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Luxury passengers want the best of both worlds and core luxury cruise lines are offering ingenious solutions to satisfy them.
As the upscale lines launch an influx of new ships and invest heavily in renovating existing ones, some similar themes are recurring.
"Luxury guests want the exceptional individual service and atmosphere of a small ship but all the bells and whistles of a larger one," said Brad Ball, director of corporate communications for Silversea Cruises.
A Penthouse Suite with Verandah on Crystal Serenity caters to luxury passengers.
This is particularly true of spa services and dining, where passengers are demanding more variety, better quality and more al fresco dining experiences. They also expect an elegant, exclusive atmosphere for relaxation and their appetite for the largest, highest-end accommodations seems insatiable, according to Ball.
New ships are generally quite a bit larger, but still maintain the same service levels and are increasing space ratios (a measure of how crowded onboard public spaces will be) in some cases.
For instance, when the first of the Yachts of Seabourn’s three new 450-passenger ships enters the fleet in June, it will be three times the size of earlier vessels with about double the number of guests.
President and CEO Pamela Conover said Seabourn will add a restaurant with a tastings-type menu and more outdoor dining areas. A second new restaurant, an open-kitchen, indoor/outdoor Colonnade, will serve informal breakfast and lunch and themed dinners.
The indoor/outdoor 1,100-plus-square-foot spa will suit the luxury traveler with its retractable glass doors, and the fitness area will have the latest equipment, including a kinesis wall. Spa villas will offer private space for treatments. At the heart of the ship will be its concierge, Seabourn Square, with a club-like atmosphere that is far removed from your standard reception desk.
Silversea Cruises is also growing in size, transitioning from its 298- to 392-passenger ships to the new 540-passenger Silver Spirit, which will debut in early 2010. Ball said that the design for Silver Spirit was meant to resemble the homes of its luxury guests, 50 percent of whom are Americans and the rest of whom are international. The space-to-passenger ratio will still be very high, and the service-to-staff ratio will remain around 1-to-1.
"Our guests also want bigger suites, and we added a large number to this ship," Ball said. "We sell top to bottom, and this is great for the agent, who has had trouble meeting the demand for these large accommodations [in the past] and will now make higher commission."
Onboard Silver Spirit, clients will find two new dining venues in addition to Silverseas’ traditional La Terrazza and Le Champagne restaurants: a Stars Supper Club for dancing and dining and a restaurant featuring Asian cuisine. The main restaurant will feature food from the ship’s various sailing regions.
Silversea has also enlarged its existing onboard spas, but Spirit will have the biggest and most extensive spa of all, at 8,300 square feet, as well as a very sophisticated fitness area.
At Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC), newbuild plans have been placed on hold for the moment but the line’s current ships are already at the larger end of luxury, with the capacity to carry up to around 700 passengers. The company is capitalizing on the increased space with more options, such as shore excursions that are included in the ticket price, which have added additional value to its all-
inclusive product and have given agents more commissionable items.
When it comes to dining, RSSC has replaced its Latitudes Pan-Asian restaurant with Prime 7 serving beef and seafood.
Dancing remains important to RSSC guests and the line has added removable stanchions to the stage to create a larger dance space. On longer itineraries, the line is experimenting with other forms of entertainment, such as dinner and a cabaret.
And when RSSC does build, they will be making more changes, too.
"We need a magrodome over the pool," president Mark Conroy said. "We don’t want to give up this much space in inclement weather."
High-end guests on Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 (QM2) have exclusive areas that mimic small-ship facilities, while the size of the ship gives Cunard unique features such as a huge library, a theater, a planetarium and a spa. President Carol Marlow said
Cunard is maintaining its traditional product while evolving with the market by offering more al fresco dining and more large suites. The five Grand Suites on QM2 can be joined together to offer more than 8,000 square feet of living space in total.
Marlow said Cunard’s Queen Victoria took the same development philosophy even further with the addition of a royal box and private boxes in the theater and a spiral staircase in the library.
Catching the Luxury Wave
Some lines, however, feel that the luxury market has evolved to suit their product, rather than the product having to change its orientation. Windstar president Diane Moore said the line is very well-positioned for today’s market because of the great value inherent in not going all-inclusive.
"We’ve taken criticism in the past for this, but now the consumers see that they are not paying for anything they don’t choose," Moore said.
On its two smaller vessels, Windstar has created a new WindSpa on the main deck outside the lounge area. The bathrooms on all three of Windstar’s vessels have been refurbished, and the Wind Surf’s main deck has been renovated as a yacht club with a coffee bar that turns into a wine bar later in the day.
"We put in features like chairs with iPod listening stations and two new bridge suites with bathrooms to die for, which paid for themselves within a year," Moore said. "Even today, we sell from the top down."
In 2008, Windstar tested two new dining venues on the Wind Surf: Le Marche seafood restaurant and
Candles, a pool-adjacent venue that serves grilled steaks, chicken and kabobs. Both were hits, and Candles will soon be added to Windstar’s smaller vessels.
Cuisine is important to SeaDream Yacht Club as well, according to president Bob Lepisto.
"Although every menu has a very significant number of choices, there is also a whole page for anything guests want," Lepisto said. "If they want salmon or filet every night, they can have it, prepared to their individual desires," he added.
Like Windstar, Lepisto said that today’s luxury market has moved toward SeaDream’s concept of elegance, stressing unique experiences in an active, healthy environment.
SeaDream II recently added a new 375-square-foot Admiral’s suite where the boutique formerly was located; SeaDream I will have the same changes in May.
Crystal Cruises has always been ahead of the curve with larger luxury ships, according to Mimi Weisband, vice president of public relations. Crystal Serenity, for example, can hold up to 1,080 guests.
"Crystal’s initial platform was choice and large-enough ships to offer it, and this has become the industry standard now," said Weisband.
Weisband added that during the past 2½ years the line has spent more than $50 million in refurbishments for its two ships.
During Serenity’s dry dock last November, the company converted 12 AA staterooms into eight penthouses and added more opportunities for adjoining rooms to help satisfy demand from multigenerational families. The line also completely renovated the casino and transformed the Crystal Cove Bar into a circular focal point.
And Crystal’s Nobu restaurant on Crystal Symphony last year was a triumph.
"It took five years since the one on Serenity to get [chef Nobu Matsuhisa] to agree to another restaurant," Weisband said. "He had to see that everything would be kept at his high standards. He’s asked to open a restaurant literally every day, and we feel very honored to have them on both ships."