Odyssey of the Seas Heading to Rome: Chat With Vicki Freed

Odyssey of the Seas
The new Odyssey of the Seas will be the first Quantum Ultra Class ship with two open-air, resort-style pools.

“Benvenuti a Roma” is what guides will say to future guests on Royal Caribbean International’s new Odyssey of the Seas. Just announced, the cruise line has tapped Civitavecchia (Rome) for its summer 2021 home port.

The ship will arrive there in May 2021, the first Quantum-Ultra Class ship to cruise in Europe for the summer season. It will sail to the eastern Mediterranean.

Nine-night itineraries will take guests to Turkey and Greece, including such UNESCO World Heritage Sites as Ephesus, the ancient Acropolis of Athens  (shown below) and Mykonos’ Cycladic architecture.

Athens Acropolis

Travel Agent learned about the new Rome departures during a stage appearance by Michael Bayley, the line’s president and CEO, and in an interview with Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, onboard Symphony of the Seas.

The executives were onboard for the 2019 National Conference of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. Royal Caribbean also just issued an announcement with some highlights included here.

Bayley said that Odyssey of the Seas will be the cruise line's first vessel purpose-built for island hopping on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Freed told Travel Agent that in 2021 Odyssey of the Seas will operate nine-night voyages from Rome, before settling into a series of seven-night voyages during the peak summer period. The new ship will then operate more nine-night voyages before heading to its winter home port at Port Everglades, FL.

Launching service in November 2020, the new ship will offer six-night and eight-night 2020-2021 winter season Caribbean voyages from Port Everglades, and the ship will also sail from that home port the following winter.

Advisor tip? Those eight-night voyages should highly appeal to the line’s repeat guests, believes Freed.

Given the ship’s speed capability and by adding the one extra night to what would normally be a week-long voyage, the line is able to offer an unusual, eight-night roundtrip voyage from South Florida that includes port calls in Aruba and Curacao, two of the southern Caribbean’s most popular isles for cruise guests.

Separately, on the six-night Caribbean cruises, Freed said the ship will call at Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

Vicki Freed Dream Vacation Conference 2019 Editorial Use Only Photo by Susan J Young
Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International spoke to travel advisors at the Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference this week on Symphony of the Seas. 

New Features on Odyssey

Odyssey of the Seas will have new “wow” features and signature spaces. Look for a two-level pool deck. Freed also talked about the glass skywalk over the water, similar to what’s on Spectrum of the Seas. The ship also will have Northstar, a retractable arm with a glass capsule; it will transport cruisers high above the ship for a bird’s-eye view of the vessel and surrounding waters.

Odyssey of the Seas will introduce the “next generation” of the line’s SeaPlex, the largest indoor activity space at sea. Clients can expect bumper cars, a roller-skating rink, a circus training area with trapeze artists and a glow-in-the-dark laser tag arena. Dominating SeaPlex’s upper level, an interactive arcade will have virtual reality games for individual and group play, augmented reality walls and floors for high-tech competitions and family experiences.

The Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade within SeaPlex will offer TVs at every angle; game-day food such as buffalo wings, sliders and the signature Playmakers Burger, along with brews; and an Owner’s Box VIP area for an MVP experience.

Odyssey of the Seas also will have a “reimagined” Adventure Ocean area with an entirely new layout of the physical space and an opportunity for young travelers to choose their own immersive experiences. A new teen lounge will have gaming consoles, music and movies.

On Odyssey of the Seas, the Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade will have a new location in the SeaPlex entertainment area. 

Research by the line revealed that things are different than when it first developed Adventure Ocean and the teen program, said Freed: “Families want to do things together. They don’t always want to be together the entire cruise, but they do want to have some connecting time with their kids and teenagers.”

So Freed said Royal Caribbean is revamping the entire Adventure Ocean and teen program -- making sure the line is providing a platform of activities that fit that desire, whether it’s an “escape room” or an activity that the family just wants to do together.

That revamped children's and teen program will first appear on Oasis of the Seas during its upcoming revitalization, prior to the ship starting service from New York.

As for dining, Odyssey of the Seas will have a new Teppanyaki restaurant with sizzling steaks and seafood cooked table-side, as well as Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar. Travelers also can expect many signature specialty dining spaces, among them Izumi, Chop’s Grille, the Chef’s Table and Wonderland.

Entertainment across the ship will include high-tech signature productions in the Royal Theater, a Music Hall for live performances and a club-like aura, and the new Two70, a place where art and multimedia will merge for performances that surround the audience. And, of course, robots will concoct drinks at the line’s signature Bionic Bar – as much entertainment as a libation spot.

Located aft, Two70 will offer 270-degree panoramic windows with ocean views in an expansive open-area living room transformed with a 135-foot-wide and 22-foot-tall screen using Vistarama technology. At night, six roboscreens come to life in synchronization with music, special effects, live performers and aerialists.

Vacationers can, of course, enjoy the line’s signature FlowRider surf simulator, RipCord by iFly (a skydiving simulator), a 40-foot rock wall and SkyPad, a bungee trampoline experience that transports travelers to another time, place or planet using a virtual reality headset.

Odyssey of the Seas’ two-level pool deck will offer two open-air, resort-style pools and four whirlpools, surrounded by shady casitas and hammocks. Nearby will be the two-story Lime & Coconut, as well as El Loco Fresh for tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fresh salsas.

