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Royal Caribbean Group CEO doesn't see Virgin Voyages as competition

28 Sep 2021

Is the cruise industry's newest cruise line, Virgin Voyages, competition for Royal Caribbean? Maybe not.

Speaking at Seatrade Global 2021, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain was asked how he viewed his newest competition in the cruise industry, and he said he thinks the new cruise line is actually a good thing.

Virgin Voyages is a joint venture between Bain Capital and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, and their first ship has finally made her U.S. debut after many pandemic-related delays.

Scarlet Lady is the first ship for Virgin, and she offered sailings around Britain this summer, and is now in North America to begin sailings from here.

Mr. Fain was asked if he is worried about this new cruise line represents a new threat to Royal Caribbean's bottom line, but he thought it was actually the opposite.

"Actually, no," Mr. Fain responded quickly to the question. "I also think it's important to look at the industry and say that new players are actually are a big benefit to us because they attract attention."

Mr. Fain compared Virgin Voyage's entrance to the industry to when Disney started its cruise line in the 1990s.

Disney Cruise Line gets approval to start test cruises | Royal Caribbean Blog

"I do remember I was asked that question when Disney got into the cruise business. Oh, my goodness, isn't that going to be a terrible thing because Disney has come in and there's such a powerful brand name?"

In the case of Disney Cruise Line, the new line brought new customers to cruising.

"They added two percent to the supply in our industry, and they added 10 percent to the demand because it showed the important thing about our industry is getting the message across that we are an amazing vacation, just an amazing even on my competitor friends here."

"Having Virgin come in, I think all of that adds to the to the the impact of the cruise industry has."

"The important thing is they're adding more to the demand than they are to the supply. And so I think overall, I welcome them."

Mr. Fain said the real competition to Royal Caribbean isn't other cruise lines, but other forms of travel.

"We don't compete with each other as much as we compete with all the other activities that that compete for our dollar, whether it's a hotel or resort or a travel somewhere else."

5 times Royal Caribbean trolled other cruise lines

18 May 2021

Royal Caribbean is as competitive in the cruise industry as any line, and part of vying for market share is occasionally "throwing shade" from time to time.

Like all companies that compete for money, customers, and notoriety, cruise lines play a game every day of trying to outdo other lines in nearly all aspects of operations. From new ships, to attractions onboard, to partnerships, there is no shortage of innovative change among the lines.

Sometimes, this game of one upmanship can get a little spicy, with public jabs at other lines, or simple bragging.  For consumers, it is as intriguing as it is fun to watch it all go down.

Over the years, there have been a few memorable times Royal Caribbean has gone off script a little bit and done or said something about other lines that left us with a smirk on our faces.

Here are the top five memorable times Royal Caribbean did or said something about another cruise line that got attention.

America's Cruise Line

The impetus for this post came just a few weeks ago when Royal Caribbean trademarked the phrases, "America's Cruise Line" and "America's Favorite Cruise Line".

These new filings for a trademark may not really mean much on the surface other than a new marketing plan, until you understand the timing of these trademarks.

The week prior, Carnival Cruise Line CEO Christine Duffy said in a video, "I've always said Carnival Cruise Line is America's cruise line."

A few days later, Royal Caribbean trademarked the phrase.  Hard to imagine that is not a coincidence.

Who's #1?

Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings teamed up recently to form an independent panel of health experts that will guide cruise lines in restart plans with a bevy of new protocols.

This is an example of two cruise lines working together towards a common cause, but the CEO's could not help having a little fun at each other's expenses, with Royal Caribbean having the last word.

In a television interview in September 2020 with both Richard Fain and Frank Del Rio, the host attempted to compliment Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line as the industry leaders of cruising, by comparing the two cruise lines to the #1 and #2 soft drink manufacturers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

While being complimented as the top two cruise lines is a pleasant honor, it is well known how much more dominant Coke is over Pepsi, and Mr. Del Rio couldn't help but quickly say that NCL was the Coke of the two.

Mr. Fain, equally feeling his cruise line was worthy of the top honor, quickly retorted back "In your dreams, Frank! In your dreams."

Being the fastest

It should be clear that cruise lines love to compete in pretty much everything, including internet speeds.

When Princess Cruises rolled out their MedallionNet internet access, they claimed it was the best wifi at sea.

During a question and answer session, a cruise fan asked Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley if Royal Caribbean would improve their onboard internet speeds to match.

Mr. Bayley dismissed the claim, "It was the fastest internat at sea, it is the fastest internet at sea, and it's going to be the fastest internet at sea."

"People can claim things, but we have got the fastest internet at sea."

Towel animals welcome

Back in April 2019, Norwegian Cruise Line made headlines when they announced they would no longer automatically create towel animals for all of its passengers on some of its ships.

The rationale was to reduce laundry load on its ships, which would help the environment.

The conservation effort was nice, but many cruise fans quickly pushed back on the decision because of the long standing tradition of having a towel animal waiting in their cabin.

A few days later, Royal Caribbean's social media team posted, "All towel animals welcome at Royal."

