Cruise Lines Flee Europe, Blame High Airfare, Again

cruise lines
Chris Owen

North American cruise lines really want to be friends with travelers from Europe. A number of times, various cruise lines have scheduled their largest deployment ever to Europe, only to pull back later when demand for their services was less than anticipated. Looking ahead to 2014, that trend looks to be continuing as major North American cruise brands cut back on European deployment. But there is more to this story than simply cutting back the number of ships in Europe, because the price of airfare for North Americans to fly across the pond is prohibitive.

Europe Out, Asia In?
Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it will leave the entire Europe cruise market behind in 2014, blaming the high cost of airfare to the region for its addition to an industry-wide exodus. Carnival will move Carnival Legend to Australia and leave the rest of its fleet in North America. Frankly, Carnival’s European deployment was mostly Mediterranean sailing and mostly in the summer as the line rolled out new ships Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine. Those ships were going to be over there anyway because that’s where the shipyard is that built them. I always viewed Carnival’s European deployment as more of a deployment of convenience.

As a bit of a hint as to where Carnival may be headed, Carnival the corporation (which owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and others) has officially launched its regional office in Singapore. That move signals a rock solid step towards developing these markets.

Tweaking A Good Thing
Princess Cruises is not entirely abandoning Europe. They will move Pacific and Crown Princess to Alaska in 2014, leaving five ships in Europe. This is where Princess’ long history of being destination focused is paying off for the line of the Love Boat. Princess has garnered a reputation for sailing around the world, to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet.Princess mixes it up every year to keep things interesting; they have drawn on experience from their many long-serving employees at various stops along the way. This year, Princess is featuring reduced-pricing airfare to offset objections by cruise travelers over the perceived high-cost of flying.

Royal Caribbean plans on sending eight ships to Europe next year, including sailing giant Oasis of the Seas to sail three times out of Barcelona while the ship is over there for some routine maintenance. That’s down from nine ships sailing European waters this year and 12 ships in 2013.

This year, families with children 12 and under who book a 2013 Royal Caribbean Europe cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas or Serenade of the Seas can enjoy free shore excursion tours for children when two adults in their stateroom purchase the same tour during May 2013.

Unlike Carnival Cruise Lines, a North American brand that has their trademark FunShip experience producing a fabulous cruise vacation like clockwork, Royal Caribbean is a truly international brand. Sending nine ships to Europe says one of two things, maybe more:

  1. They have been at it long enough that they figured out which ships are the right size to make money in Europe.
  2. Royal Caribbean just really has their act together and has the ability to sail around the world, all the time, year after year.

Oh, should I have sailed in Europe last year then?
This is not the first time North American cruise lines have pulled back on plans to offer what they do for European cruise travelers. Cruise lines were looking for more profitable waters to sail in when the economic depression occurred several years ago. Boasting their “biggest European deployment ever,” cruise lines were quick to turn back when Europe sailings did not fill up as they had anticipated.

The good part of all this is that cruise lines have the ability to move their mobile assets (floating hotels) to different parts of the world when economic issues, safety concerns or other reasons say repositioning is a good idea. Hotels that do not float cannot really do that.

Thinking about a European/Mediterranean cruise vacation? Now would be a good time to either go or begin planning. North American cruise lines want to sail there, but they need passengers to do that.

How to Plan an Affordable European Vacation

Cruise Vacations: Not Your Mother’s Slow Boat To China

cruise vacationsOften believed to be the travel choice of the newly wed or nearly dead, the nature of cruise vacations has evolved in recent years. At one time, a cruise vacation meant shuffleboard, never-ending buffets and a few thousand older, overweight passengers on a spin around the Bahamas. Now, the old iconic activities, dining options and even older passengers are being replaced with an active lifestyle and options for adventure travelers.

As new ships come out, cruise lines are careful to build in an ability to be flexible and cater to the traveler of today. Relevant dining options ranging from lifetime event dining, like a steakhouse dinner to celebrate a graduation at a fraction of the cost on land, to comfort food dining, like Macaroni and Cheese in the ship’s main dining room, reflect an evolving passenger’s taste.

Pinpointing that taste and satisfying it, cruise lines are more rabidly focused on capturing the attention of would-be passengers with far more than low prices and bonus offers. Branded experiences ranging from an infusion of DreamWorks characters into the Royal Caribbean fleet, a Nickelodeon influence on Norwegian ships and even Apple products in iLounges on Celebrity Cruises are proving popular. Off the ship, adventurous shore experiences often put cruise travelers on a path similar to that suggested by popular travel bloggers going it on their own.

