Whilst most forms of holiday have contracted during the recession, the cruising market has continued to grow, with an estimated 1.65 million Britons set to cruise in 2010, up from 1.5 million in 2009. So when all other holiday sectors have been moribund, what is driving the popularity of cruising.
In years gone by, cruising was perceived as being overly formal, associated with stuffiness and also expensive. To be fair this perception was in the past not too far from reality, and a constraining factor on its popularity.
However cruise lines have worked hard to shed this traditional view of cruising, both in terms of the new products which they have created, and the marketing campaigns that have been targeted at a much wider audience.
Younger couples and families are two of the market sectors that cruise lines have specifically aimed at in recent years, and they have been very successful in broadening the appeal of cruising.
It is interesting to delve a little deeper and look at what is enticing these new first time cruise customers to the market? Flexibility certainly seems to play a big part, on a number of dimensions.
Firstly, there is much more dynamic approach to dining options. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines have put “freestyle cruising” at the heart of their customer proposition, and claim that there’s only one thing to do with the rules, and that is scrap them! NCL make a big play of having no dinner bells, no dress code for dinner, and will ensure that you don’t have to sit with strangers unless you want to. They also boast more restaurants and dining options than days of the week.
For those that cruise regularly, when asked what is really important to them on a cruise, they are likely to put eating and restaurants right up there. One word that often puts many customers off is “buffer style”, conjuring up awful images of pork pies, cold quiche, egg and cress sandwiches with the edges curling up! For others it’s the dread of having to dress up in a dinner suit and bow ties that turns them off. But this is the antithesis of what you will find on the majority of cruise ships nowadays. Flexibility is where it’s at, when it comes to dining. Even Cunard, which is seen as being probably the most formal and traditional cruise experience, has freestyle dining with The Lido, and trust me; you would never see a pork pie on display!
Turning to Royal Caribbean, one of the biggest players in the cruise market, they have been driving the product innovations agenda with onboard activities including rock climbing, ice-skating and on some ships their Flow-Rider surfing experience. On the food front, there’s an array of options from freestyle right through to formal. Breakfast and lunch is “open sitting” where you just turn up when you’re ready and no reservations needed. Dinner is more organised with an early and late sitting. The American guests tend to opt for the earlier option with Europeans preferring the later sitting. The usually have some themed nights and some where you dress up more than others, but you don’t need a tux. At these dinners there’s a five course menu with healthy and low fat options also available. They also offer a discount wine deal if you pre-book for the week, which works out at really good value (you only have to commit to ordering some wine each night in a certain category, and can still select your actual bottle each evening whilst you order your food).
In addition Royal Caribbean offers for a small upgrade fee of $20 – $25, speciality Restaurants, Portofino and Chops Grille. Chops Grille as you can imagine offers steaks, mixed grills and seafood to order. Portofino is an Italian restaurant with a romantic feel to it, and offering high class Italian cuisine with a good degree of imagination. If you’re there with a big family and fancy one night of intimacy, this is highly recommended, but don’t leave it too late in to the cruise to book it, as they are popular options.
At the other end of the spectrum if you fancy more casual dining then head for Johnny Rockets. Those who remember “Happy Days” could just imagine “The Fronz” aka Henry Winkler pitching up at this brilliantly re-created American 50’s style Diner. Burgers, fries and shakes are the order of the day, okay it may not be healthy but it’s great fun and at an additional charge of $3.95 per person, it’s great value.