Royal Caribbean ditches cruise documents for eDoc

In:
09Jun2010

It's become a tradition before your cruise to get that packet of cruise documents in the mail that you will need for embarkation onto the ship.  It's a traditional part of the cruise planning process that's about to change completely.  Back in March 2010, Royal Caribbean announced they were doing away with the paper based cruise documents in favor of an e-ticket, that they've called "eDoc".

Royal Caribbean Director of Sales and Marketing Services Angela Stephen describes the eDoc as a "customized mini-website, pre-cruise planner, get-excited-about-your-cruise, and brag-to-your-friends-and-family-what-an-incredible-vacation-you-are-about-to-take” type of document.   The eDoc is basically a better means of marketing all that Royal Caribbean offers (read: activities that cost extra) to the cruiser who may not have been aware of it.  Given that the majority of cruises never visit cruise planning sites like this or Cruise Critic, they are unaware of many aspects of cruising until they got on board the ship.  The eDoc seems to be an attempt to educate guests about what is available on the ship before they board the ship so that they can book ahead of time.

Click here to preview what a sample eDoc looks like

For those that miss the old paper documents, you can order them for $35 per person, although Stephen mentions only 5% prefer the printed version (more like only 5% are willing to shell out the money for it, as opposed to expressing an opinion on the matter).  

What do you think of the eDoc idea?  Do you like it? Do you prefer the old way?  Share your thoughts!

Discussion: Mariner of the Seas leaving Los Angeles

In:
09Jun2010

Last month, Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein announced that Royal Caribbean was pulling Mariner of the Seas from it's Los Angeles port in favor of moving her to Europe to help with the ever rising demand.  This decision leaves Royal Caribbean without a ship cruising the Mexican Riviera at the moment and needless to say, it's left some folks upset.  Mariner of the Seas replaced Vision of the Seas, which also left it's Mexican Riviera route in favor of Europe.

The problems many have lay in a few categories.  First, there is no option for fans of Royal Caribbean out of Los Angeles.  Those in the western United States are without an option for a nearby ship that serves warm water ports.  Second, many Royal Caribbean fans in the United States are upset over the trend of much of the Royal Caribbean fleet heading to Europe to chase the all mighty Euro and the demand there for cruises. Third, many who have gone on Mariner of the Seas report that the ship is routinely full and that it's not like she was sailing half empty.  All of these concerns have left many with a combination of anger, disgust and frustration.

Royal Caribbean clarified its position on the move in a blog post by Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein when he acknowledged that while Mariner of the Seas was meeting its capacity while in Los Angeles, it was still being moved to Europe because "we are unable to generate acceptable levels of performance for Mariner of the Seas. We are obligated to our shareholders to deploy her where she can earn superior returns".  

For most in the United States, European cruises are interesting options, but ultimately too expensive for most given the high cost of airfare just to get onboard the ship as well as the time off needed for such vacations.  The problem of Mariner of the Seas leaving is compounded by the fact that there is no ship scheduled to replace her yet, and if you do live in a western state, it means you must travel east for warm water cruises, which adds extra cost for travel.  On the one hand, it's hard to blame Royal Caribbean for doing what they're doing.  After all, they are a corporation and their first goal is produce profit for their shareholders (as any publicly traded company does).  On the other hand, the cruise industry is built upon the notion of building customer loyalty and Royal Caribbean has demonstrated a strong will to retain its customers for future cruises.

So what do you think about the decision to move Mariner of the Seas to Europe?  Is Royal Caribbean justified in moving it, and many other ships to Europe to make larger profits?  Or should Royal Caribbean stem the flow of ships east and maintain the fleet it has serving the western hemisphere?

Cruising 101: Choosing your ship size

In:
08Jun2010

If you're brand new to cruising or still getting your feet wet, one of the first decisions you'll need to make is the size of the boat to go on.  Royal Caribbean features an assortment of ship sizes from a capacity of about 2000 passengers to well over 5000 passengers.  There are a few factors to keep in mind when deciding which cruise to go on.

