Whatever route you go, it’s a good idea to consult with an expert in the field.
Landry & Kling, based in Coral Gables, Florida, is one well-known business-to-business resource for meeting planners and special interest groups, providing ship selection and logistics support or full program management for cruise groups and full-ship charters. Joyce Landry, president and CEO of Landry & Kling, offers some tips for planning your event — and deciding which type of ship charter is for you.
Size matters. Ms. Landry cautions that the charter price is only as cost effective as your ability to use most or all of the rooms. She recommends being realistic about the number of rooms you will truly need, since every empty room is ultimately the charterer’s liability. You’re securing your charter with a contract and upfront payment or financial guarantees — and you can’t give back the rooms you don’t use.
Negotiate well. Fully chartering a ship is not for the faint of heart, warns Ms. Landry, since you will effectively be removing the ship from the cruise line’s inventory and taking ownership of it once you sign the contract — and with 99 percent of the cruise lines, there’s no backtracking on the agreement. Ms. Landry advises that while this arrangement is designed to protect the cruise line, you can protect yourself, too, by working with an expert that is familiar with chartering territory: They can help you negotiate terms and explain flexible clauses that could work to your advantage.
Put your stamp on it! Creative types will love how much they can personalize the experience. Feel free to fly your own flag with a full-ship charter — at least via signage and banners, that is. You can control the entertainment and activities schedule, choose your own menus and even put your logo on desserts. You might even bring on your own entertainment and, in some cases, alter itineraries (within reason).
Know when to go for group space/partial charter. Ms. Landry explains that if your perfect ship is larger than your needs but has the facilities you desire, booking group space on the ship — rather than a full-ship buyout — is likely the better solution. Her company has had success hosting groups of as large as 1,000 people on ships that hold 3,500 or more without compromising the desired feeling of exclusivity at events, thanks to large-ship theaters that hold a thousand people or the possibility of deck parties. She also reminds groups that some mainstream ships have luxury ship-within-a-ship concepts, offering smaller groups perks like private key access, butler service and exclusive pools, bars and/or restaurants, which are well-suited to group bookings and offer the bonus of all the facilities of a much larger ship, too.
And apart from Ms. Landry’s advice for booking bigger groups onto larger ships, keep in mind that less sizable groups always have the option of taking over smaller vessels, too. Yachts, barges, expedition vessels, tall ships and riverboats are all good options for groups of anywhere in size from a dozen to 200 or 300 people.