Cruise Lines International Association (C.L.I.A.) reports that the Cruise Industry is going to invest $8 billion on 24 new cruise ships through 2015! C.L.I.A. noted that its global fleet is now comprised of 410 ships, up from 393 one year ago, and the introduction of 24 additional ships will meet growing demand. This $8 billion capital investment will add capacity for another 37,546 passengers. By the way, if you count river cruising, the number goes up to 49 new ships between now and the end of 2015 (note: several river cruise ships will be removed from service).

Click for larger view.

Click graphic for larger view.

The Busiest Ports

Most of the world’s busiest ports remain in the Caribbean Sea, which were featured on more than a third of all global itineraries last year. The Mediterranean (19% of the market) and Northern Europe (12% of the market) were not far behind. Australia, with 22% growth, and Asia, with 32% growth, are catching up.

Where Are You Coming From?

C.L.I.A. also reports that 55% of all cruise passengers (last year) were from North America. International source markets demonstrated accelerated demand for cruising, and with a staggering 185% growth over the past five years, Scandinavia has seen the largest increase in interest, followed by Australia (130%), Brazil (85%) and Germany (80%).

 

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The view from aboard the Allure of the Seas as she departs from Port Everglades, in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

The Cruise Customer Experience includes so many factors: research, the booking process, on-board experience, flight (getting to the port) and much more. But, what about the time leading up to your next cruise, the period from the time you make deposits (or final payments) to the time you begin your trek to the port? Sure, there’s dieting (maybe?), shopping, researching ports of call and excursions, online check-in, but, what if you could get a bit of a cruise fix in between times of the actual cruise?

If you live near a port city, you can actually visit port inlets and view the cruise ships as they depart for their journeys. You can view them as they arrive, too, but that is typically before the sun comes up! There is also YouTube, of course, where thousands of cruise videos can be found. Videos ranging from corporate marketing pieces to those created by passengers and crew.

Then, there’s my favorite…Live Webcams, particularly cams providing live, moving video. Below I have provided links to several active webcams. The PortCams are particularly interesting, as they are in HD and provide Live Video, great for cruise ship fans and boating/yachting buffs alike. Enjoy!

PORT WEBCAMS

CRUISE SHIP WEBCAMS

Note: With some of the Cruise Line links above, you will have to choose the ship first, then, if the ship has a Cam, click on the Cam link.  Once again, Enjoy!!

GetawayCamera2smallYesterday during a ceremony in Bremerhaven, Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the 145,655 gross ton cruise ship, Norwegian Getaway, from Meyer Werft after a building period of only 15 months. This is the second of two Breakaway-class ships, and is being delivered only nine months after the launch of sister ship Norwegian Breakaway. The ship will be christened in Miami on February 7.

Before her arrival into Port of Miami, Norwegian said it had arranged a private charter of the 4,000-passenger ship in New York from January 29 to February 5. Those dates overlap with the 2014 Super Bowl, which is being played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Giants and New York Jets, on February 2. Her first week-long cruise (and inaugural Caribbean cruise from Miami), takes place on February 8 (Saturday to Saturday).

Here are Some Additional Highlights

  • Nestor Torres

    Nestor Torres

    Latin GRAMMY® Award winner Nestor Torres will headline Norwegian Getaway’s GRAMMY® Experience at Sea.  Torres is the first artist to join Norwegian’s newest ship as part of the line’s partnership with The Recording Academy® that named the line “Official Cruise Line Partner of the GRAMMY Awards®

  • Norwegian Getaway will feature a new lunchtime entertainment experience for guests, WINE LOVERS THE MUSICAL
  • Norwegian Getaway will feature several restaurants and bars that evoke the tropical feel of Miami and South Florida. The Tropicana Room, Flamingo Bar & Grill, Sunset Bar and Sugarcane Bar will be new and unique additions to the largest ship to homeport in Miami year-round
  • Master Baker Buddy Valastro, star of the popular TLC television series “Cake Boss” and “Next Great Baker,” will open his second Carlo’s Bake Shop at sea on the new Norwegian Getaway
  • Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Entrance into the Illusionarium

    Seven-time Tony Award nominated musical LEGALLY BLONDE will be featured on Norwegian Getaway, along with an additional Broadway show: the dance sensation BURN THE FLOOR, and an all-new stand-up comedy program in partnership with Levity Entertainment Group, the largest producer of comedians in the world.  The line also introduced all of the varied and exciting entertainment acts and venues that will debut on the ship, including Howl at the Moon at Headliners Comedy Club. These exciting entertainment experiences are in addition to Norwegian Getaway’s Illusionarium and Grammy Experience.