Ship capacity

As previously mentioned, there's quite a difference in ship capacity and some people have strong feelings about big or small ships.  First, we should mention that "small" ships is a relative term and the smallest ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet can still accommodate over 2000 customers so it's by no means small (there are high schools bigger than that).  It's all relative and if you go on a smaller ship, you have less people to contend with you on board and at your ports of call, but at the same time, these ships are usually smaller in size and older in age and lack some of the amenities you may have read about in newer, larger ships.  

Larger ships offer lots more amenities on board but obviously bring with it a lot more people to contend with.  Some people prefer to cruise with less people while others prefer the bigger ships, regardless of the crowds.  The thing to keep in mind is that the capacity a ship has is in proportion to the boat's physical size.  So while a ship that handles between 2000 and 3000 people is smaller than other ships in the fleet, there's less room on board.  

Amenities 

What to do on board the ship can be just as important as where it goes.  The older ships while perhaps lacking the newest "cool things" like flowriders or ice rinks, are still a lot of fun and offer some superb cruising values.  The newer, larger ships will offer lots of the latest recreational activities that you find on a cruise.  It's important to determine which activities and opportunities are important to you.  If things like an ice rink, surfing lessons or a ton of specialty restaurants aren't important to you, a smaller ship will suit you just fine. It's important to look at the possible ships and see if what's offered on board is something you'd actually use or do and if not, go with a ship that will offer stuff for you to do.

Age vs Size

The tendency in the cruising industry is to build bigger ships each time, so typically the smaller ships are also the older ships.  There's lot of great things about older ships such as they being a better value (price wise), different itineraries than the usual ship and a more intimate feel.  Newer ships, which are typically larger, offer the latest and greatest.  Different people feel differently about the importance of the age of your ship.   Don't look at an older ship as the equivalent of driving an '86 Buick. These older ships are smaller and can be a lot of fun.  

Share your thoughts about ship size in the RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com Forum

Mariner of the Seas hosts second "Cougar Cruise"

In:
08Jun2010

You may have heard of specialty cruises where groups of people go cruising together, but the big trend that the media loves to talk about are "cougar cruises", where older women (over the age of 40 or so called cougars) look for younger men (in their 20's or so) to meet and the idea is women find young men for "companionship" while the young men find a woman who has financial stability, among other things.  This past May, Mariner of the Seas hosted the second cougar cruise but it didn't seem to be a huge success.

"But 20 or so other so-called "cougars" have taken the bait and signed on for what is billed as the second-ever International Cougar Cruise, a week-long Mexican Riviera sailing out of Los Angeles in May. From the get-go, the more vocal among the 25 or so "cubs" along for the ride are grousing about the lack of "Demi-ness" among the cougar contingent. And the more snarly cougars shoot back that there isn't necessarily a lot of Ashton-ness on display, either."

There have been specialty cruises like singles cruises that hope to offer potential soul mates the opportunity to find love while in paradise and there's been some controversy as to the validity of these events.  Personally, I think a lot of hype comes with this sort of news and the reality is it's not the sexy romp that some may lead you to believe.

Go cruising and support the people of Haiti

In:
08Jun2010

Obviously we all love a good cruise and there's a great reason to book your next cruise to help support he people of Haiti, who were devasted by that mega earthquake earlier this year.  Given that Royal Caribbean stops in Labadee, it makes sense for fans of Royal Caribbean to get together to help out a great cause.  A group called "Cruise 4 Haiti" is organizing a group cruise where a portion of the cost of the cruise will go straight to some really great charities that are assisting the people of Haiti that were affected by the earthquake.

 
Here's how it works: Book a cabin with the Cruise 4 Haiti group on the Liberty of the Seas departing on 11.14.10 from Miami, Florida.   $75 for each cabin booked will be donated to the the Cruise4Haiti non-profit partners For Haiti with Love and Airline Ambassadors.   You can be a part of a great cause while enjoying another fantastic Royal Caribbean Cruise.
 
