Families have always been at the heart of the cruise industry—and as the mega-ships continue to roll out, their importance is growing.
For travel agents, family cruises are a good way to generate return business and healthy commissions. But with so many options, it’s not easy to pair a family with the appropriate sailing. The key, insiders say, lies in qualifying your clients carefully.
“It’s all about understanding your clients’ needs and what they are looking for in a cruise vacation to experience,” said CLIA senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications Lorri Christou.
“You have to qualify them; you have to find out what they like, what they want to do, what they want to spend,” agreed Jack Fingerman, owner of Cruises Inc. in Mount Laurel, NJ.
It’s more than just asking a few questions, Fingerman said. You have to find out what clients want to spend, where they want to go, and what kind of family they will be bring.
“Some families are athletic, some are more into science,” said Lisa Heeter, an agent with CruiseOne. “There’s a different ship for each one.”
When a client asks about family cruises, the first thing Heeter does is to carefully outline what their experience will be like on board each different ship. “We take a look at the deck plan and see what’s there for the kids and the families to do, whether it’s a water park or a rock wall,” she said.
Each cruise line has its iconic onboard feature that grabs attention—Royal Caribbean has its skydiving simulator and Flowrider; Carnival will have the first IMAX at sea; Norwegian has its top-deck rope course. Often that’s enough to convince a family it’s the best ship for them.
For others, though, especially those with young children, it often comes down to the formal children’s program. And, according to Heeter and Fingerman, Royal may be the king of the family program.
Besides the DreamWorks partnership announced last month, Royal Caribbean has plenty to offer onboard for children. Its Adventure Ocean Youth Program caters to children ages 3 to 11 and other programs serve tweens and teens of older ages.
“I’ve had clients say their kids didn’t even want to eat dinner with them because they were having such a good time,” Fingerman said.
Carnival, Norwegian, Disney, and other large-ship ocean cruise lines all have their own kids programs—tiered by ages—to match Royal Caribbean, but Heeter and Fingerman said they see a piqued interest from their clients because of the diversity of the activities on Royal’s ships.
Luxury and river cruises
Despite river cruise executives proclaiming that their passengers include a new, younger generation of customers and families, neither Heeter nor Fingerman is seeing much interest from full family groups with young children.
Fingerman said that the interest from his families with children is “not that high” on river or luxury cruises because of the lack of activities on the ship.
“I had one client who did the Baltic itinerary,” he said. “The kids have to be sophiscated and really into where they’re going to enjoy it. Once you come back to the ship, there’s nothing to do.”
“I haven’t really seen that as of yet,” agreed Heeter. “That’s very cultural when you’re talking about river cruising or luxury cruising. A 6-year-old has a small attention span; you have to be quickly able to go to something else other than culture.”
For families, Heeter and Fingerman both agreed, agents can never really going wrong selling the mega-ships, a segment that always seems to be surging.