The following is based on a tutorial given at a past RCMA conference. The session included RCMA member David Graves, Church of the Nazarene, Olathe, Kan., Richard Weinstein, vice president of corporate sales and incentives, Carnival; and Amee Estill, religious travel specialist, Globus and Cosmos.

Advantages of Using a Ship

  • Ships are all-inclusive, so it's easy to plan. There are no surprises, and nothing is hidden.

  • When comparing identical services of a cruise to a hotel, cruise prices typically are lower. Sometimes that is because the ships fly foreign flags, which reduces costs.

  • Cruises are desirable to attendees. How desirable is the destination hotel? How desirable is a cruise? Surveys indicate that 20 percent of Americans have been on a cruise. Of the 80 percent who have not been on a cruise, 90 percent say they would like to go on one.

  • Negotiating is simple. Cruises focus on net per person per day. Cruises will take the business if it hits their revenue targets.

  • On a cruise, meeting space is not an empty ballroom. Cruises use lounges,showrooms, dedicated space that is decorated. The advantage to you is that you walk into a quality showroom, with light shows and sound systems in place. You don't have to spend money on setting it up.

  • Entertainment is included in the price. Nightly dinner and a show are part of the package.

  • You have a captive audience. Attendees are much less likely to skip sessions when they are on a ship. As a result, your meeting is more productive.

  • Meal choices are immense. Planners can choose to have their groups eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a specific space and time. Seating can be open dining or assigned. Attendees can order whatever they want off the menu. Planners also can mix it up with casual meals — attendees deciding when and where to eat — or make group reservations for a more intimate atmosphere, a three-hour dining experience, for example. Breaks can be taken at the common eating areas, or breaks can be brought in for a setup charge.

  • F&B staff is used to serving hundreds of people. Another advantage is that meals are served in dedicated dining rooms, not multipurpose ballrooms.

Things to know

  • If you've never done a cruise meeting, it's good to find a partner — an independent planner, travel agent, or a meeting planner who has done one.

  • Cruises are more economical when your attendees will be using double occupancy, because rooms are billed based on double occupancy.

  • Most ships have wireless Internet access, at least in public areas. Most have wireless phone service at sea.

  • Cruises follow set schedules. For example, Friday-Monday and Thursday-Sunday are the three-day cruises.

  • Some departure ports have unique schedules. For example, cruises that depart from Tampa are for more than three days.

  • Ships have workout facilities, spas.

  • Rooms on a ship typically are smaller than rooms at a hotel; inform attendees of this well in advance.

  • Full-ship charters are an option. This allows you to take over the ship and have total control of things, like putting your logo on menus. But there are challenges. The group must be the right size for the right ship; if your group is smaller than the ship's capacity, then the event will cost more per person. Also, full-ship charters require a 100 percent guaranteed payment in advance. If you have the wherewithal, it can be marvelous.

  • Ships don't have a lot of breakout rooms — maximum would be about five.

  • If you require special AV equipment that has to brought onto the ship and you need it for only one day, you'll be paying for the equipment for the duration of your cruise.

  • Trade shows are not realistic on a ship, but they can be done on land at a port of call.

  • Making schedules work for speakers can be challenging. Are they available for the duration of the trip?

How To: Offshore Site Inspection

Go on a site inspection at least a year before the meeting, advises Josephine Kling of Landry & Kling, www.landrykling.com, a travel service that specializes in cruises. She offers these other tips:

  • If possible, travel the same itinerary your attendees will travel.

  • Begin your site inspection at least a day before the cruise ship sails, so that you can check out the port for advance hotel accommodations and for shipping of meeting materials.

  • Identify ground operators in advance, and meet with them in each port of call. Or meet with several different ground operators in each destination and choose one.

  • Bring your preliminary program so you can identify appropriate meeting facilities on the ship.

  • Set up a meeting with the onboard AV technician.

  • Meet with the maitre d' to discuss meal seating and with the chief purser to set up billing accounts. Depending on the ship, talk to the chief housekeeper or purser about stateroom deliveries and storage of meeting materials.

  • Sample the onboard entertainment so you can write about it in promotional materials. If you're going to charter a ship, decide which entertainment you want along on your cruise.