Flickr photo via Trey Ratcliff

Along with this “give-them-what-they-want” focus comes a branding effort designed to jumpstart the infusion of trendy, relevant elements to the onboard experience on older ship as well. Royal Caribbean has a Royal Advantage program being rolled out to older ships, replacing tube sets with flat-screen TV‘s, adding new trendy dining venues found on the newest of ships and upgrading other elements of the onboard experience as well.

On Carnival Cruise Lines some travelers may lament the near extinction of the party-going frat sailings (AKA “booze cruise”) but don’t have to look far for new, different venues that are becoming the place to be at sea.

Inspired by what is popular while traveling, Carnival unleashed its FunShip 2.0 initiative in New York last October. The $500 million enhancement program includes partnerships with popular celebrities and leading brands.

Funnyman George Lopez and celebrity chef Guy Fieri along with Miami Heat‘s DJ Erie are doing more than simply lending/selling their well-known names and star statuses to the Carnival brand in an attempt to draw a new breed of cruise passenger. Each has worked with Carnival to create experiences that fit the brand and infuse their own unique style.

cruise vacationsThe Food Networks Guy Fieri is working with Carnival to offer a dining venue called Guy’s Burger Joint, featuring the Food Network star’s (really amazing) hand-crafted burgers and fresh-cut fries with special recipes created exclusively for Carnival.

Different, from previous product upgrades that have happened throughout the years, cruise lines are listening and communicating with passengers and targeted travelers, speaking their language. Also, reflecting a degree of transparency, cruise lines are letting us in behind the scenes to see what goes into bringing something new on board as never before.

At a press conference in New York, Fieri manned the outdoor grill most of the afternoon, making soon-to-be signature burgers and answering questions. When asked why he got involved with the project, straight-talking Fieri told us, “…because these people at Carnival really care about their customers. It really means a lot to them that the people who sail on their ships have a good time. I wanted to be a part of that.”

It’s funny how you can hear something like that from a cruise line a million times and think nothing of it, but let those words come out of a popular icon in the world of food and all of the sudden they have meaning.

Fieri’s influence goes beyond the burger recipe too and gets really detailed in its execution on board. Condiment stations will feature a suggested menu developed by the chef to show guests what condiments and toppings they can use to build a specialty burger. In addition to burgers, Guy’s Burger Joint will serve fresh, hand-cut French fries prepared on board. We sampled (OK make that “inhaled”) both in New York and agreed with most others that it was one of the best burgers ever.

Carnival is also teaming up with comedian and TV personality George Lopez who will become the cruise line‘s “creative director for comedy” as Carnival introduces the Punchliner Comedy Clubs Presented by George Lopez.

cruise vacationsTo become the cruise line’s curator of comedy, acting as a consultant on the vetting and hiring of comedic talent for the line’s existing fleetwide comedy clubs, Lopez will play an active role in the securing of top up-and-coming comedic talent, utilizing his vast resources within the North American comedy scene.

“Carnival’s ships offer a huge audience that truly appreciates comedic performances and the on-board clubs are fantastic,” Lopez told us. “I intend to help build and nurture an understanding among up-and-coming comedic talent that these ships represent a phenomenal environment to work and gain experience.”

Through the partnership, Carnival ships will feature a Lopez comedy routine shown on in-cabin televisions fleetwide and pre-recorded introductions by Lopez at comedy club shows, as well as a new Punchliner Comedy Brunch that will be offered on sea days. Lopez will also partner with the line on a comedy-themed consumer contest in 2012.

“Carnival’s guests absolutely love comedy which is why we are already the cruise industry leader in fleetwide comedic programming and, in fact, we host more guests in our shipboard comedy clubs than any land-based comedy chain in the U.S.,” said Gerry Cahill, Carnival’s president and CEO. “By partnering with George Lopez, an exceptionally talented, respected and popular comedian, Carnival’s comedy offerings will be taken to an entirely new level.”

Lopez is seriously into the comedy concept too, much like Fieri and his cooking. In an interview with CruiseRadio‘s Doug Parker and Matt Basford, Lopez detailed his involvement saying “I will bring people from television and movies and that will make it better. You start to see people on the ship that you have seen in movies and that makes it fun, that’s a great surprise,” adding, “I will be performing on the ships occasionally myself which I am excited about.”

cruise vacationDJ IRIE, song master to the stars and the official DJ of the Miami HEAT, will develop a first-of-its-kind DJ academy at sea that will train all Carnival DJs across the “Fun Ship” fleet. The DJ IRIE Spin’iversity promises to bring an exciting and relevant new vibe to the line’s legendary nightclubs, deck parties and beyond.

