This is the second in a two-part series on the family cruise market.
When agent Monica Pollack sells family cruises she shares her own experience of cruising with her three kids.
After all, it was the kids – 9-year-old twins and a five-year-old – who helped spearhead her career. Looking for a vacation that would please three generations, the kids as well as her in-laws, she booked a cruise.
"It turned out to be the best vacation we've ever had," Pollack said.
She parlayed the trip into the Cruise Planners/American Express agency that she opened in Franklin Lakes, N.J., in 2011, hitting on a hot market. Many cruise lines are adding kid-friendly features to their ships in response to booming demand for family cruises. (See: Cruise Lines Ramp Up Kid-Friendly Features as Family Market Soars)
Focusing 50/50 on family travel on land and sea, she's now a top Disney producer for Cruise Planners/American Express.
Mary Beth Casey, owner of the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise in Fort Lauderdale, also encourages her 108 agents to share their personal experiences when it comes to selling family cruises. Casey herself has two kids, now in their 20s and with years of cruising experience.
Pollack and Casey offered the following advice for agents looking to tap into the family cruising market.
Pick the right ship
Ship choice is important when it comes to kids. Most clients are looking for a kids' program with a full slate of activities and will get excited by family-friendly cruise ship features including pools and waterslides, said Pollack.
She said she tends to steer families to the newest contemporary ships – such as the Norwegian Epic, Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream and Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
"They are the most fun ships for families," Pollack said.
Casey said some of her clients also gravitate towards premium lines including Celebrity, Princess and Holland America, particularly in Alaska and Europe, or for multigenerational family groups.
A crucial element for many families is the breadth and scope of the kids' activities program, she said.
"Cruise lines have done a great job of age-segmenting the kids and activities and hiring the right counselors," Casey said. "More than the hardware, the software is important."
Qualify the client
That said, it's important to ask the client specific questions about their vacation expectations, Casey said.
For some parents, spending quality time with their kids may be more important than the ship having extensive kids' programming and facilities. And the needs of a multigenerational family group may be different than for a family of four.
"There are questions we get answered to understand who the client is and their preferences," Casey said. "The first pitch is listening. So many times we want to jump to a conclusion because we feel we know the product so well, but first listen to what the moms and dads and grandparents are saying."
Ask clients what they expect from their cruise experience, and try to gleam what they expect o talk about when they get home, Casey suggested. "For some clients it may be kids' camps, for others it may be dining. Start digging to find out whether it's family-focused features or something else."
While parents may be prone to discuss what they want for their kids, it's also important to ask what the adults want out of the vacation, said Pollack.
"What is important to many parents is a place where the kids are happy and the adults get time off," she said. "They want the kids to have the time of their life, but they want their outlet as well."
Use the marketing
Thanks to cruise line advertising efforts, kids and their parents alike are likely to know, or be attracted to, the fact there are a lot of famous cartoon characters appearing on ships these days.
Disney has Mickey and gang, Royal Caribbean Shrek and Fiona and other DreamWorks characters, Norwegian Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and other Nickelodeon TV stars.
The lines offer young passengers lots of opportunity to mingle with the stars, including at character breakfasts and special parties.
Don't discount the attraction of these offerings, the agents said.
You may even want to encourage parents to bring their kids into the vacation discussion.
"If the kids want to go, you're going," said Pollack. "When you push the buttons that make the kids happy, the parents seem to accommodate."
Pay attention to cabin choice
Family clients new to cruising need an education about cruise ship cabins, said Casey.
"You need to explain what triples and quads and suites are all about. Some people think they can just buy the largest cabin and squeeze 10 people into it," she said.
Family cabins that sleep five or connecting cabins work better than standard cabins for some families, she said. But clients don't always understand these accommodations are often the first to sell out – and need to be booked early.
Let clients know cruise ship quarters are small, Pollack advised.
Connecting outside cabins might be better for a family than a balcony cabin, providing a lot more space and two bathrooms, she said. Another option to consider for those with older kids is a balcony cabin for the parents, and an inside across the hall for the kids.
Talk ease of travel
Use as a selling point the fact a cruise vacation is an easy form of travel, Casey said.
"A lot of people like the aspect of visiting wonderful places and only packing and unpacking once and having dinner arranged; that it's all self-contained," she said.
Pollack said she stresses with clients that in the cruise ship kids' programs their progeny can do fun activities that parents or grandparents would find exhausting to replicate on land. Meanwhile the grownups can go to the pool or spa and otherwise relax.
"No one is left out and there is also plenty of time to be together," she said. "Everyone without any hassle can get together for a really nice dinner and then walk to a Broadway show."
Talk time of year
While most parents are looking to take their kids on vacation during school holidays and in the summer – a week in the Caribbean being the most popular option – you'll want to share with budget-focused clients that they may be able to get a better deal at other times of year, Casey said.
"If the kids are young I steer them for other times of year. If they can be flexible with different school vacations we work it that way," she said.
(See part one: Cruise Lines Ramp Up Kid-Friendly Features as Family Market Soars)