Boaty McBoatface

A British government agency held a competition in 2016 to name a new polar research ship, and the internet responded with the most ridiculous name it could come up with: R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface.

The man who came up with the name is James Hand, a public relations professional and former BBC employee.

Royal Caribbean saw all of this and decided to jump in and call the internet's bluff, by inviting Mr. Hand to help Royal Caribbean develop the name for a future ship.

"The people of the United Kingdom know the name of a great ship when they see it," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. "Like the rest of the world, we fell in love with the name Boaty McBoatface when we heard it, and we knew immediately that Royal Caribbean could use James Hand’s talent to name our next ship."

Of course, this was all done on April 1st.

Bonus: trolling back

These are example of Royal Caribbean doing or saying something, but there was a great example of responding to a troll that I just could not leave out.

Celebrity Cruises (sister company to Royal Caribbean International) has a well-known female Captain, Kate McCue, who has no patience for trolls.

In late 2020, Captain McCue read a sexist comment attack towards her on TikTok, which said, "How can you be a captain? Your [sic] only a woman."

Captain McCue responded to the comment with her own snark, "Normally, when I’m scrolling through comments and I see something like this, I totally ignore it and move on with my life."

"But I think it’s about high time that I address this, because it’s 2020, and in this day and age, I’m shocked …that someone still doesn’t know the difference between you’re and your."

"So just a quick reference: You’re — as in ‘you are’ — like, ‘you are sexist.’ Your is something possessive, it belongs to you, like ‘your ignorance'. But don’t worry. I’m here for you. If you need any more clarification, you can find me here, in my captain’s chair."

5 cruise trends Royal Caribbean doesn't do (and 1 it jumped on)

10 May 2021

Every cruise line does things just a little bit different from the rest, but there are at least a few industry-wide trends that Royal Caribbean simply does not do across the board.

Part of making each cruise brand stand out is adopting certain policies, incorporating a vision, and providing passengers with something that appeals to their base.  Royal Caribbean is no different, and has made a name for itself by offering a cruise vacation with its own flavor of offerings.

Some new cruisers, as well as people new to Royal Caribbean, may be surprised by some of the things Royal Caribbean does not do, which are found on other cruise lines.  There are any number of reasons why Royal Caribbean has not followed other lines with these trends, but when comparing lines, some of these omissions may stand out.

Here are the top five cruise industry trends I have noticed Royal Caribbean does not do, as well as one that they recently changed their minds about.

Ship within a ship

One of the hottest trends in cruises is the "ship within a ship" concept, which takes the suite level offerings to a new height.

Traditionally, passengers in suites enjoyed their luxurious amenities in their cabin, as well as a few perks sprinkled around the ship, such as a suite lounge, reserved seating and more.

A number of main stream lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), MSC Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises, have all adopted a new take on the suite life by dedicating entire sections of the ship exclusively to their top tier suite guests.

The idea is to give suite guests not just perks, but exclusive areas for them, including their own pool decks, restaurants, and concierge services.  Think of it like a mega velvet roped off area.

While Royal Caribbean has done more to offer its suite guests upgraded amenities for suite guests in recent years (Royal Suite Class), their ships lack a true "ship within a ship" offering that you find on some competitors.

Spectrum of the Seas does offer the closest thing to a ship within a ship concept, but that ship is heavily focused on the Chinese cruise market and sister ship Odyssey of the Seas did not retain that feature.

Read moreWhat is Star Class?

All-inclusive options

While a lot of people may think of cruises as sort of all-inclusive, they really are not, and Royal Caribbean purposefully leaves a lot of extra costs and options from the base cruise fare.

To be fair, main stream mass market cruise lines generally shy away from all-inclusive fares, but a number of cruise lines are starting to move in that direction in an effort to make pricing simpler for the guest.

Celebrity Cruises recently changed their pricing model to now include things like gratuities, wi-fi, drink packages and more. Likewise, Holland America Line also shifted to include shore excursions, beverages, WiFi and more.

Traditionally, Royal Caribbean's promotions tend to favor giving guests a discount on the cruise fare, and then allowing guests to add-on things like a drink package or wifi if they want it.

Cruise lines like Holland America or Celebrity are considered to be a premium cruise line, whereas Royal Caribbean is a contemporary line.  This means pricing and what is included traditionally differs to begin with.

That being said, cruise fares for certain countries include more in their base fare than in North America.  In the UK, drink packages and gratuities are often included with the cruise fare (albeit at a higher price).

Read moreCould Royal Caribbean follow Celebrity Cruises move to all-inclusive pricing?

Onboard brewery

A new trend many cruise lines are adding to their new cruise ships is an onboard brewery.

NCL recently developed their own brewery in partnership with Miami-based Wynwood Brewing Company by developing District Brew House. 

Onboard the NCL Bliss and Escape, you will find 24 rotating beers on tap, in addition to a wide variety of bottled beer, and even exclusive brews for NCL.

Carnival offers the RedFrog Pub, and even has its own private-label draft beer: ThirstyFrog Red.

The Carnival Vista has an actual working brewery onboard, and the Carnival Horizon has a combination Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse & Brewhouse.

