(What’s In It For You, the Meeting/Event Planner)

By Josephine Kling, CEO, Seasite.com
(Cruise meetings trailblazer, Jo Kling, is CEO of the newly launched Seasite.com,
the new cruise portal designed for all types of group organizers.)

MIAMI, FL (January 12, 2010) For the cruise industry, 2009 was extraordinary in that 13 new ships set sail, including two new intimately-sized luxury vessels plus the largest ship in the world. And, with 14 new ships on order for 2010, don’t expect a slowdown anytime soon. As we head full throttle into the New Year, here’s what we see as the Top 10 Cruise Trends for 2010 and, more important – What’s In It For You (WIIFY) – the Professional Planner.

1) ECO-FRIENDLY SHIPS: Cruise lines are taking advantage of the latest environmental technology to reduce their carbon footprint. Among the initiatives: advanced wastewater purification, LED lighting, solar power, products made from recycled materials, and air emission reductions. The new Celebrity and MSC ships are proving that green is beautiful.

WIIFY: If you’re concerned about keeping your meeting green, you can feel good about planning a program on an eco-friendly cruise ship.

2) SPECIALTY STATEROOMS: In the past, cruise ship accommodations meant ocean view or inside cabins, balcony staterooms and a few larger suites. Today cruise lines are much more creative. Spa suites on Carnival, Celebrity and Costa feature exclusive access to the spa’s thermal suites, hydrotherapy pool, herbal steam rooms, or spa restaurant as well as extra in-room “spa” amenities. Holland America introduced lanai cabins with back doors leading out to the Promenade Deck. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas has two-deck loft cabins and staterooms facing the outdoor Boardwalk and Central Park neighborhoods. And today’s cruise ship accommodations are every bit as up to date at hotels with luxurious bedding, big pillows (Silversea features a choice of eight different pillow types and two aromatherapy pillow covers), bed scarves and flat-screen TV’s.

If privacy is a priority, NCL’s Garden Villa Suites feature access to a private courtyard, while MSC’s Yacht Club offers an elegant “ship within a ship” – Italian designer suites with their own separate concierge reception, lounge, and swimming pool all serviced by 24-hour butlers. And remember, no strangers off the street can stroll through the ship’s lobby to see whose meetings are posted on their “reader boards”.

WIIFY: Book your incentive group meeting attendees or VIP’s in specialty staterooms for the ultimate in exclusivity, privacy, luxury and recognition.

3) MORE MEETING FACILITIES: Ships are being built with groups in mind, e.g. dedicated conference facilities, leading-edge technology, flexible public space and spacious theaters that can seat up to 1,600 people. Carnival Dream’s multi-functional 4,700 square-foot conference center “The Chambers” can be used as a single large meeting room for 232 attendees or converted via air-walls into three separate meeting rooms. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas’ Conference Center can seat 369 attendees in total, or divide into 4 smaller meeting rooms.

To see how ships measure up, Seasite.com provides meeting & function room capacity charts plus dining room & speciality restaurant capacities – data that’s not published elsewhere, not even on the cruise line’s own websites. So cruise planning for groups is now easier than ever.

WIIFY: Unbelievable cost savings! Meeting space and AV are complimentary with all cruise lines except one. Dedicated conference facilities give groups more privacy and technology. Fresh new meeting venues such as magnificent show lounges, comedy clubs, and culinary centers can spark creative thinking.

4) FLEXIBLE DINING, MORE CHOICES:
 Several years ago NCL introduced the concept of “Freestyle Dining” with open seating, flexible dining hours, casual eateries, and a variety of specialty restaurants. Celebrity has brought back the highly personalized tableside cooking, carving and flambé reminiscent of the Trans-Atlantic era for their upscale specialty restaurants. Other lines have adopted the relaxed dining trend – Royal Caribbean jumped onboard with “My Time Dining” option, and Carnival offers “Total Choice Dining”. Regent and Silversea Cruises have enhanced their specialty restaurants (including dinner on deck) along with their ever popular “Dine when and with whom you please” philosophy. Other trends: elegant, reservations-only supper clubs featuring dancing after dinner; and more international options – from Teppanyaki and sushi bars to gourmet French bistros, Spanish tapas bars, and Italian trattorias.

WIIFY: Included meals and snacks mean huge cost savings. Menus designed to accommodate special diets, along with a variety of restaurants with international cuisine, make planning group dine-around’s a snap (some surcharges may apply for specialty restaurants, but still a bargain for fine dining – and no transportation worries or costs!)

5) SHIPS GO HIGH TECH: With wireless areas now standard and increased cell phone coverage on ships, you don’t have to leave your Blackberry or laptop home. Other high tech touches: Oasis of the Seas’ digital signage, touch-screen directories near every elevator bank, and interactive HDTV’s in the staterooms; Royal Caribbean’s Royal Connect smart phones to help parents track kids onboard; and Carnival Fun Hub – the cruise industry’s first shipboard social network.

