the big Broadway shows have been tremendous. The fact that we put on legitimate Broadway entertainment then gets people more interested in the big shows that we create for ourselves, with concepts that you wouldn’t see on Broadway. It’s the mainstay of our entertainment program.
USA Today: Do cruisers actually use all of these unusual things you’ve been adding to ships such as ropes courses and surfing pools or is it more about marketing?
Goldstein: We’re often talking about how large the ships are, but there’s not enough room on any ship to have an area that’s not used. We can’t even think that way. If we ever find that there’s something that doesn’t cut it the way we had envisioned, then it’s going to be replaced by something else fast, because dead space is not healthy for us.
Cahill: You do not want to present a crowded experience, so for all of us, when you have a large ship, you want to make sure you have enough things to disperse the guests in different areas so it never feels crowded. I think that’s what we’re all trying to achieve.
… Frank is talking about his guests as if they were literally different in every respect from our guests. But that same person, or that same couple, especially if they’re grandparents, might be coming with one of us on their next vacation where they want to be in a three-generation family environment.
USA Today: The availability of deck chairs on ships — or lack thereof — is a hot-button issue right now. Gerry and Kevin, your lines recently began crackdowns on passengers who use personal items to reserve chairs for hours without using them. Has that solved the problem?
Cahill: It seems to be working. Basically, we’re going to allow you (to reserve a chair for) 40 minutes, and if you’re not back in 40 minutes, we’re going to move your stuff into a safe place, because, I mean, we’ve all had that problem (of not being able to find an open chair), and actually I’ve seen that problem at land-based resorts, too.
Sheehan: It’s a problem everywhere. When I walk on one of our ships, and I see people who cannot get a deck chair because all these people have reserved spaces, it’s pretty aggravating. And (for the) consumer, it’s pretty aggravating. So finally we just said enough; and it seems to be going okay. I’m not going to tell you it’s completely problem-free, but most people seem to understand that we’re trying to make it so everybody can get a deck chair. When you get up in the morning and you go to breakfast and you see all the towels on the chairs, you know there’s an issue.
Cahill: The industry has formed an Operational Safety Review Board, and each line is going out now and doing a review of its safety procedures. (The industry) has also set up a panel of outside experts from the maritime and safety industries, (that) are reviewing each of these recommendations, and they’re improving them. So far, (the industry) has issued seven new safety standards. Everybody is committed to safety.
USA Today, distributed by MCT