Royal Caribbean is hyping its entertainment offerings of late, including the single show Rihanna will perform aboard Oasis and the announcement that Hairspray will be performed in its Opal Theatre. Does this signal an entertainment 'arms race' among the major lines?
As one of Royal’s key competitors, Cruise Week spoke to Princess representatives on that line's approach to entertainment and its fine-tuning of the onboard experience.
"Strategically, whilst we see entertainment as a very important experiential factor of the passengers, it’s not necessarily featured significantly in their decision-making process when they’re thinking about a cruise," responded Executive V.P. of Fleet Operations Rai Caluori. "In terms of entertainment, our strategy is very high-standard, in-house productions."
The bigger picture is an emerging divergence in the approach of Princess vs. Royal. As one example, while the weekly news from RCI focused on the attention-grabbing Rihanna concert announcement, Princess was emphasizing something quiet: a growing need for stressed-out
cruisers to escape from their "busy, frenetic lives."
Results from Princess’ first "Life Balance Barometer," a Harris Interactive survey, concluded that consumers are increasingly stressed and expressing a need for more balance in their lives. The finding ties in nicely with Princess’ current marketing campaign.
"Escape Completel’ resonates even stronger in this environment," Princess Executive V.P. Jan Swartz told Cruise Week. "We know your dollars are precious, but cruises are a great value, and you need the vacations more than ever."
The Princess strategy of appealing to stressed-out cruisers is being broadly applied to the onboard experience.
"We are now holistically thinking about the Princess experience," says Caluori. "These headlines about Oasis are great, because they ultimately provide headlines about the cruise industry, which helps everybody. We’re not necessarily adding headline-making product innovation, we’re just systematically finessing and just fine-tuning the product in order to continue to differentiate us – for us to occupy what I think is a very valuable niche in the business."
Caluori says it's all about demographics: "I see the Carnival demography and the Royal Caribbean demography, and then I see everything else. Princess is this sanctuary — pardon the pun — that a slightly older demographic can go to. It’s relaxed, it’s low-key, it’s a little less flashy. I admire Royal Caribbean for what they’re doing, but with Oasis, the distinctions become clearer. And the more different Royal Caribbean is, the better for us, because it perpetuates those distinctions. And it is a different market."
A look at the onboard changes taking place at Princess underscores Caluori’s point. The most notable development is the expansion of three iconic features found on Princess’ newest ships to a fleet-wide basis (except for the three Explorer ships). They are the bustling Piazza on Deck 5, Movies Under the Stars, and Sanctuary.
Less publicized is the large number of smaller features being implemented this year and next. Initiatives include the installation of flat-screen TVs fleetwide, dining room menu upgrades, including home-style cuisine, and the Astronomy@sea program.
These projects come on the heels of recent additions including complimentary cookies & milk, complimentary DVD players & movie library for suites, complimentary hot chocolates & bouillon in cold climates, and things like the Leonard Maltin Movie Club and Princess Book Club.
Taken individually these are not major changes, but considering there are more than 30 such initiatives this year alone, Princess is making some considerable adjustments to the onboard experience.