Every incentive program needs a “selling point” to potential qualifiers, and for most, the prospect of a cruise with a captivating itinerary is a strong enough motivation. But additional intrigue is gained when those potential qualifiers know that the vessel will be a state-of-the-art, new offering from the cruise line. Particularly for those attendees who are veterans of cruise incentives, the reward of experiencing a new ship can be as motivating as an itinerary that is new to the market.
From the planner’s perspective, new ships may also carry a budgetary advantage. “It’s like the hotels: You get the preopening rates. We get in early and get the best deal,” explains Russ Kembel of Redmond, Washington-based Russ Kembel & Associates, an independent meeting planning company that has done extensive work with Royal Caribbean. “Once word gets out [about the new vessel], not only do the rates go up, but the availability may not be there for the dates that we need.”
Kembel has an incentive group for a direct-selling company boarding the Symphony of the Seas out of Barcelona this month. The world’s largest passenger ship (6,680 maximum capacity, 2,759 staterooms), Symphony of the Seas launched last summer and makes its stateside debut in November at Royal Caribbean’s new Terminal A in PortMiami. Like any new ship, the vessel will be a “conversation piece” for attendees, especially given its record-breaking size.
An impactful first voyage can effectively make those attendees evangelists of the ship and the cruise line for future groups from the client company, Kembel adds. “The people on that first trip are going to be your best salespeople to [other potential qualifiers] for the next cruise.”
Fortunately, Royal Caribbean is not the only cruise line introducing ships that will make waves in the group market. Celebrity, for instance, will soon launch a ship that may give incentive planners the “edge” in motivating potential qualifiers.
Joining the company’s fleet this winter, Celebrity Edge offers a variety of trailblazing features that have caught the attention of corporate cruise planners.
According to Ailene Sorice, director, corporate and incentive group sales, Corporate Cruise Consultants, “One of the most exciting things about Celebrity Edge is all the new revolutionary features she will be providing attendees with, from the introduction of the first Infinite Veranda class of staterooms to the Magic Carpet to all the outward-facing venues like the urban playscape Rooftop Garden, and Eden — the grandest environment ever designed on Celebrity — to the most technologically advanced theater, and most importantly, The Meeting Place. I am so looking forward to seeing this beauty in November.”
The ship offers 1,467 staterooms, and the Edge Staterooms with Infinite Verandas allow guests to turn their living space into a veranda with the touch of a button.
Roland Navarro, president of Seven Seas Corporate Cruises & Events, has experienced this feature in one of Celebrity’s model Edge Staterooms in Miami. “You hit the button and the window goes down, and now you have a balcony. That’s genius to me,” he comments. “Everybody’s looking for the newest toy, and I think that’s going to get a lot of media buzz.”
The Magic Carpet is a cantilevered platform that accommodates 100 guests and rises up to 13 stories above sea level, with various functions at different levels (e.g., on Deck 5, it provides open-air dining). The platform is appointed with a full-service bar and a live music performance area. Eden is a three-story, glass-enclosed, 11,800-square-foot event space with panoramic ocean views. A venue designed for corporate groups specifically, The Meeting Place is a 1,970-square-foot facility with soundproof dividers that allow for two to three concurrent events. It offers built-in AV, a pantry and bar, ocean views, a planner’s office and a central location near the elevators.
“My concern was, are these guys ever going to get work done? Because the scenery is awesome. I’m happy to report that they did get their work done, but everyone came out of the meeting with their camera to take pictures of the glacier.”
Joining Celebrity Edge in 2020 will be Celebrity Apex. The 2,900-passenger
ship will be the second in the Edge Class and boasts signature features like the Infinite Veranda staterooms, Magic Carpet, two-deck jogging tracks and Rooftop Garden.
In addition to its new ships, Celebrity recently began The Celebrity Revolution, an investment of $500 million across the entire fleet to introduce a variety of upgrades to staterooms, public venues, culinary service and more.
Many of Celebrity’s enhancement projects are informed by input from its annual MICE Advisory Board, demonstrating a commitment to the group market. Sorice describes the brand as “adult-focused, which is perfect for MICE groups that do not incorporate families into their programs.” And with the cruise line’s “recent re-entry back into the short cruise market (four- and five-night), we have had many more opportunities to partner with Celebrity,” she says.
Among the brand’s standout features, Sorice highlights the onboard culinary experience, featuring “menus that are globally inspired and made with locally sourced ingredients and overseen by Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher.”
Her team also favors Chef’s Market Discoveries, where Celebrity chefs lead attendees on tastings through local markets and restaurants at ports of call.
“We have presented Chef’s Market Discoveries to a variety of groups sailing in the Caribbean, Alaska, Western Med and Greek Isles,” she relates. “The attendees are brought to local markets to meet farmers and local producers and then create a special meal onboard utilizing market-fresh ingredients.”
In terms of onboard F&B, Celebrity is “up there with the quality of Regent, Oceania and Silversea,” says Navarro, who has partnered with the brand for a type of corporate event that is not typically held aboard a ship — a trade show. “Once I tie down that the RFP they typically use for the land event can work onboard, then we can proceed on doing it,” he explains. “The full ship charter is a little easier because the client can use the entire ship and even leave booths up for the duration of the charter.”
