On the verge of launching Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has deployed its ships around the world — including the West Coast.
“Our strategy is to develop Royal Caribbean International as the one true global brand of cruising,” said president and CEO Adam Goldstein.
Oasis of the Seas // © 2009 Royal Caribbean International
Passengers sailing the Mexican Riviera with Royal Caribbean this year are part of a far-flung, carefully thought out pattern of worldwide sailings. The line is building its markets, as well as its itineraries, with passengers from the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, the South Pacific and South America streaming onboard Royal Caribbean vessels that have made history with their designs and features. It is updating the image of the cruise experience with the likes of onboard rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks.
Now, with the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas, the industry’s largest cruise ship by far, Royal Caribbean has so many features to reveal that the company is at a loss as to how to get them all out by the ship’s November debut. Still, Oasis is gaining international attention on a level even grander than the Freedom-class ships.
“The Freedom-class ships received a great deal of international press after journalists went onboard, but Oasis is well known worldwide — long before the ship even makes her debut,” Goldstein said.
The company is taking unprecedented steps to make this launch as spectacular as the ship. Goldstein said that executives are walking the ship months ahead to make sure everyone is on the same page in talking about her — it is the most extreme immersion the company has ever gone through.
“You look at any aspect of the operation — culinary, shore excursions, entertainment, etc. — and there is a beehive of activity to make it work,” he said.
Goldstein missed the launch of the Sovereign class, but looking back at the Voyager-class and Freedom-class ships, both of which debuted during his tenure, Goldstein said it is the gradual development of these mega-ships that made their operation possible.
When Knut Kloster envisioned the concept for the 5,600-passenger ship, the Phoenix World City, the industry wasn’t ready. The notable difference between that ship and the Oasis of the Seas is that the Oasis was arrived at by steps, rather than in one huge leap. In 1992, the plan for the Phoenix World City was that she would homeport in Port Canaveral, Fla., and sail the East Coast and the Caribbean without visiting ports. Instead, she would use 400-passenger tenders to bring passengers ashore. Kloster couldn’t have anticipated that the last 20 years of development would allow the 5,400-passenger Oasis, and her sister ship, Allure of the Seas, to make all their calls dockside and organize rapid embarkation and disembarkation on a ship of this size.
“Creating this ship over time was crucial,” Goldstein said. “It is the product of many leaps forward, and we learned from each — Song of Norway, Song of America, Sovereign of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas were punctuation points. Each time, our partnership with the shipyard was critical, and we were able to match materials and concepts with opportunities.”
He added that Oasis of the Seas is the byproduct of six generations of partnerships with a variety of different entities from port authorities to shore excursion providers. For instance, the interaction between the ship and land-based programs entailed years of advance legwork.
“We took this very seriously from the beginning,” Goldstein stated. “We knew our initial homeport would likely be South Florida and that the ships would sail in the Caribbean in the beginning, although we do not expect the ships to only sail Caribbean itineraries. We thought that would happen with Voyager, and now three of the five Voyager-class ships are in Europe, so we are setting no parameters for Oasis and Allure.”
Royal Caribbean set up a competition in South Florida for the Oasis-class ships’ homeport. The company’s executives were pleased with the ideas advanced by Port Everglades and the way in which the port has worked with the local government to arrange financing. Port Everglades’ proximity to the open sea and the airport were also factors in its being selected as the homeport.
As the port set out to build Terminal 18 in accordance with its agreement, Goldstein noted that the dimensions are at least proportionally scaled up compared to facilities for smaller ships, which is an important advantage of gradual development.
“Eventually people come to understand that our embarkation and disembarkation will be at least equal to others and perhaps superior,” he said. “The truth is, it was a proportionately bigger leap between Vision-class and Voyager-class vessels.”
Goldstein said concerns about the ports are similarly unnecessary. He points out that the ports where Oasis will call are accustomed to taking multiple large ships, and that one ship, however large, won’t fundamentally change the situation any more than the fluctuating number of mega-ships normally calling during high season. Increased global deployment throughout the cruise industry has shortened the high season in the Caribbean as well, and the highest concentration of ships in the region is now mainly mid-December through mid-March. Many days of the year, few ships, if any, will be in port with Oasis in its year-round deployment.