I hope lots of people can support this great cause either by going on the ship or spreading the word about this charity. 

Video of the Day: A tour of Oasis of the Seas

In:
08Jun2010

I know it's only Tuesday, but take a virtual trip to Oasis of the Seas and check out this interesting video tour of Royal Caribbean's newest ship!

Oasis of the Seas driving social media revolution in cruising

In:
07Jun2010

Technocrati posted a really interesting article about how social media (Twitter, Facebook, et al) were a great means of generating hype about their latest ship, Oasis of the Seas and how other cruise lines are taking notice now.

Travel trade publication Travel Weekly reported that as of a couple of weeks ago, 10 million unique visitors made their way to OasisoftheSea.com. Additionally, the publications reported that a whopping 200,000 people in a 24-hour period tuned in to watch videos of the Oasis captain, more viewers than Anderson Cooper drew on CNN in the same time period.

It's an axiom in social media marketing and public relations campaigns that the social web has an enormous capacity to bring mainstream media into the marketing and PR loop by generating deep consumer involvement in creating an on-line buzz. This, in turn, catches the attention of off-line media who are forced to take notice when they might ordinarily not — and the cruise industry apparently is getting this message.

I really think Royal Caribbean has been doing a great job with social media, especially on Twitter.  What contributes to their success is the fact they use Twitter not just as a one way means of letting their customers know when a sale or something is going on, but as a communication medium where they actually respond often to those who tweet to them.  In addition, you have the CEO of Royal Caribbean posting on a blog (and it appears to actually be him, not some intern) and it all contributes to making the customer feel like they have a connection to the company.  Bravo RCI!

Analyzing the CEO's Blog: Dreamworks Announcement

In:
07Jun2010

We're going to start a new series of blog posts that go through the latest blog entries by Royal Caribbean's CEO Adam Goldstein and give an opinion on them, as well as offer you an opportunity to share your thoughts.  Our first entry will deal with the post made on June 6, 2010.

First, the current Ultimate Value Books (a.k.a. coupon books) expire on June 30th and the new ones will arrive before then. In the interim, we’re giving our guests immediate access to the three most significant new or augmented benefits: Internet, laundry and photo. An insert will be placed in the coupon book onboard until the new ones arrive. On most ships the books will arrive in the next two weeks. Legend of the Seas will get her books in late June.

This move is pretty self explanatory and makes sense.  With the recent announcement of changes to Crown and Anchor Society benefits, it's smart of Royal Caribbean to not leave anyone "caught in the middle".

Second, some of our shareholders who are Crown & Anchor members are displeased that the shareholder benefit cannot be used together with Crown & Anchor discounts, including the new onboard booking bonus. We are sorry that this is the case but we cannot modify our approach in this area. In order for the onboard booking bonus to be as robust as possible and to be used together with the Crown & Anchor discounts, we could not allow the shareholder discount to also be used together with it. Please bear in mind that the reason to own our stock is that you believe the stock represents a good investment in connection with your personal investing strategy. The cruise benefit is a nice opportunity to have, if applicable, but not a reason to own the stock.

This was a really surprising response and I found it pretty honest.  He could have just thrown out marketing talk and ignore the issue of Royal Caribbean shareholders complaining about not being able to use their shareholder bonus discount on top of the Crown and Anchor discounts, but instead gave a pretty honest response of you own stock to invest in the company, not get discounts on cruises.  That being said, that isn't going to make those that were complaining happy but, the man has a point!

We have received comments from members who want the benefit of the new onboard booking bonus retroactively applied to previously made bookings. I hope most of you appreciate that we needed to pick a time to introduce this benefit and that there would always be customers who had booked not long before the implementation date. There is no way to draw a line on retroactivity and so the bonus is applicable for eligible bookings made on or after our June 1st announcement.