Navarro recently staged a trade show aboard the Celebrity Solstice for an internet and computer services provider company. Held during a seven-night Alaska cruise out of Seattle, the show drew more than 300 attendees. The registration number surpassed what was expected, thanks in part to the unique venue.
Celebrity made the event a success in various ways. “They gave us access to the conference rooms for meetings and breakouts, and then they gave us a lounge at night, which is usually unheard of in the cruise industry because they use those rooms for entertainment,” he says.
Offering 180-degree views of the Alaska environs, the lounge housed 15 trade show booths. The show’s vendors sponsored various components of the event, including breakfast breaks, shore excursions, private dinners and nightly room gift deliveries.
Attendees bonded during canoeing adventures and even helicopter tours, but for Navarro, one of the highlights was simply the view from the ship.
“They had a meeting Monday morning up on Deck 14 while the ship did a full 360-degree turn so you can have the greatest views of the glacier,” he relates. “My concern was, are these guys ever going to get work done? Because the scenery is awesome. I’m happy to report that they did get their work done, but everyone came out of the meeting with their camera to take pictures of the glacier.”
Royal Caribbean’s cruises cover more than 260 destinations with 25 ships of all sizes, affording planners plenty of booking options.
And the choices continue to increase, Kembel observes. “My challenge each year is how do I outdo the previous one. And Royal Caribbean started off with the Allure and the Oasis, so how do you better that? Well, they came out with the Harmony. So how do we better that? Well, now we’ve got the Symphony of the Seas. They keep bettering themselves,” he explains.
The Oasis-class vessels Kembel refers to are the largest cruise ships ever built, and he offers some advice for planners who want to optimize the experience for attendees aboard such ships.
“One of the key things on these big ships is [to keep in mind that] only on the first night are there long lines to get into restaurants and shows,” he says. “So you either book in advance for a show or take the dine-around plan [to avoid lines on the first night]. After that, it’s a piece of cake the rest of the week.”
Planners may also be concerned that incentive winners will have to wait excessively on lines to board ships of that size, but that is not the case, Kembel assures. “If I’m taking an incentive group on a cruise, or if they’re doing a President’s Club, which we have done at Four Seasons [hotels] around the world, I can’t have them stand in these long lines just to get onto this big ship. It doesn’t work; they’ll be complaining, and then, we have to win them back.”
But as Kembel experienced firsthand, the boarding process is “like clockwork, they get them on so quick. They are so well-organized for a big ship.”
Royal Caribbean’s second-largest class of cruise ships is the Quantum Class, with the latest member Ovation of the Seas. The ship, which debuted in 2016, will make its first voyage to Alaska next summer.
A member of the Voyager Class, Mariner of the Seas has received more than $100 million in upgrades, including a bungee trampoline adventure; The Bamboo Room — a tiki-chic lounge with craft cocktails; an immersive Escape Room experience that’s ideal for teambuilding; and the Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade.
Mariner of the Seas offers three- and four-night cruises to The Bahamas, including Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay, which will be undergoing $200 million in renovations through next fall. The island will be the first in the company’s new Perfect Day Island Collection, consisting of private islands set in compelling destinations around the world.
After its April debut, Norwegian Bliss toured ports in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, followed by an inaugural summer cruise to Alaska. The 4,004-capacity vessel’s upcoming voyages include sailing to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles in the fall, and to the Caribbean from Miami in the winter. Onboard highlights include musicals Jersey Boys and Happy Hour Prohibition, the Q Texas Smokehouse, group dining venues such as the 512-capacity Manhattan Room and even a racetrack.
The company has also completed refurbishments of Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Star as part of a fleet enhancement initiative called The Norwegian Edge. The ships now feature new designs and venues, including Los Lobos Cantina, an upscale Mexican restaurant; the adults-only enclave, Spice H2O; and Syd Norman’s Pour House — an American rock ‘n’ roll bar and lounge, which makes its debut aboard Norwegian Breakaway.
Recently, Norwegian introduced a new Affinity Group Program, which offers up to $500 onboard credit and a choice of perks such as the Ultimate Beverage Package, 4-Meal Specialty Dining Package, 250-minute Wi-Fi package, $50 shore excursion credit per room and more. Groups might take advantage of that program on a cruise to Cuba.
Norwegian recently completed her first season of cruises to Cuba from Port Canaveral, Florida, welcoming more than 30,000 guests on 15 voyages.
Norwegian will be well-positioned to sail to the Caribbean with the new Norwegian Cruise Line terminal at PortMiami, opening fall 2019. Norwegian Encore, the newest ship in the Breakaway Plus class, will debut next year with seasonal cruises from Miami to the Caribbean.
Oceania offers six luxurious ships calling on more than 450 ports across Europe, Alaska, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, New England-Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Tahiti and the South Pacific.
