Nieuw Amsterdam

Nieuw Amsterdam

Holland America Adds Six Dancing with the Stars Theme Cruises

Holland America Line will continue the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” program in 2015/2016. For the third year, the collaboration brings the excitement of ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars” to all of the ships in the Holland America Line fleet. The program will culminate with the annual Champions Cruise competition on ms Nieuw Amsterdam’s Jan. 10, 2016, western Caribbean voyage.

The 2015 schedule will continue to feature “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” programming on all sailings in addition to six special “Dancing with the Stars” theme cruises highlighting the show’s professional dancers and celebrities. In 2013 and 2014 select theme cruises featured professional dancers Tristan MacManus, Kym Johnson, Sharna Burgess, Emma Slater, Lacey Schwimmer, Chelsie Hightower, Mark Ballas and Derek Hough, along with television personality Carson Kressley, singer Joey Fatone, actress Sabrina Bryan and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson.

Disney Announces Early 2016 Deployment

Disney Cruise Line introduces two popular Caribbean destinations — Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Martinique — into the lineup of favorite tropical itineraries for early 2016. The return to the homeport of San Juan, Puerto Rico brings a new itinerary that includes Martinique.

From the warm Caribbean culture of Tortola, capital of the British Virgin Islands, to the exquisite French island of Martinique, these destinations provide Disney Cruise Line guests the chance to relax on pristine beaches, discover natural wonders and indulge in local shopping and cuisine.

Celebrity Adds River Packages to Cruise Offering

Celebrity Cruises has introduced European river-and-ocean cruise vacation packages.

Unique to the cruise industry and only available on Celebrity Cruises, these one-of-a-kind Celebrity Explorations combine immersive Amras Cruises river journeys with guest-favorite modern luxury ocean sailings.

“Our guests want to continue seeing more of the world with Celebrity, and we are dedicated to providing them with the most destination-rich vacations,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. “By introducing these river-and-ocean cruise packages, travelers can immerse themselves in Europe more so than ever before, with the ease of choosing a vacation package exclusively created by Celebrity.”

The 11 new river-and-ocean cruise packages offer guests the opportunity to explore Europe far and wide by way of four well-known rivers – the Danube, Rhine, Rhône and Seine – and then by sea onboard a breathtaking Celebrity cruise around the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey and other destinations.

MSC and Lego Partner for Lego Experience at Sea

MSC Cruises and the LEGO Group have joined forces to bring children and families the ultimate LEGO Experience at sea, including LEGO designed playrooms and entertainment options. More.

AOL Launches Laughs on Deck With Carnival and George Lopez

On October 30, AOL announced the launch of “Laughs on Deck,” a new branded series in partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines starring George Lopez who serves as the cruise line’s curator of comedy. The first two episodes of the new AOL series are now available, with four additional episodes slated to go live in the coming weeks. “Laughs on Deck” marks an expansion of Carnival Cruise Lines’ current relationship with AOL, having signed on as the brand sponsor for AOL Original “Laugh Lessons with Kevin Nealon.”

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Grand Holiday to CMV

Iberocruceros’ Grand Holiday is set for a new life at Cruise & Maritime Voyages. The ship was launched as the Holiday for Carnival Cruise Lines in 1985 and today Cruise & Maritime Voyages announced that the Grand Holiday will be joining its fleet in Spring 2015 as the Magellan. Statement from CMV:

British based Cruise Operator, Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), is pleased to announce the addition of Grand Holiday from Costa Crociere to the CMV fleet, commencing ex-UK operations under the CMV livery in spring 2015.

Carnival Corporation Unveils Hybrid Wireless Network at Sea

Carnival Corporation & plc today unveiled the cruise industry’s first-of-its-kind hybrid wireless network – an enhanced high-speed service to eventually be rolled out to all 101 of its ships on all nine of its brands.

This technology innovation is expected to revolutionize how millions of its passengers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations.