Splashaway Bay is the ship’s kids’ aqua park with colorful waterslides, fountains, water cannons and more. Adults can retreat to the top-deck Solarium, with swimming pools, whirlpools, a full-service bar, daybeds and hidden nooks.

Odyssey of the Seas isn’t the line’s only ship heading for Europe, of course. Freed stressed that starting in summer 2020, Allure of the Seas will home port in Europe – having been “Amplified” as part of the Royal Caribbean refurbishment program prior to operating those European voyages.

Revitalized Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean's original Oasis-class ship, Oasis of the Seas, begins sailing from New York City in April. Clients will see many changes, new and refreshed spaces, and, as mentioned above, the debut of the new Adventure Ocean area and teen program.

Freed said: “We are also going to have a new restaurant – a barbecue restaurant, we’re redoing the decks, and we’re going to have Music Hall,” in the space now occupied by Dazzles.

Freed continued: “Even though we have a small band [in Dazzles], it will be a bigger band.” The furniture will all be different, there will be live music and there will be a dance floor. “It will be like the clubs that people want these days,” she says.

Guests can also expect to see the Ultimate Abyss and Perfect Storm slides, which weren’t added to the Oasis-class ships until Harmony of the Seas. But now Oasis of the Seas, will have those, too.

Karaoke anyone? Fans will like that “we’re doing Spotlight Karaoke,” says Freed. “The whole room will have screens. It’s going to be fun.”

Look for Spotlight Karaoke to go where the On Air sports bar is now on the Royal Promenade, because the Playmakers that the line is putting on Oasis of the Seas will become the sports bar.

“On Oasis we’re also doing laser tag and we’re putting that into Studio B,” she said, and that’s going to be called, “The Clash for the Crystal City.” The line will also be putting in the Royal Escape Room as it has on Symphony of the Seas.

The whole pool area will be revamped with a new Lime and Coconut signature bar area, El Loco Fresh on the deck and a Johnny Rockets Express, too. 

“Really, by putting food and beverage right near the pool area, it will take the stress off Windjammer,” says Freed, referring to the line’s inside casual buffet restaurant where people tend to gather for lunch or dinner. Freed says it will just be easier to grab a burger, quesadilla or tacos at the pool area.

Rising Per Diems on Short Product

Among other topics of discussion at the Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference this week has been the rise of short cruise fares. That's due both to massive refurbishments for the ships operating short cruises, plus the inclusion of the new Perfect Day at CocoCay on short cruise itineraries.

Daredevil's Tower at Perfect Day at CocoCay
Perfect Day at CocoCay is Royal Caribbean's newly revamped private island experience in the Bahamas.

“They have increased," Freed said in reference to short cruise fares, “but it’s not just the rates, it’s the disproportionate number of higher-level accommodations. In the past, there were few balcony accommodations on short cruise ships.

“Now, you have ships that were purposely built with a ton of balconies,” she said. “You have a lot more suites [too]. So that’s driving the rates up.”

What’s interesting to Freed is that in the past many travel advisors stayed away from booking short cruises, thinking the return on their time investment wasn’t the best. After all, it was a short cruise with a cheaper price.

But now, the pricing is edging higher, an added incentive to interest clients in this option. Plus, the accommodation choices are better, and the ships are sizably refreshed, different from old tonnage put on short routes in the past.

Also, Freed said that many agents think that if they put a person on a short cruise, they’ll graduate to a seven-day cruise at some point, and some do. But the reality is also that Freed says many who take a short cruise may take three or four such cruises on the same product in a given year.

“The money isn’t the driver [for these people], it’s really the time, and people want shorter vacations,” she said. “If you can book people on three or four short cruises a year, you are making more money than you are on one seven-night cruise.”

Family Travel Market

“Time marches on so fast,” says Freed. “Life changes. The speed of life is going at such an accelerated pace.” People want to spend time together, just be in the moment and have quality time as a family. “It really is about reconnecting,” says Freed.

Generally, Royal Caribbean International is still seeing the typical multigenerational groups of grandparents, adult children and teens/younger children. But there are also versions of that, with Freed citing one example on our sailing with children, adult parents and both sets of in-laws.

She says that in decades past parents spent time with their children and grandchildren playing board games and doing simpler things, but today everyone is on their devices, including children as young as toddlers.

Perfect Day at CocoCay is a “home run” when it comes to quality family time, says Freed: “It’s a time when people are not on their devices. It’s not just the thrilling slides, but the rafts that four or more people can climb onboard and have a family ride experience together.

“You see families with the kids and it’s the laughter,” she notes. “It’s a joyful laughter. I feel like we’re touching people. We’re bringing them back to the basics like when you and I grew up. We didn’t have all this technology. We spent time with our parents, we laughed, we had fun…but people have lost that.”

When on devices all the time, kids and parents have lost a human connection. “We are helping them regain that connection.”

New Agents Entering Industry

“I think we’ve seen a lot of people coming into this industry who want to own their own destiny,” said Freed. Essentially, whether they own their own franchise or participate via a host agency, they are seeking a second career.

“Maybe they start out part-time and then graduate to full time,” said Freed, who said some new agents she met at the Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. trade show this week are still employed full time. “But they are building their future.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of the Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference onboard Symphony of the Seas this week. 

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