Cruises focusing more on food, family groups

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm •  Published: February 6, 2013
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But there may be a downside to some of the new food offerings. Arnold Boris, editor-in-chief of Cruise Gourmet, said he has found that as specialty food options with extra fees increase, basics that used to be offered for free decrease. "It's all unbundled now," he said.

Spencer Brown agreed: "The quality of the main dining room has gone downhill while they've raised the prices to get into these alternative restaurants."

For example, she said Royal Caribbean now "charges for food in the dining room that used to come with your cruise. Surf and turf is $38 but surf and turf used to be part of the dinner. The dining room had been sacrosanct in terms of hands-off, no extra fees, except for liquor. On Celebrity cruises, you go to a French restaurant and you pay to get in, and they greet you with a glass of Champagne, then you look at the bill and see it's an extra $18."

The unbundling trend is seen in other areas as well, with mass market lines keeping fares low but charging extra for various onboard activities. Ironically the opposite is happening on luxury lines, where "they don't want to lower (ticket) prices because it doesn't look good, but they're throwing everything in for free. Luxury is the best value it's ever been," Spencer Brown said.

SHIP REVITALIZATION AND MULTI-GENERATIONAL TRIPS

Fewer cruise lines are building brand-new ships, but many are doing intensive renovations on existing ships. Some of these renovations involve adding new spaces to accommodate a fast-growing segment: multi-generational groups. Cruises are being marketed as the perfect vacation for grandparents, parents and kids to take together because they can pursue different activities onboard, then have a meal or shore excursion together.

On Norwegian, for example, between 15 and 20 percent of guests on any cruise are part of a multi-generational group, according to spokeswoman Vanessa Lane. "Families are the second-largest cruising segment, only behind the 55-plus age group," she said.

More than half of Carnival bookings involve more than one state room, no doubt many booked by family groups.

Even luxury lines, which tend to attract an older crowd than mass-market ships, are seeing more children. Crystal Cruises saw family groups increase 30 percent in 2012 over 2011, said spokeswoman Mimi Weisband. "Our youngest world cruiser is 2 ½," she added.

To accommodate the diverse needs of old and young, ships are expanding areas for youth activities while at the same time creating more adult-only pools and quiet areas where passengers can nap, sun, or read a book. Carnival ships have "Serenity Spaces." Norwegian ships offer exclusive suite areas with key-card access and private courtyards called The Haven; they're not adult-only but they are designed to be quieter than other parts of the ship.

Carnival ships increasingly offer observation areas next to youth play areas where parents and grandparents can watch their kids play. "My mom's not going to play basketball with her grandson but she sure wants to take pictures," said Jim Berra, Carnival Cruise Line's chief marketing officer.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE BOOKING

The cruise industry has long recommended that consumers use travel agents to navigate their options: which cruise line, which ship, type of room, itinerary. But an increasing number of travelers are abandoning the middleman and booking directly with the cruise line of their choice, either by calling or through the cruise company's branded website.

Traditional travel agencies "not long ago accounted for three-quarters of all cruise sales," according to a November 2012 report by PhoCusWright, but "slipped to 62 percent in 2011." Overall, 13 percent of cruise bookings were made online in 2011, up from 11 percent the year before. Of those online bookings, in 2010, 43 percent were made through cruise line websites, a share that is expected to rise to 59 percent in 2014, PhoCusWright said.

Meanwhile the cruise industry is making new efforts to reach travelers using social media. A new YouTube channel, Cruise Industry TV, launched this month at http://www.youtube.com/cruiseindustrytv . Also new is CruiseForward, a website with a Facebook page, for showcasing stories from the cruise industry such as voluntourism efforts, https://www.facebook.com/CruiseForward .

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Follow AP Travel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Travel .

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