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Onboard the Ruby PrincessNovember 7, 2008 By: Susan Young
Travel Agent Senior Contributing Editor Susan J. Young was onboard Princess Cruises' newest ship, the 3,080-passenger Ruby Princess, at Port Everglades, FL, on Thursday amid a sea of travel agents and VIPs outfitted in red attire as Trista and Ryan Sutter of "The Bachelorette" named the ship in honor of their fifth wedding anniversary.
As part of the romance-themed event, red roses floated in the top deck pool; waiters served red and pink drinks; Love Boat Captain Gavin MacLeod gave away a couple who were married on the new ship; and red confetti rained down on guests at the completion of the naming ceremony.
During Friday morning's travel agency briefing, Jan Swartz, Princess' senior vice president of sales and customer service, talked with several hundred travel agents about selling in a tough economy. She stressed that, within Princess' target market (upper middle class to affluent travelers), clients generally still have their jobs, their homes and their credit. "Your customers haven't decided against a vacation," stressed Swartz. "They're trying to convince themselves." She acknowledged that every customer is assessing their personal situation every day but said agents shouldn't assume they have to wait to start selling. She suggested adapting the sales pitch and avoid focusing on indulgence, stating, "Play off the need, not the splurge."
Swartz also outlined a side-by-side comparison of a 12-day Princess European cruise ($3,755 per person double) versus a 12-day land tour visiting four cities ($6,139 per person double). The Princess vacation included balcony cabin accommodations and was 39 percent less expensive. To help agents make this type of value comparison, and thus the sale, Swartz said Princess will introduce a new short Princess Academy trade training course in the week or so.
Rai Caluori, Princess' executive vice president of fleet operations, said Ruby Princess' delivery completes the existing new build program. The average age of the fleet is now 5.6 years. While the line has a next-generation ship on the drawing board, there are no orders on the books at this time. Moving forward, Caluori said Princess will focus on product consistency and the continuation of its internal "Consummate Host" approach for training employees, as it strives for superior customer service.
Describing the Princess brand appeal as comfortable elegance, Caluori stressed that "we're not about forced fun. You choose what to do and when to do it." As it works on fine-tuning, Princess is rolling out new menus and, in some cases, simplifying the language that describes certain dishes; that was suggested by customers in feedback to the line. Currently, the line is piloting a new Entertainment e-mail; before your client sails on Ruby Princess, the line will send a personalized email from the ship's cruise director outlining all the entertainment available on that cruise.
Princess is also introducing a new Ultimate Ship's Tour on Ruby Princess; this is a $150 per person tour to behind-the-scenes areas of the ship, including the engine control room, the print shop, the galley, the ship's laundry and the bridge. Along the way, 10-12 participants max will interact with employees and receive such gifts as personalized stationery, a cookbook, a photograph on the bridge, and a fluffy robe. Reservations will be made onboard on a first come, first served basis. Caluori said the price point is designed to manage what is expected to be high guest demand on a very labor intensive tour.
What else is new? The line has also just rolled out a new Wheelhouse Pub Lunch on Ruby Princess, Crown Princess and Emerald Princess. Every sea day the line will serve a complimentary lunch that consists of a choice of Cottage Pie, Bangers & Mash, or Fish & Chips. In addition, the line is introducing a new breakfast in Sabatini's for suite guests. If it proves successful, it may be expanded to lunch or brunch.
See more images from the event in the slide show below.
Stay tuned for another update from Ruby Princess on Tuesday.