One of the greatest things about travel is the anticipation. And while nothing beats lounging on the beach in Antigua, imagining it and talking about it in the weeks and months before is uniquely cathartic.
On that note, I just booked my flight to attend the inaugural sail of Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas on November 21st. I was fortunate enough to sail on the inaugural voyage of the Oasis of the Seas in November 2009; boy, what a difference a year makes.
When the Oasis sailed, it represented a ray of light brightening the darkest 18 months in travel history. The sailing of the Allure of the Seas, on the other hand, almost seems proof that the recovery, however fragile, is steaming ahead; no matter that the planning and development for both ships began long before any economic downturn.
As I anticipate the upcoming cruise, I was fortunate enough to read a very poignant piece written by Alan Buckelew, the CEO of Princess, about his return to Vietnam aboard Princess Cruises. The experience was not what this former soldier expected, but his journey was full of personal discoveries. It reminded me of my own very different experience aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, detailed in a post earlier this year. Cruising often opens up perspectives and affords opportunities for exploration, These often unexpected and unanticipated moments live forever in guests’ memories – be they significant on a personal, cultural, or even a culinary level.
In fact, through our cruise mystery shopping programs, as well as our cruise surveys, we’ve found the latter extremely important to guest satisfaction. In a survey of 1,800 passengers queried about their last cruise experience, we found the most powerful dependent variable in creating both a great guest experience and a poor one was the cruise’s food and beverage. Great food and beverage service creates both raves and boos. (In contrast, entertainment may be a powerful determinant for positive experiences, but is rarely mentioned in poor experiences.) Still, as my experience, and Buckelew’s, shows, it’s the discoveries that cruise ships make possible that may elevate it most of all.