[ON LOCATION] LAUREL HERMAN
The overall message at 2023 Seatrade Cruise Global and 2023 CLIA Cruise360 clearly shows the cruise industry is back, with the intent to cruise higher than it was in December 2019. The future forecasting sees cruising to be one of tourism’s fastest growing sectors, with North America remaining the largest source market. In 2023 alone, 14 new ships are debuting and by 2028 it’s forecasted that there will be 30 more. Luxury ships continue to thrive in this environment with more choices than ever, including this year’s Celebrity Ascent and Regent Grandeur, and in 2024, Atlas’ World Seeker. Here’s a sampling of ships, ocean and river, to consider for your next incentive booking.
Starting Aug. 1 of this year, planners can charter Advance by Transcend. Formerly the Crystal Mahler, the ship is getting refurbished and will operate on the Rhine and Moselle rivers through December 2024. Transcend Cruises is the only B2B operator, says Matthew Shollar, chief visionary officer for Transcend Cruises, giving customized options to planners on European rivers. Shollar tells Prevue that this option that’s exclusively for the B2B charter market gives them the opportunity to utilize this innovative luxury vessel for a custom-designed program/itinerary and tailored food and beverage.
Ahead for Transcend are new custom-built ships that will premiere in 2025 and will expand river cruising opportunities for charters. “Advance,” says Shollar, “is a good preview of the ships to come.” The luxury experience with Advance and the Transcend newbuilds, says Shollar, “is that they all have a lower guest count (110 for Advance, 120 for their newbuilds) vs. typical 160-plus on other river vessels. We also have the ability to customize around F&B as Advance has a much larger galley than most river vessels and so we can deliver more al la carte meals. This is not typical of the river ships.”
Regarding luxury incentives, Shollar points to the flexibility of itinerary creation. He notes, “We think luxury is an incentive program that includes experiential shore programs that reflect the needs of the group. This experience of customization is a luxury—charters built around what you need to deliver to your charter guest.”
While the all-suite Regent Splendor was at PortMiami, Prevue had the opportunity to get on board and what we found was an exquisitely designed ship—the color palette throughout is subdued and exudes luxury, and the suite options—there are a total of 365, all with balconies—run the gamut from the Veranda to the iconic Regent Suite, the latter featuring a grand piano.
Neil Brodie, sr. director, NCLH charters, meetings and incentives, tells us that a group doesn’t have to buy out the entire ship. They can book up to 100 suites—that is the sweet spot for Splendor, he says. One of the pillars of Regent is customization, making each guest feel special. So, no matter which suite category your group is in, their minibar can be stocked appropriately by calling ahead, and in the Penthouse suites and above, full bottles are stocked by one’s butler.
The sophisticated Splendor is home to an impressive number of dining options when you consider its size—max 750 guests—with groups able to experience an array of menus, including Pan-Asian, Italian, steakhouse and French. We were also impressed by the chef-led teambuilding opportunity at the Culinary Arts Kitchen, which can host up to 18 participants at a time. Says Brodie, “Culinary excellence is absolutely one of our pillars and we put a lot of focus, energy and money into it. Just look at the menus at all of our restaurants on this ship and compare it to other brands. Every single night, groups can order high-end dishes like Dover sole, lamb chops, foie gras or New York strip. We can privatize a specialty restaurant during a sailing for team bonding, even if the ship is not a full charter.” Also note, that the all-inclusive drink package includes brands such as Grey Goose and Macallan.
Another cool space and one of my favorites is the very intimate Library. Here, attendees will find an amazing collection of books and comfy seating. And, yes, groups of 20-30 can have a private event here such as tequila tasting. The Card Room can also be used for private group events and for smaller groups of up to 40 when not a full charter. The Observation Bar is another stunning space that can be privatized for a cocktail reception, while the Constellation Theater is ideal for lectures and presentations. The Serene Spa & Wellness Center is impressive and there’s a fitness center and jogging track as well as a recreation area that includes pickle ball courts. The luxury of experience on this ship is front and center.
“The luxury of space and service are also two key selling factors in a charter or groups,” says Brodie. “We have a staff that delivers service like no other, with a staff to guest ratio average of 1 to 1.5. It’s super easy to budget for groups with Regent as it’s truly all-inclusive. Regent is ultra-luxury, a type of luxury that is about service, one that anticipates a guest’s needs and offers customization.”
