Don't Miss The Boat!
Selling Small Ship Cruising Is Well Worth It

by Vanessa Lee

Verandah al fresco dining during the day turns into Candles at night

Wind Surf sailing into the sunset - time to choose a spot for dinner... magical time of day on the yacht.

Barbecue on deck, Crew Show & dance

I have received a lot of interest about my article on my recent sailing aboard Wind Surf, Windstar's 310 guest sailing vessel which is one of my all-time favourite ships. So I thought I would expand a little about the onboard dining experience and why so many industry folk really do love small-ship cruising but aren't selling these special experiences to their clients.

And it is a mystery to me in that regard: many small ship lines, along with river cruise companies are suffering a little bit as it really is an odd time in the industry. I wish I had a crystal ball and could figure out what is going on as the summer of 2015 seems to have been swept into the doldrums. And the big boys aren't having the best time either but they seem to be able to manage to get enough last-minute business to boost guest boardings and ensure they get the required onboard revenue.

I have voiced a few reasons for this slight drop, others have their opinions but no-one seems quite able to pin it down. Clearly the CAD taking a dive didn't help, and maybe Viking Star with its 1,000 guests every 2 weeks or so has poached some people from river and niche. But there are still some missing pieces to this puzzle. Turkey has sadly dropped off many wish lists resulting in weaker Eastern Med demand.

These issues are often cyclical and as long as we are all doing what we can as much as we can, we will still drive cruisers to book – maybe not right now but likely in a few months or for sailings in 2016 (which does actually seem to be trending well).

Having been in this biz for more than 36 years, I suspect I have pretty much seen it all. But, what I still don't always understand is that so many “real people" frequently approach me to ask about small ship cruising. They tell me they want to do it; they like the sound of it, but they are not being offered such trips. River is different as there has been such a huge wave towards river people don't seem to need much of a push in that direction.

Anyway I would love to hear your thoughts about what you feel is going on in the industry right now, how your clients are reacting and where you are seeing some successes or indeed if you also have some puzzlement at what is, or is not selling.

Back to the Wind Surf and my fabulous cruise earlier this month.

This ship has 3 dining venues for dinner which is one of its key features for me. The main dining room, AmphorA has a variety of table sizes to accommodate couples or small groups of new found friends who wish to dine together. The menu changes nightly and it is a very pretty room.

However much as I enjoy it, most of the time I like to dine outside on this ship so Candles on the top deck by the Verandah restaurant is a hot spot. The menu at Candles is naturally limited and has lots of seafood, steaks etc and a few salads and soups. However, it is very good and you can get all sorts of sauces for your steak or chop. The service is friendly, informal but still excellent and on a lovely evening you can enjoy the warm breeze and the sounds of the ocean as you sit, under cover, on deck. Candles does require reservations, ideally at the beginning of the cruise and the ship limits how many times you can reserve (same at nearby Stella Bistro, the alternative restaurant). However if you show up around 8 or 8.30 and they have tables, they will seat you. And this does happen and it usually works.

Stella is a lovely French Bistro with a fixed menu but it is very, very good. Lobster, rack of lamb, lobster bisque and French onion soup are staples on this menu and the staff here are also outstanding.

The other great thing about Windstar is their outdoor barbecue party on one night each cruise. Everyone sits outside, the chefs cook all manner of tasty things, the band plays, guests dance and misbehave and then the crew entertains. A fabulous time for all - and suitably casual of course – in the style of Windstar.

(will not be published)