Pausing a seemingly endless stream of cruise ships built at a feverish pace over the last decade, cruise lines are taking a good look at what worked and what didn’t then adding features like specialty restaurants to older ships. Once remodeling is complete, those remodeled ships can offer one of the best values at sea.
Royal Caribbean continues adding popular Oasis-class ship amenities to other, older cruise ships as they cycle through regularly scheduled dry dock maintenance, periods of time when ships are taken out of service to perform maintenance tasks not possible with passengers on board.
Next in line is Serenade of the Seas, which is scheduled for an extensive revitalization this fall, adding a variety of specialty restaurants.
In addition to activities like cleaning, painting and upgrading, Serenade of the Seas will come out of dry dock with a new lineup of specialty restaurants including Giovanni’s Table Italian restaurant, Izumi Asian cuisine and the Chef’s Table dining experience.
Serenade of the Seas will be one of the more desirable older cruise ships at that point. But pricing, even with new features, will be lower than the Oasis-class ships from which those features came.
Along with new dining venues, Royal Caribbean will add new value-oriented dining packages that bundle what the cruise lines believe will be popular combinations with passengers. The Royal Choice Dining Package ($55) includes dinner at Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table and Izumi, or the Chef’s Table Dining Package ($130) which includes all of the specialty restaurants as well as the Chef’s Table.
At Giovanni’s Table, groups of four or more can take advantage of the Celebration Dining Deal ($20) on the first two nights of each sailing. This one gives groups of four or more dinner plus a $30 beverage credit. Groups of eight or more can opt for the Set Sail Dining Deal ($14) which includes dinner on the first night of their cruise.
Adding depth to onboard offerings, Royal Caribbean is expanding its partnership with wine producer Domaines Barons de Rothschild by offering an exclusive Lafite Wine Tasting Experience onboard. Available for $23 to $25 per person, guests get a unique tasting showcasing the renowned vintages from France’s Bordeaux region.
We found that better value on Carnival Liberty when the ship emerged from a drydock remodeling that added many elements of Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 initiative. Just one day into a 7-night sailing that will take us from Miami through the Caribbean, long-time Carnival guests on board are chiming in with praises for new features.
“This is the best cheeseburger I have ever had in my entire life” said 12-time cruiser Pam from Canada sitting at the ships new Red Frog Rum Bar.
We agreed and had made Food Network star Guy Fieri’s new shipboard dining venue, Guy’s Burger Joint, our first stop. Featuring some pretty amazing handcrafted burgers, fresh-cut fries and special recipes created exclusively for Carnival I expected a line. There was none. While finding a place to sit was a challenge, the system Carnival has worked out for serving was flawless.
There was a day not long ago when it appeared that cruise lines were moving more towards a common experience with little differentiation between each other. It could be safely said that once you had sailed on one of the major cruise lines, you pretty much had the program down on what to expect from line to line.
That was then. This is now.
Now, cruise lines are racing to create a unique on-board experience, solidly branded with a keen eye on being the line that appeals most to you. Backed by extraordinary past-guest programs, cruise lines want you for life. Propelled by focused social media efforts, some lines are making more progress than others in reaching out to their target guests.
New-ship sensation Disney Dream is one of those cruise ships and epitomizes the whole branding movement.
Well, except for one thing: They wrote the book on branding long before the others even thought about it. Well sorta. Carnival has had the whole “Fun Shps” thing down pat for decades. Princess stuck with the Love Boat overlapping with Escape Completely too. The others? They’re getting with it too so look for very distinct branding on all lines in the very near future.
What does that mean to you? Better choices. More people just like you sailing with you. Pricing that equals greater value to you. Yes; it’s all about you.
Photo: Chris Owen
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