Royal Caribbean has to show the world it’s about fun and adventure, not the sedate, outdated images of cruising its competitors perpetuate, says the company’s UK and Ireland MD Stuart Leven.
Putting clear blue water between Royal and other cruise lines, Mr Leven said the challenge was to reach out to holidaymakers who are ‘indifferent to cruising’.
In an exclusive interview on the newly christened Anthem of the Seas, he told me: ‘Let them understand, it’s not Love Boat. It’s not what many of our competitors show in their adverts – they’re going for a certain kind of clientele.
‘We’re adventure, we’re fun, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve. I want [to attract] people who would go on a land-based, all-inclusive holiday and stay in the same place – we offer them more than that on this ship. That’s still the biggest challenge we have.’
Asked why Royal Caribbean had decided to base its newest ship in Southampton, Mr Leven said: ‘The UK cruise market is important to us, and putting Anthem here has been incredibly popular.
‘I’m looking forward to next year and having Independence of the Seas coming back – very popular in the UK market – and you have Navigator which has been revitalised. The really exciting thing for UK consumers next year is not only having Anthem in New York but we’ve got Harmony, the brand-new Oasis-class ship, in Barcelona. There will be more Brits on that ship than any other nationality. We found that with Allure this year, it’s been incredibly popular with the Brits.’
He said lessons had been learned from the launch of sister ship Quantum last October – including rethinking the whole ‘dynamic dining’ principle of allowing people to eat at different times in various restaurants.
‘We’re always learning and what we learnt from Quantum was though dynamic dining has proved incredibly popular, there are some traditional cruisers who do like the fact that you can eat at the same time every night, so what we’ve done is introduce Classic Dining 1 and 2 – early and late sittings at 6.30pm and 8.30pm – rotating through four restaurants.
‘Traditional clients are very important to us. We’re trying to attract new people to cruise but we’ve had so many clients who have been so loyal to us over many years we listen to what they say.’
Asked about complaints that restaurants were so booked up in advance that places were not available before 9pm, Mr Leven said: ‘That hasn’t been the feedback we’ve had from Quantum’, adding there were more available places than passengers.
There were no regrets about getting rid of one main dining room. ‘We have put choice into the hands of the customer,’ he insisted.
Indeed, formal wear isn’t obligatory anywhere on the ship – even in Grande, the ‘poshest’ restaurant. ‘We do recommend if you go into Grande you wear your best,’ Mr Leven said.
On the differences between Quantum and Anthem, he said: ‘The thing that’s blown me away is Spectra’s Cabaret in Two70. I was slightly concerned after how good Starwater was. Could we replicate it? I didn’t expect them to take it up a level but they did.’
Competition for UK cruisers is heating up with the recent launch of P&O Cruises’ Britannia and Royal Princess doing a season in Southampton – as well as Anthem. That would seem to spell problems as the number of Britons taking a holiday at sea has levelled off after a decade of fast growth.
But Mr Leven says that is simply down to not having had enough ships. ‘There will be more capacity this year and next year so you will see the market naturally grow,’ he predicted.
Will there be winners and losers with having so many new ships in Southampton, I asked.
‘In terms of encouraging new people to cruise, the industry wins,’ he replied. ‘Can you think of another sector in the leisure industry anywhere that’s got over $2billion worth of brand spanking new product? So I think the industry wins.’
But, of course, he also thinks Anthem will come out on top.
‘It offers a different experience to any other cruise ship that’s operating out of UK. The choice of restaurants, the choice of entertainment and great activities we’ve got on board – we truly believe that sets us apart.’
For my report on the Anthem christening, please click here
Dave Monk (Shipmonk) has been shortlisted as best blogger in the Cruise International Awards 2016. To vote, please click here. Best blogger is the final category.