Many companies and organizations may be surprised by all the ways cruise lines are now making it easier than ever to take a meeting to sea, from offering more three- to-five-day sailings from an increasing number of departure ports around the U.S., to a full menu of all-inclusive experiences and programs. Corporate meeting and incentive planners will find that compared to land-based programs, cruises not only simplify the logistics of planning for F&B, entertainment and event space, they’re budget-friendly.
Anthony Paola, CMP, who is managing director, meetings and management at Plymouth, Minnesota based Travel Leaders Corporate, notes that a cruise ship offers a wide variety of experiences for attendees.
“There truly is something for everyone, so meeting planners can offer every attendee a fun and useful experience,” he says. “Whether the event is designed around a high level of activity and teambuilding or for a group incentive with leisure time, a ship offers it all.”
The most obvious advantage, Paola adds, is the ability to meet in multiple ports of call.
“Not only do you have the ship’s facilities available for meetings, there are venue options in all ports, each providing unique experiences,” he says. “During free time, attendees have numerous activities available that can appeal to both their interests and budget.”
Mark Walker, senior global sales executive for Morris Meetings & Incentives, Salt Lake City, Utah, says that since most costs are included — meeting space, AV and food (and some drinks) — it makes things easier on the planner.
“Plus, the group can see multiple destinations in one week without having to unpack and repack,” he says. “The prices are usually less than land programs. It is easy and inexpensive to fly to a port in the U.S. to begin the cruise, as opposed to leaving the country.”
Another advantage is that many corporations choose to charter a ship exclusively for their program. This allows the planner to chart their own course, making the event unique.
Jerilyn Giacone, director of corporate meetings, incentives and strategic alliances for Crystal Cruises, notes a full charter buyout allows companies to “own” the ship and fully customize for the company’s needs and branding.
“Crystal’s all-inclusive experiences include shipboard staff gratuities, unlimited Wi-Fi and complimentary use of all standard audio-visual equipment for private meetings, which provides an easy ability to budget and great value upfront when companies and organizations are planning their offsite meeting events,” she says. “We also offer Michelin-inspired dining, the only river line to include European butler service for every room category, and a selection of complimentary Crystal Adventures shore excursions.”
The Crystal Signature Event on every voyage, Giacone notes, is a planner’s dream because the cruise line has created a beautiful off-the-ship experience at a unique venue with a cultural entertainment feature that is included in the experience features.
“That event would cost thousands of dollars for a planner to create and produce on other programs,” she says. “Crystal Esprit also includes a selection of shore excursion experiences and a luxury yacht experience that is ideal for full charters with fully inclusive on-board ambience including exceptional made-to-order cuisine, and a host of water sports used primarily on our West Indies voyages.”
Lori Cassidy, associate vice president, global corporate incentive and charter sales for Royal Caribbean International, Miami, Florida, notes the company’s fleet of 26 innovative floating resorts were built with business in mind.
“Every vessel has purposely built state-of-the-art conference centers and a wide variety of event venue spaces to conduct private events for all size groups,” she says. “Our ships range in size from 1,500 guests to 5,500 guests and we sail the globe on three-, four-, five- and seven-night cruises.”
She feels Royal Caribbean’s innovative ship design, wide range of award-winning entertainment and activity choices, myriad of culinary experiences and stateroom accommodations, plus technology that includes the fastest 4G internet at sea, all encompass the many reasons why more planners are choosing the cruise line for their meetings and incentive trips.
“In addition to our action-packed onboard programming and exciting ports of call, we work closely with event planners to customize private events/experiences both on ship and on land to make their trip meaningful and memorable,” Cassidy shares.
Ann Sedgwick, CIS, division vice president, charter, corporate and incentive sales for Carnival Cruise Line, Miami, Florida, says the all-inclusiveness of the ship is what makes holding a meeting or incentive trip on the seas a perfect choice for meeting planners.
