More accurately, WAVE SEASON IS COMING!! That thought is just as frightening for some in the travel industry as “winter is coming!” is to characters in Game of Thrones. There is general panic, anxiety and night terrors. It used to be that wave season didn’t kick in until after the new year rolled around, and it last for six to eight weeks. Then it began lasting longer. Nowadays, for some travel agents, it feels like wave season can last three to four months (feeling like an eternity). As for when it starts, it’s feeling like November is the new January.
Virgin Voyages is coming. If you haven’t heard, that’s the new cruise line being launched by Richard Branson and his company the Virgin Group. It’s not surprising that Virgin Group would eventually come around and launch a cruise line. They don’t limit their ventures to travel, but they do have quite a few travel focused subsidiaries on the books: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Australia, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Vacations, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Rail Group. And that’s not all of them; but you can see why Virgin Voyages (originally Virgin Cruises) isn’t a surprise.
Saying that this has been a memorable hurricane season would be an understatement. In the Atlantic alone, dealing with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have strained resources in multiple locations, turned vacations upside down and inside out. This has costed clients, cruise lines, and shore excursion operators a significant amount of money.
Beverage packages seems to be an ongoing issue for cruise lines. They have tried a variety of twists with their beverage packages. Some have tested limiting beverage packages to 15 alcoholic drinks per 24 hour period. Others have tested whether they can allow passengers to purchase packages without requiring other adults in the stateroom to purchases the same package. It just feels like every time we turn around, we’re hearing about some cruise line tinkering with their rules and polices about beverage packages.
And just recently we have received announcements from two different cruise lines.
In the chaos of hurricanes over the past few weeks, other cruise news has gone unnoticed. So let’s take a break from Hurricanes Harvey through Maria, and look at the latest improvements rolled out in Espresso, the booking engine used by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara.
Previous Espresso enhancements rolled out earlier this year included the ability to redeem group amenity points online, along with other group management enhancements. The newest enhancements rolled out last month are a mix of improvements.
Last week when I wrote about Hurricane Harvey and how the cruise lines responded, I never thought I would be writing about hurricanes the following week. I considered writing about something else cruise-related, but it all seems so unimportant right now. Read the rest of this entry »
Hurricanes happen every year. Fortunately, they are usually identified early and closely tracked, and not every hurricane makes land fall. In most instances, cruises aren’t seriously impacted. I’ve been on ships when an itinerary has to be completely turned on its head because of an active hurricane, but that was the extent of the impact on the cruise; only a minor inconvenience.
As a result we had beautiful weather and calm seas. Of course, there’s always at least one loud disgruntled passenger because they had their hearts set on visiting a specific port, or they don’t want to go to Nassau for the umpteenth time.
The residents of Venice have been rumbling for a while about the influx of cruise ship passengers in their fragile city. The relationship between Venice, Italy and cruise ships is tenuous at best. It has been reported that relations between residents of Venice and the ever-growing number of tourists is strained, at best. With approximately 50,000 residents living in Venice, the influx of cruise ship passengers (up to 30,000 per day) is overwhelming the city. That does not include the number of tourists entering the city via land (by planes, trains, and automobiles). Calculate land-based tourists into the mix, and Venice residents are helplessly outnumbered.
Norwegian Bliss has been available to book for some time now, although the ship does not start sailing until Spring 2018. As consumers and travel agents alike wait in anticipation, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) occasionally releases more information about the ship, and its innovations. This week saw Norwegian releasing more information about firsts at sea, such as laser tag and the largest race track at sea.
All of the major cruise lines offer some kind of incentive to create future bookings while onboard their current cruise. It’s an effective marketing tool. While every cruise line conducts their onboard booking process in their own way, the basic premise is to target clients who are currently enjoying their cruise experience, and to get them to commit to a future cruise. Of course, that commitment requires handing over their credit card to secure the future booking with a deposit.
To entice them to do so, the cruse lines offer some type of incentive that cannot be obtained through normal shoreside booking avenues (whether direct or through a travel agent). Royal Caribbean recently announced that their NextCruise program underwent some changes which are currently being rolled out to all ships in the fleet.
