[Note: Something that came out in the paper while I was away, hence the belated posting.]
Luxury cruises aren't just for retirees anymore
A ROCK-CLIMBING wall aboard a cruise ship? How about an ice-skating rink? A basketball court? A boxing ring? Even a FlowRider, for surfboarding enthusiasts?
If Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. would have its way, these amenities would become not just novel attractions but standard features on top of the usual smorgasbord offerings of a luxury liner.
“Cruising is not just for old people, contrary to common perceptions,” says Allan Bobby Brown, cruise director of Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas, which is currently plying Asian waters on trips of three to five nights to longer ones of 14 nights.
“We’re breaking the mold and pushing boundaries because we want to attract young people to go cruising. They’ll discover it’s a lot of fun and a great way to have a good time.
“Star Cruises has been in Asia all these years,” he adds. “We’d like to offer something different—an alternative experience. We want to be known as the most innovative cruise line in the world.”
The Legend of the Seas is one of 38 ships owned by Royal Carribean. The company is one of the world’s largest cruise operators, with a passenger capacity of around 78,650 and itineraries touching on some 400 destinations around the globe, from Alaska to Australia, Scandinavia, South America, Europe and the Middle East.
In Asia, Royal Carribean liners set sail from Singapore. A typical three to five-night cruise would take passengers to Penang, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and Phuket in Thailand. A 14-day trip covers more stops, among them Sihanoukville in Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh and Danang in Vietnam and Hong Kong, Xiamen and Shanghai in China.
There’s also a five-night cruise around the South Korean peninsula, touching on Busan and Jeju in South Korea and Fukuoka in Japan.
“Cruising is different from other leisure activities because the ship is a destination in itself,” says Brown.
The Legend of the Seas, for example, not even the biggest in its class, represents luxury and style on the high seas with its well-appointed suites, gleaming marble staircases, Art Deco-inspired lounges and open areas, glass canopies and endless carpeted flooring. The cuisine is international, as is the crew of nearly 800 people from 60 countries (about 15 percent of them Filipinos).
The passenger profile is, more often than not, also global. In the Shanghai cruises, for instance, only 30 percent are Chinese--usually whole families--while the rest come from other countries, says Brown.
They come onboard to experience a mini-metropolis of facilities, amenities and entertainment options, all packed within 11 decks of the ship and designed for maximum rest and recreation: a casino, mini-golf course, gym and spa, outdoor and indoor swimming pools with jacuzzi, library, kiddie playground, medical center, bars and restaurants, cinemas, a Las Vegas-style theater, duty-free shops, even an art gallery that holds auctions.
And, yes, a rock-climbing wall and a basketball court, though not the FlowRider and ice-skating rink, which are present in a bigger class of ships. Royal Carribean claims the rock-climbing wall, which allows one to enjoy the ocean breeze from 30 feet above deck, is a feature unique to its vessels.
The Legend of the Seas—867-feet-long and 105-feet-wide—can host 2,074 guests and a crew of 726. There are 11 passenger elevators and 902 staterooms, all of which are outfitted with private bath, phone, television, mini-bar and individually controlled air-conditioning.
The gargantuan nature of the ship’s operation can be gleaned from its food requirements. A three to four-day cruise, says F&B manager John Denton, entails 800 cases of beer, 430 gallons of ice cream, 4,322 pounds of banana, 11,748 pounds of potatoes, 12,000 pounds of flour, 11,826 pounds of beef, 475 cases of soda, 8,450 pounds of cheese, 6,000 pounds of watermelon, 4,925 bottles of wine, 9,500 individual milk cartons, 4,200 pounds of chicken, 600 pounds of hotdogs, 11,000 pounds of bread and 20,160 eggs.
These translate to some 46,740 meals served onboard--with a special accent on Asian cuisine now that the ship is going around Asia. Most foodstuff are brought in packed and frozen after inspection and certification by the company’s Miami office.
Denton says the ship has received a clean bill of health from the US Public Health Service--a 100-percent rating, which is “quite a rare achievement, because those guys check everything—the rooms, the temperatures, the bedsheets, even the fingernails of our crew.”
Depending on the season and the stateroom selected, a typical three-night “Best of Malaysia” cruise (Singapore-Penang-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore) aboard the Legend of the Seas will set back travellers by $299-$649. That can rise to about $1699-$3499 for a 14-night cruise all the way to Shanghai in China, with eight other ports of call along the way, with overnight stays in places such as Hong Kong and Bangkok.
To serve the Asian market more fully, the Legend of the Seas will be back in the region by November 2009 after its European tour, to be deployed year-round in Asia.
That gives travellers and plain R&R seekers more opportunities to experience the continent’s choice sights--from the quaint charms of Penang to the gleaming skyscrapers of Shanghai--while taking things easy aboard a leisurely-moving, and leisure-packed, vessel.
The promise of onboard pampering, after all, combined with a chance to visit exotic locales, has always been at the heart of the luxury liner’s allure.
Add innovative touches geared for the young and sporty, and the next time a long holiday weekend looms, those with a sense of high adventure--and the money to underwrite that impulse--may very well take a second look at an activity only their pensioned grandfolks used to get excited about.
For information on Royal Carribean cruises, call Arpan Air Inc., +632-8922702 to 03, +632-8943957.
PLUS: That unmistakable Pinoy smile--Coleen Sanchez (below), from Binangonan, Rizal, has worked for five years now as a food server aboard Royal Caribbean ships.