Bigger and better? Or Practical and Soulless?
My friend sent this article from Bloomberg to me, highlighting the changes in the cruise industry in its efforts to modernise and attract a younger market.
Gone are the days when entertainment at sea consisted of a lounge act near the mini casino and shuffleboard on the lido deck. As Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. build ever larger vessels and try to lure younger guests, they’re unleashing an arms race to deliver ever more-elaborate onboard activities.
BLOOMBERG - BILLION-DOLLAR CRUISE SHIP BRINGS GO-KARTS AND LASER TAG TO THE HIGH SEAS
In addition we see cruise lines moving away from all inclusive packages, and start charging for various activities and dining. Royal Caribbean has a few specialty restaurants requiring payment (and I can't help but feel that Harmony of the Seas has been designed to really push guests to specialty dining, the Windjammer buffet is one of the most limited I have encountered). They are also charging guests on some cruises to use features like the North Star.
As one of the officers confessed to me the other day, one of the problems with the larger ships is "throughput". How can RCI give all guests a chance to experience all the features onboard. Norwegian has addressed this by introducing fees.
To long time cruisers this feels like (to borrow the American phrase) "nickel and diming". But how else do you provide everyone a chance to use the facilities? One option could be coupons; Royal Caribbean's Seapass already comes pre-loaded with the "coupons" for food and drink available to that guest, there is no reason it couldn't be extended to the activities and shows on board. But of course coupons don't increase revenue, and at heart every cruise line is a business with shareholders, revenue is what they do this for.
My concern is that in search of the "wow" Royal Caribbean (and the other cruise lines) are losing the romance. Go-Karts and Laser Tag, how often do you want to do that? How often can you go down the same water slide? How many times can you ride the Flow Rider before you are asked to get off to allow other guests a chance? How many times can you escape the same Escape Room? Not only is throughput limited, the law of diminishing returns begins to apply. Then ships with the "Wow" become ships with the "been there! done that!" And the arms race of developing attractions and excitement just gets taken to the next level. All at the cost of what was at the core of cruising, personal relationships.
The smaller ships, limited by physical capacity, rely on the emotional experience to generate great memories. The physical rush of laser tag, go karts, or big water slides is so temporary. But emotional connections are longer lasting, richer and more meaningful.
The romance and character of smaller ships is getting lost in this new age. I wonder if there will be space in the future for a cruise line dedicated to some of the old experiences of cruising, with less emphasis on the superficial and more on the heart and soul. I can only hope, but I am not holding my breath.