Thomson Cruises adds Guatemala to winter programme

Thomson Cruise ship (the shadow is of MSC Poesia); photo by Dave Jones

by Phil Davies

Guatemala is being introduced together with more Cuba calls in an expanded Caribbean programme by Thomson Cruises for winter 2017-18.

Three ships will be based in the region including Thomson Celebration moving to a new homeport of La Romana in the Dominican Republic.

All-inclusive ships Tui Discovery and new addition Tui Discovery 2 will join Thomson Celebration and will sail out of Bridgetown, Barbados and Montego Bay, Jamaica respectively.

Thomson Celebration’s move to the Dominican Republic opens more opportunities to combine cruises with beach stays, with the new Sensatori Resort Punta Cana among properties added to the portfolio.

The port of Santo Tomas de Castilla in Guatemala is introduced on new Tui Discovery 2 itinerary, as well as Nassau in The Bahamas as part of re-positioning sailing.

The number of Cuban sailings on the new ship will be increased, giving passengers more chance to explore Havana during overnight stops.

Other destinations include St Lucia, Grenada and Antigua, St Maarten and Martinique.

Tui Discovery will sail on two new itineraries from Barbados, which include calls St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The cruises will be served by new regional Thomson Airways flights from Cardiff, Doncaster Sheffield, East Midlands, Glasgow, Newcastle and Stansted in addition to Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick.

Thomson Dream will move to its new homeports of Santa Cruz, Tenerife and Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in November 2017.

Thomson Majesty and Thomson Spirit will both embark on their last sailings in November 2017 from Malaga and Limassol respectively before they leave the fleet.

The winter 2017 programme goes be on sale from Thursday (November 17).

Free all-inclusive upgrades are available on selected cruises on board Thomson Celebration, Thomson Dream, Thomson Majesty and Thomson Spirit which set sail between November 2017 and April 2018. Tui Discovery and Tui Discovery 2 offer all-inclusive packages as standard.

Thomson Cruises managing director Richard Sofer said: “We’re really excited about the introduction of the Dominican Republic as Thomson Celebration’s base for next winter.

“This is the first time we’ll have had three ships in the Caribbean and that means we can continue to offer more choice and flexibility to our customers, who we know are looking more and more for holidays further afield.”

Royal Caribbean introduces overnight shore excursions

Tikal National Park – GoUNESCO

Royal Caribbean International said it will offer shore excursions that include overnight stays on select cruises.

The new Multi-Day Adventures program offers two-day overnight explorations in Greece; Bangkok; and Tikal, Guatemala.

The excursions let passengers leave their ship in one destination and rejoin at the next port of call. They include fully guided tours, dining, airfare (where applicable), hotel accommodations and transportation. Pricing wasn’t disclosed.

As an example, passengers can book flights from either Belize or Honduras to Tikal National Park, a Mayan archaeological site. The trip includes an overnight tour, an expedition to walk the ruins and a Mayan ceremonial experience, plus return flight.

Special Report: Flying start for new UK Royal Caribbean boss

By Hollie-Rae Merrick 

Special Report: Flying start for new UK Royal Caribbean bossRoyal Caribbean International’s new managing director, UK and Ireland, Stuart Leven tells Hollie-Rae Merrick about his first eight weeks in  role

Stuart Leven admits he had not realised the significance of the peak booking period for the cruise sector until he started his job eight weeks ago.

As the turn-of-year booking rush looms, the new UK and Ireland managing director of Royal Caribbean International says he’s also been surprised by how strong trade relations are in the sector.

Leven has moved fast in his first two months, acquainting himself with the workings of the company, visiting the line’s new call centre in Guatemala, flying to Miami to meet the rest of the team and spending time with travel agents up and down the UK.

He has even managed to squeeze in a ship visit – his first cruise experience.

And he has worked with the team on the announcement that Anthem of the Seas would call Southampton home – something he is particularly excited about.

Leven has also brought in a 20-strong sales team, is recruiting for a head of finance and has appointed a head of PR, who will join in the new year.

He believes it all adds up to an important new era for Royal Caribbean International, as it prepares for its first full year as a standalone brand in the UK with its own dedicated team, as well as with new ships on the horizon.

Over the past few weeks Leven has spent a lot of time in agencies around the UK. It is, he says, “a vital part of my role and it isn’t something I will stop doing”.

“Having worked in other areas of the leisure industry, I had not understood how strong the relationship was between Royal Caribbean and the travel trade.

“This is a very exciting and innovative company that is bringing its newest and most innovative ship, Anthem of the Seas, to the UK. That shows tremendous commitment and belief in the market.”

Leven credits the industry’s “unbelievably passionate” cruise experts for its growth.

“There are agents out there who see selling cruises as a part of their job, whether they work as a cruise expert in a multiple or an independent,” he says.

“But there are a lot of agents who we still need to reach. We need to go further to educate them, first about cruises in general, then to turn their attention to Royal Caribbean.”

Speaking about agents’ response to the Anthem announcement, Leven says: “The theme of Anthem has really caught people’s imaginations. I think it shows great commitment to the UK that it will be based in Southampton and agents appreciate that commitment.”

He believes attracting new-to-cruise passengers is vital for the entire industry, not just Royal Caribbean, and says educating agents is the first step to attracting newcomers.

Yet as well as regarding new-to‑cruise holidaymakers as a “massive opportunity” and a “big challenge”, Leven is also still keen to show avid cruisers who haven’t experienced Royal Caribbean what they are missing.

Call centre staff in Guatemala undergo training

Staff at Royal Caribbean International’s new Guatemala call centre have undergone a three-stage training process.

Stuart Leven said that while he expected a “few bumps in the road”, he was confident the centre would offer exceptional standards.

“I have set up six call centres in my career and there are always teething problems, but you work through any issues,” he said. “I’m very positive about the whole thing – this is a really good call centre.”

The centre has been taking calls from agents for the past two weeks. Prior to that the staff were put through technical training to learn the systems, before undertaking training in culture and knowledge.

The cruise line sent Legend of the Seas to Guatemala so the call centre staff could experience it first-hand.

“It’s important the people working in our call centre are passionate about the product,” said Leven.

Royal Caribbean International retained five members of staff from the previous UK-based call team to support the Guatemala office with promotions and product information.

Independence set for Southampton finale

Independence of the Seas is selling well for 2014 – its final year sailing from Southampton – after a “successful six years”.

Leven said: “One thing that definitely has resonated with me is the fact that we don’t just have Royal Caribbean fans – we have fans of the individual ships themselves. The fact that next year is Independence’s last year out of Southampton has caused a lot of feeling and we are seeing a lot of support for the ship.”

Independence of the Seas will next year operate 15 sailings out of Southampton, with the last one departing on November 1.