Choosing The Right Ship Is About Asking The Right Questions

by Vanessa Lee

Celebrity Cruises' 2,886 guest Silhouette

When I am in social situations and people ask what I do, the natural follow up question is, “Which cruise should I go on?" or sometimes the very disturbing, “I went on a cruise and didn't really like it" and even, “We were on a cruise with a family group but it was too big and too regimented".

Such comments are often disheartening but I have my spiel down to rebut those shared objections. And, I would be most interested to know how you, the travel retailer, manages such responses.

What I do when someone asks for suggestions about the “right cruise for me," is to ask specific and direct questions about their lifestyle. Bear in mind, I have usually just met these people but they are in a mutual environment, so that gives me a clue. It's harder for a travel professional, if meeting a potential new client in their office or on the phone, to be able to discern more about the prospect. But, those questions are critical and frankly, as people do like to talk about themselves, it's not too hard to get them to open up and give you clues as to the kind of ship or itinerary that may suit them.

Windstar's 310 guest Wind Surf

What is often the case, is that these people might have been on 1 or 2 cruises and invariably have cruised on one of the large, mainstream brands or on a ship with at least 3,000 guests. I do understand why that would be a 1st cruise pick, and it does works for a lot of people but, it doesn't work for everyone. The issue is getting a share of voice or share of mind re smaller vessels that may suit these clients better.

Now, as we know, river cruising is a big topic everywhere these days. Everyone I meet seems to want to try one. Even people in their 30's. And, frankly I do tell them that river is really not for them just yet – unless perhaps it is to an exotic locale. Some of you may disagree but, I have a number of river cruises under my belt and although I really enjoy them, I still find they are best suited to those active travelers - mid 50's to mid 60's up.

Royal Caribbean's 4,905 guest
Quantum of the Seas

Every cruise line is trying to get their average age down and when they do they shout those stats from the roof tops. But I don't believe it's all about age; what it is about is fitting the right person to the right cruise for a variety of reasons. Many people would prefer a smaller ship of less than 1000 (or 500) people but if they are a 1st time cruiser, then I believe the likelihood of a travel agent offering them such a cruise would be remote. Many want really fabulous food and wine and a more inclusive experience but those points are often missed. And the reality is that the marketing of the major brands is so creative and effective that most prospects will ask for one of those brands and that's what they will be sold. And there is nothing wrong with it UNLESS they come back unhappy and feel that all ships are massive, with lots of crowds and activities but perhaps are too mainstream for their tastes.

Uniworld's 159 guest S.S. Catherine

Just remember that some people really do have champagne tastes but believe they are on a beer budget. Perhaps they don't take the time to express their real needs OR the agent doesn't ask the right questions. Maybe the fit is somewhere in the middle – a Prosecco sparkling wine or a great California cab. It doesn't have to be champagne or beer.

Loads of people LOVE big ships full of myriad activities but that has to be discerned. Some want activity but they are happy to get it onshore and on the ship they want a more rarefied atmosphere. But, if this is a 1st or even 2nd cruise, then the client doesn't really know what they want and it's highly unlikely they understand the range of options. And so many do 1 or 2 cruises and then “park" that type of vacation for a number of years while they head back to the beach.

Un-Cruise Adventures 36 guest
Safari Explorer

Most people will eventually try a river cruise and “get" the small ship experience often leading them to seek more of those types of vessels both on oceans and rivers. However, if most people who take a river cruise are in their 50's or 60's, we don't want to keep them away from small or medium size ships until that stage of their “cruising career".

It's a dilemma and I don't pretend to have an easy answer, but one thing we can all do is to continue offering a variety of valuable and value-added options to all cruise prospects and ensure they understand there are so many fabulous cruise line choices out there – ranging from 100 to over 6,000 guests. And yes, there is a ship (and more) for them. Just try and sell them the right ship the 1st time and you will absolutely have repeat guests for life.

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