“Miami HEAT games are known for their high-energy and non-stop fun created by DJ IRIE and we want to tap into his unique skills and passion for music to create an unforgettable atmosphere on board,” Mark Tamis, Carnival’s senior vice president of guest operations told us. “Music is the soundtrack of our lives and our goal is to create an emotional experience for our guests through the right mix of terrific music and a DJ with a unique personality who can energize a crowd.”

Whether spinning in clubs in Miami or Las Vegas, at a sporting event or hosting his popular South Florida radio show, the internationally known DJ IRIE has mastered the art of bringing a crowd to its feet and pumping up the energy and excitement – much like Carnival had done for 40 years.

But through his new comprehensive training program, IRIE will train Carnival’s DJs how to read a crowd and tailor song selections from every musical genre, appealing to guests of all ages. He will also instruct DJs on how to make maximum use of their own personality and energy to create their own persona and build popularity among guests to develop a fan following.

An important point to note: none of this costs extra. This is Carnival reinventing the at-sea experience, adding more options than ever, all included in the price.

The onboard experience is changing in other ways as well. Big name entertainment is lending their name to new cruise ships as Godmothers, or just to be were the entertainment action is.

Martina McBride performed on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas; Maroon 5 rocked Galveston with Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Magic as a backdrop. Other acts from Kid Rock to Dancing with the Stars contestants host themed cruises, allowing fans up-close-and-personal time like never before.

Off the ship too, cruise lines are taking a good hard look at what they have for travelers once ships reach their destinations. Taking a page from travel bloggers, cruise line “excursions” are far more than a busload of tourists complaining if the air conditioning is not cool enough.

Today we’re seeing cruise passengers getting off the bus and on to kayaks, scuba diving, surfing, hiking and climbing trails, viewing history, arts and culture up close in any given port. At the end of the day some ships may stay in port late or overnight before moving on to their next stop.

Always a solid reason for cruising, travelers get to see and sample destinations they may or may not want to return to later, for a longer land-based vacation.

No, today’s cruise vacations are not your parents’ idea of a good time, they’re yours, whatever that may mean.


Photos via Carnival Cruise Lines

Wellness when traveling now more than a trip to the gym

wellness when travelingWhen we think of wellness when traveling, thoughts turn to the exercise facility at a hotel. Maybe a walk on a beach comes to mind or the extra exercise we might get naturally at a destination we visit. That’s a good place to start but hotels are taking that idea a step or two further, defining wellness as just one part of a healthier lifestyle.

“Wellness is about more than exercising and living a healthier lifestyle, it’s about a completely changed attitude toward the way most people live their daily lives – especially when they travel,” says Dan Marcec, managing editor of Hotel Interactive.

Pointing out that wellness involves a balance of mind, body and spirit that will deliver a better, richer quality of life, Kristi Bonsack, director of wellness at Longboat Key Club & Resort, notes that “the medical field is about helping to cure disease, where as wellness is about preventing it, and there’s a distinction. Being well is not about limiting life, but enhancing it.”

Hotels, resorts, cruise lines and other lodging options are doing more to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Wellness programs are easy to access for travelers and are timed to meet their needs. The focus is on encouraging and empowering guests to find a balance of fitness, nutrition, education and relaxation, far more than merely providing directions to where the on-site fitness center is located.”Wellness encompasses everything – your dining, leisure activities, sleeping habits, and even finding joyful things in your day,” says Bonsack.

Wellness when traveling is becoming more popular all the time. Now, in addition to checking room rates, directions to the hotel and availability on dates we want to travel, those planning a hotel stay are looking for wellness options. Questions like “Is there healthy food available on-site or close-by?” and “What programming is available that contributes to my wellness and will fit into my schedule?” are being asked and the answers are often hard to find. Still, there are resources available that can help.

  • Spafinder is dedicated to helping people find establishments, experiences and information that promote the well-being of body, mind and spirit and to inspire them to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • The HealthyTravelNetwork has a mission to build a community of business travelers who are united by a common commitment to fitness and by a desire to be role models in helping America build a culture based on health and well-being.
  • Travel To Wellness is an online resource catering specifically to the growing number of wellness-minded travelers and the expanding spa and wellness travel niche.

