Attracting Younger Cruisers

Frank Sinatra's "Young At Heart" could easily be the anthem of cruising's current crop of seafarers. Old Blue Eyes was the voice of a generation past, but nowadays the cruise industry is crooning a different song that is attracting a younger class of cruisers to an otherwise elder vacationing option.

Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line are outfitting their ships to appeal to both teens and young professionals, opening a new demographic for travel agents to tap into.

A figurative and literal new age could be on the horizon for the cruise industry, which would redefine the long-held notion of cruising reserved for the newly wed or nearly dead. The numbers are telling: Sixty-eight percent of Gen-Xers said they intended to take a cruise within the next three years according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). "Something is happening," says Bob Sharak, executive vice president of marketing and cruise line distribution for CLIA. "As we grow we are becoming more visible, more mainstream, and pulling from all fronts." The FlowRider aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas provides guests with surfing fun—without the worry of sharks

Action-Packed Ships

While not all cruise lines are fashioning their ships or changing their posture to appeal to younger cruisers, some of the big guys are. Perhaps the most aggressive is Royal Caribbean.

"We've been successful in appealing to a younger audience of cruisers by applying innovative concepts aboard our ships," says Alice Norsworthy, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of marketing. Those concepts are highlighted on its Voyager class of ships. Whoever says you can't scale a rock, work on your triple Lutz or hone your jump shot while in the middle of the ocean obviously has never stepped foot on a Royal Caribbean ship. Voyager-class ships, including Mariner of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas and the class' namesake, Voyager of the Seas, offer rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, miniature golf courses, even full-size basketball courts. All these amenities appeal to the younger cruiser, who likes to be active while on vacation. Subsequently, RCCL's two newest ships, Freedom of the Seas, which debuted last summer, and Liberty of the Seas, slated to come into service this May, feature and will feature much of the same as the Voyager class, plus a few extras. Yes, there is the boxing ring and the H2O Zone waterpark, but what has everyone talking is the FlowRider. The innovative wave simulator allows guests to surf on the high seas (or wipe out) from the comfort of their own cruise ship.

Norwegian Cruise Line isn't being left in the wake. Its latest entry, Norwegian Pearl, which debuted just this past December, flaunts an industry-first bowling alley to go along with a 30-foot-high rock-climbing wall. New entertainment, including a sports bar and nightclub complex, gives the ship even more appeal for the younger cruising set. "We continue to bring aboard products, services and experiences to attract younger people," says Scott Rogers, NCL's senior vice president of marketing and sales. Rogers adds that in the coming days, the company will announce new partnerships with brands that are typically embraced by the younger crowd.

Appealing to Teens Cruisers

While Royal Caribbean and NCL have been busy pumping their ships full of youth-targeted apparatuses, Carnival Cruise Lines, though also a magnet for 30-somethings, is gaining widespread attention from the growing segment of teen cruisers. Carnival's newest ship, Carnival Freedom, has an entire dedicated-teen space called Club O2. The idea for a teen club, intended for ages 15-17, was originally derived back in 2005, and done in partnership with Coca-Cola. The clubs are outfitted on other Carnival cruise ships, including Triumph, Valor and Elation, and are the centerpiece of Carnival's dedication to the age group. Other targeted experiences, such as teen-only shore excursions, go further to ingratiate the Carnival brand with the teen sect. The line's attention to teenagers is paying off. "We're selling more kids than ever," says Christine Arnholt, Carnival's vice president of marketing services. Teens have their own Club O2 aboard the Carnival Conquest, with a disco and an arcade

Shore excursions are also being developed to match the healthy lifestyle more cruisers seek. "Younger travelers look for active and engaging elements to their cruise experience," says RCCL's Norsworthy. Royal Caribbean offers such activities as bike tours, trail walks and zip-line rides.

Likewise, NCL is making its shore activities more attractive by lending its "free-style" cruising approach to its shore excursions. New for 2007 in Alaska is "private touring," which gives guests the ability to customize shore excursions. Younger travelers enjoy the control that the new program allows and activities such as kayaking and rafting are more appealing to younger people than riding around in a tour van for two hours.

All the attention and detail given to teens and young professionals has created a niche market for some travel agencies. Whet Travel, based in Miami, is one such company. Led by an innovative 29-year-old former insulation salesman named Jason Beukema, Whet Travel was launched in 2004, and is specifically geared toward providing young professionals (Generations X & Y) with exciting and memorable travel experiences. Whet Travel's core programs are its Groove Cruises, which, as the name implies, are music-themed Caribbean cruises that bring together like-minded music lovers with world-famous deejays. The result is a mass-music party at sea that has been described as Spring Break for people with jobs. The cruise has gotten so big that entire ships are looking to be chartered. Beukema says that Royal Caribbean is the best fit for the Groove Cruises because of their ships' sizes.

Whet Travel's success with the Groove Cruise is a veritable coup for Royal Caribbean and could be for other lines if expanded. According to Beukema, 62 percent of Groove Cruisers have never cruised and never would have otherwise. The program is thrusting more young people into the world of cruising.

"They enjoy the vast array of amenities and activities," says Beukema of the ships, which he says offer many tremendous activities for his clients when the music isn't playing.

Whet Travel will host three Groove Cruises this year, one leaving in May from Miami, a second from Los Angeles in July and a new trip originating from New York City in October.

Beukema says he also works with other travel agents, who can book clients on the Groove Cruises and collect commissions. "We make our travel agent partners look very good to their clients," says Beukema.

Cruising is skewing younger as the lines look to cultivate a new set of potential clients. The effect is proving doubly advantageous for travel agents, who are gaining a new segment of business that is otherwise less frequent. "We are trying to do younger cruises," says Greg Nacco, director of Cruise Specialists in its San Francisco office. "It's a growing market that we want to get our hands into."

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