Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

Atrium on the Sovereign of the Seas

The largest ships in 1992 were the Sovereign-class (Royal Caribbean) and Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway (after its expansion refit), and they were in the mid to upper 70,000-ton range. Today, smaller main-stream cruise ships are said to be in the 115,000-ton range and the largest (right now) is the Allure of the Seas at 225,282. That’s about seven (7) Titanics. It seems the industry is going through what airlines already went through; cram as many people into the structure as possible, and hope the passenger experience will not suffer.

The gradual trend towards mass market mega-ships got me thinking about how much thought went into the service aspect, and whether the decision-makers (of the cruise lines) realize the difference between Customer Experience and Customer Service. The ‘service’ is part of the ‘experience,’ a piece of it. Adding all of these new amenities, like obstacle courses, alternative dining venues, bowling alleys, surfing and skydiving simulations, lookout points, mainstream partnerships (for name brand food and product on board) and more (I know I left out a bunch) are wonderful. They ADD to the experience. With the exception of perhaps Disney, are the cruise companies staying on top of the customer care aspect of the Customer Experience?

I am divided on this question. I still think that cruise ship service is like pizza, meaning that even when it is sub-par, it is still pretty damn good.

A Eurodam Cabana

A Eurodam Cabana

My best personal example was a cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam, when she was new. I expected typical Holland America service, but while the cruise was still a cruise (the pizza!), the service was sub-par for Holland America, and it detracted from the overall experience. Items in the buffet ran out BEFORE they replaced them, and this happened more than once. I am not a complainer, but this was Holland America! We also paid for the private cabana for the week, another new amenity added by Holland America on the Eurodam. It seems management did not train the staff, as we were supposed to have iPods with headphones, chocolate covered strawberries, fruit bowls, bottled water and champagne everyday. We, and parties around us, had to inform the staff what we paid for; they either forgot or did not know, and I tend to believe the latter, since it was consistent.

PRE-PAID GRATUITIES and SERVICE
Pre-paid Gratuities, are you a fan? It sure is convenient, but the first time I became aware of it, as a Customer Experience guy, I said to myself, “Now, they don’t have to work for it.” Couple this with the concept of Anytime Dining (or any variation of a name based on Cruise Line), and you have an equation for (potential) lesser service. Sure, you can request the same waiter, but then it is no longer Anytime Dining, because there may be a wait to get seated with your server of choice! Have you ever tried going to the Purser’s Desk on the last day of the cruise to remove the auto-gratuities? Those lines will make you want to jump overboard! I also realize you do not have to choose Anytime Dining on most cruise lines, but the pre-paid gratuities are still part of the service equation.

Service on cruises is still above average in this author’s opinion. But, it is the personalized service to which I’m referring. Cruises used to be known for personalized service, and while you can still get it today, you will pay significantly more for it. NCL and MSC have specific “ship within a ship” programs in place. You can also pay to cruise on a more upscale line, such as Seabourn, for smaller ships and elite services.

ARE THE LATEST AMENITIES A DISTRACTION FROM CHANGES WITH SERVICE?

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

Bumper cars will be on Quantum of the Seas.

It seems that the current resort-styled cruise ships, loaded with mainstream corporate partnerships, will be the norm for some time to come. Several people have written to me stating that they feel the new concepts are not only adding to the experience, but also serve as a distraction from the lack of personalized service in other areas. The mentality that if passengers have such a great experience in certain areas, they/we will (hopefully) forget about experiences that no longer exist to their former heights. This might be true, and it seems to be working.

Even with all of the negative press lately, people are cruising in record numbers as ships continue to get larger, with all kinds of entertainment options and activities. With all of these “distractions”, we overlook that our staterooms aren’t finished when we return from breakfast; that we have different servers during dinner each night, and our regular “wants” aren’t there before we arrive; that empty bottles and glasses linger around the pool areas and hallways longer; that mints on our pillows have disappeared.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Toyota or Lexus…Carnival or Holland America? What do I mean? In the past most of the mass market lines were all pretty similar with regards to offerings. You can still find cruises that are more service-focused in nature. Today, you pick and choose your ship based on what you are looking for in a cruise. If you want a family-friendly cruise, with lots to do regardless of age, you may choose Royal Caribbean. If it’s all about the kids, perhaps Disney. Want a more subdued cruise experience, sail with Celebrity or Holland America.