Royal Caribbean has not gone in that direction quite yet.  At one time, they partnered with Chef Michael Schwartz to offer Michael's Genuine Pub on its Quantum Class ships, but their beers were all bottled and was more bar than brewery.

Kids partnerships programming

Partnering with a well-known children brand is a cruise industry trend that Royal Caribbean used to do, but went away from.

Carnival has a partnership with Dr. Seuss® and offers kids programming onboard that includes a special onboard character parade, interactive story time, arts & crafts activities, character breakfast featuring their favorite Dr. Seuss friends and more. 

MSC Cruises partners with LEGO®, which include larger LEGO play areas, building contests, video games and more.

Royal Caribbean has a partnership with Dreamworks Entertainment for many years, but ended the brand partnership in 2019 in order to focus on offering its own take on what kids could do onboard.

Royal Caribbean said the decision was made as part of its regular process of reviewing and refreshing their onboard offerings.

Read moreCruising with kids on Royal Caribbean

Celebrity Chefs

Royal Caribbean at one time dipped their toe into the celebrity chef pool, but they have generally shied away from this hot trend in cruises.

Specialty restaurants are very popular with passengers, and some lines have sought celebrities to make their offering stand out.

Carnival's new Mardi Gras will have Shaq's Big Chicken restaurant to capitalize on American's love affair with the fast-food chicken sandwich. Emeril Lagasse will also have a restaurant on the Mardi Gras.

Carnival also has a partnership with Guy Fieri, which serves up Guy's Burger Joint.  MSC Cruises partnered with Roy Yamaguchi to bring Asian Market Kitchen to MSC Seaside.

Royal Caribbean still has a partnership with Jamie Oliver to offer Jamie's Italian on its ships, but the newest ships in the fleet and most recent refurbishments have focused on revamping its in-house Italian specialty restaurant Giovanni's Table.

Other celebrity chef partnerships on Quantum and Anthem of the Seas have since ended.

The trend they changed their minds about: Waterslides

Strangely, Royal Caribbean did not have giant water slides on its ships for many years, while Carnival, Norwegian and just about every cruise line included waterslides on their ships.

We may never know why Royal Caribbean resisted adding waterslides onboard, but it was a noticeable omission among families. Sure, the Radiance Class had one kiddy slide, but compared to the other ships, it was a lacking feature.

A few years ago, Royal Caribbean decided to change that and begin adding waterslides to its existing ships, and incorporating them into the designs of new ships.

Today, Royal Caribbean offers a few different water slides on its cruise ships, and most of its larger ships have at least a couple slides to enjoy.

Read moreWhich Royal Caribbean ships have water slides?

Spark looks to transform the cruise ship guest experience with Moneyball approach to the cruise industry

14 Nov 2017

Spark Cooperative launched a new toolset that has one simple goal: revolutionize the way cruise lines plan the onboard guest experience.

Spark's SET software suite is designed to let a cruise line utilize models and visualizations of the guest experience to cater to guest segments. Once experience plans are made, brands can run game-changing analytics to reveal a number of insights, such as where they can reduce associated resource costs, and how best to deliver experiences for all types of climates and scenarios.

"Traditionally, in the 80s, 90s, and even early 2000s, there was really kind one type of cruiser, and it was really easy to kind of plan the six o'clock, eight o'clock dinner, and the six o'clock, eight o'clock show. These early cruisers were really satisfied with the way that cruise lines planned ahead for them," said Joshua Belz, Principal, Spark Cooperative. "Then NCL introduced Freestyle cruising, which was revolutionary at the time, and has really spread through the industry. . .What SET is going to do for cruise brands, and resort and hospitality brands that compete on experience, is think through the day of all of their different segments simultaneously."

"It has gotten to a point now where everyone expects so much from these brands that rely on experience, that you really need to segment your populations," said Ronnie Farzad, Principal, Spark Cooperative. "What SET does for these brands is actually allow them to spend a significant amount of time up front planning for those processes and planning for those people who are going to show up at the pier, but it basically takes all the guess work on the adjustments they have to make on a cruise by cruise basis during rain-or-shine scenarios, or when itineraries change.  They experience design up front, and it creates all the tools for their teams to be able to actually execute that on the go."

SET offers flexible plans to span the marketplace: from international enterprises with multiple brands and properties to single-property portfolios. The software comes with responsive and reliable support, and because it’s web-based, it can be accessed from anywhere at any time.

What this software aims to do is attempt to disrupt process that has been done traditionally by historical experience, and instead infuse data and analytics into the modeling and simulation tool to give cruise lines an operational plan.

Belz talked about the impetus for SET is as much a market demand today as it will be going forward, "Just looking at the roadmap of the industry, so many ships coming online in the next 10 years, so many more guest experiences, way more complex and exciting demographics coming onboard.  The industry is going to be hungry for a way to address these new cruises."

Farzad explained, “For hospitality companies, carrying forward experiences delivered to the previous properties worked for a period of time. In the experience economy, brands are asking how can we differentiate further? And that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to make it a data-driven and design-driven process.”

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