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Choice – The Driving Force of Today’s Cruise Industry

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Choices have always been a part of the industry, with lots of ships, itineraries and price levels to choose from.

But today, choices well beyond that seem to be driving the entire industry.

Experienced cruisers on the major cruise lines will remember when evening dining was restricted to two set dining times in a single dining room with specific assigned tables where passengers took their nightly meals; a buffet area available for breakfast and lunch; ; few day time activities; two set times each evening for a either a production show or some form of variety entertainer in the ship’s theater.

There was pretty much the norm in the industry for well over a decade.

I recall when Costa Cruise Line introduced the first “alternate restaurant” for evening dining, which required passengers to pay an extra fee for dining there. At the time the uproar from passengers was quite thunderous; as people complained about a cruise line charging for food, which to that point had always been included in their cruise fare.

In today’s cruise industry I’d bet many passengers would voice disappointment if their ship had only one such alternate restaurant. Along with offering alternate restaurants, many lines began opening their buffet restaurants for casual evening dining. That move was directed toward passengers who weren’t interested in complying with the ship’s evening dress codes (another dinosaur policy in the industry, working its way to extinction).

When Norwegian Cruise Line introduced what they tagged as “Freestyle Cruising”, offering multiple dining choices, with multiple changes to timing of shows to fit their freestyle scheduling, and particularly when they built ships to specifically match the “freestyle” style, they set in motion a reaction which has spread throughout the industry.

While, for a variety of reasons, I don’t believe the rest of the industry viewed Norwegian Cruise Line, and the changes it was making as any form of “ultimate threat” to their business, I do think they took notice of the general chatter of prospective passengers looking favorably at the additional choices NCL’s Freestyle was offering.

That movement, which Norwegian Cruise Line, unknowingly set in motion, today translates to directly to every new ship coming out of the shipyard, as well as any major refurbishment done to existing ships.  Every cruise line is rushing to  find innovative ways to offer their customers more choices in every area of the cruise experience.

In some areas the advances in technology have enabled the broadening of available choices; such as communication tools (which have also lead to considerable additional revenue). But they’ve also innovated by including many more dining options – some at an extra cost to the passengers; for others they have found a way to include them in the cruise fare.

And I’m not sure there’s now a major cruise line that doesn’t offer some form of “anytime”/”your time”/your choice/fit in any tag name for dinner seating to allow choice and flexibility to the passengers.

While it may go unnoticed sometimes, there have been fairly dramatic changes in the entertainment on cruise ships. One trend has been placed licensed Broadway musicals on board, as well as well known acts such as the Blue Man Group, and the technologically advanced use of LED screens I saw recently debuted on Carnival.

Not only are the acts and shows changing, but the timing of the shows, with some being repeated at various times throughout the cruise, is becoming more commonplace.  This, in order to give passengers a choice of when they would like to fit seeing the shows into their own cruise schedule.

Even when it comes time to leave the ship at the end of a cruise, passengers have a choice. Every major line now offers guests the ability to do self disembarkation; where, if they can carry off their own luggage they are entitled to disembark as soon as the ship is cleared.  Some cruise lines are also offering guests the ability to stay in their cabin until they disembark the ship, whereas before “the choice” was to be out of your cabin by 7 or 8 A.M., irregardless of the time you were expected to be leaving the ship.

I believe the cruise lines do now see choices are of great interest to their customers. I also believe we’re going to see the cruise lines get even more innovative to come up with more ways to supply those choices. It’s quite likely they’ll also come up with ways to charge their guests for some of the extra choices, and thereby drive some fairly significant new revenues. But, in many cases I also believe the guests will willingly pony up the extra cash to avail themselves of the choices.

– A View From The Kuki Side Of Cruising –





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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time August 14, 2012 at 6:35 am

I have been taking cruises for over 40 years, I never tire of them

My first cruise was when I was 19 on the then new QE2, and times on board ships have really changed.

I wonder what the contemporary passenger would think about the cruises and the ships from way back? Over 40 years ago little had changed from the ships of the 1920′ and ’30’s. One major change was the class system, it was still around on one of my QE2 crossings, I was first class, and mid cruise, the Captain lifted the class option, and we all had run of the ship, soon it was done away with. The FRANCE never had the class system on cruises, only on transatlantics, eventually, it reverted to one class.

Dining has really taken a major turn. On the QE2 when the Queens and Princess Grills were empty, you could reserve a table and pay a nominal fee. Even Paquet had an alternate venue, Cafe de la Paix, on some, not all cruises, and this was for a fee, back in the 1970’s, and Cunard Line had the Veranda Restaurant on the Queen Mary and Caronia. Other ships had them, and they were very special places.

Then came pizza burgers salad bars and to what is now a prominent feature, the multi options for dining. Would I have trade my old experiences with two seating meals in one dining room? No way. I loved it that way then, and I love what we are offered today for dining choices.

Comment from Steve
Time August 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm

We’ve had the pleasure of travelling on several cruises that operated on the fixed-time dining schedule. They did all offer some sort of flexible schedule, but as more of a secondary option.

Our next cruise is going to be on NCL. We were drawn in by their claim of ‘Freestyle Cruising’. We want to experience the innovators of the do what you want, when you want cruise.

We’ve enjoyed every cruise we’ve been on. We spend our time enjoying what each ship has to offer on board. We’re not big on shore excursions. We’re really looking forward to seeing how much flexibility there is to enjoy what we want on an NCL ship.

Every ship should offer the choice to carry off your own bags. Less work for the staff. No worries about missing luggage. It’s the only way to go. Of course, we’re light packers and don’t have a lot to carry.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time August 22, 2012 at 5:19 am

Kuki, Steve and my above comments express exactly what the cruise industry is all about, the diversity and choice that each cruise line offers.

I am so tired of reading reviews, here there and everywhere, about this that and the so and so that ruined the cruise, for some passengers, Why? BOOKED WRONG SHIP – period.

Would I carry my luggage off the ship? No. Do I ignore some of the offerings on some ships that do not interest me? Yes,and thats the way it should be, for ALL passsengers. PERIOD.

Cruise lines do not stay in business offering a lousy product, it is only lousy for those that despise what is offered, and they may also dispise a cruise line my reason of their own selfish and arrogant personalities.

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