This may seem like a rant, but it isn’t meant to be. I do feel that there are certain aspects of the Customer Experience that are overlooked, purposely, because of economics. In mass market cruising it is a reality; many lines have positioned themselves to be more entertainment oriented (sit, watch and enjoy) as well as activity oriented (we are a part of the action: bowling; surfing; zip lining, obstacle courses, etc.). This ALLOWS the cruise lines to be less service oriented (depending on the brand). But, this is not a bad thing. We now have several options. And, cruise vacations, now more than ever, can be as boring or as exciting as you choose for them to be.

So, do the CEOs of cruise lines actually care about the customer? I like to think they do…and if they do, it sure is a different philosophy than what cruising was in the mid 90’s and earlier!

The MSC Divina

The MSC Divina

Best of Italy…MSC Cruises has announced a series of exclusive partnerships with popular Italian brands for the Divina’s upcoming Caribbean season.

The cruise line has partnered with Segafredo Zanetti, an Italian gourmet coffee brand, and will serving espressos to foamed cappuccinos. Coffee and chocolate menus also include a variety of specialist coffees and chocolate drinks.

Another partnership is with Nutella and its hazelnut spread, with a Nutella Corner aboard the ship by the main pool. All embarking families will receive a special Nutella welcome kit inviting them to come and discover the Nutella corner and a Nutella & Go pack for every child, a snack consisting of Nutella and Italian bread sticks. In the mini and junior clubs will be soft Nutella jar-shaped seats and toy containers.   Read the rest of the story here

 

Guy's  Burger Joint on Carnival.

Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival.

Guy Fieri sails on Carnival…Guy Fieri and his family take to the sea for fun, adventure  and killer food aboard the Carnival Breeze in a new television special, Guy’s Family Cruise, premiering on Food Network Monday, October 28 at 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT).

Guy’s Family Cruise follows the Fieris during their Caribbean adventure – making stops in Miami, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos Islands, and Jamaica aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ largest and newest ship, Carnival Breeze.  Read the rest here

About 22 years ago, we were looking at condos, for my grandmother, in South Florida.  We actually inquired about several assisted-living venues.  Not that she needed it at the time.  She just did not want to cook, clean, iron, bake or drive!  Back THEN, assisted living facilities were ranging between $2,500 to over $5,000 a month, depending on location, size, amenities and more.  Today, these rates have not lowered.

A couple of years ago, I became friendly with a couple (while part of a management team of a large-scale, active adult condo community) who said, “Jeff, when we are ready to leave this place, we are just going to live on a Carnival ship for the rest of our lives.”  I thought she was kidding, and then I was introduced to other people who simply sail on cruise-after-cruise-after-cruise, and so on.  In between sailings, they would stay with family or in a hotel, a week here…a week there.  Then I started thinking…depending on the cruise line (and ship, of course), it certainly can be a cost-effective living solution, when compared to active adult community options.

Regardless of your age, it is quite a concept.  Sure, there are items to consider, such as a primary care physician, a dentist and more, but, (almost) everything is done for you!  And, you get to visit parts of the world while doing so!  Restaurants and food galore, pools, lounges, entertainment, music, games, recreation, fitness center, salon, nightlife, education enrichment lectures, movies…it’s all there; it’s all on-board!

ResidenSea's "The World"

ResidenSea’s “The World”

There already exists a long-term, living at sea option, and it is called “The World”, by ResidenSea.  The major difference here is that she is for the wealthy, and like other condominiums, potential residents must go through a screening process.  In fact, according to TravelTruth.com, owners on “The World” voted “to end their policies of allowing certain travel agencies to book room rentals,” and that “The World will not accept residents who do not meet our $10 million in assets requirements.”  In addition, applications to sail must be approved by a committee consisted of owners!  And I thought the $4,300 per month for my grandmother’s assisted living choice was steep!

