Posted by: cruise2 | 14 December, 2010

From Cruise Ship Via Floating Resort To Theme Park

…with kind permission of Mark Tre

Well, this year it has all finally come true, and in a way that is quite surprising really. The evolution of cruise ships has now worked its way from traditional cruise ship through floating resort to its latest incarnation, floating theme park. Bob Dickinson at Carnival Cruise Lines used to say that cruising’s real competition was not other cruise ships but Las Vegas and land-based attractions.

But in the past few months, it has not been Carnival that has taken on this competition, but its arch-competitors in Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line. Contrary to what some may have expected, in the past, Carnival is now emerging as one of the more conservative lines.

When ships started to be built of a size above 100,000 tons it began to be said that they were no longer cruise ships but were in fact floating resorts, complete with their spas and various other divertissements. Even Douglas Ward of the "Berlitz Guide to Cruising" started to call them floating resorts. But in the past year, with ships either side of 200,000 tons, we have in fact been presented with floating theme parks, with Starbucks, Guess shops, beaneries and yes, kids’ entertainment.

NCL was the first to follow in the steps of Premier and Disney by signing to bring cartoon characters on board, in their case, from Nickelodeon, which previewed in Norwegian Jewel in April and on the new Norwegian Epic in July. NCL was followed six months later by Royal Caribbean International, who signed a similar deal with DreamWorks Animation, and went even further by engaging the fictitious character of Princess Fiona to christen its latest and greatest ship, Allure of the Seas.

Premier Cruise Line, founded in 1983, had been the first line to adopt cartoon characters. Working with the Universal Studios theme park at Orlando, it also obtained a contract from Disney to package its 3- and 4-day cruises to the Bahamas from Port Canaveral together with a visit to Disney World at Orlando.
Sold as "the official Disney cruise line," its ships were also marketed under the name "The Big Red Boat," and they sailed from Port Canaveral because it was the closest cruise port to Orlando.

When Disney decided to start its own cruise line in the early 1990s, Premier signed a deal with Warner Brothers and the cartoon characters appearing on board became those of Looney Tunes instead.

In those days, this was a minor part of the market, operated by second-hand ships sailing from an out-of-the-way port. After trying to get into the mainstream cruise market as well using more second-hand ships, Premier would survive for a while but eventually went bankrupt in September 2000.

With the formation of Disney Cruise Line, brand-new ships were introduced to the Port Canaveral-Bahamas circuit with the 83,300-ton Disney Magic in 1998 and her sister ship Disney Wonder in 1999. The first real ships to operate more or less as theme parks, these 1,750-berth sisters offered complete facilities for families and specific facilities for children of all ages. While Disney operates more as a niche product than a mainsteam one, this is not a detriment. In fact, Disney’s niche has allowed it to charge a premium on fares compared to the more mainstream lines.

Last week, Disney’s expansion continued when it took delivery of its third ship, the new 122,000-ton Disney Dream, with 2,500 lower berths. She will be followed by a fourth, her sister ship Disney Fantasy, in 2012. Through expanding its itineraries into Europe, the Far East, Alaska and the West Coast, Disney Cruise Line has expanded its scope of operation but also continued to be a non-mainstream type of operation.

More alarming than Premier or Disney, is the crossover that is now taking place into the mainstream market, where cartoon characters have invaded the normally more restrained world of cruising. This started on January 13, with NCL announcing that it was introducing "Nickelodeon at Sea," with a claim that Nickelodeon was the "number one entertainment brand for kids."

Beginning in April on Norwegian Jewel and in July on Norwegian Epic, strange characters such as Spong Bob Square Pants and Dora the Explorer began to appear on what used to be quite normal cruise ships. Nickelodeon at Sea had ironically started as a joint venture of Viacom, its owners, with Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, but after a couple of test cruises by Royal Caribbean in 2009, they dropped out.

The NCL and Nickelodeon announcement has been carried a step further by Royal Caribbean, who announced on June 4, that it had signed with DreamWorks Animation to offer similar kids’ programmes. Starting with the Allure of the Seas on December 1, this contagion will spread to the Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas in 2011.

Instead of Sponge Bob, the likes of Shrek, Princess Fiona and Kung Fu Panda will appear on board, "live and in person" according to Royal Caribbean. The reality, however, will be that some poor real person will be in each costume, perspiring profusely in the Caribbean heat. One irony is that, although this could change, DreamWorks Animation films are distributed through Viacom’s Paramount Pictures. So there is a Viacom connection with both NCL and Royal Caribbean’s kids’ programmes.

In the case of both NCL and Royal Caribbean, passengers can look forward to themed interactive shows, poolside entertainment, character breakfasts, character meet and greets, dance parties and more. We can only hope that they do like Disney Cruise Line and announce when these various sessions will be held, so that more serious-minded adults can avoid them. And in an underhanded sort of way, NCL will be charging for the kids’ parents for character breakfasts, where their children get to meet who they think are their heroes, while Royal Caribbean will be holding regular parades on its Royal Promenades.

In the end, trying to attract the kids market really seems sneaky. It’s like trying to sell cruises the way sugar-coated cereal companies and chocolate bar producers used to advertise their goodies on television. The aim is clearly to attract more families to cruise, and it appears that the debate will no longer be whether to appeal to the husband or the wife but how to get at them through their children.

A couple of things are interesting here. First, at least for now, these programmes are restricted to only a few ships, something that indicates that they are probably still under trial. And second, Royal Caribbean has already tried this with Nickelodeon but gave it up. Presumably it feel that DreamWorks is a better asset than Nickelodeon.

On the other side, it is interesting that Carnival has not signed up for any kid’s shows yet, nor does it seem to feel it has to. In fact, its newest ship, Carnival Breeze, will be the first whose interior design is not headed up by Joe Farcus. Perhaps these are signs that it might be interested in picking up that element of the clientele of their competitors that will be disaffected by these childish hijinks.

Meanwhile, the children’s entertainment contest goes international in 2011, with Nickelodeon signing a deal with Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, where a Nickelodeon Land is set to open in April, and Shrek the Musical scheduled to open at London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in May. But what has this got to do with cruising?


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