Cruise lines have long offered all-inclusive vacations for singles, offering easy relaxation, entertainment, and tons of opportunities to mingle with other singles. But what about traveling on a cruise as a couple? Well, that’s the latest trend, thanks to the growing number of cruise lines offering “couples only” trips.
More and more small groups of couples – two, four, six or eight couples – are planning cruises together in 2022 and 2023. According to Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing for Costa Cruises North America, there is a lot of pent-up demand from people who were isolated last year due to current booking trends.
More and more, these people want to see their friends or family members in person and communicate with them, not just virtually. We find that these people are more likely to travel in groups – whether it’s two couples, four couples, six couples, families, he says. Indeed, Costa’s group business will grow significantly in 2022 and 2023 – mainly at the expense of small groups.
Knutson says small group travel appeals to a wide range of customers, but especially those who are traveling abroad for the first time or those who are afraid to travel independently in a global health situation like this. If you’ve never been to Europe and aren’t used to traveling internationally, it’s much more fun to travel with a group of friends or even another couple than to wander around alone, wide-eyed, not knowing how to find your way.
Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group, adds that cruises are one of the most popular types of vacations people take, and says small-group cruises are beneficial for clients and helpful for advisors to increase agency sales. The ships for 2022 and 2023 are selling fast – the Oceania cruise for 2023 sold out in one day, Friedman said. The people want the sea.
Costa’s newest flagship, the 5,224-passenger Costa Smeralda, offers a wide range of dining options.
However, experts say it is important for advisers to act sooner rather than later to take advantage of pent-up demand, as capacity in the cruise sector is shrinking due to the number of ships sold by cruise lines in 2020. In addition, health and safety protocols are used to monitor the performance of the various vessels operating. In the spring of 2020, Carnival Corporation, like other cruise lines, will retire 19 ships of various brands.
Selling cruises to small groups, this is how Friedman tells his group advisor how to do it. The first thing she recommends is to always ask customers: Do you have friends or relatives who might want to travel with you? She says it’s amazing how this simple question can inspire a traveler to invite another couple or small group of friends on a cruise and then help your client get their friends interested.
Zoom night is a great way for other potential band members to introduce themselves to customers. Try to film the ship and take pictures so people have an idea of what to expect, she advises. Also, help your customers find souvenirs to give away on Zoom Night. One or two winners may receive a bottle of wine, or all participants may receive a small gift or treat representing the stop of the cruise.
For advisors who want formal training, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) offers three courses on group sales and management – Groups 101 : Introduction to group sales; Groups 201 : Group Business Development; and Groups 301 : Successful group management. The cost of each course is $29 for CLIA members and $59 for non-members. Many cruise lines also offer webinars or training on group cruise sales.
What are the best ships for cruises with small groups? As with any type of trip, it obviously depends on the couple, their interests and their budget, notes Christy Scannell, a travel designer and owner of a Dream Vacations franchise in San Diego, California. For a small group that wants to travel in one room and enjoy amenities such as personal service in the restaurant and bar, she might suggest Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships, for example, as they offer suites with multiple berths.
For those looking for affordability, the modern cruise segment offers large ships and mega ships that are floating cities at sea, with activities, things to do and plenty of dining and entertainment options. There is a wide variety of choices. The new ships, some of which are mega ships, also have new features.
Jackie Friedman of Nexion Travel Group (left) and Karen Magee of Global Travel Collection pose with a giant mythical dragon in front of the Pacific Rim specialty restaurant on the Seven Seas Splendor ship.
On a cruise on Costa’s newest flagship, the 5,224-passenger, LNG-powered Costa Smeralda, a group of couples can, for example, take part in a wine tasting, walk along the glass-floored Passeggiata Volare or Sky Walk (213 feet above sea level), or attend a show at the Colosseo (an onboard theater inspired by the ancient Roman Colosseum, but with high-tech video walls). In a new experience for Costa, couples can also cook alongside Costa chefs and learn about food sustainability in the ship’s Ristorante Lab.
The beauty of a cruise is that couples can also isolate themselves from the group and do their own thing. A couple can book a massage at the Costa Smeralda spa or cool off at the Snow Room spa, where the temperature is 14 degrees Fahrenheit and snowflakes fall from the ceiling. This fun experience can be a good topic of conversation when couples get together for dinner.
Higher in the price range, premium, higher premium and other high-end shipping lines also offer luxury food and entertainment on board, but often on larger or mid-sized ships with fewer guests. Celebrity Cruises’ new 2,910-passenger ship Celebrity Apex, designed by hospitality icon Adam Tihany, is the sister ship to the innovative Celebrity Edge.
Celebrity Apex’s Edge Villa has a lounge with seating for 10.
According to Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales, sales support and service, Celebrity’s modern luxury approach sees both pent-up demand and a trend toward reunions at sea, whether it’s couples looking for a romantic getaway or friends and families planning a special way to get together.
