Providing A Superior Onboard Experience

Cruise lines are modern marvels that continue to revolutionize how consumers spend their vacations by offering excellent packages to celebrate the different traditional holidays throughout the year. In our time-starved society, traditional holidays may be the only time of the year available to gather all family members. Spending quality time together onboard continues to be the choice of many customers. However, there’s still an untapped market share of people that have never spent the holidays on a cruise or that haven’t even been on board for any vacation. In addition, new vessels have added competition to this sector, leaving an urgent need to provide a superior holiday offer and attract first-time customers for these dates.

Whether it is Hanukkah, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year, there is no doubt about the many advantages that cruise lines can offer. Oivind Mathisen, editor of Cruise Industry News, explains that “for families, holiday cruises offer an opportunity for all to enjoy the celebrations and the meals without having to cook and do dishes …They are all being served and waited upon. It is a way for families to celebrate together, and be able to do their own things, due to the range of age- and interest-oriented activities on the ships and in shore excursion.”

So how can cruises provide a superior experience while attracting new first-time cruisers? Perceived advantages such as reduction of holiday stress, superior weather, a private experience and quality time together are critical in convincing customers to bring their holiday traditions onboard and should be the core of cruise line companies’ marketing efforts.

voyage3Linda Brandt explains in an article for that “it’s getting harder to find time to gather the family together during the holidays. And the holidays can be just plain stressful.” Indeed, cruises seem to be the perfect alternative for a stress-free holiday – quality family time and lifetime memories are what consumers are after. In order to deliver these, Mathisen explained that cruise lines can “offer holiday atmospheres through decorations, activities, entertainment and menus.”

Let’s take Thanksgiving, for example, one of the most notorious holiday stress offenders. Cruise line offerings should keep this in mind and make sure to provide a traditional dinner with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and plenty of football – let’s not forget that watching the popular sport is a must for many on this date so plenty of watching options should be provided. When it comes to the cruise line’s communication initiatives, the company should drive home the inherent value of convenience by reducing cooking and cleanup times while still preserving their traditional activities. The same message applies to the other major holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s.

According to Brandt, “Many cruise lines celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah with a customary ceremony of lighting the menorah every night. A traditional menu usually includes potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts and Kosher meals.” Brandt also adds that “some cruise lines add to the fun by giving out chocolate coins and providing special games and stories about the history of Hanukkah.” For Christmas, Disney Cruises seems to always go all out to provide a unique experience from start to finish – an enormous Christmas tree welcomes passengers as they check in and fake snow is provided in the middle of the Caribbean. Finally, New Year’s is also a popular date for people to celebrate at sea without having to hunt for a decent midnight party at home. According to Brandt, “Ships provide the noisemakers and party hats and a glass of champagne or sparkling wine for a toast and a countdown—usually led by the captain of the ship.”

Furthermore, cruise lines can differentiate themselves by working out the kinks and challenges that the holidays can bring. For example, some in-port destinations may not be ideal for some times of the year such as Christmas, when several island retailers can be closed due to the holidays. When determining the ideal itinerary, companies should always check with the in-port destinations and work with them to coordinate a superior experience. Traveling on a cruise can also be a culturally enlighting experience, exposing passengers to other cultures and celebrations whether they are onboard or in-port – another point to drive home when convincing customers.

Mathisen also adds that cruise lines shouldn’t “forget that not everybody has families to celebrate with. It can be a very lonely holiday for some and by going on a cruise ship they can enjoy the holiday with other people.” Companies can employ smaller vessels to accommodate all the holiday fleeing crowds with little attachment to traditions or for demographic specific offerings for customers who would prefer to avoid loud kids running everywhere, for instance.

voyage4Finally, early bird specials and money-back guarantees seem to be the most recent tactics employed lately to entice new customers to spend the holidays onboard. Carnival Cruise Lines are providing a money-back guarantee that will provide unhappy passengers a 110 percent refund, free transportation home and more if they ask for it within the first 24 hours of the voyage. “The whole idea is to entice first-time cruisers,” Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill expressed in an article for the Times-Picayune of New Orleans. “It’s always a hurdle to get someone to cruise the first time. We’ll do something like this to get people over that hurdle.”

Traditional holidays are great revenue-generating opportunities for cruise lines. In order to provide a superior onboard and in-port experience lines should segment their offerings and communicate them in full detail. The ships should openly broadcast what customers can expect from the in-port destinations to the menu offered onboard and the babysitting offerings, if available. In many ways, spending the holidays on a cruise can be one of the best alternatives for consumers, however segmenting and communicating offerings more clearly can be the deciding factor when convincing first-time cruisers to get over that hurdle.