“Attendees tell us that they prefer the friendliness and professionalism of the staff, the choices on board for dining and entertainment, the comfort of larger staterooms and the unique and memorable atmosphere that truly engages them from the moment they step on board,” she says. “There is a non-intimidating, refreshing, inclusiveness about Carnival that makes our guests feel rejuvenated and simply happy to be on board.”
Cruise lines often demonstrate the “wow” factor, which is a requirement of all planners looking for a destination to host their next incentive trip.
Tanya Barnette, director, strategic key accounts, charter and incentive sales for Seabourn, Seattle, Washington, notes because the ships accommodate between 458–600 guests, they’re a perfect size for incentive trips.
“The Seabourn difference represents real value and budget control with pricing that includes complimentary inclusions such as meeting space with audio-visual equipment, receptions/cocktail parties, award-winning dining, open bars, gratuities, entertainment and much more,” she says. “In addition to our value, what better reward is there than sailing on the world’s finest ultra-luxury cruise line? Our size makes us ideal for private charter where we can fully customize a unique and exclusive experience for award-winners — everything from the itinerary, customized menus, shore excursions and adjustments to programming and entertainment.”
Since incentives tend to be more social in nature to “reward” employees for achieving their goals or customers as an appreciation, Giacone notes that Crystal can provide customization of shore excursion events, private Vintage Room food-and-wine pairing events for lunch and dinner, and receptions in its various lounges.
Freddy I. Muller, vice president of corporate and incentive sales, Americas for Silversea Cruises, Miami, Florida, says because of the intimate size of the company’s voyages, many are chartered for incentive programs.
“We can carve out something specific for the clients, and focus on the passengers,” he says. “Almost everything is included, and we have many of the same amenities for our passengers as our larger competitors — casinos, show lounges, multiple bars and lounges.”
Having a dedicated team that understands the incentive language is an important attribute of Silversea, and Muller notes that helps those planners who haven’t dealt with seagoing incentive programs.
The key to any successful program is the trust and bond between the planner and those running the show on the cruise line.
“It’s important to listen to their needs/program requirements and provide creative ‘outside of the ballroom’ experiences, demonstrating the value of your destination,” Cassidy says. “Hold their hand every step of the way and provide exceptional follow-up and customer service from start to finish.”
Sedgwick shares that a successful relationship develops through trust and commitment to the planners.
“We have many itinerary and ship options within the Carnival brand alone; however, if we feel that is not a perfect match for a program, we will engage our sister cruise lines for options,” she says. “Running a successful program is the utmost importance to us. We pride ourselves on handling the business correctly and have a goal that every meeting planner and company decision-maker is so completely satisfied that they will return to Carnival again in the future.”
Seabourn’s Barnette says that open communication and a focus on exceeding expectations is the key to perfecting a partnership with a planner.
“Pre-cruise planning is crucial. Work with your cruise contact to confirm all details of the program as far in advance as possible,” she says. “We tell people to partake in as many of the amenities the ship has to offer as possible. Seabourn offers an exclusive mindful living program by (alternative medicine guru) Dr. Andrew Weil. Our tour program features unique experiences with UNESCO, and our Seabourn Conversations program features lectures by visionary experts.”
Crystal Cruises’ Giacone feels the secret is an honest and open line of communication with full disclosure upfront on what the planner is hoping to achieve and if the cruise line can realistically deliver that experience and more with “surprise and delight” for their guests.
It also helps if a planner does a little homework before asking multiple cruise lines to bid on a program. After all, planners need to understand that this is not just a floating hotel. Cruise ships have full day-by-day agendas, and it is best if the planner doesn’t try to swim upstream and over-schedule the passengers.
Paola advises paying particular attention to the inclusions, which are dependent on the duration of the sailing.
“They bring tremendous value,” he says. “The inclusions can dramatically decrease the overall cost of the program.”
Planners are more likely to succeed if they understand that while a cruise ship looks and functions very much like a hotel, there are still some basic differences that require a different approach, so flexibility is key. A planner’s daily agenda for a hotel is unlikely to work on a ship simply because the ports of call need to be factored into the agenda.