Responding to an increasing demand, even cruise lines are focusing on wellness. Once the land of never-ending buffets and an almost guaranteed ten-pound weight gain after sailing, cruise lines are now offering more healthy lifestyle choices. Capitalizing on the all-inclusive nature of a cruise vacation, accessing healthy lifestyle choices is just as easy as bellying up to the Chocolate buffet.

In addition to the standard complement of exercise equipment found on most ships, now world-class rock-climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and full-size basketball courts are available at sea. Recently, Royal Caribbean invited guests to participate in the line’s first “Royal 5K St Maarten run”, Carnival Cruise Lines introduced SkyCourse, the cruise industry’s first-ever ropes course aboard Carnival Magic, and Princess Cruises got in the swing of things with the world’s first-ever marathon at sea. Aboard Celebrity Cruises ships, a rabidly popular Celebrity Life program features life-enhancing programs that provide a hands-on, active participation role for passengers as well as something to take back home that contributes to overall wellness.

“Wellness Travel is about traveling for the primary purpose of achieving, promoting or maintaining maximum health and a sense of well-being,” says TravelToWellness, encouraging us to be “proactive in discovering new ways to promote a healthier, less stressful lifestyle. It’s about finding balance in one’s life. It begins with intent.”



How to Eat Healthily while Travelling

Flickr photo by mark sebastian

Celebrities go to sea, some stay

celebrities go to seaCelebrities go to sea all the time it seems. Martina McBride performed a short concert on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas in New Orleans Saturday. Last weekend, Maroon 5 rocked Galveston with Carnival Cruise Line’s new Carnival Magic as a backdrop. Other acts from Kid Rock to Dancing with the Stars contestants host themed cruises, allowing fans up-close-and-personal time like never before. Now, celebrities are lending their names to onboard venues that will stay with cruise ships long after the stars have gone home. It’s all part of a branding effort by cruise lines to gain favor with the public as never before and travelers are clearly gaining as a result.

Saturday’s Martina McBride concert to welcome Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas was not the first time the cruise line has used star power to welcome a new ship. Stars from Reba McEntire to Rhianna have been on board to bring in new potential travelers, reward those already booked and help define the Royal Caribbean brand as current and relevant.

“We are particularly delighted to have Martina McBride help us celebrate our return to New Orleans with an exclusive concert aboard Voyager of the Seas.”Royal Caribbean International senior vice president of marketing Betsy O’Rourke said.

The concert was free to Royal Caribbean’s past and invited guests, adding a whole lot of value for those booked to sail after the concert. Such was also the case in Galveston, Texas last week as GRAMMY award-winning band Maroon 5 played a standing room only crowd dockside to welcome Carnival Magic to the port. This one catered to a more engaged crowd as thousands of fans took advantage of free tickets being distributed by Carnival via their Facebook page, senior cruise director John Heald‘s blog and selected Texas radio stations.
“We wanted to do something big and memorable to mark Carnival Magic’s U.S debut and what better way to celebrate than to bring together fans of music and fans of Carnival, along with our partners in Galveston, for an exceptional afternoon of fun and entertainment,” Carnival Cruise Lines‘ president and CEO Gerry Cahill said.

A similar level of engagement at Carnival has resulted in what they call their Funship 2.0 initiative, a $500 million transformation of the line’s onboard experience. Introduced in New York last month, this is way more than a makeover and way more than a dry-dock remodeling project. Carnival is bringing in heavy hitters and time-tested concepts in an attempt blow away the competition, at no additional charge to their passengers.

It’s all about the burgers

celebrities go to seaFirst up, Food Network star Guy Fieri, has developed a burger venue called Guy’s Burger Joint featuring gourmet, made-to-order burgers with a variety of toppings. There will be not hockey puck-like burgers here.

Fieri’s influence goes beyond the burger recipe too. Condiment stations will feature a suggested menu developed by the chef to show guests what condiments and toppings they can use to build a specialty burger. In addition to burgers, Guy’s Burger Joint will serve fresh, hand-cut French fries prepared on board.

A variety of innovative condiments from chipotle mayonnaise and a special barbecue sauce to garlic aioli and three hot sauces, will be available at self-serve condiment stations. For guests who like a little more spice, seasonings like garlic and herb, sea salt and hot chili also will be offered, along with a selection of toppings such as sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, blue cheese crumbles and vine-ripened tomatoes.

