Cruising into the future: the glorious truth about life at sea

Today’s luxury ships offer facilities to rival the most glamorous hotels and everyone can find a cruise to suit their needs. So let’s ditch a few myths about holidays afloat…

Carnival Legend – it’s the length of three football pitches – packs in the family fun

Carnival Legend – it’s the length of three football pitches – packs in the family fun

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Cruises have changed out of all recognition in recent years and are no longer seen as the preserve of the newlywed, overfed and nearly dead.

As maritime meandering comes of age, fleets of sparkling new ships are offering every facility you can think of – plus many you couldn’t begin to imagine. They have something aboard for everyone, from families and foodies to adventurers and cultural buffs.

For those still on the fence, here we debunk some of the most common cruise misconceptions:

Live it up in Las Vegas then cruise the Californian coast – the ultimate flexible holiday

Live it up in Las Vegas then cruise the Californian coast – the ultimate flexible holiday

Cruises are too rigid – I want more flexibility to explore

Some of the most enjoyable cruise holidays include stays ashore, and there is a fabulous range of combinations on offer. Combine Florida’s theme parks with a Caribbean voyage, or stay in Las Vegas then sail along the Californian coast. Cruise-and-stay can simply mean tagging on a few nights in one of the cruise’s port stops, such as New York, Miami or Hong Kong. Alternatively, step up to a cruise-and-tour option to indulge in a variety of tempting trips. One of the most popular among Britons is Virgin Holidays Cruises’ spectacular Rocky Mountaineer train ride through the Canadian mountains, followed by a cruise to Alaska. The company also offers beach-and-cruise breaks with a stay in Barbados followed by the chance to sail around the Caribbean. Virgin’s cruise-and-stay selection additionally offers: New York breaks with voyages to Bermuda or the Bahamas; Fort Lauderdale and Miami stay with the Caribbean, and Singapore with Vietnam and Thailand.

There’s something for everyone aboard Carnival Sunshine, from a super-splashy waterpark to a Serenity area

There’s something for everyone aboard Carnival Sunshine, from a super-splashy waterpark to a Serenity area

Cruises aren’t family friendly

As long as you pick the right cruise ship, it can be a veritable playground of family-focused activities. Carnival Cruise Lines is among the most kiddie-orientated companies afloat thanks to its fun and friendly atmosphere and host of attractions. In addition to the Camp Ocean kids’ clubs, with activities as diverse as Build-A-Bear workshops, pirate parties and teen karaoke sessions, there’s a stack of deck attractions, such as water play zones and speedy water slides, daredevil ropes courses and Carnival’s SkyRide aerial bike ride. The fun continues ashore with child-friendly excursions encompassing boat trips, kayaking adventures and visits to animal attractions. Family-friendly dining onboard is another plus with a choice of restaurants and the ease of flexible buffets in the Lido Marketplace. Family cabins, some with their own private deck area and pool, complete the all-around generational appeal.

Irresistible dishes created by the celebrity chef Curtis Stone for Princess Cruises

Irresistible dishes created by the celebrity chef Curtis Stone for Princess Cruises

The food won’t be up to scratch

It’s a well-known joke among cruise veterans that passengers can easily put on a pound in weight for each day of their cruise because of the culinary temptations: the range of dining spots covers everything from speciality restaurants to snack bars serving pizzas, burgers and ice creams. Princess Cruises has even teamed up with Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone to bring passengers the culinary pleasures of his “Share” menu. Travellers can also sample upscale Tuscan-inspired dishes at Sabatini’s, a classic Italian trattoria, and succulent prime cuts at the Crown Grill steakhouses. Cruisers on Majestic Princess can try the Chinese cuisine of Harmony, the restaurant set up with chef Richard Chen, and the La Mer bistro, established with French chef Emmanuel Renaut. Princess has also carved out an impressive reputation for its excellent Chef’s Table dinners, hosted by a ship’s executive chef, and its balcony dining, where breakfast and dinner are served in the privacy of your own balcony.

The whimsical Rooftop Garden is a peaceful haven for guests aboard Celebrity Edge

The whimsical Rooftop Garden is a peaceful haven for guests aboard Celebrity Edge

Cruise ships are claustrophobic

With the world’s largest cruise ships taking nearly 7,000 passengers and boasting different neighbourhoods across 18 decks, the last thing anyone will feel is hemmed in. Even on smaller ships, there are lounges, bars and spacious open-deck areas. Modern ship designs are geared to bringing the outside in, with light and airy interiors, while the decks, too, are becoming increasingly imaginative. One of the best exponents is Celebrity Cruises with some of its ships boasting half-an-acre of real grass where passengers can play bowls or take picnics. Its new ship Celebrity Edge promises to push the boundaries with notable design firsts: the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered moving platform on the side of the ship that transforms into different venues; Eden, a giant glass-fronted entertainment venue with windows stretching up three decks; and the whimsical Rooftop Garden, inspired by children’s playgrounds.

