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!

hero_country_selectionIf you thought they didn’t really pay attention to those comment cards…well, they do! Guest feedback helped define the new program features, which include two new, additional levels of status and rewards beyond the existing “Elite” level, which is the highest level of membership in the brand’s current four-tiered program.

Effective on sailings commencing after November 25, 2013, the new Captain’s Club will offer a six-tier program. The Club’s current levels of  “Preview,” “Classic,” “Select” and “Elite” will remain, with two new tiers — “Elite Plus” and “Zenith” — each with their own unique set of benefits and privileges.

Members who achieve the new Elite Plus status will receive an even higher level of recognition and broader benefits, including additional beverage and specialty dining discounts, complimentary 200-minute Internet packages, complimentary cappuccinos, lattes and more.

Members who achieve Zenith status will receive benefits and perks befitting this ultimate level of membership, such as access to Michael’s Club Lounge (available fleetwide in 2014), a complimentary premium alcoholic beverage package, complimentary laundry, a 1,600-minute Internet package, and other benefits.

The entire article from Cruise Industry News is here.

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.

Photo: Disney Cruise Line

Photo: Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line is narrowing the options for smokers on its ships with a new rule that bans lighting up on cabin balconies.

The company says the prohibition against cigarettes, cigars and other smoking products on balconies will take effect on Nov. 15, and customers found in violation will face a $250 penalty.

Read the full article HERE.

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!

Another full day at sea and one day closer to Bermuda! Here are today’s experiences and observations from the Norwegian Breakaway:

1. Seems like a definite pattern. Breakfast at the Garden Cafe (Buffet Deck 15) is fully open by 7:30am (all stations). If you want to avoid the crowds, have your plates filled and be seated before 8:30am. By the way…the eggs taste real (not the powdered stuff!). In addition, don’t miss the hash browns! They are like miniature potato pancakes and have great flavor!

2. Foods that are supposed to be hot are hot; consistently now for three days.

3. We enjoyed an international beer tasting today! $15 per person for five samplings and lots of history and information. It all took place at Maltings Bar. We also experienced a Michael Jackson dance class, featuring the song “I Want You Back”, and prep for a flash mob!

4. We enjoyed a game of miniature golf on the 9-hole course. It was crowded but we only had to wait about two minutes for clubs and balls. In addition, deck space was not an issue…if you did not have to be by the two Main Pools.

5. One of the highlights of the day was a photo with two of the Radio City Rockettes. All of our photos will be posted when we are in a fast and reliable WiFi zone. Sorry to say, the satellite service still doesn’t cut the mustard.

6. The casino has an addicting “crane game” that gives you a chance to win lots of cash and iPads. The object is to make an over-sized key-shaped object fit perfectly into an opening, so that it will latch on to the prizes of your choosing. All it takes is a $1 swipe of your room key. But beware, it is not easy, although it seems so simple, and it is easy to lose track of how many turns you have taken.

7. Dinner tonight was in Le Bistro, a French restaurant venue with a $20 pp cover. Service and fare were each excellent, and the food continued to exceed our expectation, especially on a line better known for its entertainment. We have heard comments from several about their pleasant experiences with the meals and food venues.

8. An observation…seems there are more smokers on cruises out of the Northeast than on cruises out of Florida. Keep this in mind if you plan to dine outdoors, as the Breakaway has an abundance of outdoor dining venues.

9. “Rock of Ages” in the Breakaway Theater was amazing…full set, just like on Broadway. The music, and how it was used to tell the story…brilliant, and brought back fond memories. Loved the cast…and they were available for FREE meet and greets and photo opps (with your own cameras) as you exited the Theatre!

Overall, the staff and crew have been very friendly, and we are often greeted with smiles. A couple of times we encountered a shy bartender, but after a few minutes, each seemed to loosen up a bit. However, you can tell which ones are going to be more successful in the long run! That’s it for today. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow!

Contributor, Tore Berger

Contributor, Tore Berger

When a new cruise ship is on its way from a paper drawing to an actual ship, there is literally tons of work to be done besides the physical aspect. Inspection, inspection, inspection!

To be an inspector on a yard, for a cruise company on a big new build, is somewhat of an experience. The yard company is the overall responsible party, and there is probably a two-figured number of construction deliverers working for the yard. Perhaps one company for the buffet restaurant, another for the “American” styled bar, another for the nightclub and so on. Each with their special fields and skills, and, again, additional providers for furniture, electronics, carpets, and so on. Different companies for different bars, for the different areas, restaurants etc.

I repeat, the yard is responsible. The contractors have their duties and work, and the cruise company wants it all to be perfect. And here lies the work for the inspectors. A small delegation of trusted employees, from the cruise company, does the inspections. A Chef or two to inspect the galleys; Bar Manager for the bars; electrician, engineer, headwaiter, boatswain and so on. Every inch of wall is examined: scratches, marks, stains, technical, furniture, painting, and the finish in general. Everything is supposed to be shiny, new, functioning properly, and looking perfect. The inspectors do this utilizing their respective skills, and on behalf of the company and owner. Trust is the key word from the company, and pride is the answer from the handpicked inspectors.