Comedy is king

celebrities go to seaCarnival is also teaming up with comedian and TV personality George Lopez who will become the cruise line‘s creative director for comedy as Carnival introduces the Punchliner Comedy Clubs Presented by George Lopez.

“Carnival’s ships offer a huge audience that truly appreciates comedic performances and the on-board clubs are fantastic,” said Lopez. “I intend to help build and nurture an understanding among up-and-coming comedic talent that these ships represent a phenomenal environment to work and gain experience.”

Through the partnership, Carnival ships will feature a Lopez comedy routine shown on in-cabin televisions fleetwide and pre-recorded introductions by Lopez at comedy club shows, as well as a new Punchliner Comedy Brunch that will be offered on sea days. Lopez will also partner with the line on a comedy-themed consumer contest in 2012.

Lopez is seriously into the concept too. In an interview on Cruise Radio, Lopez detailed his involvement saying “I will bring people from television and movies and that will make it better. You start to see people on the ship that you have seen in movies and that makes it fun, that’s a great surprise,” adding “I will be performing on the ships occasionally myself which I am excited about”.

Celebrity DJ to the rescue

celebrities go to seaDJ IRIE, song master to the stars and the official DJ of the Miami HEAT, will develop a first-of-its-kind DJ academy at sea that will train all Carnival DJs across the “Fun Ship” fleet. The DJ IRIE Spin’iversity will bring an exciting new vibe to the line’s legendary nightclubs, deck parties and beyond.

“Miami HEAT games are known for their high-energy and non-stop fun created by DJ IRIE and we want to tap into his unique skills and passion for music to create an unforgettable atmosphere on board,” said Mark Tamis, Carnival’s senior vice president of guest operations. “Music is the soundtrack of our lives and our goal is to create an emotional experience for our guests through the right mix of terrific music and a DJ with a unique personality who can energize a crowd.”

Whether spinning in clubs in Miami or Las Vegas, at a sporting event or hosting his popular South Florida radio show, the internationally known DJ IRIE has mastered the art of bringing a crowd to its feet and pumping up the energy and excitement.

Through his new DJ IRIE Spin’iversity, a comprehensive training program, IRIE will train Carnival’s DJs how to read a crowd and tailor song selections from every musical genre, appealing to guests of all ages. He will also instruct DJs on how to make maximum use of their own personality and energy to create their own persona and build popularity among guests to develop a fan following.

And it’s free

An important point to note: None of this costs extra. Other lines have piled on upscale dining venues, entertainment options and other pay-as-you-go choices with mixed results. Carnival is adding all this and more at no additional cost to their guests.

Maroon 5 brings Texas sized cruise ship to town

Maroon 5Performing live to a standing-room only crowd, GRAMMY award-winning band Maroon 5 rocked the Port of Galveston over the weekend with 3,690 passenger Carnival Magic as a backdrop. It was a fitting welcome at the ship’s new year-round homeport that cast a spotlight on just how big cruise travel is in Texas.

“We’ve played every kind of venue imaginable across the world, but we’ve never helped to launch a new cruise ship,” said Adam Levine, Maroon 5 front-man and coach on the hit NBC series “The Voice. “We’re excited to work with Carnival and to be part of the Carnival Magic celebration for fans in Texas.”

Plenty of fans turned out at the dock-side event with Carnival Magic parked directly behind the stage. An estimated 5,000 fans, some of which won highly sought-after tickets in a Facebook contest, rocked to the 11-song, hour-long performance.

Wondering how the arrival of a cruise ship translates to bringing a hot, popular band with over 15 million albums sold to town?

Carnival expects to carry more than 450,000 guests annually and have a positive impact on the Texas economy. In 2010, the cruise industry added $1.1 billion in direct spending, generated 16,457 jobs and $828 million in income for Texas workers according to a report from the Cruise Lines International Association.

That was before Carnival Magic joined Carnival Triumph for year-round sailings from Galveston, making Carnival the largest cruise operator in Texas. The new deployment means a 24% increase in capacity for Carnival alone which should translate into even more income and jobs.

It’s big business and not limited to Carnival Cruise lines. Royal Caribbean brought Mariner of the Seas into town without much fanfare a day earlier, also adding to the port’s capacity. Next year, Carnival sister-line Princess Cruises returns to Galveston with one of their newest ships and Disney Cruise Line comes to town.

Reason enough to bring in Maroon 5? You bet. They’d bring in Elvis if they could.

Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines