Like the rest of the country, the cruise industry stood still September 11.
“Things came to a screeching halt,” says Joyce Landry, president and CEO of Landry & Kling, which arranges cruise-based meetings and incentive programs. “We had about a six-week period after September 11 when there was a lot of indecision by corporations. But soon we found that projects on hold were starting to commit, and by the end of October new bookings were coming in.”
By the end of 2001, cruise bookings had bounced back to normal levels, fueled by heavy discounting. A number of cruise lines have redeployed their vessels to “friendlier” waters, such as the United States and Caribbean.
While demand for cruise-based meetings has tapered off, at least for the short-term, perceived safety and value have helped to keep cruises popular as an incentive option. In a recent survey by Corporate Meetings & Incentives, 72 percent of respondents said they plan to offer cruises as incentives.
When they do, they will find more and more vessels designed for group business. For example, Royal Caribbean's mammoth Voyager of the Seas, the world's biggest cruise ship, has conference space that can accommodate up to 1,350 and be converted to exhibit space; wireless controls for audiovisual, climate control, and lighting equipment; even videoconferencing. In the past six years, 12 of Royal Caribbean's 13 vessels have been retrofitted with similar facilities. Celebrity Cruises' Millennium-class vessels are designed with conference/cinema centers that hold more than 300 people and even have individual-controlled interactive voting systems. Even smaller ships are getting in on the act: In Silversea's fleet, each ship comes equipped with a conference room with AV gear and a multitiered show lounge for larger groups.
Leslie Veenhius, meetings and events manager for Kinko's, says value and varied activities have made cruises popular among the company's top store managers and commercial account managers — and she plans to continue them. For three years, the Ventura, Calif.-based company has taken about 100 qualifiers on three-night Royal Caribbean trips from U.S. ports. This spring, after a best-practices and awards meeting, the group will set sail from Seattle.
Based on program evaluations, “cruises have been one of our highest-rated events,” says Veenhius. Management likes the ability to assemble top achievers in one place and still offer them a variety of options for free-time activities.
In mid-September, Renaissance Cruises abruptly ceased operations of its 10 ships; a month later, American Classic Voyages filed for bankruptcy protection and announced it was shutting down Delta Queen Coastal Voyages, American Hawaii Cruises, and United States Lines. Both cruise lines blamed financially devastating fallout from September 11.
In November, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and P&O Princess Cruises PLC had announced a planned merger, but Carnival Corp. is protesting the terms of the agreement. The deal includes a $62.5 million breakup fee should the proposed merger fall through, which Carnival says creates a “dangerous precedent.” Carnival, the industry's largest operator, made a counteroffer to acquire Princess for $4.56 billion in cash and stock. Princess is said to prefer the Royal Caribbean deal, but the merger must wait until antitrust regulators decide if either company will be allowed to merge with Princess.
What's New, Line by Line:
Carnival's new Spirit offers state-of-the-art infrared listening devices that allow hearing-impaired guests to participate in entertainment and activities. The system operates in the ship's main show lounge using headphones connected to an audio-receiving device.
For those who want to stay in touch with the outside world without paying for ship-to-shore phone calls, Internet cafés are popping up on more vessels. Several Celebrity ships offer Connect@Sea, which allows guests bringing laptops to connect in the privacy of their staterooms.
Responding to the needs of passengers with disabilities, Holland America has installed the first wheelchair-accessible tender on its Statendam liner and plans to equip several other ships with the $100,000 prototype, which raises and lowers wheelchairs using a hydraulic leveling system.
Arguably the most significant development in shipboard dining is Norwegian Cruise Lines' Freestyle Cruising, which has open seating and a choice of up to 10 restaurants per ship. Other lines, such as Princess (Personal Choice Dining) and Carnival (Total Choice Dining), have followed suit. While no one boards a ship expecting a Weight Watchers program, more lines are offering healthful dining alternatives, such as vegetarian meals, heart-healthy entrees, and spa fare.
On Princess ships, an AOL Internet Café allows users to send and receive e-mails or create a Web page to share their cruise with friends and family back home.
Passengers on Silversea Cruises have 24-hour Internet access, and if people want to get financial news without going online, Bloomberg Professional Service terminals provide links to global financial and market news.
On the Web
Carnival Cruise Lines
Clipper Cruise Line
Cuba Cruise Corp.
Cunard Line Ltd.
Disney Cruise Line
KD River Cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises
Royal Olympic Cruises
Sea Cloud Cruises
Sonesta Nile Cruises
Windjammer Barefoot Cruises
Meeting at Sea Info
This site offers information geared specifically to planners, including tax deductibility, golf at sea, meeting facilities, types of ships, cost comparisons, a cruise checklist, and 360-degree virtual tours of more than 70 ships from various cruise lines.
Megan Rowe is a business writer based in Cleveland. She is a frequent contributor to CMI.
On Location: The Paul Gauguin
The 320-passenger Paul Gauguin, part of the Radisson Seven Seas fleet, sails through French Polynesia, departing from Tahiti and dropping anchor at Bora Bora and several other locations in the Society Islands during its 320-mile, weeklong voyage through the South Pacific.
The Paul Gauguin offers a peaceful adult retreat. Tastefully appointed, spacious staterooms all have ocean views; half have private balconies. The all-inclusive cruise price includes well-stocked mini-refrigerators, a fruit basket replenished throughout the journey, and a generous supply of nightly chocolates. The ticket also includes all meals, wine with dinner, gratuities, and 24-hour room service.
With a 1.5:1 guest-to-staff ratio, the highly personalized service rivals that of a five-star hotel. Well-trained crew members greet guests by name, note food and drink preferences, and freshen rooms twice daily. Excellent meals are served in three restaurants, one of them offering open dinner seating, and the dress code is country club casual/elegant for all functions.
Given the vessel's size and location, it's probably no surprise that accommodations for those who wish to work are slim: The ship has an e-mail facility but no business center. The Grand Salon showroom, which seats 320, has built-in audiovisual equipment. The ship also offers several intimate lounge spaces for boardroom-style meetings.
The Paul Gauguin can accommodate groups of up to 150 on a scheduled cruise, although groups of 50 to 75 are most apt to appreciate what the ship has to offer. It is also available for charter.
Most groups take advantage of Air Tahiti Nui's conveniently timed service from Los Angeles: Nonstop eight-hour flights arrive several hours before the ship leaves Papeete, Tahiti, on Saturday night and depart several hours after it returns the following Friday. Many like to stay on board Friday night, spend a day in Papeete, and fly home — reluctantly — Saturday night.
— Megan Rowe
Setting Sail in 2002
Holland America Prinsendam
Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas
Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
Are Cruises Safe?
How have the cruise lines responded to post-September 11 concerns about security? What are the cancellation options if there is renewed terrorist activity?
As far as cancellation is concerned, “Unless the airlines are not flying, cruise lines are not going to give the money back” for canceled bookings, says Shari Wallack of Worldwide Cruise Associates, Plantation, Fla. However, some groups who were concerned about security after the events of 9/11 were able to rebook Mediterranean-based cruises to the Caribbean at no charge. And several cruise lines offered a 75 percent credit toward a future booking to those who canceled.
Pressured by uneasy meeting planners, some cruise lines were also makingconcessions for future bookings, such as offering a 90 percent refund, for example, in the event of war or terrorist activity.
Cruise lines have stepped up their security, adopting what the industry refers to as “level 3 security.” Passengers are being asked to identify baggage dockside, carry-ons are being X-rayed each time they are brought onto the ship, retractable marinas may be closed, and bridge tours have been canceled. Ports have also tightened their security. These extra measures will result in longer waits to embark and disembark.
In addition, many cruise lines are moving ships from far-off ports such as the Mediterranean to closer-to-home destinations such as the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Panama Canal, plus U.S. destinations such as Hawaii and Alaska — although cruise ship permits to Glacier Bay may be reduced from 139 to 107 in 2002. And many other U.S. locations, such as Port Canaveral, Houston, San Diego, Seattle, and Los Angeles, will become home ports for new ships.