Gone are the days of regimented dining times and one grand dining hall on cruise ships. Cruise vacations have evolved to include in-demand venues that replicate the ambiance of fine dining restaurants; the flavors of pan-Asian menus; food market-style stations bursting with choice; and destination bars offering boutique labels and inventive cocktail programs.
With the boundaries of food and beverage programs being pushed across nearly every sector of cruising, the interest of clients in culinary experiences is also piquing.
“More and more, culinary has taken center stage on cruises,” says Anne Scully, longtime luxury travel advisor and Partner of Agent Development at EMBARK Beyond. “Most of my cruise clients now know the names of top chefs. They have learned to cook and are really great at it — they have kitchens most chefs would be envious of. I have watched this area of the cruise industry grow year after year.”
The variety of options for dining and imbibing mimics offerings at land-based resorts; a helpful selling point for clients who are new-to-cruise.
“An elevated food and beverage experience is a key driver of client decision-making, particularly among those with an aversion to cruise vacations,” says Bob Bradley, a Vancouver-based advisor at the Pampered Cruiser, an independent affiliate of SmartFlyer. “Their logic is that in a hotel, you don't want to eat in the hotel's lobby restaurant every night (no matter how good it is), so why would you do so in a ship's main dining room? Having multiple options with different culinary themes and offerings helps us get non-cruisers to try out cruise vacations. The cruisers like the choice too.”
“When people are paying for a luxury product, they want choice. They are not interested in being herded to a main dining room at a set time and choosing off a set menu,” Bradley tells us. “Much like an upscale urban hotel, they want to ‘walk down the street’ and have a variety of restaurants to choose from.”
Partnerships with celebrity chefs and renowned mixologists infuse excitement into bookings for foodie clients. But when it comes to small-group culinary excursions or exclusive Chef’s Table experiences, the key is to identify that need and make those bookings as soon as possible.
“Clients enjoy wine-pairing dinners, and those reservations need to be made in advance,” advises Scully. “Cooking schools onboard and going to market with the chef again can be hard to get reservations for, so book early!”
Even if a few meals are enjoyed off the ship, specialty dining and drink packages have become an integral part of the cruise experience, as Scully points on with some quick math.
“If you are on a two-week cruise, you have a minimum of 42 meals onboard. Clients see wine and food as entertainment and the best part of their day as they share companionship with family, friends, and new friends they have met during meals onboard.”
So why not use the togetherness that meals evoke, especially on vacation, as a tool to entice clients to consider modern cruising?
“Clients are increasingly asking detailed questions about the diversity of culinary offerings onboard ships,” Bradley tells us. “They'll ask about healthy food options, or maybe about specialized beverages. All the cruise lines are expected to have an extensive wine list, but increasingly people are asking about mixology, scotch or bourbon selections, craft beer, and sake.
The cruise lines that make it easy for me to answer these questions get their brand presented first.”
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