So, cruise lines such as Carnival and MSC are offering consistent sailing rates averaging under $600 per week, per person.  It makes me wonder if one was to approach a cruise line, and mention that you wish to sail with them every week for six months, if they would offer even more aggressive rates!  Perhaps, one day, there will be a cruise line that offers affordable, long-term living at sea.

MSC Fantasia

MSC Fantasia

What do you think?  Could you…would you….live on a cruise ship for extended periods of time?  Do you think cruise ships can offer a legitimate option when choosing apartment-style living?

A rendering of the Quantum of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean.

A rendering of the Quantum of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean International today announced the introduction of the Quantum Experience Advisors program featuring a group of celebrity experts in fields such as design, sports & fitness, entertainment and others who will work hand-in-hand with Royal Caribbean’s internal teams to provide their expertise to help shape interior design, key amenities and activities on the Quantum-class.

Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas are set to debut in November 2014 and April 2015 respectively.

The Quantum Experience Advisors are lending their professional know-how to ensure every aspect of the guest experience has been maximized to the fullest extent.

The rest of the article is HERE.

 

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line's new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship's Red Frog Pub. Photo  by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line’s new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship’s Red Frog Pub. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

We go on holiday to get away from it all, right?  Maybe not always, as some families will travel together to go visit other family they have elsewhere in the world. I think we can all agree that this is not always a “vacation!!”  But, stick with the notion of being on a cruise (and being away from home), regardless of who you are traveling with.  Do you like to have the “comforts of home” at your fingertips, or are you seeking to get away from the venues, ideas and concepts that remind you of being at home?

Lately, familiar partnerships are being formed left and right on cruise ships.  Many of the partnerships revolve around food, music, entertainment and shopping…many of them found directly on board certain ships.  I certainly cannot fault the cruise lines for doing this; it’s a proven model that works…just ask Las Vegas.  Some of the classiest hotels sport certain chain burger joints, sub-sandwich shops and traditional shopping mall retail stores.

In my mind, it’s not so much that these venues are present on cruise ships, or can be found at port destinations.  I understand people…many people…enjoy comfortable and familiar surroundings, and may not leave home if some of these items can’t be found at their holiday destinations.  But, some of these things are part of a daily routine, like coffee every morning at a certain chain coffee house, on the way to work!  I’m doing my best to not mention business names, so this is how I will do it:

“I absolutely LOVED the Allure of the Seas, and I would sail with her again.  However, a certain amenity featured in the heart of the ship reminded me of work, and I did not want to be reminded of work while sailing on the Allure!”

We took a Hawaiian cruise several years ago, and it was an awesome trip.  Four days at sea from Ensenada, Mexico followed by Hawaiian Island-hopping.  Couldn’t wait to get to Kauai, since I heard about how untouched it was compared to Maui and Honolulu.  When the Vision of the Seas docked, and I ran up to get photos of the mountains and the landscape, what was the first thing I saw?  It was a very well-known chain superstore.  I won’t say the name, but it rhymes with “Fall Smart.”  I realize people who live there may need, and love, a “Fall Smart,” a “Bold’s Jim” and a “Hoarder’s Books and Music,” but it certainly detracted from the excitement of seeing Kauai for the first time.

I am not a Carnival mark, but at the same time, I wouldn’t turn down a Carnival cruise; love it all.  I truly like what Carnival has done with their sports bar concept, and crafting their own beer.  This is original.  They could have easily partnered with “Ham Adums” and themed their bars Boston-style, but they did not.  On holiday, I like to experience different. I like to experience local. I realize it isn’t easy, and an impossibility in some cases (due to suppliers), but I’d love to see ships offer more cuisine and arts/crafts based on where she’s going.

Okay…off to “Tarmucks.”

That's me, on the right, wearing my Ministry of Supply 'Core' shirt.

That’s me, on the right, wearing my Ministry of Supply ‘Core’ shirt.