These are just a few of the highlights and innovations on board the Norwegian Getaway. You can experience much more at Norwegian Cruise Line’s website!

fclogotitleembeddedOne of our previous Facebook polls centered around how you arrive to the home port. While many of you live close to major cruise port cities, the majority of our FB fans fly in a day or two early. We found a great web resource which focuses on topics that directly affect your aviation custome experience! It is flightchic.com. Check it out!

Duty-free shopping!

Duty-free shopping!

Here is a brief refresher for veteran cruisers, and potentially new information for those new to cruising. Having this knowledge with regards to U.S. Customs declarations (when cruising round-trip from the U.S.) can only help to enhance your Cruise Customer Experience, and eliminate unwanted surprises. If you do cruise out of the U.S. and return to the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), you’ll need to clear Customs at the end of your cruise.

Cruise lines usually distribute Customs forms on the second to last day of your trip. You need to fill out a form identifying yourself (one form per family/household), declaring how much you spent abroad on items that you are bringing into the U.S. Play it safe and keep receipts for items you are bringing back.

The process of clearing Customs at the port is usually easy and rather quick; you hand off your form and walk through! However, there are restrictions regarding what you can bring in.

The standard duty-free allowance is $800 per person (it raises to $1,600 for goods purchased in the U.S. Virgin Islands). If you spend greater amounts, you’ll need to declare it and pay the duty. Alcohol is limited to 1 liter per adult. Cigarettes are limited to 1 carton per adult while cigars are limited to 100 total (no Cubans, or you will face stiff fines if caught!). Fresh fruit and vegetables (including those from the ship), plants and most meats and meat products are not permitted whatsoever.

For specific instructions, visit the U.S. Customs website.

Norwegian Cruise Line today announced and opened for sale its 2015 summer and year-round cruises. The deployment includes the line’s newest ship, Norwegian Getaway sailing to the Caribbean from her year-round homeport of Miami, and continues to offer three ships in Alaska, four in Europe, two in Bermuda, as well as a variety of exciting Canada & New England; Bahamas & Florida; and Repositioning Cruises.

Norwegian will also continue to offer its unique Hawaii cruises year-round on Pride of America from Honolulu and short Bahamas itineraries from Miami year-round on Norwegian Sky. Click on the ship below for the complete story!

The Norwegian Getaway, twin to the Breakaway, will sail year-round from the Port of Miami.

The Norwegian Getaway, twin to the Breakaway, will sail year-round from the Port of Miami.

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!

quantum-mammamiaWe hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! During the parade in New York City, Royal Caribbean announced that “Mamma Mia,” the smash hit musical based on the songs of Swedish pop sensation ABBA, will be presented on the Quantum of the Seas, when she debuts in November 2014.  This will be another enticing Cruise Customer Experience to be offered by Royal Caribbean’s ‘Broadway at Sea’ program.

Shows currently presented include “Hairspray” on Oasis of the Seas, “Chicago” on the Allure of the Seas and “Saturday Night Fever” on Liberty of the Seas.  Thus far, all of the shows are included in the cruise fare.

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.

North Star (Sky Tower)

North Star (Sky Tower)

Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum-class cruise ships will feature a unique crane and viewing “gondola,” as previously announced. The North Star will lift guests some 91 meters above sea level to give them panoramic views of the sea and surrounding ports of call.  Royal Caribbean and the crane vendor recently provided additional details about the North Star, and providing an exciting, yet safe, Customer Experience.  Here is the rest of the article.