An inspection goes on with a representative from the yard, from the deliverer, from the contractor, and the company inspector. Hours and hours, details, and notes. After as many as 10-12 inspections, the area can be signed and “delivered.” Everybody involved signs, and the inspector does it for the owner. This is always like a small ceremony, and the tension can be high. As a trusted inspector for my company, I have to say it’s a special honour. The trace of a ship is linked to me. To my name. To my job. The flip side of the coin? I am responsible for signings up to millions of dollars. Anyway, it is, and will in the future, be worth it.

Cruise ship inspector, a job to remember for life.

On behalf of the owner: Tore Berger.

“A business that only makes money, is a poor business!”

Contributor, Tore Berger

Contributor, Tore Berger

Why is it so that we have to decide our restaurant seating, before going on a cruise?  The answer is logical and obvious; logistics and planning.

Some cruise companies have a freestyle concept, where one can decide where to eat, and what, that actual day. Perfect a lot of us say, but also with a flip side, you have to book a table for every meal. The concept of fixed seating everyday gives you a fixed table, the same waiter, and some variety of food options.

Nice when it comes to planning, fun when it comes to getting to know your wait staff, and relaxing when you know there is no line, waiting to be seated, or disappointments for not getting a table.

A combination of these would be perfect you might say. The thing is, it would probably be more confusing than guest friendly. Most cruise ships today have a lot to choose from when it comes to foods and concepts. If it’s a fixed seating concept or a 100% freestyle system, use the ships restaurants and dinning facilities.

Cover charge or fee? Take the cost, it is most probably worth it. The head chef has the logistics in mind before starting a cruise. The menus have to be ready, the galley staff has to know, and the guests have to know what to come to. But if the ship is out of Veal, Fois grais, Oysters or something else the last day, I guarantee they have a nice alternative for you.

“Bon appétit” to Your next cruise, with or without fixed seating!

-Tore Berger

There was an article recently about what people felt were their most awkward financial moments.  Having a credit card rejected came in at number one.  It got me thinking about awkward moments I’ve had while cruising.

It was a HAL Eurodam cruise I took, during it’s inaugural season.  That week, a couple of things became apparent that made me feel awkward; probably would not affect many, but since I’m a Customer Experience person, they bothered me.

The first was when a crew member mentioned (to me) that the ship was sailing some 90 crew members short. We did not even ask for this information; he overheard us talking at a table in the buffet area.  We had a great time, but did experience some uncharacteristically sub-par service (by HAL’s standards).  It was good to know that the shortage is probably what contributed to how long things took that week.  However, I’m not quite sure it was right of the crew member to spill this information to passengers.  If we were told, I’m sure others were as well.  We never said anything, to anybody, about what we were told.

The second item was a different story, and made some of us feel uncomfortable.  A supervisor was loudly reprimanding a subordinate, also in the buffet area, in front of everybody!  This is a no-no, and behavior such as this should never take place in front of your customers; it can lend to poor perception. And, perception is everything!  This time, we did say something to the hotel director.  The director thanked us, and we actually received a letter later that evening!

Just as with an issue you may have with food in a restaurant, a situation which makes you feel uncomfortable should be reported to the proper department.  If it bothers you, it is probably affecting somebody else. Lastly, if the condition continues, and goes unreported, it may never improve.  Simply by doing this, you can directly have an affect on creating a positive experience not only for yourself, but for future cruisers!

MSC Divina rendering.

MSC Divina rendering.

Later this year, MSC will move to PortMiami for its Caribbean sailings.  MSC’s newest ship, the Divina, will call Miami its home beginning in the fall.  MSC signed a three-year deal with PortMiami.

The majority of MSC’s sailings take place overseas, and their presence in the U.S. is relatively light, compared to its competitors.  Figuring that many of you may be apprehensive about trying something new, we would like to share one of our follower’s experiences on the MSC line, just returning this past weekend:

We have just recently returned from a week cruise to the carribean (Antigua, San Juan and Nassau) on the MSC Poesia. I had read many bad reviews on cruise critic and was a little concerned prior to boarding the ship. I don’t know which ship those critics were on, but it wasn’t the Poesia. The ship itself is goregeous and spotless, the staff were courteous, especially our room attendant and dinner time servers. The cruise director and his staff were always getting cruisers involved with morning exercises and dance lessons, and the nightly shows were fabulous (very different from what you see on other lines). The costumes were elaborate. We had 2 opera singers, one torch singer, and gymnasts. We had late seating for dinner and went to the show at 7:30 p.m. which was very nice. Most ships have late seating diners eat first and then go to the shows at 10:00 p.m. or later. While it’s true that all announcements are made in 5 languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian and German), we didn’t feel it was a big issue (there was some criticism on cruisecritic. com about this). As a matter of fact, one day at lunch we sat with a husband and wife from the US who had lived in Italy, 2 sisters from Argentina and a husband and wife from Italy who didn’t speak English. We had the best time with these people. My husband spoke Spanish with the girls who then spoke Italian with the other couple and translated the Italian back into Spanish and then Leon would translate it into English for me. We highly recommend this ship.

To learn more about MSC Cruises in the U.S., click HERE.