“Be open-minded to create and deliver a meeting or incentive event that is different than you are accustomed to on land at a hotel or resort,” Giacone states. “Give us all the details, your wants/needs and information we need to advise the ship so we can fully brief our staff on board before day one of the cruise. This way the planner walks on board from day one and everything will run effortlessly. However, we recognize that changes often are necessary while on board, and our shipboard team is fully ready to make as many adjustments as possible to accommodate the group. Just be open and flexible to ideas.”
Even the most experienced planners can make mistakes from time to time, simply because there are basic differences in planning cruise-based versus land-based programs.
“Planners should fully review all requirements in advance and review programming with our event planning specialists,” Cassidy says. “They should conduct a pre-con meeting, meet the key shipboard personnel, advance all events (in tandem with our onboard group coordinator), and communicate any concerns.”
Walker says planners should meet with their cruise planner/main contact every morning to review the day, and keep him/her posted on everything that goes on so they are in the loop.
“The cruise planner can be busy with other groups he/she is handling during the sailing, which is why it is good to try to get everything planned ahead of time before the cruise begins,” he says. “Another challenge is that Wi-Fi is often tricky on cruise ships. This is something that there’s not a great solution for.”
Paola states it is imperative to know the goals of the group and to clearly define those goals prior to contracting. And while cruise ships are often referred to as floating hotels, the logistics are vastly different.
“If the planner is sailing with the group, secure a ship phone to ensure availability to your guests,” he says. “Identify a meeting point (like the hospitality desk) that is easily accessible to your guests and plan to spend time there daily when not with the group. Arrange at least two full group gatherings. This enables you to touch base with participants during the course of the sailing.”
Additionally, he shares, make sure you design the program — both pre-cruise and onboard — carefully around the ship’s schedule as there is no flexibility in the ship’s timing.
Setting the stage early — months before sailing — is what Sedgwick recommends.
“For larger programs, we encourage ship visits or even sailings to meet with onboard staff,” she notes. “Our dedicated event staff on board have full programming and meeting requirements well in advance and daily meetings to review schedules for the day are recommended.”
One thing a planner should do ahead of time is go on a site-sailing and get to know the ship and destination so there are no surprises once at sea.
Utilizing all a ship and sailing has to offer can deliver an unforgettable program at an affordable price point.
The Carnival Horizon, currently under construction at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy, will offer a bike-ride-in-the-sky attraction called SkyRide, an IMAX Theatre and a massive WaterWorks aqua park featuring a water tube slide called Kaleid-o-slide.
Sedgwick says a wide range of accommodations also will be offered, such as spa cabins with exclusive privileges at the luxurious Cloud 9 Spa, extra roomy staterooms in Family Harbor, and tropical-inspired Havana staterooms and suites with exclusive daytime access to a Cuban-themed bar and pool.
Royal Caribbean is in the process of a fleet modernization initiative that will introduce its fourth Oasis Class ship in 2018, the Symphony of the Seas, sailing from her new port in Miami beginning late fall. It also will be adding some groundbreaking technology initiatives.
Silversea will be serving up a new menu for its 2018 and 2019 Enriched Voyages, featuring enhanced onboard offerings with a culinary or wine theme, including five sailings developed in partnership with The Peninsula Hotels.
“Our culinary and wine Enriched Voyages are a wonderful way to blend together fascinating destinations with a generous serving of cooking events and demonstrations designed to entertain and enlighten,” says Rudi Scholdis, Silversea’s culinary director.
Seabourn will be launching a new ship in May 2018, the Seabourn Ovation, a sister ship to its prestigious Seabourn Encore, with 300 all-suite, all-veranda accommodations.
At Crystal Cruises, recent enhancements made aboard Crystal Symphony during her redesign in November 2017 also will debut aboard Crystal Serenity in November 2018, including expanded specialty dining options, an open-seating dining concept, cutting-edge technological upgrades, and more of the spacious, butler-serviced Penthouse accommodations.
