Royal Caribbean recently received some bad press related to the launch of Harmony of the Seas. There were two short pre-inaugural sailings out of Southhampton, one for four nights and the other for three nights. During these two pre-inaugural sailings the passengers reported that construction was still ongoing, with a litany of complaints reported to the media in the UK. Royal Caribbean has offered future cruise credits to the affected passengers. Whether this will appease the passengers is still yet to be seen.
Part of the problem reported by The Telegraph was that “these early [pre-inaugural] sailings were made possible due to the early delivery of the ship.” They further reported that Royal Caribbean had stated “final finishing touches were being made and added that the early sailings were reflected in the great value of the trips.” In other words, the “low pricing” reflected that the ship wasn’t ready apparently.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but this is a main reason that I try to avoid sailing the first few weeks of a ship launching, or a hotel or resort initially opening. In the case of Harmony, Royal Caribbean jumped at the chance of taking delivery of the ship earlier than originally scheduled. Maybe they should have stuck to the original schedule, finishing the construction before launching any revenue cruises.
Up until now, when a new ship comes to the US, many of the cruise lines have done short 2-3 night pre-inaugural sailings for the media and travel trade, but not for paying revenue passengers. With the changes that prevent cruise lines from doing a “cruise to nowhere” we are not sure if the pre-inaugural sailings will be offered in the future.
However, as soon as someone pays to go on a cruise, construction should be in the past. Albeit there can be glitches here and there that will need to be addressed, actually construction should be completed beforehand.
As travel advisors, we need to decide proactively whether we will promote or sell inaugural sailings on new ships, or the first few months at a new hotel or resort. I don’t have clients ask often for an inaugural sailing, and the few that have asked are seasoned cruisers. I still make sure that they understand the advantages (like low prices) and disadvantages (like glitches or construction) that they may encounter with a booking one of the first sailings of a ship. For the new cruiser, an inaugural sailing may not be the best decision. Savings aside, any bumps in the road during their sailing could taint their impressions of cruising overall. Ultimately this is a personal decision that needs to be made by each agency.
What is your agency’s policy about sailing new ships, hotels, or resorts? Let’s discuss it here!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.