Carnival Corporation’s backbone connectivity network, known as WiFi@Sea™, will integrate a unique combination of strategically located land-based antennas installed along cruise routes, Wi-Fi from a port connection and advanced satellites, forming an innovative network that is a first in the cruise industry on this scale. The “smart hybrid” network is designed to provide passengers and crew with faster and more stable internet access throughout their voyage – a feature becoming increasingly important to travelers of all ages looking to stay connected and share their experiences through social media.

Once completed, the integrated network will seamlessly switch among its various technology solutions to give passengers the highest available bandwidth capacity and strength of signal. The network will be capable of providing Internet connectivity speeds that can be roughly 10 times faster than those previously offered on Carnival Corporation’s ships – ultimately expected to provide passengers with the best possible connectivity in the cruise industry. More.

Princess Partners with Discovery for Onboard Activities

Princess Cruise and Discovery Consumer Products announced their collaboration to create Discovery At Sea, interactive onboard activities and shore excursions. The new Discovery At Sea cruise vacations will feature themed tours, science activities, hands-on programs and games based on Discovery’s breadth of brands and programming. Debuting on Princess Cruises’ ships in early 2015, the interactive experiences are designed to bring to life the nature, wildlife and history of the regions guests are sailing. More.

Costa Victoria to the Rescue in South China Sea

Last Monday morning, while sailing from Hong Kong to Sanya Hainan Island, Costa Victoria rescued the crewmembers of a burning fishing boat spotted in the Southern Chinese Sea.

Holland America in Partnership with Marine Conservation Institute

As part of its “Our Marvelous Oceans” partnership with Marine Conservation Institute, Holland America Line has created a new program that highlights and educates guests and crew about marine protected areas around the world. Developed with the team at Marine Conservation Institute, the program will educate guests and crew through on-board presentations by shipboard personnel. Topics will cover what a marine protected area is and how to visit one without causing harm to the habitat and wildlife. This information can be enhanced through participation in featured shore excursions.

Port Tampa Bay Welcomes Norwegian Sun for Winter Season

Port Tampa Bay officials welcomed the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Sun to Tampa during a plaque exchange ceremony Sunday, November 2, commemorating the ship’s inaugural call in Tampa, as well as the start of the busy 2014-2015 winter cruise season.

Carnival Corporation Will Increase Fleet Capacity by Nearly 10 Percent through 2016

Carnival Corporation & plc announced it will increase fleet capacity by nearly 10 percent from 2014 through 2016, fueled largely by the addition of four new ships across four brands in less than 18 months. More.

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Regal Princess Launched in Star-Studded Ceremony

Princess Cruises, the cruise line made famous as the backdrop of the iconic Love Boat television series, christened its new Regal Princess with a tribute to the show as all six of the original cast members served as the ship’s godparents, and were joined by 25 of the show’s past guest stars.

The star-studded Love Boat themed festivities, which also launched the line’s 50th anniversary, celebrated the role the show played in Princess Cruises’ five-decades-long history.

All six Love Boat cast members – Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing), Fred Grandy (Gopher, the chief purser), Ted Lange (Isaac, the bartender), Bernie Kopell (Doc, the ship’s doctor), Lauren Tewes (cruise director, Julie) and Jill Whelan (Vicki, the captain’s daughter) – pulled a lever that first sent a record-breaking fifty champagne bottles smashing against the ship’s hull as a nod to the company’s anniversary celebration, followed by the breaking of a giant Nebuchadnezzar-size 51st bottle signifying Princess Cruises’ continued future success. More.

Carnival Gift Cards Now Available In More Than 9,000 Retail Locations

Carnival Cruise Lines’ gift card program – a prepaid card that can be used as payment toward a “Fun Ship” vacation or a variety of shipboard purchases – is now available in more than 9,000 retail outlets throughout the U.S. This marks the first time that a cruise line-specific gift card has been made available at retail establishments ashore. More.

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!

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.