How do destinations create an unforgettable cruise experience?

Jacqui Griffiths asks leading operators what makes the places they visit truly special
How do destinations create an unforgettable cruise experience?
Guests can enjoy an ideal day out on Royal Caribbean International’s private island ‘Perfect Day at CocoCay’

By Jacqui Griffiths |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Part journey, part destination – cruising offers guests the best of both worlds, weaving cherished onboard experiences with opportunities to visit perfect places. For cruise operators, the ideal destination combines some essential ingredients.

Beth Bodensteiner, senior vice president of Revenue Management and Global Deployment at Holland America Line, says a special destination combines natural beauty, people and food – and cruising brings all those things together. “Some of my best travel moments have been sitting somewhere with people I love, looking out at some amazing scenery and enjoying the local food and drink,” says Bodensteiner. “Water plays a major part in making stunning scenery, which makes cruising an ideal way to see many beautiful places. It’s also an easy way to share that experience by travelling with many loved ones at the same time.”

A variety of cruise destinations can meet those criteria. “Glacier Bay, Alaska is somewhere you can really see by ship, sitting on the deck and watching this amazing scenery,” says Bodensteiner. “Sicily is also a favourite. Taormina is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and to me nothing beats the food of Italy.

“With cruising, you can be somewhere with man-made beauty one day and in the middle of stunning natural beauty the next, or there are places – such as Cinque Terre in Italy, or Alaska – that have both. At Denali Square in the McKinley Chalet Resort in Alaska you can sit at a gorgeous bar looking out at amazing natural beauty.”

Bodensteiner says today’s cruise guests are looking for a more authentic experience of the places they visit. “Guests want the ship to take them to unique places that they can really immerse themselves in,” she says. “That’s where elements like the food and drink make a destination unique. At Holland America Line we offer food and wine excursions so guests can get off the ship with the chef and go shopping at the local market, and then come back and learn how to prepare their food. Those are unique experiences that mix the exclusive qualities of a port with the cruising. Guests can really get off the beaten path and go somewhere they wouldn’t be able to see on their own. That makes it truly special.”

Ben Bouldin, associate vice president and managing director UK & Republic of Ireland at Royal Caribbean International, says careful selection of destinations creates a memorable trip. “We know that our ships are marvels in their own right, offering a raft of extraordinary ‘at sea’ experiences,” he says. “However, we also know that our destinations are an equally important part of the holiday. Our ships visit 249 destinations worldwide and each one is part of a carefully handpicked itinerary, selected to ensure we offer our guests the most memorable holiday on land, as well as onboard our ships.”

Royal Caribbean’s new Perfect Day Island Collection has been designed to create the ideal destination experience for every guest. “The Perfect Day Island Collection is a series of unrivalled private island destinations around the world,” says Bouldin. “The first, Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas, will launch in May 2019, boasting a number of distinct experiences and iconic features, giving adventurous holidaymakers first-time experiences that will top any bucket list. From racing down the tallest and most thrilling waterslide in North America or riding the tide of the Caribbean’s largest wave pool, to taking in the highest view in the Bahamas from a helium balloon 450 feet in the air, unwinding at the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean, or enjoying the perfect beach day, guests will have the power to create their perfect holiday day – no matter what that may look like.”

As the number of cruise ships continues to grow, cruise lines need to retain past guests and attract new generations of cruisers to fill them. “Ships are only one side of this complex equation,” says Ugo Savino, director of Deployment and Itinerary Planning at Carnival Cruise Line. “The other side is the destinations. A truly special destination delivers value to both the guest and the cruise lines themselves.”

Constantly refined offerings are the secret to consistently delivering memorable experiences to guests, says Savino. “New shore excursions need to be added to the existing portfolio to give past guests reasons to come back, and to meet the expectations of those who have chosen to board a cruise ship for the first time,” he says. “A great destination is constantly monitoring the pulse of the travel industry to anticipate trend changes and incorporate these learnings in its long-term planning.”

Crew members’ experience of the destination is critical. “Crew members interact with guests every day and are the best ambassadors the destination has,” says Savino. “Ultimately, making their landside experience memorable and offering services specifically designed to meet their needs is simply good business.”

Everybody at the destination is a part of the experience it delivers. “Everyone – from the immigration officer to restaurant waiter – is part of the memories a cruise guest will create while visiting the destination,” says Savino. “Not only tour guides and bus drivers need to embrace the spirit of hospitality, but also the entire local community.” 

From a cruise line’s point of view, Savino says a destination becomes special when it is the reason why guests pick a specific itinerary. “Destinations must have a well-defined identity and a recognised brand that has equity,” he says. “It has to be clear to everyone what makes that destination unique, what they can do there and only there. Destination marketing organisations are responsible for reaching as many potential cruise guests as possible to build strong awareness and high interest that will translate into demand for the destination. This ultimately helps cruise lines in their goal of marketing every sailing to a wide range of potential vacationers.”

It’s hard work, but Savino says it creates a win-win situation. “Creating a perfect destination takes work, time, resources, and requires detailed short-, mid- and long-term plans,” he says. “However, it pays high dividends to all stakeholders. Cruise guests will enjoy their vacation and their word-of-mouth will generate both future and return business. Cruise lines will be more amenable to include the destination in their itineraries, while the destinations themselves receive more ships and more calls.”

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