On July 21st, Royal Caribbean International rolled out their new travel agent training program, Royal Caribbean University. The new program replaced the old University of WOW, which has now been closed. The University of WOW has been around for approximately seven years. Rewards for achieving Expert or Expert Plus include the earned designation on the Find a Travel Agent Locator on the Royal Caribbean website, framable certificates, invitations to Seminars at Sea, and “more.”
At this point, most major cruise lines have only released itineraries through April 2019. However, 2020 can be booked now for certain itineraries. For example, take Regent Seven Seas’ recently announced 2020 World Cruise. It starts in San Francisco (departing January 24, 2020) or Miami (departing January 6, 2020). The 131 night itinerary includes 6 continents, 30 countries, 66 ports of call, 3 oceans crossed, 11 seas cruised, 36 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 13 overnight stays, 330 free shore excursions to choose from, and 33,871 nautical miles sailed.
The term “over the holidays” often conjures images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, fireworks, champagne, and crazy cruise fares. The two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day are the two busiest, thus most expensive, times for cruising. But those aren’t the only holidays that people plan their vacations around. Of course there’s Thanksgiving, and Memorial Day and Labor Day are holiday weekends that bookend the busy summer season. Even this past 4th of July weekend is a perfect example.
This week Celebrity Cruises revealed more about the new ship Celebrity Edge, specifically the area of the ship called Eden. The definition of Eden is “a place of pristine or abundant beauty; a state of perfect happiness or bliss; paradise.” Celebrity is striving for this new onboard destination to truly live up to that description.
When the White House announced that President Trump would be reversing the Obama administration’s policy changes pertaining to Cuba, many in the travel industry were concerned. Tour operators and cruise lines have made commitments and investments in Cuba travel, and many travel agents have deposited trips for clients already on the books for 2017 and 2018. The Trump administration’s plans could adversely affect a lot of businesses.
When Carnival Cruise Line recently announced their new EasyPay payment plan, my initial reaction was that they were coming up with yet more ways to make travel agents less valuable to cruise passengers. After learning more about it, I’m not as concerned.
For as long as I have been in the travel industry, travel agents have had the unique proposition of offering “payment plans” to their clients. Many travel agents liken it to a layaway plan.
Many in the cruise industry might have though Royal Caribbean International was a bit crazy when they first announced their Oasis Class ships. Oasis of the Seas and her sister ships were the largest ships at the time. The reaction of their competitors has been mixed. Some have come out with their own behemoth class of ships, while others have stuck to their guns and stayed with their smaller capacity ship sizes. Royal Caribbean International has even scaled back recently, with the launch of the smaller Quantum Class of ships.
Embarkation ports in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily New Orleans and Galveston, are continuing to see an increase in the cruise business departing from their ports. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line have been the main players in the port of New Orleans for the past few years. Each have been operating two ships out of that port, with itineraries that mostly range from five to ten nights in length, with Norwegian also operating a 21 night re-positioning cruise that starts in New Orleans. But soon the cruise traffic will be increasing in New Orleans, as Royal Caribbean returns after a three year break.
“Those who see the world better understand the world; and when we better understand the world we can gain insights into ourselves and personally experience the transformative effects of travel. EXC is going to show our guests the world in a whole new way and enable them to engage in truly meaningful experiences.” Orlando Ashford, President, Holland America Line
Initially announced in December 2016, Holland America has released more information about their new Exploration Central concept as it premiers on the ms Westerdam in a few days. Exploration Central, or EXC for short, will be rolled out fleet wide by the end of 2018.
Often one cruise line will test a new idea and, if it flies, other cruise lines will follow suite in short order. Disney Cruise Line spearheaded family friendly cruising. Now you can find Nickelodeon and Universal partnered with other cruise lines, water splash areas, water slides to die for, and family-friendly staterooms on other ships. Norwegian Cruise Line introduced Freestyle Dining, and now everyone has some form of open dining program. Someone raises their gratuity amounts? Others follow suit within months.
With little fanfare, Royal Caribbean rolled out new enhancements to their pre-cruise planning tool involving Onboard Credit redemption. Up until recently clients did not have the option to spend Onboard Credit funds before boarding their cruise. According to Royal Caribbean, new “system enhancements now grant your clients the ability to allocate their promotional and option code driven Onboard Credits towards desired purchases pre-cruise, giving your clients the ability to plan ahead and to better arrange their vacation activities/purchases in advance.”