The debate goes on.  Cruisers who long for the cruising of yesterday (dressing up, all-assigned dining tables and time, etc.) versus the growing number of cruisers who seem to enjoy the options cruise lines offer today, allowing for more choice with regards to dining and dress.  Well, I found a line of clothes that allows you to both look good and feel comfortable doing so, all day long.

The company is Ministry of Supply, based out of Boston, MA.  As of this writing, MOS offers clothing only for men, and they certainly do not market themselves in the world of cruising, but towards the business professional (think “the active professional”).  I can’t speak for all male cruisers, but I for one prefer to dress more business casually for dinner on board, than I would more formally.  Heck, you’re on holiday!

MOS takes the technology principles that exist in performance apparel (think Under Armour, Patagonia) and bring it into professional clothing like dress shirts and pants.  Who wouldn’t want this on their cruise vacation, particularly if you want to look great, and feel comfortable as you cruise into warm weather climates!  I purchased one of their shirts and wore it all day long in Bermuda.  It did what it was supposed to do, and I felt comfortable both in the outdoor heat and in the air-conditioned restaurants we visited.  Now, MOS is looking to produce a performance dress sock!  You can read about it HERE.  Their entire line can be found HERE.

Here’s to a comfortable cruise!!

Contributor, Tore Berger

Contributor, Tore Berger

In today`s world of professionalism, most of us know what we want, what we like, and we let our demands be heard. When we go on a cruise, and into a bar, it tends to be the same way. We know, we want, and we demand!

A bartender is like any other profession: service; knowledge of the trade; small talk by the counter; seeing the guests; and knowledge of the bottles.

Berger’s law:

A bartender is a person which the guests seek. In the opposite of a waiter, the bartender is standby at the bar counter.  That can be demanding, but also giving. People seek You, the professional, the bartender.

  1. A bartender knows all his/her bottles and what they are.
  2. A bartender knows about the production of all his bottles.
  3. A bartender welcomes all his guests, and sees them.
  4. Knowledge of alcohol law is always at it’s place.
  5. The bartender knows about alcohol limits, potential dangers, and effects.
  6. A bartender uses small talk effectively, both for pleasure and for checking the guests status.
  7. The bartender knows his bar menu, and a lot of international cocktails.
  8. A bartender always has a design cocktail for You!
  9. If the guest is having a bad day, the bartender has a solution!
  10. A bar professional can cheer me up.
  11. The bartender is always a listener.
  12. A bartender is never the same…

Like Isaac from “Love Boat”, or like Sam in “Cheers,” the bartender is your friend and guest host during a cruise. Ask him for your favorite cocktail. Ask him for something special. Ask him for his favorite. The bar menu is just the ABC’s, it is the rest that separates the pro from the others. “Cheers,” cruise lovers, and have a “cocktail dreams” next cruise!

“It’s not the mixing which is the difficult part, but to be a bartender…”

Greetings from the sea: Tore Berger

Shops of St. Thomas, USVI.

Shops of St. Thomas, USVI.

The debate goes on with regards to cruise passengers’ feelings about the ever-increasing amounts of “specialty charges” on board most major cruise ships.  One thing is for sure…numbers don’t lie!  A recent study (conducted by the Business Research & Economic Advisors (B.R.E.A.) for the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association) shows decreases in Average Percentage of Passengers Making Purchases at 21 (survey) participating ports of call in the Caribbean.  In my opinion, it is pretty clear that as passengers partake of an increased number of on-board activities (costing money), it is less likely that they will spend more on land.  Here are the stats as compiled by the B.R.E.A. (2008/09 Cruise Year, 2011/12 Cruise Year):

  • Watches & Jewelry: 18.1%, 17.0%
  • Taxis/Ground Transportation: 23.3%, 18.5%
  • Clothing: 40.0%, 40.1%
  • Local Crafts & Souvenirs: 48.5%, 46.7%
  • F&B at Restaurants & Bars: 41.5%, 45.8%
  • Shore Excursions: 56.6%, 56.1%
  • Other Purchases: 22.2%, 20.0%

The net result was a slight decline of 0.8 percent in the average weighted expenditure of cruise passengers during the 2011/2012 year to $97.12 per passenger visit, from $97.93 per passenger visit in the 2008/2009 cruise year.  Interesting of note is that while the average amount of passengers who made purchases decreased, the dollar amount per purchase, per passenger, increased!  Seems those who are shopping are spending greater amounts while in port!

