Let’s face it, although we say we go on vacation to get away from it all, this is the world in which we live! Here is the press release from Carnival:

The Carnival Dream!

The Carnival Dream!

MIAMI, Sept. 29, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Carnival Corporation & plc (NYSE/LSE: CCL; NYSE: CUK), the world’s largest travel and leisure company, today announced that it has expanded its innovative hybrid connectivity system to create the cruise industry’s largest Wi-Fi network — and one of the world’s largest satellite mobility networks.

With over 31 advanced satellite systems, the company’s expanded WiFi@Sea connectivity network features the broadest high-bandwidth internet coverage in the industry currently deployed on 30 of its 100 ships — far more than any other cruise line company — with further deployment planned over the next several months. In addition, several of its cruise line brands have introduced new plans and pricing packages that make staying connected on a cruise more convenient and affordable — and are improving the guest experience and increasing the number of guests using Wi-Fi while cruising.

Expected to be extended to nearly 40 percent of the company’s industry-leading fleet across several of its global brands by the end of 2015, the expanded WiFi@Sea service has led to increased guest satisfaction, higher usage rates and greater number of devices connected during voyages. Carnival Corporation’s brands currently using the new features include AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line. Building on existing broadband Wi-Fi capabilities already available throughout its fleet of 100 ships, Carnival Corporation is continuing the deployment of its technology solution with plans to expand the new system on the majority of its fleet across its 10 global brands through 2016.

The company’s system represents a first in the cruise industry on this scale — providing the broadest high-speed global coverage across dozens of ships coupled with onboard intelligence to enhance the guest experience — a breakthrough technology innovation for overcoming the challenging circumstances of sailing in the middle of the ocean and still providing fast, reliable and affordable wireless internet access for guests.

Expanding the System

The system is a first-of-its kind solution that integrates a combination of advanced satellite systems, onboard software, networking equipment, land-based antennas and Wi-Fi from port connections. The technology is expected to change how millions of travelers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations, especially among tech-savvy millennials and people of all ages who want to stay in touch, research destinations or share their vacation experiences via social media.

With the continued rollout of the enhanced connectivity system across the fleet, guests will be able to access the websites, social networks and apps most important to them at speeds up to 10 times faster than those previously available on the company’s ships.

“As we continue to enhance our WiFi@Sea system, we implement technologies, packages and overall approaches that will create the best experience and value for our guests wherever their cruise vacation takes them,” said Reza Rasoulian, vice president of global connectivity and shipboard technology operations at Carnival Corporation. “We optimize all of our service layers continuously to ensure a great connectivity experience. With this approach, we are giving our guests faster internet speeds without constraining the time they can be online through our packages, which has led to more people than ever using their devices to connect while on our ships and a steady improvement in guest satisfaction ratings as the new plans and pricing are rolled out.”

New Packages and Pricing Structure

With the new pricing models, Wi-Fi packages are based on the types of services guests will be using throughout their trip versus the previous system of charging for the amount of time they will be online. For example, guests who are only interested in using Wi-Fi to post to their social networks can purchase a basic package for a lower fee.

This change gives guests the freedom they prefer for unlimited use of the specific internet services and applications they are interested in without the worry of time constraints — an important offering for a good number of guests who are looking to stay connected, especially as the industry works to increase interest in and demand for cruising across all demographics, especially among younger guests.

Specific package offerings and pricing structures vary by brand, but in all cases the company is working to create more value and a better overall connectivity experience.

System Enhancements Focus on the Guest Experience

Carnival Cruise Line, the company’s largest brand with 24 ships and its 25(th) ship, Carnival Vista, coming in spring of 2016, announced in August it has enhanced internet access including new social media packages. The packages are now available on 19 of its 24 ships with plans for fleet-wide implementation by the first quarter of 2016. In June, the company’s AIDA Cruises brand announced new flat-rate social media and internet packages, along with bandwidth upgrades that have been installed on seven ships, and will be fully deployed on each of the brand’s 10 ships by November 2015.

Added Rasoulian: “We know that each of our guests is looking for something different when they cruise, whether that is being completely or partially unplugged from the internet or staying plugged in. For those who want to stay connected with their life back home or research the next destination on their trip, we are offering faster, more reliable and more affordable options to give our guests what they are looking for.”

The improved onboard connectivity experience will also help crew members across Carnival Corporation’s 10 brands keep in touch with their family and friends at home during the extended amounts of time they spend at sea. This is an important component of each crew member’s quality of life and has a positive impact on helping them maintain their passion for consistently providing exceptional service for guests during the voyage.

About Carnival Corporation & plc

Carnival Corporation & plc is the largest cruise company in the world, with a portfolio of 10 cruise brands in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, comprised of Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard, P&O Cruises (Australia), P&O Cruises (UK) and Fathom.

Together, these brands will operate 100 ships in 2015 totaling 219,000 lower berths with 17 new ships scheduled to be delivered between 2016 and 2022. Carnival Corporation & plc also operates Holland America Princess Alaska Tours, the leading tour companies in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. Traded on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges, Carnival Corporation & plc is the only group in the world to be included in both the S&P 500 and the FTSE 100 indices.

Additional information can be found on www.carnival.com, www.hollandamerica.com, www.princess.com, www.seabourn.com, www.aida.de, www.costacruise.com, www.cunard.com, www.pocruises.com.au, www.pocruises.com and www.fathom.org.

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!