Whether you want to learn to scuba dive or salsa, there’s a cruise for you

Whether you want to learn to scuba dive or salsa, there’s a cruise for you

I won’t learn anything new

Cruising is all about new experiences, different destinations and the opportunity to try something fresh. There could be classes on digital film-making, salsa sessions or even scuba diving lessons. With so many new vessels equipped with show kitchens, budding chefs can brush up their culinary skills, too. On the tall ships of Star Clippers, the entire cruise can be a learning process and a refreshing taste of sailing in some of the world’s biggest yachts, powered by Mother Nature. Simply observing the crew shimmying up the masts is fascinating enough, but passengers can help to heave up sails as the ship departs and learn how to tie nautical knots and navigate by the stars. Test your climbing skills by climbing nearly 50ft to the crow’s nest or try kayaking and water-skiing from the ship’s water-sports marina.

Virgin Voyages vows to get trade back on board

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Virgin Voyages has confirmed it will sell through agents and instigate an “epic sea change” in the organisation to make the company a business the trade wants to work with again.

Acknowledging that agents in the UK were hurt when Virgin Holidays severed ties with the trade and became a direct-sell-only brand in 2015, vice‑president of sales and business development Stacy Shaw said: “One of my challenges is agents in the UK assuming we won’t be interested in them selling Virgin Voyages.

“But this is more than just having an interest in the trade selling us. My job is one of creating an epic sea change for the organisation and our partners.

“My job is to create a really good news story for the trade that makes us a company that agents really want to do business with.”

Speaking exclusively to Travel Weekly, Shaw added: “However transactionally profitable and amazing selling Virgin Voyages will be, we want to do more than that. We want to focus on the pain points for agents and take them away.”

A new UK-based international sales director is due to be in place by January who will recruit field sales managers. Shaw said: “Their next job will be looking at commission structures, contracts and how we are going to support the trade with marketing.”

She added: “I expect this to take until mid-year, but from then we will really start engaging with accounts and doing a big blitz with the trade.

“We have a big job to do kicking off all the education. One of the most important jobs for next year with the trade is helping them to understand how we’re different.

“We don’t think our product is for everybody and we will be explicit about that. If agents have customers who are looking for Broadway shows and FlowRiders, Virgin Voyages is not for them.”

Travel lacking expertise in technology consulting, claims Codegen

Travel lacking expertise in technology consulting, claims Codegen

Travel firms are often badly advised about their travel technology needs by advisors who are not sufficiently technically minded, according to one leading supplier.

Codegen, which supplies its Travelbox solution to travel companies including Virgin Holidays and Monarch Group among others, believes a lack of strategic strategy is why a lot of travel IT projects go wrong.

Bharat Patel commercial director at Codegen, said too often firms are blinded by the science and lose sight of the strategic control of the technology project they are working on.

He said: “Where a lot of these projects go wrong is the buying decisions are made by the directors but the actual decisions are made on the ground floor.

“This leads to a strategic divergence between the project’s intentions and what is actually implemented.”

Patel said there needs strong strategic control to ensure an IT project doesn’t just become a replication of an old system.

Monarch Group distribution director Stuart Jackson told Travolution how it is using the implementation of Travelbox to underpin a fundamental transformation in how the organisation operates and a modernisation of its various divisions.

Patel said: “If you bring an outsider in with some technological savvy they will be able to make the right decisions with you. You see so many poor consultants who are features-led.

“For Monarch using Travelbox means they can choose the way they approach their business. The benefit we had working with Monarch was their consultants were not entrenched in a way of working.”

Codegen believes it is now reaping the rewards from its decision to base its technology on the Linux open source platform from the outset when it was established in 1999.

Patel said the firm came from outside of the industry and although there was initial resistance to its approach the web and Java has now come to dominate more traditional forms of travel IT architecture.

“We started off with a standard version based on open source because all our guys did not like Microsoft. They also wanted to be independent, they did not want to be tied down to a particular vendor,” he said.

With the stability and power of Oracle sitting behind Codegen, it believes it has the ability to scale up and has done tests to give it the confidence it can cope with large numbers.

Patel said Codegen has a very clear focus on research and development at its headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka where it employs nearly 200 people, including a number of PhD students.

“A lot of people build technology based on what they learn, but we test out new technology. Our R&D is active 24/7, whether it’s client-led or not

“We work very closely with universities. They can implement what we are doing in their research. You have to be a true technology person to understand the latest technology, you need academic people to go into research papers to find out what this is all about.”

Codegen says its technology is particularly suited to large tour operators and that it gives them the flexibility to operate as a traditional package supplier but also more dynamically creating product and offers on the fly.

The Travelbox system can sit behind all divisions bringing efficiencies in terms of product loading and better more integrated management information.

A recent innovation known as Wide Search allows the user to switch seamlessly between various booking flows, whether that’s traditional packages, pre-packages or flexible packages, allowing agents to tailor trips without moving between systems.

Wide Search is helping Codegen to hone its mobile offering which uses artificial intelligence aimed at generating more relevant, personalised offers for its customers’ customers.

The firm is also looking to exploit voice search and the new generation HTML5 interface as mobile continues to establish itself as a vital channel for travel firms.

“We want to be in a position to be there when the next big thing comes along,” said Patel. “People are becoming more adaptable to technology. The whole mobility side has opened up a lot of avenues. We have devices around us all the time now.

“Business are still 80:20 when it comes to technology and innovation – they want to make sure they protect their core business first. They do not want to be the pioneer. CodeGen brings strong basics and does the pioneering for them.

“New entrants come in with a technology background and some marketing and sometimes they fall down because they have not got the travel experience.

“We see ourselves as innovators and innovators are looking beyond today, they are not stuck looking at the present because if you do that in the IT world you will never survive.”