Customization and personalization remain in high demand as cruise lines innovate their offering with immersive itineraries and new state-of-the-art ships.
“In terms of the onboard experience, without a doubt our charter clients are raving about the service levels, the friendliness of our crew and staff, and the quality and diversity of our food,” says Robert Cao, sr. director, charter & MICE, Atlas Ocean Voyages. “I would be remiss not to mention all of the comments we constantly receive about the ships themselves, how beautiful and elegant they are and how carefully designed they were.
“Anything from the spaciousness and comfort of the suites with butler service, all the way down to the Private Verandah rooms. As for in port, well, every audience is unique and one thing they have found ideal is to work with Atlas on customizing and personalizing an experience that is tailored just for them. The ease of doing so and the prompt response to their wants is something that sets us apart.”
Atlas’ latest ship, World Traveller, launched in November 2022, joining its sister ship World Navigator for an inaugural season in Antarctica. While the ship is the identical twin of its sister, with 98 rooms accommodating up to 196 guests with double occupancy, the decor is unique to the ship with a Mediterranean style and color scheme inspired by “la dolce vita.”
Beginning in April 2023, the cruise line will complement its expeditions to remote polar destinations with new Epicurean Expeditions itineraries visiting iconic, marquee ports in Europe. Enrichment experiences aboard include a Visiting Vintner to conduct lectures and explain the subtleties of regional wines, as well as a Gastronomic Guest, who could be a renowned chef or local culinary expert. They will participate in cultural immersion shore excursions as well as the Yachtsman Cookoff, the Atlas version of a culinary “ironman” competition. Epicurean Expeditions will also include the Atlas Heritage Dining Experience, which showcases the culinary soul of Portugal, and the Josper Grill Dining Experience, serving steak and seafood cooked on a Josper Grill, which has become a leader in charcoal gastronomy.
“The most common and consistent request we are getting is for shorter voyage length, and most importantly, the ability to customize and personalize an itinerary,” says Cao. “Our ability to turn these requests into a reality is becoming increasingly well known among cruise brokers. They know they can rely on us to make it happen and don’t have a lot of red tape to go through for approval or long wait times.”
“All our Galapagos itineraries offer the unique opportunity to include fantastic pre/post land activities in Ecuador,” says Bernardo Carrillo, head of business development, charters & incentives, Americas, Hurtigruten Expeditions. “This includes the capital Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site in itself, to the unique Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest or the Amazonian rainforest. All of these additions can easily be added to offer an overall Galapagos and land package of seven nights or less. Additionally, we have tripled our Galapagos operations this year, including two shorter itineraries that can be done in five nights or longer. The Galapagos and its wonders are a natural motivator that is a life-changing moment for everyone that journeys there. By offering three distinct itineraries shorter than a week at a great value, Hurtigruten Expeditions is distinctly positioned as the best and most flexible Galapagos option for the MICE sector.”
Hurtigruten is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, and summer 2023 will also see the launch of two new Norwegian itineraries aboard a refurbished MS Trollfjord. The Svalbard Express itinerary will showcase the best of the Norwegian coastline with full days in port and a range of excursion choices to enhance any incentive program. Meanwhile, the North Cape Express itinerary offered between October and March is timed specifically around the Northern Lights season. For the MICE sector, the new itineraries can be offered from six nights or longer. The cruise line is also offering 10-night itineraries in Antarctica with the world’s first battery-hybrid powered ships, MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen.
“We are noticing that planners are looking for more authentic experiences,” says Carrillo. “The event length has evolved to be a little longer than the previously standard three or four nights as we are seeing 7-plus-night requests as well. We see a small change in requirements that reflect what people went through during the last couple of years. There is an emphasis on reliability as well. As land-based suppliers are still ramping up with resources, we have them in place and are fully operating, and I see that planners are looking for this reassurance.”
“Our team works hand in hand with the client to understand the goals of the group and to create a unique, one-of-a-kind, immersive experience both on and off the ship,” says Neil Brodie, sr. director, charters, meetings & incentives, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. “For Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), that may mean a corporate group privatizing the laser tag and having the C-suite face off against the employees to build camaraderie. For Oceania or Regent, that may mean booking a private cooking class in our Culinary Art Center to make delicious recipes amongst your colleagues. Off the ship, we work with our local tour operators to create private and custom shore excursions tailored to the group’s needs. That may be buying out a beach resort in Roatan for a day of sun and fun or a more adventurous excursion in Cozumel on high-speed boats. No matter what the group is looking to accomplish, we work together to best suit their needs.”
