|Cruise Specialists' guests sailing on Holland America Line's "Grand World Voyage" check in to a bon voyage party hosted by the Seattle agency at a South Florida hotel. // Photo by Cruise Specialists|
Eager cruisers gathered at a South Florida hotel just a few miles from Port Everglades last week for a "gala bon voyage party" just prior to Holland America Line’s 2016 "Grand World Voyage." Many were booked on the full 115-day World Cruise on Amsterdam, while others were sailing on individual segments of that voyage.
The event was hosted by Cruise Specialists, a Travel Leaders Group agency. It's booked more than 8,000 travelers on World Cruises since 1987. For this specific voyage, the Seattle-based travel agency had booked 18 percent of the "full World Cruise" guests.
Excitement and anticipation bubbled over as the cruisers hugged old acquaintances met on past World Cruises, sipped wine, swapped cruise stories and made new friends.
Valerie Benoit and her husband Mike previously sailed on a 46-day voyage in 2011 and a 76-day voyage in 2015. The current Holland America voyage is their first full World Cruise. She said they’d sailed enough segments to know they’d love taking the full World Cruise.
|Two World Cruise couples, the Benoits and Uhlemanns, enjoy the bon voyage party set up by Cruise Specialists in Port Everglades last week. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Becky Uhlemann, another World Cruise guest sailing with her husband Ed, stressed that it's the itinerary and the ports that determine the selection of one voyage over another.
Both couples said it helps ensure high guest satisfaction if potential World Cruisers are experienced enough to understand what cruising is about and also have taken longer voyages of 21 to 60 days or so -- clearly more than the typical week-long cruise. That way they'll know they'll like the approach of more days at sea and staying longer away from home.
We also get ‘comfy’ with the cruise line and staff," said Uhlemann. "It becomes like family.”
|Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president, Cruise Specialists, and Tom Mullen, a World Cruise voyage host. // Photo by Cruise Specialists|
"What’s nice is the camarauderie,” stressed Tom Mullen, one of three Cruise Specialists hosts accompanying the agency's guests on the full World Cruise. He chatted with cruisers, answered questions about boarding and ran interference for a guest with an airline lost luggage issue.
A native of Birmingham, UK, Mullen now lives along England’s northeast coast. He began his love affair with cruising in the 1979-1980 era as a hairdresser at sea. About 10 years into his shipboard career, Janet Lanterman, founder of Cruise Specialists, asked Mullen to work for her as a voyage host.
It took another six years for Lanterman to convince him, and he began working for the agency as a voyage host in 1997. He now hosts three Cruise Specialist groups at sea each year.
Mullen says some World Cruisers book the full voyage every year, while others may sail every two or three years and do smaller voyages in between. All seek out voyages with a sense of adventure. The cruisers also love meeting other inquisitive, world-minded guests with an exploratory spirit.
Critically important? People really do look at the specific ports to book, according to Mullen. Most anticipated on this World Cruise? Guests attending the gala party told us that Delhi, India, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to Angkor Wat, were two of their most anticipated stops.
While the World Cruise clientele is now trending a bit younger, Mullen has also seen an emerging trend -- older adults who book the full World Cruise and then book and pay for a second cabin for family and friends to use during individual segments.
So, one set of adult children might sail on one segment, a sibling and spouse on the second segment and another adult child with several children on the third. That way the older couple can sail with members of their family -- and the younger travelers have a more manageable voyage length for their working lifestyle.
World Cruises are lucrative for agents on the commission side. To know if your clients will like a World Cruise, Mullen recommends cruisers first start with a 21-day voyage, then a 40-day voyage and perhaps a 65 or 70 day grand voyage. Then, if cruisers enjoy those, they might move up to a World Cruise, which becomes a lifestyle, not simply a vacation.
The overland experiences planned for World Cruises are also very popular, Mullen says. On this World Cruise, Mullen is hosting an overland trip to Siem Reap so guests can visit ancient Angkor. He’s also hosting an exotic overnight stay in the desert during the Dubai port call.
Both the Benoits and the Uhlemanns say that cruisers thinking of a World Cruise have to “have the right attitude.” It’s not for the faint of heart. Cruisers can't get upset if a port changes or bad weather creates issues in the onboard dining. People need to be able to go with the flow. They need to have an upbeat, positive attitude.
Not all World Cruises are alike, as each line has its own personality and "different ships have different rules," according to Margo Hiltz, who attended the gala event. While she wasn't sailing on this specific World Cruise, she knew many of the World Cruise guests and plans to sail on a 2017 World Cruise with Cruise Specialists.
|Cruise Specialists employees' Missy Garrido (left) and LynnDee King check in World Cruise guests. // Photo by Cruise Specialists|
Advice? "You really need to be organized," says Hiltz, who notes that expertise in packing and in how to layer clothing is helpful for those planning for such a long journey.
Annie Scrivanich, senior vice president, Cruise Specialists, hosted the gala bon voyage party, greeted guests and chatted with the agency's cruise hosts, including Mullen.
“World Cruise guests are a mainstay” of the agency's portfolio of business, she stressed. In addition to booking guests on Holland America, the line also books guests on World Cruises for Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (for 2017).
She also said the agency is now also considering Azamara Club Cruises for future World Cruise bookings, as the line just announced it was entering that arena.
“The World Cruise dynamics are changing,” Scrivanich emphasized. Guests tend to be a bit younger than in the past. The massive Baby Boomer generation is now retiring and eager for immersive world adventures.
Scrivanich said her agency's World Cruisers are experienced travelers, often experienced cruisers and usually very familiar with the ships, itinerary and price points. Still, the agency’s qualifying of the client remains critically important to place them on the right product. "We have our own ‘guest list’ and keep moving up and forward,” she said.
|Holland America's Amsterdam is sailing a World Cruise. // Photo by Holland America Line.|
One piece of intel? "We’re seeing quite a bit of solo travel for World Cruises,” noted Scrivanich. In fact, the agency's complement of single guest occupancy travelers for the World Cruise has grown by 10 percent and now constitutes 22 percent of the total group.
“It’s easily social,” she says about a World Cruise. The agency host ensures solo travelers feel welcome and book those shore trips and excursions needed to make them feel comfortable and enriched on the voyage. During “chat times” on sea days, all guests including solo travelers can chat about the voyage, ask questions or discuss any issues.
This past weekend, Holland America's World Cruise on Amsterdam sailed with 1,380 passengers through the Panama Canal en route to the islands of French Polynesia.
From there, travelers will enjoy time at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef; nine overnight stays in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore; and port calls at Vietnam, Cambodia, India, the Middle East and Egypt.
Amsterdam also will transit the Suez Canal, call at Mediterranean and Iberian Peninsula ports and then head westward across the Atlantic Ocean to conclude its voyage at Port Everglades in South Florida.