Celebrity Cruises recently unveiled its 100-guest Celebrity Flora ship, dessigned expressly for the Galapagos Islands. One of the most energy-efficient ships of its size in the archipelago, Flora’s outward-facing design gives guests a 360-degree views of the islands, while personal suite attendants, new dining venues, an open-air stargazing platform, and expert-lead ecological seminars round out the experience.
Celebrity Cruises unveiled its new “Edge Class” design last March, with four ships ordered that will debut starting in fall 2018. The 2,900-passenger vessels are slightly smaller than Celebrity’s groundbreaking “Solstice Class” line, and will have several innovative features, including a movable deck and cabins with balcony-like spaces that convert from outside to inside. Celebrity Edge also will feature the Eden venue, which will span three decks at the aft of the ship with nearly 7,000 sf of glass — more outward-facing glass than any other room at sea.
In November 2018, Norwegian Cruise Line will introduce the Norwegian Bliss, a sister ship to Norwegian Escape, notable for the largest go-kart track at sea, an open-air laser-tag course, a high-end barbecue venue and water slides that send riders out over the ocean. The 4,004-passenger vessel will first head to Alaska, becoming the largest ship ever to sail the West Coast, before beginning service from Miami on November 17.
Oceania Cruises continues is focus on culinary by adding La Cuisine Bourgeoise by Jacques Pépin to its two newest ships, Marina and Riviera. Limited to 24 guests, making it ideal for intimate networking, the affair is a seven-course meal paired with fine wines and served in La Reserve, a private wine-tasting room. “Cuisine Bourgeoise is rooted in tradition and is one that shaped my childhood,” explained Jacques Pépin, master chef and executive culinary director for Oceania. “It is a cuisine to savor rather than admire or evaluate, it is simply happiness on a plate, and I am thrilled to share this with our guests.”
Oceania Cruises recently unveiled enhanced concierge level stateroom amenities, which include free laundry and in-stateroom dining service from The Grand Dining Room during lunch and dinner, with meals such as the Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Vegetable Ratatouille & Gratin Dauphinois and the mouth-watering Papuan Chocolate Volcano.
Pépin’s recipes are prepared throughout the ships, even in the main dining rooms, and Marina and Riviera also each feature a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, where guests can embark on hands-on cooking classes. Limited to 24 students per session, the courses are ideal for group bonding.
In the first quarter of 2020, Regent Seven Seas Cruises will launch Seven Seas Splendor, the second Explorer-class ship with high-end features and amenities that have made sister-ship Seven Seas Explorer renowned as the most luxurious ship ever built with her launch in 2016. The new all-suite, all-balcony ship will have a gross tonnage of 55,254 and capacity of 750 guests.
And Regent has added Cuba calls to six itineraries in the cruise line’s 2018-19 Caribbean season. Travelers can visit Havana on select itineraries aboard Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Navigator, which depart Miami from October 2018 through March 2019.
Princess Cruises is debuting new features and upgrades onboard its Star Princess to start the 2018 Hawaii Season. Among the offerings are the addition of the Princess Luxury Bed, a Camp Discovery Youth & Teen Center and revamped Sabatini’s restaurant.
Holland America Line’s 99,500-ton Nieuw Statendam, the second Pinnacle Class ship for Holland America Line, will celebrate her inaugural sailing December 5, 2018. The new ship will join ms Koningsdam, which launched in April 2016. A third Pinnacle Class ship will set sail for the cruise line in 2021. While much of the ship’s design will be similar to Koningsdam, Nieuw Statendam will have exclusive public spaces and its own style created by leading hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany, and designer and architect Bjorn Storbraaten. The ship will carry 2,660 guests and feature all of the hallmarks of Pinnacle-class design: grand light-filled spaces; visual drama; and sumptuous interiors inspired by the fluid curves of musical instruments. C&IT