We also headed to Port Everglades to get a peek at The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s Evrima—a Greek word meaning “discovery”—which premiered last fall.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s CEO, Douglas Prothero, gave us a personalized tour of the sleek, intimate 298-guest yacht, which features 149 suites (all have balconies), a glorious Observation Lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a fabulous skylight, the Ritz-Carlton Spa, Fitness Studio (there’s a full-time fitness coach that can accommodate whichever type of class groups desire), and the Spa Terrace, ideal for some daytime R&R with its windscreens and clear view of the ocean. Some of the onboard features that caught my eye are the original works of art and the magnificent oak wood floors, found in various spaces, including The Bar.
While the ship is perfect for a buyout and can be configured from 149 to 106 suites (or 298 guests), smaller groups of up to 30 suites (or 60 guests) can be booked on a regular sailing. For smaller groups, there are areas that can be privatized such as the open space on deck nine, multipurpose use for receptions with a bar and tables. When it comes to accommodations, there are 14 identical Grand Suites and 12 two-level Loft Suites.
High-end cuisine is certainly a pillar of Evrima, home to 10 dining experiences. Tops for Prothero is Mistral, with a Mediterranean-inspired menu that, he notes, is based on what the chef can get fresh. Prothero adds the open-air terrace is especially nice because it offers that yacht feel. Groups will want to experience S.E.A., designed by Chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, a three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg in Germany. Planners should make note that the entire Evrima culinary staff goes to Germany to be personally trained by the chef.
Other favorite areas for groups are the meeting rooms (F&B and A/V included) and Marina Terrace, which has a seating area and a bar. Just below is the Marina, the go-to spot while at anchor with sun loungers, sea and water toys and seamless entry into the sea. Says Prothero, “While Evrima is in the ultra-luxe space, we’re in a league of our own, defined by key count, space per guest, level of service and Michelin-inspired dining designed by a renowned Ritz-Carlton chef. Plus, The Ritz Carlton Spa is a well-known luxury spa operator.” He adds, “Corporate and incentive groups are finding Evrima very appealing for a charter.”
New this year for Scenic Group is the sister yacht to Emerald Azzurra—Emerald Sakara, which will debut this August with 6- and 7-day programs. Sailing Europe and the Caribbean with only 100 guests, this is an intimate relaxing ocean experience that incentive planners can have a field day with as it is an easy size to charter. I sailed on the sister yacht Azzurra when she first debuted and was enamored with the personal luxury of space and the excitement of pulling up to the heart of the small towns as we stepped off the yacht. The recently debuted Scenic Eclipse II is a luxury expedition ship with sleek design, state-of-the-art technology and cool amenities such as a helicopter and submarine. With 114 cabins (up to 228 guests) and 176 crew, it’s ideal for an immersive luxury charter experience.
Says Robert Castro, VP of marketing, Scenic Group USA, “Whether you travel on the river or ocean, in whatever destination we are, you are always going to find stellar service, spectacular meals and, more importantly, a connection with the local environment.
“Considering the different products we offer, we can tailor to incentive planners’ specific needs, particularly with the smaller-sized nature of our ships like the 100-guest Emerald Yachts that are designed for warm water and off-the-beaten path places and/or smaller harbors. With Scenic Eclipse ships, they are a bit larger and built for discovery, but totally charterable in warm or cold weather destinations and discovery places like the Chilean fjords, which are just spectacular. Also, having the flexibility with the Scenic Eclipse discovery yachts to be able to experience the full environment via paddleboards, kayaks, zodiacs, submarine or helicopter lends itself to having very complete experience for groups. And with so many dining experiences aboard the Eclipse, it’s a natural fit for groups that want to create the ultimate experience. We have the expertise and ability to create programs.” He adds that, “When we do a Scenic Enrichment program, we are the only groups there. We have a brand-new charter brochure for MICE groups, built so they can see everything that is available to them and how turnkey it can be. Our ships are designed for small groups and what they get with us is intimacy, which is part of the luxury experience.”
rssc.com; ritzcarltonyachtcollection.com; transcend.cruises/advance; scenicusa.com; emeraldcruises.com