Happy Cruising and Happy Fathers Day everybody!

35 CLSHSerenity01RendjpgAs a lover of the “mega-cruise-ship”concept, I remember the year 1996, when Carnival’s Destiny debuted.  It was the first cruise ship to crack the 100,000-ton barrier, and I couldn’t wait to see it.  In 1992, my first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas, and at that time, she was second largest (to NCL’s SS Norway), and I thought the Sovereign was huge.  But now, 100,000-tons…wow!  The Destiny was impressive; large open spaces, a massive pool deck with a unique lounger layout, more dining and drinking venues, and, not as flashy-looking, compared to her earlier sister ships (Fantasy-class).  I had the chance to sail her again about three years ago, when a good friend announced his wedding would be in Key West, during the Destiny’s call at the port.  So, my wife and I joined the party.

In a day when companies are selling off older ships and building new ones, the Destiny-Sunshine concept is intriguing, because it is being billed as the most extensive renovation of an existing liner.  Most are saying that she is not recognizable!  There have been many exciting upgrades and additions, and we can’t wait to experience them.  Not only will Sunshine be a destination herself, but her (soon to be) home port is as well.  What better place for the excitement and buzz of Carnival’s “newest” ship than the energetic city of New Orleans?  Talk about a pre or post-cruise experience; New Orleans can certainly be one if you so desire.

OBXRF4jpg OBXRF2jpgOne of my favorite additions to Sunshine is the RedFrog Pub.  Not only has Carnival’s beer selection improved over the years, but now they also feature their own brew: “Thirsty Frog Red.”  And, those who know me have many nicknames for me, among them, “beer snob.”  Needless to say, I am excited to sample Carnival’s craft brew.  Below is an excerpt from Carnival’s website, focusing on the RedFrog Pub:

Get into an island state of mind before you even set foot on one. RedFrog Pub is our laid-back, no-worries, oh-so-lively Key West-inspired pub. Sample Caribbean fare, dominate at the foosball table, enjoy some sweet tunes from live musicians and sip our tasty signature private-label brew, ThirstyFrog Red. So kick back and feel the island vibe come to life. You’ll be a local here before you know it.

Want to learn more about the Carnival Sunshine?  Click right HERE and enjoy!

buffetbevIf you like to get all or most of your meal items at the buffet, in one shot, some cruise ships are making it difficult to do so.  On some ships, there is one thing that is lacking, and that can help with this problem:

TRAYS!

We recently returned from a cruise ship which did not offer trays for passengers’ use at the buffet.  One passenger joked that it was because there was a “Server Convention” on board.  Very clever…I thought!  Well, there are some very valid reasons for eliminating trays:

  1. More room at your tables
  2. Less weight on the ship
  3. Less to clean
  4. More room for those in line at the buffet, and
  5. Less cost for the cruise line.

Yes, these make sense, and I’m sure there are others.  But, not all of us are servers, and can balance a plate on one arm, while carrying a bowl of something in one hand, and a beverage in the other.  In addition, going back and forth (and perhaps waiting for others in your party to do the same) means your food may get cold.  Also, what if you want take a bunch of stuff back to your stateroom?  We missed our trays!

I’m not suggesting you pack a couple of trays to take with you (maybe we will start a trend, LOL!), but there is something much simpler you can do.  Order room service.  Then, when you are finished, put all of the items outside for pick-up, but KEEP THE TRAY!  Take the tray with you to the buffet area.  We did this on our last cruise and we got more of the “Mr. Spock Raised Eyebrow” looks from the staff than we did from fellow passengers.  Remember to take the tray back to the room when you are done!  Tacky…a little…but we wanted to consume our food while at its warmest!

Enjoy your next cruise everybody…we will be back soon; Cheers!