Cruise360: Cruise Planners Execs "Talk Cruise" With Sales & Marketing Executives

The final General Session panel discussion at Cruise360 was a fun one moderated by Michelle Fee (far left) and Vicky Garcia (far right), both of Cruise Planners. In between, left to right are: John Chernesky of Princess Cruises; Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International; Ron Gulaskey of Celebrity Cruises; Eva Jenner of Holland America Line; Joseph Jiffo of MSC Cruises USA; Camille Olivere of Norwegian Cruise Line; Adolfo Perez of Carnival Cruise Line; and Randall Soy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. (Copyright Susan J Young)

Touches of humor and cruise product information flowed at Cruise360's third General Session at Port Everglades, FL on Saturday. Wearing their signature "Cruisitude Green," Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, and Vicky Garcia, co-owner and COO, Cruise Planners, moderated the fun program.

On stage were senior sales and marketing executives from eight major oceangoing cruise lines. They talked about new ships, onboard product features, marketing and upcoming programs and developments of interest to agents.  

Photo by Susan J Young
And in a light, humorous way to introduce the executives, Fee and Garcia put up slides that showed each executive in high school, their favorite crush (Farrah Fawcett was tops and others included Barry Manilow and Luke/Laura on General Hospital), favorite TV show and so on. 

Adolfo Perez of Carnival: Fee asked Perez about his favorite feature on Carnival Vista, and he talked about the cool new SkyRide, which soars 150 feet above the ocean and “you get to ride around the ship. You get amazing vistas from Vista.”

He also said guests are enjoying the Imax Theater, which is the same as an Imax on land and shows first-run movies at the same time as they’re released in the theater. 

Perez also talked briefly about Carnival Vista’s many dining options, the new Family Harbor Staterooms and Lounge, and new Havana Staterooms and Suites

More new ships are on the way too, Perez said: “You’ll see her sister, Carnival Horizon, coming next year, and then in 2019 we have the two new huge LNG ships.” 

Joseph Jiffo of MSC Cruises USA: Garcia asked about MSC’s investment in the North American market. “The growth in the North American market is huge for us,” Jiffo said. “In December, we’re going to have our first U.S. christening with the new MSC Seaside,” sailing year-round from Miami.

“It’s an amazing new ship and introduces a condo concept,” Jiffo said, noting there is a 360-degree promenade, which will “bring guests closer to the ocean.” 

Across the globe, the company is making a $10 billion investment over the next nine years, and he said MSC will increase its fleet from 12 ships to 23 ships during that period. The new MSC Meraviglia will debut in June on western Mediterranean voyages. 

Ron Gulaskey of Celebrity Cruises: Talking about Celebrity Edge, Gulaskey said the new ship project is “transformational, revolutionary and a monumental change, but one thing we haven’t done a really good job of is getting the word out that staterooms are actually 33 percent larger than other staterooms in the industry.” 

Travel Agent did cover that and other features of Celebrity Edge as part of our Seatrade coverage two weeks ago. Many staterooms will have a wall of glass. Guests using a smartphone or iPad, or pushing a wall button, can drop the top part of the exterior window so the whole room becomes a veranda. 

In the Galapagos, Gulaskey said Celebrity has increased its capacity by 65 percent through the addition of two small ships. The Galapagos is a “life changing” experience for many clients, he said, telling the agents: “River cruisers absolutely love this."  

Camille Olivere of Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Joy will launch this year in the Chinese market, Olivere noted, and the new Norwegian Bliss will launch in 2018 with voyages to Alaska and the Caribbean, the line’s largest Haven complex and a 20,000-square-foot observation deck. It will also have the Broadway show, Jersey Boys, just announced at Cruise360.

Norwegian also recently ordered several smaller Project Leonardo ships. Why go smaller? “We’re now expanding as a brand and we want to offer more rich, port content,” Olivere told the trade audience. A smaller footprint will allow the new ships to visit new ports, both in the U.S. and internationally.  

The “Partners First” program is the lens through which Norwegian makes all its decisions, and with that in mind, Olivere discussed the current “Free at Sea” program. It’s been very successful, but while it cuts off in June, “you’re definitely going to continue to see it in the marketplace,” although she didn’t elaborate.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International: Freed’s brand is known for its large, innovative "wow factor" ships. The onboard features appeal strongly to multi-generational families and teenagers. Ships have everything from the FlowRider to Ultimate Abyss, an Adventure Ocean supervised kids’ club for those age 3 and up, and much else. 

In fact, many ships have nurseries. “A lot of couples have children later in life,” Freed noted. “They want to bring their infant but they don’t want to be with an infant all the time." 

Vicki Freed Royal Caribbean Editorial Use Only Photo copyrighted by Susan J Young

Freed (shown in the photo above with Gulaskey) stressed that everyone involved with the onboard nursery or Adventure Ocean program must have a four-year degree in a related field such as early childhood development or recreation, as well as three years of work experience.

She also mentioned the line's new pool lifeguard policy and a little-known fact -- that the line checks passenger manifests 30 days out to assure no registered sex offenders are aboard. Travel Agent covered this a few days ago and agents can glean helpful information for parents about both topics. 

Eva Jenner of Holland America Line: Holland America is unveiling an integrated communications program about how travel brings people together. “We have been bringing people together for 140 years now,” said Jenner, quipping that “I wasn’t there from day one.”

But she says Holland America's view is that travel can change the world. "It can bring people closer and the farther we travel, the closer we become," she said. Agents were urged to visit the microsite -- – to learn more about the concept of "traveling with a purpose" and new onboard features to facilitate that. 

For example, Jenner cited the new EXP or Explorations Central, which Travel Agent learned about during a press briefing late last fall on Koningsdam, and, separately, the new America’s Test Kitchen concept, where guests can learn to cook the cuisine of the ports they're visiting.

Thanks to a new O Magazine partnership, Oprah herself will be sailing onboard the Eurodam to Alaska in July. Other voyages are planned too. all will feature activities curated by the magazine such as Oprah’s Book Club and expert advice by Adam Glassman on how to look chic on a cruise.

Randall Soy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Speaking of the new Seven Seas Explorer, Soy said that the line’s first new ship in 13 years is the pinnacle of luxury with such features as 500 chandeliers, an acre of marble (half of it white Carrera marble), an impressive art collection including two Picasso works, and the 4,000-square-foot Regent Suite. 

How should an agent market the product, asked Fee? What is the most powerful four-letter word in the world, Soy responded. The agents in the audience replied "free" and he nodded, explaining that the luxury line freely puts that on marketing materials that showcase its all-inclusive product.

Regent doesn't believe in the philosophy that there is a disconnect between free and luxury. “It’s so important for travel professionals to differentiate our product and others to the right customer,” Soy said.

Agents make more commission on such a highly inclusive product, he stressed, and “we’ve got some of the highest prices in the industry and we’re really proud of it -- because you make more money.”

John Chernesky of Princess Cruises: Chernesky spoke about Princess launching Carnival Corp.’s new Ocean Medallion platform this fall. “Ocean Medallion is really a way for us to deliver a more personalized experience to all of our guests,” he said.

In fact, Chernesky was wearing one of the medallions, gave two to Garcia and Fee as gifts, but noted that there are fewer than 100 currently in existence; they'll be produced in greater quantities this summer.

He said the state-of-the-art technology can help parents track kids onboard, give them the ability to order things here and now or there and then, and much more.

And if clients want to “disconnect” and not use a smartphone or the technology, they can simply relax. The medallion then simply acts as a key card to open the guest's stateroom door.

"You don’t even have to touch it,” he says. “It’s also an investment for the crew to deliver a great guest experience for you.”