Oceania Cruises’ newest ship, Riviera, is sailing the Mediterranean this week en route from Monte-Carlo to Barcelona, where it will be christened Friday morning by celebrity television chef, Cat Cora.
On board Riviera, whose home port will indeed be Barcelona, are 230 travel advisors from the United States and 60 from international markets. Other preview guests include international media and VIP guests related to Oceania’s parent company, Prestige Cruise Holdings, which also owns Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Riviera is quite similar to its sister, Marina, which launched in January 2011. Each carries 1,250 guests, much larger than Oceania’s other siblings, the 684-guest Regatta, Insignia and Nautica, which originally belonged to the Renaissance cruise fleet. Where Riviera and Marina differ, said Frank Del Rio, chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings, is in 727 ways. Most of them are minor, such as adding a U.S.-style electrical outlet to the nightstands in guestrooms and making some drawers deeper than they had been. Such changes are culled from guest feedback, he said. The biggest modification is that Riviera’s Canyon Ranch Spa has a thalasso-therapy spa where Marina has two Jacuzzis; ceilings on deck 14 increased by 14 inches, which is a big deal on a cruise ship, said Del Rio. The Grand Bar is different; on Riviera there’s beautiful stone flooring where Marina has carpeting. Like Marina, Riviera’s corridors are lined with original artwork, including original Picassos. In fact, Del Rio estimates that between Marina and Riviera there’s $10 million worth of artwork combined.
A high appreciation for the arts is a personal passion for Del Rio, who said his love for all things cruise evolved once he launched Oceania. “I wasn’t born in to a cruise family, I am an accountant by trade,” said Del Rio, who said his passion for ocean liners grew when he worked for a cruise line (Renaissance is on his resume) and he felt he could do it better. “When I got here I developed a passion for all of this, because it’s mine.” So involved is he, in fact, it’s said that Del Rio is the man who devises itineraries, selecting a beginning and ending point and then selecting unique stopping points along the way. He is also one of the pioneers of overnight port stops, although he said in 2012 that initiative has taught him that his guests do prefer to be on the ship at night, enjoying its dining and entertainment options. “In 2012 Europe programs we made it a point to have an overnight in every sailing,” he said. “But we found that people love sea days because they want to enjoy the ship. As a result, in 2013, we will have at least one sea day per sailing. We will have an overnight if a port warrants it,” he said, adding that Istanbul and St. Petersburg, Russia, are two such destinations where Oceania would overnight.
Another good reason for guests to enjoy a day on board? “On sea days we sell a lot of future cruises,” said Del Rio.
Sales for 2013 are ahead of this year, even with the added capacity of Riviera. “We are 30 percent sold for 2013, in fact, 2013 might be the year that the industry as a whole is back. Another highlight is that the average booking window for Oceania is 240 days, in fact certain sailings for next year are already sold out," said Del Rio.
Mentioned throughout the Riviera sailing this week by invited guests is that Oceana is not positioned as a luxury cruise line, in fact, Del Rio prefers to say it’s set in that sweet spot between upper premium and luxury. Yet, many commented on the fact that their experience on Riviera is, by all counts, a luxury one.
“The phrase ‘luxury cruising’ is a turn off to many consumers, they feel they can’t afford it,” explained Del Rio, who very ably can say where Oceania’s business comes from in the United States, which garners 77 percent of the line’s business overall. California comprises one-third of Oceania’s business, while Florida pulls in 10 percent. Texas, New York and Illinois round out the top five markets. Oceania cruisers tend to return to the line. “Between 45 to 50 percent of guests on any given sailing are repeaters,” he said.
A growing market for the line is in Latin America. In fact, Bob Binder, the former president of Oceania, is now the vice chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings, responsible for growing Oceania and Regent internationally. So far, the global market has grown by 40 percent; South America is up by 100 percent and Prestige has a full-time representative in Brazil.
In all, guests on board this week’s sailing are certainly appreciating the efforts of Del Rio and his colleagues to make the Riviera feel as if it’s a residence in a fine home. To accomplish this, the very hands-on Del Rio did not tour competing cruise lines to get ideas, instead, he went to Las Vegas, such as to Wynn and other luxury resorts, to garner design concepts.
While all eyes are on Oceania this week, Del Rio did give plenty of attention to Regent Seven Seas Cruises as well, noting that that luxury cruise line has been enjoying such high occupancies that its three-ship fleet warrants another vessel.