I think Adam made the fairest choice here by being fair to no one.  I can understand some would be upset if they booked onboard a future cruise a few days before this announcement or a few weeks, but the truth is you got the best deal possible at the time of booking.  If they went back to 2 weeks prior, then everyone who booked 3 or 4 weeks or longer would be up in arms.  There would never be a date range that would make everyone happy unless you went back really, really far and that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Returning to DreamWorks, we are really excited about this major step forward in our entertainment and programming. DreamWorks is the leader in animated films and Royal Caribbean International is the leader in cruising. Although these companies have worked in very different spaces, they have in common vision, inspiration, creativity, scale and global reach. Not to mention that both companies’ products make people happy.

I posted my thoughts on the merger in an earlier post, but it makes sense that Adam would be playing up this major alliance that Royal Caribbean entered into.  I was reading some comments on the deal around the net, and there are people who say they don't care about characters and don't want their future cruises filled with the characters.  My response to that is simply if you've been on a Disney Cruise, you know that if you never want to see the characters, you won't.  The meets and other character events are held at specific locations and specific times, so it's not like you'll find Shrek roaming the halls looking to give out hugs.

Enter contest to become the next chef on Allure of the Seas

In:
07Jun2010

Are you an aspiring chef? Looking to combine your love of cooking with your passion for cruising? Well, Royal Caribbean has the contest for you.  The "Allure of the Seas Culinary Challenge" offers wanna-be chefs the opportunity to become the next Chef de Cuisine of 150 Central Park, the signature restaurant onboard Allure of the Seas, the cruise line's newest ship which will make her debut in December 2010.

If you are a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America with an AOS or BPS degree, then you can enter this contest by creating an original recipe you think could be the next signature dish at 150 Central Park restaurant and create a video of you cooking this dish.  Entries must be received by Sunday, June 20 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

For those of us who can't cook (hello fellow bad cooks!), Royal Caribbean will open the contest up to online voting, which begins on Monday, June 28 at 12:00 a.m. ET and ends on Sunday, July 11 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Consumers can vote once per day for his/her favorite chef.  The top five entries with the highest number of votes, as well as one entry selected by the contest judges, will become finalists and will be invited to participate in a final challenge held at The Culinary Institute of America's Hyde Park campus in New York on August 5 & 6.  The finalists will compete to cook a three-course meal for a panel of judges before a winner is selected to become the next Chef de Cuisine.

Full contest details, deadlines, rules and other important information.  Good luck to anyone who enters!

Royal Caribbean joins other cruise lines in adding toys to older ships

In:
07Jun2010
These days it seems all the focus is on the newest generation of mega cruise ships, such as Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, that Royal Caribbean and other lines are rolling out of the shipyards.  A recent article by the Orlando Sentinel shows that when older ships go in for rehabs, they are getting more than their carpets and upholstery cleaned and updated, cruise lines are investing more money in the big ticket item amenities to keep them as viable competitors to their own bigger and more glamorous ships.
 
One ship that is used as an example is Voyager of the Seas, a ship that was launched more than 10 years ago in 1999 and was the first ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet to feature a rock wall.  The rock wall was so popular that it was subsequently installed on all the other ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet.
 
Carl-Gustaf Rotkirch, chairman and CEO of Grand Bahama Shipyard, which has done much of the refurbishing of these older ships notes that these updates are integral in keeping older ships relevant,, "Quite a few novelty features have been included on the new ships, like champagne bars, Johnny Rocket, surf machines . . . and the old ships suddenly start to look very old because they don't have those features."
 
It's funny how the cruise line can have a perfectly great ship but the newer ships debut and you can feel like in a way that by going on the older ones, it's the cruise line equivalent of driving a green '72 Dodge around town.  These older ships are still wonderful vessels to vacation on, but they can be a little blurred behind the glitz of what's newer and prettier.  This is how the auto industry keeps consumers wanting to buy new cars when their older cars are still perfectly viable.  Cruise lines are adding fun things like giant movie screens and other upgrades to to keep the older ships still relevant and intriguing to consumers.

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