WIIFY: You and your attendees can surf the Web during your cruise, stay connected with family and friends, or continue to conduct business from the comfort of your stateroom.

6) INNOVATIVE ONBOARD ACTIVITIES AND FACILITIES: Oasis of the Seas introduced seagoing “neighborhoods” – take a walk through Central Park with real grass and trees, or stroll down an old-fashioned boardwalk with carousel. More ground-breakers: an onboard zip-line suspended nine decks high; giant seaside theaters with laser shows and water acrobatics. In 2010, NCL Epic will feature the first rappelling wall at sea, and Disney Dream’s combination roller coaster/water slide will take brave riders above and over the edge of the ship. Another welcome development from most lines: more evening dance parties on deck amid colored lights, splashing fountains and sultry music – very romantic!

WIIFY: No shortage of fun activities and challenging sports facilities for your group to enjoy between meetings – offering tons of motivational appeal (and bragging rights) for attendees of every age. Built-in activities for spouse/guest programs save you planning time and money. Family incentive cruises are easier and far less costly than land-based programs, and teens – who typically resist family trips – find cruising allows them more freedom, friends and food than any alternative venue.

7) ENRICHMENT OPPORTUNITIES: Already a feature on the luxury lines, now the Celebrity Life “Savor, Discover, Renew” series is available on their Solstice-class ships (Solstice, Equinox, Eclipse, Silhouette and one more to follow). Culinary classes, health and wellness programs, language study, digital workshops and “Smithsonian journeys” are just a few of the learning opportunities.

WIIFY: When not in meetings, attendees can stretch their minds as well as their bodies. They’ll enjoy exploring topics that interest them during their cruise, and will appreciate returning home with new skills along with the memories.

8) AMAZING ENTERTAINMENT: Stay onboard for Las Vegas acts, Broadway shows, and themed nightclubs. NCL continues to raise the bar with the first “big top” theater-in-the-round at sea and the award-winning theatrics of Blue Man Group booked on the Epic for an extended engagement. Meanwhile, Oasis of the Seas brings Broadway to sea with a three-year run of Hairspray and a Broadway-caliber cast worthy of the high-energy production.

WIIFY: With a cruise, you won’t have to worry about an entertainment budget –because you don’t need one! Fabulous diversions, included with your cruise, will keep your attendees entertained without breaking the bank (once again, no transfer worries or expenses!)

9) MULTI-GENERATIONAL APPEAL AND “ADULTS ONLY” ZONES: Ships cater to all ages, with expanded spas and fitness centers, innovative onboard facilities, more high-tech features, and a variety of entertainment choices that rival Las Vegas, Broadway and South Beach. Ships are expanding kids programs with age-specific activities and facilities. New teen programs include spa treatments and shore excursions. Even babies get to cruise with Royal Caribbean’s “Royal Babies” (infants 6 – 18 months) and Royal Tots” (18-36 months).

Cruise lines are also adding kid-free zones to their ships. Carnival introduced “Serenity” areas for grown-up relaxation and pampering; the new Carnival Dream boasts an 11,250 square-foot, 2-deck high Serenity area for adults. The 2-deck high Solarium on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas features a pool and cantilevered whirlpools suspended above the ocean. NCL’s Epic will introduce Posh, an exclusive, adults-only South Beach-style beach club on top of the ship.

WIIFY:
 No need to worry about planning activities that span the generations. Now more than ever, cruise ships offer facilities and amenities to please all your meeting attendees – from Boomers to Generations X and Y. Ships are also ideal for family programs with age-appropriate kids programs and venues, as well as exclusive areas of the ship just for adults. Note to the frugal planner: kids sail for free on family-friendly MSC ships.

10) HOME PORT ADVANTAGE: With increased demand for “drive-to” meetings, cruise lines have responded with more close to home ports. Ships sail from over 22 U.S. cities, including East Coast ports in Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, New York City, Port Liberty (Bayonne) NJ, Norfolk, Philadelphia and West coast ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle; and from the Gulf Coast – Galveston, Houston, Mobile, New Orleans.

WIIFY: Slash your travel budget by reducing the cost of airfare. Planners and attendees can now enjoy the convenience and savings of driving to their meetings without sacrificing the excitement of a new cruise destination and foreign adventure.

ABOUT LANDRY & KLING, EVENTS AT SEA

Since 1982, Landry & Kling Events at Sea has provided cruise solutions and custom cruise planning for ship buy-outs, incentive cruises, cruise meetings, theme cruises and dockside ship charters for global events. For oceans of information, visit landrykling.comand shipcharters.com or call 800-448-9002.