New this year will be the Oceania Vista, launching in May 2023. The new 612-cabin ship will accommodate 1,200 passengers at double occupancy, and will be the first ship in the new Allura Class, with the second due for delivery in 2025. Designed to reflect the Belle Epoque era of 20th century Paris, features will include the Grand Dining Room, with a ceiling almost two decks high, as well as 12 dining experiences. The ship will also debut a new category of staterooms dedicated to solo travelers.
Launching in August 2023, the new Norwegian Viva is the next ship in the line’s Prima Class, following the launch of its Norwegian Prima in 2022. Viva will feature many of the same concepts introduced on its sister ship, including The Haven, NCL’s upscale ship-within-a-ship offering. The ship will also feature the Viva Speedway, a go-cart track spanning three levels, as well as two freefall drop slides, a 44,000-sf outdoor walkway that wraps around the entire ship and a food hall with 11 dining options.
And then in December 2023, the 750-passenger Regent Seven Seas Grandeur will launch as the third ship in its class, joining its sister ships Splendor and Explorer. Boasting one of the highest space- and crew-to-passenger ratios in the industry, the all-suite ship will offer 15 cabin options ranging from the 215-sf Veranda Suites to the palatial 4,443-sf Regent Suite featuring a personal sauna, steam room and unlimited complimentary in-room spa services.
NCL has also created a new division called Experiences at Sea, which will merge Sixthman Festivals at Sea, a subsidiary of NCL, with the company’s Charters, Meetings, and Incentives (CM&I) division. The new brand will leverage Sixthman’s 21 years of experience producing more than 160 charters focused on creating immersive experiences, as well as the CM&I team’s MICE expertise, to create highly curated, elevated cruise experiences with an emphasis on community and connection.
“Planners and clients are prioritizing value, ease of creating and executing their events, and immersive, customized experiences,” says Brodie. “What differentiates NCLH from any product, on land or sea, is how we work hand-in-hand with our clients to create unique, one-of-a-kind, immersive experiences for their groups. We have found people travel together with a common purpose in mind, and our mission is to work with our clients to understand that purpose, learn what makes each of their groups special, and create a unique experience that is completely immersive around that ethos. We make our clients’ life easier by helping them plan, execute, and deliver the most extraordinary experience at the best value.”
“We continue to think outside the box and look for unique experiences on board or on our private island,” says Freddy Muller, AVP, global corporate, incentive & charter sales, Royal Caribbean International. “On board we have the ability to provide some of the most unique teambuilding experiences. From the multi-use venue of Studio B, we can host private evening nightclubs, laser tag, or even a private ice-skating class with our award-winning crew. We can then go beachside at our Perfect Day at CocoCay, where we have overwater cabanas for the VIPs or can set-up a beach Olympics on Chill Island. Options are only limited by our partner’s imagination.”
Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas is set to debut in January 2024 as the first of three Icon Class ships, with the others expected to enter service in 2025 and 2026. The 1,198-ft.-long, 20-deck ship will be the largest cruise ship ever built and will offer 2,805 staterooms accommodating 5,610 passengers at double occupancy. Features will include the largest water park at sea with a choice of six waterslides; seven swimming pools, including the largest pool at sea and the first suspended infinity pool at sea; and eight distinct neighborhoods including five that are new to the cruise line.
Unique event venues will include the AquaDome, a massive steel and glass dome with wraparound ocean views and an indoor waterfall, which will be home to the ship’s AquaTheater high-dive shows and include several dining and bar options. Icon of the Seas will also be the cruise line’s first ship to utilize fuel cell technology and liquified natural gas, the cleanest-burning marine fuel, making it RCI’s most sustainable ship yet. Itineraries will explore the Eastern and Western Caribbean, and every cruise will visit RCI’s private island destination, Perfect Day at CocoCay, The Bahamas.
“The Caribbean will always be one of our strongest markets,” says Muller. “Especially as we capture the short cruise market offering the best in the 3- and 4-night sector. We are bringing some of our most innovative hardware to manage the demand of these types of cruises.”
atlasoceanvoyages.com/meetings-incentives-charters-events; hurtigruten.com/hurtigruten-group/meetings-and-business-events; ncl.com/events; oceaniacruises.com/charters-meetings-incentives; rssc.com/events; royalcaribbeanincentives.com