I admit, being landlocked is hard for someone who enjoys cruising. When we lived in California, at worst we battled traffic for two hours to get to a cruise port. Living in Tennessee is more daunting. We are hardy road warriors and have been known to drive up to 14 hours to get to a cruise port. Of course, flying to embarkation ports is always an option, but is an added cost when a cruise port is not drivable.
As a result of being landlocked I get excited when cruise lines bring new ships into ports that I consider “closer to home.” These include New Orleans, Mobile, and Charleston. So yes, I’m excited that Norwegian Cruise Line is bringing the Norwegian Breakaway to New Orleans, with itineraries starting on November 11.
I was recently at a regional travel agent conference, and the subject of Norwegian Breakaway coming to New Orleans came up in casual conversations. I was surprised that some agents in our area do not strongly pursue the cruise market in this area, and they weren’t excited about the Breakaway. They gave two reasons primarily: cruises aren’t all inclusive, and they assumed that flying to a cruise port was burdensome to clients. I asked if they ever suggested that clients drive, and most did not. I doubt they are the only landlocked travel agents that feel this way, so I wanted to bring up the discussion here.
All-inclusive on a cruise ship
Cruises already include meals in the main dining room and buffet, as well as complimentary eateries throughout the ship where you can pick up pizza, burgers, etc. throughout the day. The “all-inclusive” component that travel agents (and clients) are looking for is the free-flowing alcohol. Nowadays you can pretty much pay to add an alcohol package to pretty much any cruise. Also, companies like Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises have developed programs that can make the cruising experience more “all inclusive.”
Celebrity Cruises has their Go Big, Go Better, Go Best standard promotion where clients can choose an alcohol beverage program as their included perk. For a nominal additional fee, they can also include unlimited WiFi, a $300 onboard credit per stateroom, and prepaid gratuities. With all four perks included, it really is an all-inclusive experience at sea.
Norwegian Cruise Line calls their program “Free at Sea.” There are five perks to choose from, and how many are “free” is based on the room category being booked. The perks include unlimited open bar (aka alcohol package), shore excursion credit, a specialty dining package, or “friends and family sail free” (meaning 3rd and 4th passengers cruise fares are waived). Norwegian also has an all-inclusive itinerary out of Florida, to Cuba, where alcoholic beverages are already included in the cruise fare. So, creating that all-inclusive experience onboard cruise ships are possible.
Not being close to embarkation ports
The other land-locked objection was the distance to embarkation ports. From Nashville, the closest cruise port is approximately 7 hours away, with Miami, Ft Lauderdale, and Galveston being 12 to 14 hours away. For some, that’s a long time to be in a car. Throw in two to four kids, and it’s a really long time to be in a car. But it can be preferable to flying. When looking at the cost of flying a family of six anywhere (where it’s a cruise port or an all inclusive destination), it will factor into the family’s buying decision. When you can offer the alternative of driving to an embarkation port, it can be an attractive option to the expense of flying.
This is why I am excited about the Norwegian Breakaway coming to New Orleans. I have clients that are a family of six. The idea of flying to an all-inclusive destination can be budget buster for them. But driving to New Orleans in less than 8 hours, even with a one-night hotel pre-cruise, is more budget friendly.
If you are a land-locked travel agent, or have land-locked clients, do you have resistance to booking cruises because of the distance to embarkation ports? Have you ever discussed the option of driving to a port instead of flying? What are your thoughts about this? Please let us know in the comments area below!