James Griffiths, general manager of maritime operations at Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours, has spent a lifetime at sea. As a crew member, he has travelled the world with a number of cruise lines and commanded seven different ships, the most recent being the first of Scenic’s discovery yachts, Scenic Eclipse.
However, stepping into an executive role at the cruise line has provided him with a fresh perspective of the industry.
“I moved from being at sea for 20 years to being onshore and seeing a new side of what it takes to put together a cruise,” explains Griffiths. “From dealing with contracts and suppliers to getting us properly licensed to operate our onboard helicopters – it’s an experience that has given me a very different insight.”
According to Griffiths, the most important part of planning an itinerary is understanding the target market and identifying which destinations will prove most popular for these travellers. It is a judgement that constantly needs to be reassessed as changing guest demand and market trends make different regions and experiences more prominent. He highlights polar voyages as an example of a particularly popular itinerary for Scenic’s guests.
“At Scenic, we’ve continued to see really strong demand for our cruises to the polar regions, and they provide an anchor to our planning for a season,” says Griffiths. “There are no port or shore excursion fees, and they are very popular. There was a transformation in the late 2000s where polar exploration went from an area where we had our oldest and most outdated ships to a region where today we deploy our most up-to-date and advanced vessels. That’s essentially because of the demand; people want to see polar bears!”
Navigating between the ‘anchor’ itineraries in a season, however, can be a challenging task.
“The times between those anchors in a season are the difficult part of itinerary planning,” says Griffiths. “Repositioning cruises are naturally less popular because it’s more difficult to explain to guests the value of those voyages, even though in reality they can be some of the most rewarding that we sail. We have to build around that reality to give our guests what they want.”
There are also unique practical considerations to consider for each vessel, especially when introducing a new ship to the fleet. Scenic chose to debut the second of its discovery yachts, Scenic Eclipse II, with a sailing from Lisbon in Portugal due to a combination of good timing and its appeal as a destination.
“There also comes a point in the building of a ship where you have to commit to the programme of itineraries that you’re selling – there’s a before and an after that point,” says Griffiths. “Lisbon was in a great position for us at the time we needed it, and so it naturally became a good choice for us. It’s a great place to start a Mediterranean cruise, which is particularly popular with our American guests, and it’s a beautiful city.”
In total, Scenic visits 357 ports in 54 countries over seven continents onboard its two discovery yachts. The worldwide coverage of its itineraries allows the brand to explore a range of destinations. Griffiths suggests Scenic Eclipse II’s voyages to The Kimberley in Western Australia as a highlight in the ship’s programme.
“While I was able to sail in Australia during my days at sea, I never got a chance to visit The Kimberley,” says Griffiths. “It’s a very popular area, and I was excited for Scenic Eclipse II’s visit to such a beautiful destination.”
This article was first published in the 2024 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.