High Demands

Cruise lines build for the new affluent traveler

By: By Marilyn Green

Luxury Cruising

Click here to download a complete PDF of the October 2009 Luxury Cruising supplement.

During the past decade, when no new luxury ships were coming into the market, the demands of the affluent traveler changed significantly. Today, upscale cruise lines are unanimous in their reading of what today’s luxury customer wants: more space, more dining options (many of them alfresco), lighter food, a country club atmosphere and more private and active shore experiences. Clearly, ships must be larger and better-equipped in order to meet the demands of today’s luxury guest.

High Demands // (c) 2009

 Silversea Cruises’ new ship, Silver Sprit,
at sea. // © 2009 Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises’ vice president of sales Steve Tucker noted how changes in attitude resulted in a total of six restaurants aboard the Silver Spirit, which launches in January.

“When we built the earlier ships, the consumer wasn’t asking for such a variety of dining venues,” Tucker said. “The additional restaurants were added later and were not part of the original construction.”

The main restaurant on the Spirit will be smaller and two of its venues — Seishin restaurant and the Relais & Chateau restaurant, Le Champagne — will carry fees of $30 to $200 for degustation menus, with or without wine pairings. New dining approaches will also appear: the pool area’s Pool Grill, with its Black Rock concept of cooking raw meat on the heated rocks, and the new wellness pool breakfast with smoothies, protein drinks and organic cereals, later to be introduced throughout the fleet.

The demand for space has also increased, and Tucker said the Spirit has fantastic larger suites with two televisions (95 percent of them boasting verandas). He noted, too, that the lower average age of guests demanded that the ship is also equipped with Wi-Fi, mobile phone service and butler service. Active excursions, along with a much larger spa, also appeal to the younger set.

Likewise, Windstar Cruises has experienced a series of upgrades, starting with the first Degrees of Difference program in 2005. Now, with the return of all ship operations in-house from outside management, the line is bringing in new solutions driven by consultants from beyond the cruise industry, such as a former senior vice president at Macy’s who is advising Windstar on the fleet’s retail outlets.

Windstar’s partnership with the certified organic O Spa London is also geared to offer something beyond the customary onboard product. Windstar president Diane Moore said the line will also offer lighter cuisine, with more Mediterranean rather than classic cruise fare. She added that, because customers said they want intimate, private experiences on shore, that individual, custom tours will be offered to meet the need.

Moore said these changes are driven partly by the lower age group coming into the luxury cruise market, with many guests in their mid-40s to late 50s, and by the youthful culture of older guests.

The Yachts of Seabourn president and CEO Pam Conover sees guests looking for more options and more flexibility to enjoy both privacy and social gatherings with an elegant, timeless style, both of which they will find on the new 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey, along with more dining options including a tasting restaurant and two outdoor venues.

And book-lined Seabourn Square, the main public space, has proved to be the magnet its designers had hoped for, a place where guests can not only enjoy coffee and pastries, but can also browse the Internet and make excursion reservations.

The Odyssey’s spacious accommodations, enormous closet space and interactive television are all responses to the market’s wishes, and the results have been very encouraging, according to Conover, since new guests and agents have been booking the ship.

Loyal past guests had been concerned about the Odyssey’s size, but comments, so far, have been very favorable.

“This is definitely an opportunity for agents with guests who take land-based vacations,” said Conover.

In the same vein, Oceania Cruises is building ships that intend to give guests the same kind of experience they have at home.

“Clients don’t want to step down when they are at sea,” said Tim Rubacky, senior director of corporate communications at Prestige Cruise Holdings, Inc.

For Oceania Cruises, this translates into larger staterooms and much larger baths, Rubacky said.

“All our bathrooms on the new 1,258-passenger Marina [debuting in late 2010] were designed to have separate showers and tubs, all marble and granite, so that guests feel at home on our ships,” he added.

Oceania’s cruisers also made it clear that they want larger fitness centers and spas, and the line is responding with the Canyon Ranch spa program and spa menus that extend even to room service. More hands-on activities are another luxury market demand, so Marina has an artist’s loft for classes in painting and drawing and a culinary studio with individual stations and classes ranging from 45 minutes to three hours.

Since cuisine has been the cornerstone of the brand, the ship will have 10 dining venues, all of which are complimentary. Two of them are brand new: Jacques, master chef Jacques Pepin’s first namesake restaurant at sea, and the dramatic Red Ginger, drawing from a number of Asian cuisines.

For the luxury sector that wants to pay less and maintain a luxurious lifestyle, today’s premium product is a perfect fit, according to Richard Meadows, CTC, executive vice president of marketing, sales and guest programs at Holland America Line (HAL). He noted that HAL has incorporated luxury features, from bedding to concierge services, while keeping the price points down.

“The more than $525-million Signature of Excellence investment raised the bar,” he said, “and nobody would question that the Mariner’s Dream Beds, flat-screen televisions and Neptune Lounge are luxury features.”

HAL has made sure that its ships are consistent; new features, such as lanai staterooms, are brought in on newbuilds and phased in across the fleet.

The line’s Eurodam and upcoming Nieuw Amsterdam were designed to satisfy consumer demands for more alternative dining options, which are smaller and more intimate, such as the lovely pan-Asian restaurant, Tamarind, and its adjoining lounge, Silk Den.

Like other high-end lines, HAL is looking to its competition on land for new luxury elements.

“The use of cabanas in a private area to lounge with an array of services is popular in luxury retreats, so we have incorporated that experience,” said Meadows. “And onshore guests can craft their own excursions with a private car and driver.”

Will the luxury customer continue to change?

“Absolutely,” Meadows said. “But the taste for luxury is not a transitory fad. Generation X and Y treat it as a birthright.”