Probably the single most important reason we are in the business of cruise travel, the reason I became a travel agent and then began writing about them is a very simple one: Cruise vacations have opened up a world of travel to many people who might not have otherwise experienced it. Interestingly, while that reason to claim cruise vacations a top choice for would-be travelers remains true today, the definition has evolved. Recent news from Carnival Cruise Line solidly validates a focus that we have found to be much more important in recent years: Destinations.
Carnival Cruise Line has launched a unique destination-focused program called Carnival Journeys , promoted as “a unique collection of nine- to 15-day seagoing adventures” that will begin this fall. At first glance, one might think that Carnival took all their repositioning cruises (sailings that move ships from one part of the world to another on a seasonal basis) corralled them all up and packaged the lot as something different in a clever marketing effort. But look just a bit deeper and we find some unique travel opportunities not simply for seniors with abundant time on their hands but pretty much anyone who has an appreciation for amazing places.
Normally thought of as the exclusive domain of small ship, luxury lines; Carnival has a challenging job ahead, pairing if not redefining their trademarked FunShip cruise experience to include a more intense focus on destinations as well. Sure, they have a ton of shore excursion offerings available on every sailing of every ship. But to pull off having a product that is bona fide destination-focused will take a different effort, one Carnival seems to have charted a direct course toward. In other words, they can’t just say they are destination-focused. A successful effort will include unique new programming that goes beyond ‘Yes, we have shore excursions and you can book them in advance online…and while you’re there how about a spa treatment or bon voyage gift!?’
“Carnival Journeys was created to offer our existing customers even more options while helping us to attract those guests who have not had the opportunity to sail with Carnival and may be enticed by these longer, more exotic itineraries,” -Christine Duffy, Carnival president
One would expect this effort to include new itinerary choices, be specifically designed for guests looking for a longer cruise vacation and a desire to visit a variety of destinations. Carnival Journeys does that. More importantly, Carnival Journeys promises to explore new onboard ship activities that complement destinations to be visited in a new way not done before, by Carnival or any other big ship cruise line…although many of these efforts derive their flavor from activities and events seen on small ship, luxury lines.
Let’s take a quick look at the list of unique shipboard experiences that will be tailored to each itinerary in the areas of dining, entertainment, team member connections and enrichment, all infused with the line’s spirited brand of fun.
- Local Chef On Board- Partnering with local restaurants, local chefs will do on-board cooking demonstrations recreating their signature dishes and traditional cuisines from their country. Brilliant.
- Go Off Ship With That Same Chef- Participants can opt to dine at the chef’s restaurant ashore for a nominal fee. Brillianter
- Market Visits- Accompany the chef as he or she visits local markets for delectable regional specialties. Brilliantest.
- An up close and personal look at their destination through local entertainment performances taking place outside the ship or on board.
Academy of Fun:
- ‘Academy’ is a word that works for Carnival and amounts to educational content. Here, Carnival’s shipboard experts will instruct guests in topics ranging from cooking and arts and crafts to digital photography and social media, even celestial navigation. A no-brainer, I can’t imagine why every cruise line does not do this.
- All of these activities will be performed with the fun and entertaining style that only Carnival can provide. Now we’re on familiar turf. A spoonful of Carnival Fun makes the educational content go down in a most delightful way.
Throwback Sea Day:
- Carnival will set the clock back to 1987 and recreate a fun day at sea with retro pool and deck games. That would take a traveler with an actual age of 60 back to 32, a rather attractive notion if I do say so myself.
- Old school dining options like Baked Alaska (just keep on walking please) and the gala midnight buffet (with chocolate fondue fountain, we hope)
- A white glove Captain’s Celebration solves the uncomfortable “he won’t actually shake your hand because you have icky germs” issue.
- Popular movies from that era, a circa 1987 version of the Carnival Capers shipboard newsletter, and more. 1987 beverage prices would be a nice addition. Good Morning Vietnam and Dirty Dancing = good choices. Jaws: The Revenge probably not so much.
Shipboard Team Member Connections:
- Learn more about shipboard life through informative question and answer sessions hosted by the ship’s captain, cruise director, hotel director and others. This will be a hit because on longer sailings there is time for it. Simple.
- Held at different times throughout the voyage the sessions aim to provide an opportunity to engage and interact with the Carnival team in a fun and casual setting…as opposed to a panel on a stage with people in the audience looking for the guy with the microphone so they can ask a stupid question about nothing. The interactive nature of this event will make it work well.
- There will also be an unforgettable show performed by the ship’s crew during the voyage. This is huge, by the way, because the crew will love it. Cruise line crew loving anything is good for passengers who will see happier crew as they walk around the ship. We saw this first hand on Carnival Freedom with the new zippy-fast Internet connection. Easier to keep in touch with the family back home seemed to translate to a genuinely happy crew, not surly slave crew working on the cruise ship of doom.
In the past, ship-focused cruise vacations provided everything one might need to have a quality travel experience. Indeed, as ships of all sizes have evolved, onboard offerings have as well, addressing trending needs if not staying a step ahead and successfully predicting what the cruise traveler of tomorrow will desire. Differentiation efforts nearly complete, cruise lines that once seemed to be gravitating toward a common experience are all unique, making matching the right cruise line with the right traveler more critical than ever to insure a successful travel experience.
Destinations are taking center stage as a big reason to cruise. In the past “unpack once and visit a number of places” was a big selling point for cruise vacations. The updated version of that quality is more frequently becoming “unpack once and visit a number of amazing destinations which we focus on before getting there, offering a quality, immersive experience” or, easier to remember “unpack once and engage the world”.
On Carnival Journeys, guests can experience and explore nearly 40 different tropical destinations, including less visited ports like Tobago, Grenada, La Paz, Martinique, Bonaire and Ixtapa, each home to diverse cultures, centuries-old landmarks and historical structures, and unforgettable natural attractions. Not sure how the world of small ships that has promoted their tiny size as enabling visits to ports “where big ships can’t go” will play out…unless Carnival’s effort requires a 3-hour tender ride from open sea (doubtful).
What If I Could Do It All Over Again
Prior to cruising as a family, we would fly to a place, pay for everything ala carte and had about a 50/50 shot of everyone enjoying the experience. Then came cruising and we flew from Kansas to Florida, got on a ship and saw multiple places while everyone had the best time ever. Every time. I was sold. Lisa was sold. The kids were sold. Done deal.
At the time I would sell/brainwash myself on the idea of doing multiple cruises every year, often skipping school days, because “it was good for them to learn table manners at formal nights and how to get along with kids outside of their sheltered suburban world back home.” That was about as true as saying the reason we would fly into the embarkation city a day early was to put the long travel day behind us, then wake refreshed and ready to go when the cruise actually started. We just wanted more time away.
But what if I could roll back the clock and start that series of sailings all over again? With a comprehensive focus on destinations such as Carnival (ruler of First-Time Cruise Traveler World) is doing here, I would not need to invent phony reasons to sail. This is the real deal.