Since Oasis of the Seas doesn’t use tenders in any port, a serious potential bottleneck has been avoided. The onshore infrastructure can accommodate the numbers, just as it can for two 2,500-passenger ships.
A year down the line, Royal Caribbean will be calling in the newly created port of Falmouth, Jamaica, which Goldstein describes as “a good site between two marquis ports — Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.”
The two cities, which are about 20 minutes to half an hour away from the new port, can offer more tour content than either city could alone. Falmouth itself is known for its sugar plantations and is expected to develop into something similar to Colonial Williamsburg, capitalizing on the island’s English heritage.
At the company’s private beach in Labadee, Hispaniola, Royal Caribbean is investing tens of thousands of dollars, putting in a dock and improving the land facilities, including water taxis and connecting paths on the peninsula. The island also offers the new Columbus Family Beach with private cabanas, Labadee Town Square and Dragon’s Plaza. The Town Square is the center for shopping and cultural experiences, including Haitian dance, a Haitian Cultural Museum and the Straw and Artisan Market. It is also the gateway to the new Alpine Coaster.
“At a time when the world is expressing concern about the ship/land interface, we’re feeling very enthusiastic,” Goldstein said.
Onboard the ship, Goldstein said that the expansion of the central Promenade and the neighborhood concept are the keys to her identity. The ship is divided into seven neighborhoods: Central Park; Boardwalk with the AquaTheater; the Royal Promenade; the Pool and Sports Zone; the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center; Entertainment Place; and the Youth Zone.
“The ship is a physical marvel, but when all is said and done, what people will remember most is the more than 2,000 men and women who crew her,” Goldstein said. “It’s an all-volunteer crew, coming in with great experience, which is of the utmost importance.”
The launch of Allure of the Seas will follow Oasis in November 2010, and the two ships will bring glamour and a greatly increased capacity to the Caribbean, freeing other ships to serve other markets, such as the West Coast.
With 22 ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet by the end of 2010, Goldstein feels the company will have a meaningful presence in key regions of the world and drive penetration of the vacation market further. He cited Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Malaga, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Scandinavia, Singapore, Spain and the U.K. as important sources of passengers, besides the continental U.S. He noted that Royal Caribbean’s innovations have broadened the line’s appeal to all national groups, as well as expanded the public’s perception of the type of person and the age group of travelers who enjoy cruising.
Royal in the West
Royal Caribbean International’s emphasis on spreading its ships to diverse ports has worked to the advantage of the Western U.S. market. Currently, California is home to both Mariner of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas, which sail from Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif. Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and services, grew up on the West Coast, and she is particularly pleased with the move to bring Mariner into that market.
“By taking [the ship] to the West Coast, we are demonstrating how the company develops innovation on innovation, increasing choice and pushing the boundaries of what a cruise ship is,” said Freed. “West Coast agents are lucky to have this ship to sell.”
Freed pointed out that Mariner is a part of the Voyager class, a revolutionary breakthrough in the cruise-ship industry that introduced features including the Royal Promenade and the ice skating rink. By far the largest cruise ship ever to offer regular sailings out of a West Coast port, the 3,114-passenger Mariner is more than 50 percent bigger than the other vessels currently based on the West Coast, a vote of confidence for the market. Mariner is sailing seven-night cruises to the Mexican Riviera through at least 2010.
Freed noted that the line is also supporting West Coast agents with Radiance of the Seas, which is sailing four- and five-day cruises out of San Diego, as well as longer Mexican Riviera sailings.
“These nine-, 10- and 11-day sailings from November to May give clients more geographical extension — you need longer cruises to get down to Zihuantanejo and Acapulco,” Freed said. “We’re also offering a 12-day Christmas and New Year cruise on Radiance that is a homerun for both holidays. This is the class that brought in features including billiard tables, the Chops Grille and greatly expanded use of glass, which opens up the ship to beautiful views from a dozen angles.”
Mariner’s itinerary includes calls in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Radiance will call at Los Cabos and (on five-night itineraries) Ensenada before introducing the longer sailings.
Freed reminds agents that she is always accessible; her direct number is 305-539-6031, and her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.