Cruise vacations come in all sizes and shapes. Gigantic new ships have everything from gourmet cuisine created by celebrity chefs to amusement parks. Smaller ships get up-close and personal with destinations large ships can’t get to. On board, a new generation of cruise traveler is taking over, demanding more in the way of value and programming both on and off the ship. Let’s see how that is playing out in real life on the cruise lines of today.
The Base Experience is the Same For Everyone, But it Can Be Customized– Still, today we can go on a cruise vacation and spend not one dime more than the cruise fare with the possible exception of nearly mandatory gratuities for the crew. Those who want more in the way of dining options and an upgraded experience both on and off the ship have more options than ever to choose from.
Prices Go Up, Prices Go Down– A lot of what goes into cruise line pricing strategy is based on demand and demand almost always changes over time. There are a number of factors at work here including ship positioning, the economy, the effect of new ships just entering the marketplace on the sales of older ships and more. Best bet: consider the price at the time of booking as simply the starting price and use a travel agent to keep an eye on it.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire– As our online world has developed with Internet-equipped tablets, faster connections, transparency and more rapid responses from all interested in cruise vacations, sites like CruiseCritic.com have become even more relevant and accurate. Clear example: CruiseCritic message boards are often the first source of breaking news when ships get into trouble at sea.
Celebrity Chef-Created Menu Items Sometimes Carry an Extra Fee– Royal Caribbean‘s 150 Central Park that is featured on Allure of the Seas has a fabulous menu created by celebrity chef Molly Brandt for $40 per person extra. The fee is well worth what would be priced easily at three times that much on land.
All Cruises are not Created Equal– There was a time when the onboard experience of a cruise vacation was about the same from cruise line to cruise line. That is not even remotely true anymore, as cruise lines have gone full speed ahead on branding and positioning themselves to be clearly different from each other.
Click-To-Buy is not the Smart Move– When cruise lines were very similar, it was simply a matter of choosing a sailing that worked with our travel window and an itinerary we liked. Buying online was arguably a viable option for booking. Now, with dynamic pricing strategies, differentiated onboard programming that varies widely from line to line and many more options, booking online is becoming more difficult all the time.
Travel Agents are Back and Better Than Ever– In the olden days, travel agents tried to be everything to everyone, selling any type of travel product. Most of them went broke. Today, more and more agents are becoming specialists in just cruise vacations and even specific cruise lines. That laser-sharp focus has brought better pricing, a better booking experience that often includes bonus amenities and this almost always equals a better value.
Cruises Have Something for Adventure Travelers Too– Previously turned off by the old stereotype of cruise vacations, adventure travelers are seeing cruise ships as an efficient way to see and sample destinations they may wish to explore more in depth on a later journey. The rising popularity of river cruising is testament to the destination immersion possible via cruise ship and how more travelers are demanding it.
Cruise Vacations are Safer Than Ever– A common and understandable if not warranted concern by cruise travelers after the grounding of Costa Concordia last January was safety. Cruise lines have bumped up the level of safety and security in an industry that already had good procedures in place. Now, even more emphasis has been placed on mandatory safety drills, security in port and at sea and crew training on everything from advanced fire prevention and response.
Celebrity Chef-Created Menu Items Sometimes do not Carry an Extra Fee– Guy’s Burger Joint created for Carnival Cruise Lines by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri has the best burger on the planet included in the price.
Still ranked as one of the most compelling reasons to cruise, dining has evolved from the stereotypical ‘belly-up-to-the-buffet’ feed fest to a variety of healthy options served in a growing number of onboard venues as we see in this video.
[Flickr photo by (nz)dave]