On Celebrity Apex, small groups of couples often book The Retreat, the ship’s own concept that offers luxurious suites, exclusive accommodations and a private rooftop terrace. At Apex, I would recommend that one couple book the Edge villa and other guests book the Sky or Celebrity suites, recommends Michael Consoli, owner of Cruise Planners Franchise in Roswell, GA.
He points out that this way all members have access to the incredible amenities the retreat offers, including the pool, lounge and, most importantly, Luminae, the dining room. He also suggests using the two-story Edge Villa as a base or meeting place for a group, as it has a huge living room with seating for 10, a wet bar, and a large Jacuzzi on a large balcony overlooking the ocean.
If you’re going with a group on Celebrity Apex, Ritzenthaler suggests they drink their cocktails on the Magic Carpet, a unique console platform located on the starboard side of the ship. It’s a beautiful place at sunset. For dinner, it offers a daily special – the Table du chef Daniel Boulud. Another idea is for two couples traveling together to book a private cabin on the terrace of the resort. These cabins cost $300 per day (9am-6pm) for four people and offer pillows and ocean views.
Couples can also head to Eden (there have been many changes since the launch of Celebrity Edge) for a new dinner designed by celebrity chef Cornelius Gallagher, who is also Celebrity’s vice president of food and beverage. Eden will offer new entertainment on different evenings, with something for everyone, from energetic to relaxing.
Villa Edge has a spacious balcony with ocean views.
What if groups are looking for an ultra-luxury holiday with maximum inclusivity, far fewer guests on board and luxury? Sheila Falk of Beyond Travel, part of Nexion Travel Group in Orlando, Florida, says 90 percent of her agency’s group business comes from Regent Seven Seas Cruises, citing the 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor, which can offer small groups an ultra-luxury cruise ship on board.
On Seven Seas Splendor, all balcony rooms range from 307 square feet to 4,443 square feet in the massive Regent Suite; this suite can be configured as a luxury apartment with two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a huge outdoor deck space, handcrafted furniture and a $200,000 bed. The ship’s other large suites, including the Master, Splendor and Penthouse suites, are also spacious and feature extensive amenities.
According to Falk, a luxury ship like Seven Seas Splendor is very attractive to foodies who want to enjoy gourmet food and wine on board and ashore during special excursions. Couples could pose with the giant mythical dragon outside the Pacific Rim specialty restaurant before dining inside. You can also take classes in the ship’s state-of-the-art culinary center, which features 18 individual cooking stations.
Regency Suite on the Seven Seas Splendor
Mr. Falk also believes that this type of vessel could be a good choice for bridge players who want to bring their card-playing friends together. More importantly, it attracts luxury customers who want nothing to be desired in terms of onboard service, she added. No detail has been overlooked. No demand is too great.
Counsellors should ask each potential client couple in advance about their hobbies or personal interests. If guests like art, Seven Seas Splendor has a multi-million dollar art collection with 300 works of art, including works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Eduardo Arranza-Bravo and other famous figures. Couples can take a tour of the ship just to admire the world-class artwork.
Another option is to attend a show in the ship’s theater (this ship has a better view than the Seven Seas Explorer). For entertainment, small groups can head to the Meridian Lounge, which is now a mixology bar with new gin drinks and fresh juice and herb recipes.
Splendor Lounge on the Seven Seas Splendor
Separate small ocean liners and mega yachts also await couples looking for an even more intimate experience. For example, the Evrima, a 298-passenger ship from the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, will offer a wellness program in partnership with ESPA, while the Silver Origin, a new 100-passenger ship from Silversea Cruises, will offer eco-adventures in the Galapagos Islands where couples can bond while watching sea lions or blue-footed boobies. Agencies may also consider chartering a small vessel.
If you’re about to sell your clients a cruise for small couples, get help and advice from your portfolio manager, advises Friedman, who says cruise lines have great staff ready to help. Tap into their expertise to make small group travel a reality in the years to come.
Christy Scannell, travel organizer and owner of Dream Vacations, a franchise in San Diego, California, says it’s all about the right fit – choosing the right product and the right boat for couples traveling together, and then living it together. Here are a few ideas for activities she suggests.
On Princess cruises, Scannell offers couples traveling together the opportunity to rent cabins in the onboard sanctuary for more intimate encounters.
Sandec on The Retreat, the Celebrity ship.
On Holland America flights visiting Half Moon Cay, couples can book a private Oasis and enjoy the services of a personal chef, open bar, dedicated servers and a large, beautiful cabin with a huge Jacuzzi and slide overlooking the sea, Scannell said. I rented it with friends and we still talk about the great day we had there.
For small groups of couples traveling on Viking’s ocean liners, she suggests reserving the kitchen table and inviting them to meet while honing their culinary skills in this demonstration kitchen.
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