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Old November 20th, 2010, 06:38 PM
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Royal Caribbean Entertainment

Royal Caribbean Entertainment

Lisa Bauer, "Senior Vice President, Hotel Operations," says “we did a lot of market research with our customers and the one thing we heard they want is “branded entertainment.” In regular language that means people have told them they want recognizable brand names onboard, especially in entertainment. For example, Royal Caribbean just signed an alliance with DreamWorks, the movie production company responsible for such hits as “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

But those are not the only recognizable brand names one will find on a Royal Caribbean, especially the newest one, Allure of the Seas. You will also find Starbucks Coffee, Coca Cola, Johnny Rockets, Guess and Coach.

Brand names are the new trend in cruising. A decade ago every cruise ship produced its own shows, created by small production companies that specialized in creating “cruise shows.” In truth, the shows were cliché almost from the minute they started; each one of them was a “Salute to Broadway” or Salute to Hollywood.”

But market research told Royal Caribbean, and other cruise lines, that they would much rather see shows they had heard of; Broadway hits for example.

When Oasis of the Seas debuted last year the main production show was a fully licensed version of Hairspray, the proven Broadway hit produced by John Waters. This year, as sister ship Allure of the Seas debuts; the main stage show is “Chicago – the Musical,” another proven Broadway hit.

But that is not all Royal Caribbean has added in terms of branded entertainment. Count in animated movie maker DreamWorks, responsible for such hits as Shrek, How to Tame your Dragon, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and the brand new movie just released in theaters last week, Megamind, starring the voices of Brad Pitt, Will Ferrel & more. Allure is showing that movie today in the brand new, specially built 3D-theater they built just for the showing of DreamWorks movies.

Going beyond movies, Royal Caribbean will soon be featuring DreamWorks characters showing up at kid’s breakfasts to take place in the Deck Four dining room, and as of now there is no charge to attend them. They happen at two different times; 7:30 am and 9:00 am, and they do feature themed meal items such as “ogre cakes.”

DreamWorks characters are now a part of the Royal Caribbean experience, on certain ships concentrated in the Caribbean, for now anyway. The agreement with DreamWorks Animation is already rolled out on Allure of the Seas and will be deployed on Liberty of the Seas in January, Oasis of the Seas in February and Liberty in March. Now, Oasis is the sister ship to Allure, and we originally heard it would come next, but the idea now is to roll out upgrades to all ships as they are scheduled to go into dry dock. The name of this upgrade project by Royal Caribbean is the “Royal Advantage.”

What other branded experiences are proving a success for Royal Caribbean? Allure has the very first Guess boutique on a cruise ship. In fact, it is the very first Guess “accessories boutique” in the world, with one in Miami coming soon. The store is doing surprisingly well, the top selling brand selling across all of Royal Caribbean. There is also a "Coach" boutique.

As mentioned, Allure also has a dedicated Starbucks coffee place. Personally, I don’t love Starbucks so much that it is the only place I will buy a caramel macchiato latte. But many of people do feel that way, so the Starbucks onboard is as authentic as the one on your hometown corner. Yes, you do have to pay for all of the coffees and the scones and biscotti, which are the same as the ones you see in all Starbucks stores. What makes it even stranger is that the same Seattle’s Best, a sister company to Starbucks which has been featured on Royal Caribbean for years, is still featured on the ship not more than 50 yards away and on the same floor. Here you can get coffee and pastry for free. So, why pay? We don’t know, except to say that some people just love Starbucks coffee.

Another Guest Service Upgrade is located near passenger services. These are called “Royal Express Kiosks” which are interactive video screen where one can pull up your current onboard account, see how much you have spent, make restaurant or tour reservations, pay your bill or even check in for you flight home and print out your boarding pass.

Of course, you can also access the Internet and update or see your reservations on your stateroom television, but the wireless keyboard with built-in mouse can be a bit tricky to handle.

Branded Art Galleries
Royal Caribbean I sending its art auction affiliations with Park West one by one as they expire due the challenges some customers have had with the gallery. Instead, Allure has a gallery dedicated to one of the line’s favorite artists; The Britto Gallery. This store is full of original pieces as well as limited edition prints for prices from under $100 to thousands of dollars for original works of art.

Britto creates colorful, playful designs of cats, dogs, people and more. He is said to be a very personable artist who even personally hand painted the day room for the crew onboard Allure.

But if you are looking for an even more recognizable name you may want to shop for your art on Explorer of the Seas. That is where Peter Max has created his personal at sea art gallery. I am told he has created as much as $1.25 million in original art, limited editions and enhanced limited editions – just for Explorer of the Seas.

Upgrading Royal Caribbean Ships
This “Royal Advantage” program (other cruise lines have had similar names for upgrades initiatives; “Signature of Excellence” for Holland America and “Degrees of Difference” for Windstar, for example,) will continue with almost all Royal Caribbean ships as they go into dry dock in the next few to five years.

Radiance of the Seas, one of the “right-sized ships from the early 2000s will get a major upgrade next summer with a Samba Grill (Charascurria), Rita’s Cantina (the same new Mexican food restaurant that replaces the Seafood Shack here on Allure, an Izumi Japanese restaurant, a Concierge Club and a nursery for kids six months to three years. While most of the upgraded ships will be in the Caribbean market, Radiance will be going to Australia followed by Alaska.

New Policies for All Ships
Keeping up with the upgrade cycle for the entire fleet, new policies are being made across the board. For example, all suite guests will not get priority seating in theaters and deck chair placement near the pools. They will also be offered first right of refusal on the exclusive “chef’s table” dining experience on all ships.

The Vintages Wine Bar on all ships is getting a new tapas menu that is presented on an iPad where each selection creates a virtual table setting on screen as it will appear before your eyes. Add red wine and the filled glass images are placed on your virtual tabletop. Each appetizer also has a picture to fill your screen. The price is automatically calculated as you go, building your meal to your desired proportions.

Finally – the last technical enhancement will come on the private islands of Labadee and CocoCay. Soon there will be extra-lux cabana rentals for suite denizens. A final improvement will be a super Internet package where you can get 500 minutes for under $200, enough time that you will never bother looking at the clock.

And so Royal Caribbean takes a leap forward. Formerly the cruise line that waited until the last minute to upgrade their ships, they have now become the line that upgrades ships constantly, always striving to find something new to make them more competitive. It’s an approach that is proving very successful.

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