With a cruise, there’s no such thing as a “24-hour hold on the ballroom” for your meeting because, instead of various behind-the-scenes function rooms, cruise ships offer a variety of dramatically decorated public rooms which passengers use almost around the clock. These public rooms can be reserved on selected days at specific times for private functions — pre-planning with the cruise line is the key to success.
When one cruise ends, another begins the same day. Turn-around time for ships in port is often only 8 hours or less, so meeting planners usually can access their ship only a couple of hours ahead of their attendees instead of a couple of days as with a resort. In fact, everyone generally embarks within a 4-hour window of time. This means you really have to be ready to hit the ground running….
Continuity from A to Z
With a land-based meeting or incentive program, all advance planning is coordinated with your hotel’s sales staff or convention services manager who’s also there on-site to support you during program implementation. However, with a cruise program, planning is coordinated with the cruise line’s shore-side headquarters. The ship staff will not receive your program documents until the week of sailing, and they may be too preoccupied with groups on the prior cruise to digest your requests until you embark.
Some lines now designate a conference-service coordinator for each ship who’s assigned to help with all the various groups onboard (i.e. family reunions, social and church groups, and corporate or professional groups). This is a significant improvement from days past. But, be prepared. They can’t provide the continuity you take for granted at a hotel nor do they have the professional training or outlook of a meeting planner.
Good news… You won’t need your normal budget for A/V equipment rentals, theme décor or special entertainment to enliven your program; so you can reallocate your budget to provide extra amenities or custom events in ports of call, or just drop the savings to the bottom line.
You’ll want to rearrange many aspects of your traditional land-based daily agenda when using a cruise in order to capitalize on all that the ship offers. These changes from the traditional program add excitement and pleasure for your participants, and you may want to highlight them in your trip promotion.
When shipping unaccompanied boxes of supplies, gifts, or equipment across international boundaries; freight forwarders, local duty/taxes, and foreign customs inspections require extra time.
Registration of Equipment
Equipment must be registered with U.S. customs prior to boarding the ship to facilitate easy, trouble-free re-entry into the United States for computers, audio-visual equipment, video cameras and editing systems, lighting and sound equipment, etc. Shipping abroad can be tricky. Double check all shipping advice and final paperwork.
Fortunately, when it comes to handling medical emergencies, most cruise ships have better U.S.-trained medical doctors, nurses and facilities on-site than international hotels or resorts. However, planners would be wise to review their company’s insurance/risk management policies and procedures to be prepared in case a participant requires specialized emergency care.
Booking Lead Time
In general, cruise bookings require more lead-time than resort bookings on land. Some destinations–such as the Caribbean–have so many sailings that late bookings may not be difficult, but any group over 250 cabins should be committed over 18-months in advance or you’ll find your options rather limited. To secure your ideal charter you’ll need even more lead time – a minimum of 2 years is necessary for charter planning before cruise line schedules have been committed – especially if you want us to select your most ideal ship and itinerary at the perfect time of year.
Costs, Terms, Attrition: Negotiating cruise contracts is entirely different than hotel contracts. We’ll have to write a book, because the subject can’t adequately be addressed here.
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