Similar to the Norwegian Edge, Oceania’s new OceaniaNEXT will bring fleet-wide enhancements, beginning with a $100 million investment into the line’s four 684-capacity ships (Insignia, Regatta, Sirena and Nautica). Each will gain 342 completely redesigned suites and staterooms, as well as new décor in the restaurants, lounges and bars.
Completion of these projects is scheduled for December 2018, May 2019, September 2019 and June 2020, respectively.
Regent’s upscale four-ship fleet visits more than 450 destinations around the world, and the company has recently invested $125 million in refurbishing that fleet, concluding with the renovation of Seven Seas Mariner this year.
The project redesigned all restaurants, including the flagship Compass Rose, public spaces, pool deck and guest suites.
Planners interested in booking a voyage to Cuba aboard a luxury vessel will note that Regent has also been granted permission to offer voyages to the island.
And the company is adding more visits to Cuba in 2019 and 2020. Seven Seas Mariner will offer the line’s first immersive Cuba itinerary on her October 2019 voyage, calling on Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. In addition, Havana is being added into Seven Seas Navigator’s April 2020 voyage.
In early 2020, Regent introduces Seven Seas Splendor, a 750-capacity, all-suite ship. The 375 suites range from the 307-square-foot Veranda Suite to the opulent, 4,443-square-foot Regent Suite.
Crystal makes budgeting easier for planners with its all-inclusive group offers. Packages include staff gratuities and complimentary use of all standard AV equipment for meetings. The fleet now features free, unlimited Wi-Fi connectivity to guests across multiple devices, both in suites and staterooms and throughout public areas.
The company has also been upgrading 922-capacity Crystal Symphony and 1,070-capacity Crystal Serenity. The former ship debuted a redesign last November, while the latter vessel’s redesign will be completed this November.
Guests will enjoy expanded specialty dining options, an open-seating dining concept, tech upgrades and more of the spacious, butler-serviced Penthouse accommodations.
Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity are billed as the only luxury ships in the industry with a dedicated movie theater, which can be used for corporate presentations, meetings, panel discussions and lecture programs.
This month, Carnival Cruise Line’s latest vessel, Carnival Horizon, begins a series of six- and eight-day Caribbean Cruises out of Miami.
The 26th ship in the company’s fleet, the 3,960-passenger Carnival Horizon offers a variety of distinctive features, such as a Dr. Seuss-themed WaterWorks aqua park, ideal for groups cruising with families; Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse|Brewhouse, by Food Network star Guy Fieri; an IMAX Theatre and the bike-ride-in-the-sky aerial attraction SkyRide.
Also of note aboard Carnival Horizon is the fleet’s most expansive retail space: The two-level mall showcases top brands like LeVian, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Breitling and Hublot.
The company has also recently completed a multimillion-dollar refurbishment of Carnival Paradise, which resumed its schedule of four- to eight-day cruises out of Tampa in March. The project added a water park, 38 new cabins, 98 balconies to existing staterooms and a variety of new F&B outlets.
Repositioning to Port Tampa Bay in October 2019 is Carnival Legend, following a series of departures from Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, in the fall and winter, and a series of seven-day Alaska cruises in summer 2019. Carnival Legend has undergone a variety of F&B additions similar to Carnival Paradise.
Planners often look for hotels with sustainability features (e.g., LEED certification), but the green movement also extends to the cruise industry. A case in point is Princess Cruises, whose new ships scheduled for delivery in 2023 and 2025 will be the line’s first ships to be dual-fuel powered.
The primary fuel source will be Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), claimed to be the marine industry’s most environmentally friendly advanced fuel technology and the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuel. The use of that fuel significantly reduces air emissions and marine gasoil.
The new ships will also be the largest by capacity in the fleet, accommodating approximately 4,300 guests. In addition to these vessels, the Sky Princess is scheduled to debut in October 2019, and two other Royal-class ships are planned for delivery in 2020 and 2022.
Attendees may wish to toast their cruise experience with a signature cocktail from master mixologist Rob Floyd’s new line of specialty drinks, introduced to Princess Cruises in August. The cocktails are inspired by the cruise line’s various destinations, with examples including Mayan Heat, Italian Sunset, Amaretto Manhattan and Ivory Coast.
Sliversea’s relatively small ships, ranging from the 100-capacity Silver Galapagos to the 608-capacity Silver Spirit, are ideal for charters. Offering spacious oceanview suites with butler service, the vessels are quite a reward for incentive winners, and planners have a variety of voyages and expeditions to choose from, spanning more than 900 destinations.
Some of the expedition destinations are off the beaten path. A fairly new offering is Antarctica, where the 254-capacity Silver Cloud recently sailed following a $40 million refurbishment. From the Tor’s Observation Lounge, attendees can enjoy 180-degree views of the White Continent. They can also relax in the Zàgara Spa, or leave their comfort zone with Expedition Team members to achieve a new level of camaraderie through a firsthand experience hiking and kayaking in Antarctica.
New ships, from the Silver Cloud to the immense Symphony of the Seas, tend to make a splash in the group market, but so do offshore excursions that push the envelope. The overarching idea is to offer qualifiers a new experience within the familiar format of the cruise incentive — something that gets them talking and bonding. C&IT