When guests sail on Carnival Breeze in the Mediterranean, they can expect most fellow guests onboard to be Americans, right? As TravelAgentCentral.com discovered this summer, the answer is: “not always.”
The value offered by Carnival Cruise Lines (www.goccl.com), a contemporary line with an affordable price point, is rapidly drawing more international guests from around the globe.
Amazingly, these guests are originating in such countries as Russia, where the cruise line has had little or no sales presence.
One reason? At presstime, pricing for a September voyage on the new ship started at $1,429 per person double. That's under $3,000 for a couple to enjoy a 12-night Mediterranean voyage, including meals, entertainment and onboard activities.
It’s an absolute bargain when compared to a European-based resort or hotel stay, according to many international guests we spoke to while sailing onboard Carnival Breeze in June.
Reaching a Milestone
Earlier this month, John Heald, Carnival’s popular cruise director, told readers on his personal blog that, for the first time, Carnival Breeze had sailed with more foreign guests than Americans.
Of 4,648 total guests on the ship for that particular July cruise, just 1,890 guests were from the U.S.
Beyond 1,180 United Kingdom guests, Heald revealed there also were 685 Canadians, 420 Russians, 82 Germans, 167 Dutch, 19 Portuguese, 195 Spanish, 51 Australians and 261 Israelis.
During TravelAgentCentral's June sailing on Carnival Breeze, more than half the guests onboard were American. But there also were guests from 58 different nationalities on that cruise including Kuwaitis, Saudis, Brazilians, Japanese and Australians.
Most interestingly, there were nearly 200 Russians, 32 guests from the Ukraine, 12 from Kazakstan, eight from Belarus and one from Ubekistan, all countries once part of the former Soviet Union.
Nearly 300 Israelis, many of Russian descent, sailed as well.
Why does Carnival, essentially a North American brand, attract so many Russians or other nationalities that speak Russian?
Gerry Cahill, Carnival Cruise Lines’ president and CEO, says that starting last year in Europe, the line was “stunned” at the global bookings it was getting, without any serious marketing in certain countries.
In fact, Cahill told us that 45 percent of all guests last year were from outside North America; “This year we’re probably going to exceed that,” he said, noting that the line has modified things onboard its ships, but not in huge ways.
Cahill believes Carnival draws so many international guests because the product is so social; guests simply like the concept of a “Fun Ship.”
Another plus? The client's onboard bill is paid in dollars at the end of the cruise, a currency exchange plus for many international guests.
Adjusting to a New Norm
Carnival's onboard guest services crew members typically speak multiple languages. But given that hundreds of Russians sail on many Carnival Breeze voyages, the line has specifically increased the ship's complement of crew members fluent in Russian. The line also offers Russian dining room menus.
One day, I was being helped at the ship's purser’s desk. The friendly staffer suddenly excused herself and assured me her colleague at the next position would happily assist me; they traded places. And in the next breath, the woman previously helping me began talking in Russian to the guests at the counter next to me.
In addition, because so many Carnival Breeze guests are from the United Kingdom (where the line actively promotes and markets to agents and consumers), Carnival is hiring at least one British comedian to sail on every cruise in Europe this year. During our cruise two were onboard.
When there is a large complement of British guests onboard, Carnival also serves a full English breakfast on Lido deck. On the menu are English bacon, bangers (English breakfast sausages), smoked Gammon Ham, HP sauce, Colman’s Mustard, Marmite, baked beans and grilled tomatoes.
Acknowledging that it’s rare to see the level of U.S. guests onboard drop as far as it did on the voyage earlier this month, Heald said, “obviously, there are challenges with this…with getting information across to many whose English is not their first language. It is, at times like this, when I wish I had the skills of Costa cruise directors who can give information and who can be funny in multiple languages.”
Still, from TravelAgentCentral.com’s cruise in June, it’s easy to see that Carnival Breeze, while sailing far from the Caribbean, remains a North American “Fun Ship” product.
The official language onboard remains English, and many guests – even if they’re not for the U.S. or Canada -- are from other English speaking countries.
While the line continues to look at what else, if anything, it might do to accommodate international guests, Cahill says: “We’re hesitant to severely modify the product because we have a formula that works for guests. We have a large population [of guests coming] from North America and we don’t want to alienate them.”
Lining Up or Not?
What was the biggest complaint we heard from Americans onboard? Apparently, some Russians and Eastern European guests have a habit of routinely cutting in front of others in buffet, activity and even security lines.
Carnival’s Heald says the line has tried nicely to handle the cutting-in-line situation, but hasn't found a magic solution. “Yep, here we go again,” Heald wrote last week on his blog. “It was the same last year on the Carnival Magic and so it is here on Carnival Breeze. And this comment is not isolated because I hear it all the time. I do wonder what we can do about it, and I also wonder why some of the Russian guests do this.
“Maybe the ones who remember the cold days of communism where they would have to stand in line for hours to collect a piece of coal and a slice of bread think, “… I am not standing in line for a flat iron steak and some broccoli,” said Heald. “They head to the front and, obviously, this does upset a few.”
He also stressed: “The Russians have money, lots of money, and we are happy to have them here. However, rules mean nothing to them onboard and it is a challenge for us to try to pleasantly have them understand those.”
For many years, the number of international guests has been steadily increasing on luxury and premium cruise lines. That's not new. But now, it's clear this development is flowing into the American-focused contemporary segment of cruising.
Harry Liu, a Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com) spokesman, told TravelAgentCentral.com that his company does not break down brands by geographic area. But he also added that, as early as the parent company's 2010 10-k filing, the company said it expects 50 percent of guests to originate in markets outside the United States.
In fact, RCCL’s 2011 annual report reported that international guests onboard its ships have grown from 871,000 in 2007 to 2.2 million in 2011. While many are certainly onboard the premium and upper premium brands, the contemporary Royal Caribbean brand also attracts international travelers.
Staying Onboard in Port
A related trend is also developing from an international mix of guests onboard Carnival Breeze. “What is interesting is that in Monte Carlo yesterday when I checked the number of guests on board the ship at 1 p.m., I was surprised to see that we have 1,457 guests who were still onboard the ship,” Heald said in a recent blog.
Typically, on a port call such as Monte Carlo, considered a marquee port for most Americans, guests would be clamoring ashore. But the European guests typically use the ship as a resort. Heald says the foreign guests simply don't care as much as North American guests do about spending their port days ashore.
So, if Americans are thinking, “It’s Tuesday, we must be in Rome. We can’t wait to get off and explore,” the Russians may be saying, in contrast: “What time do we head to the pool? We'll see you for lunch later in the Lido."
Questions for Travel Agents:
Is the trend toward a greater diversity of onboard guests a plus or minus for your clients who are booking a highly affordable contemporary (not a luxury or premium) line in Europe -- one that typically attracts a large complement of American guests?
Do you discuss passenger diversity with your clients prior to their cruise, particularly first-time cruisers? Any client feedback? Let us know your thoughts.
Photos by Susan J. Young
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