Tag Archives: cruising

The events-on-cruise-ships idea attests to the adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, and more shipboard meeting options are available than ever before. Yet it represents a market in Australasia with more potential than is currently being realised, The Siteseer recently discovered.

On a five-day voyage from Sydney to Hobart and back aboard the giant new, high-tech Ovation of the Seas, we made some interesting findings. Chief among them:

It’s fantastic value

The meetings-aboard offer is highly competitive. Delegates can meet, eat and have fun on the ship from the equivalent of around USD 200 per person per day.

As Ovation hotel director John Rae (pictured below) said in an interview with The Siteseer while at sea, “When you factor in the holiday aspect, depending on where you are, how long you’re on for and the ports you’ll be visiting, it’s tremendous value. Marvellous food and entertainment is laid on, and the entire program outside the actual meeting and event component is taken care of for you.”

IMG_1208Value-for-money considerations span perks like group discounts and a points system that can earn groups onboard privileges.

Moreover specialist staff aboard can arrange events specifically for each group, like private shore excursions, cocktail hours or other team-building exercises.

It’s as flexible as land-based options

A decade ago, Royal Caribbean International had half a dozen ships. Today it has 25 with five operating down under.

Ovation of the Seas itself is currently cruising a lengthy maiden southern summer season that’s expected to inject more than $35 million into the Australian national economy, according to Adam Armstrong, managing director for the company in Australia and New Zealand.

Events are now a major business for the company. Each ship has customisable venues to suit groups from 18 to 400 people in fit-for-purpose meetings facilities on board or, indeed, the entire ship if bookings are made well enough in advance.

But the run-of-the-ship theatres, lounges, and outdoor spaces can also accommodate groups as small as 25 and as large as 1,394 according to Adam.

Organisers can book a “neighbourhood” on the Oasis or Quantum Class vessels or an “evening reception under the stars” in the Solarium, an enclosed, glassed-in space on an upper deck.

RCI_OV_KungFuPandaRFor example at the time of publication, Ovation was planning to host a fiftieth birthday celebration for 500 people for a bank when it arrived in Singapore, as well as a conference for travel company Expedia, also for 500.

“What we have to do with groups this size is work around some of the bigger public venues on board,” he said.

This means hosting an awards ceremony in the big Royal Theatre or the “Two70,” the cavernous venue, which doubles as a fully equipped theatre for big stage shows, at the stern.

Meantime the dedicated conference facilities on Ovation can be split into four rooms, so organisers could arrange a plenary session with two breakout rooms off it, for instance.

“In Hong Kong and China we recently had famous singers coming on to do a cabaret act as part of a client’s event,” said John. “And we run charters too.”

CruiseCo, a consortium of cruise travel specialists, organises a range of musical charters including Rock the Boat, Cruise Country and Bravo (musical theatre) annually on Royal Caribbean ships in Australasia, with musicians playing in all venues and appropriately themed events for the duration of the trip. “These are some of the best cruises I’ve done,” says John. “Everyone’s there for the same reason, and the atmosphere is great.”

The food is first-class

Flexibility extends to a plethora of dining options. According to group coordinator on Ovation of the Seas Marla Baybay (pictured below), depending on the guests and the part of the world in which the voyages are taking place, chefs on board can produce specific menus for groups, and arrange halal and kosher meals as well.

These meal requests must be made well in advance so the ship has enough stock and can deliver group expectations.

IMG_1192The scale of the restaurant operations is astonishing. Restaurant Operations Manager on Ovation of the Seas Koksal Merdamert (pictured below right, with head chef Sebastian Holda), oversees the serving of around 20,000 meals a day to 4,900 passengers and 1,500 crew.

On a typical seven-day cruise, travellers will consume 3,300 kilos of chicken, 3,750 dozen eggs, 5,100 kilos of beef and 1,700 kilos of french fries.

There are 18 dining options aboard, Koksal said, including Jamie Oliver’s first Australian restaurant at sea, Jamie’s Italian, Chops Grille steakhouse and an Izumi Japanese.

In some eateries like these, the ship charges guests an additional fee. One such venue is the quirky restaurant known as Wonderland, with design themes that resonate with Lewis Carroll’s famous book. The eclectic menu here when we were aboard included “oceanic citrus,” crispy crab cones, duck-liver fritters, “vanishing noodles,” “liquid lobster” (bone marrow and caviar) and eggs in blue cheese and hot sauce.

It’s notable, however, that the other non-chargeable dining options also serve outstanding, classy meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner – from the white-linen and silver-service-type venues such as Silk, American Icon Grill and Windjammer Marketplace – a vast foodcourt.

IMG_1273To run them all efficiently, Koksal and his teams must plan menus up to a year in advance. Wherever possible, the ship’s provisioners order fresh local produce from the ports they visit, and adjust menus in line with guests’ feedback, he said.

“We obviously tailor menus according to which part of the world we’re cruising in,” Koksal said.

“In Asia we’ll serve proportionately more items that suit local tastes like dumplings, noodles and congee. If we can’t serve something that’s on the menu, like New York steak say, we’ll replace it with something even better, perhaps rack of lamb.”

As The Siteseer discovered, events organisers shouldn’t swallow whole the vast majority of complaints about the food, or ship, made on online forums about any vessel. For some reason cruise ships attract a selection of whingers. (“It’s not as good as previous times,” “we had to wait twenty minutes” and so forth. Which begs the question, why do you keep returning? ).

The ships are enticing destinations themselves

Ovation of the Seas claims to be the newest, biggest, most technologically advanced cruise liner to sail in Australasia. This becomes obvious from the moment you check in before boarding when a smiling staffer check your details and asks you to sign you name on a iPad until the time you disembark with an electronic beep scanning your personal cruise card.

“It’s a game-changer for cruising down under,” said Adam Armstrong, managing director Australia and New Zealand.

IMG_1224Added John Rae: “I’ve worked for Royal Caribbean since 9/11 and it’s a phenomenally dynamic work environment, and Ovation is, without doubt, technologically and in its design, in every way, far ahead of everything else.”

At 348 metres long, 18 decks high and weighing 168,666 tons, it’s the fourth-largest cruise ship in the world, with theatre shows, comedy and quiz gig, live bands, plus some genuinely new and gee-whizzey features.

These include North Star, an air-conditioned passenger pod at the end of a hydraulic boom that hoists people about a hundred metres into the air above the ship (we enjoyed this greatly, on a blustery day), and iFly, a vertical wind tunnel in which a powerful fan allows more intrepid guests to simulate free-falling from an aircraft.

Plus there’s a well-equipped gym, vertical climbing wall for mountaineering fans and bumper cars, just like you’d find at a fairground.

Given all these attractions, it’s not surprising that many groups will hold intensive meetings on the first three days of a voyage, then let their people relax and enjoy the trip afterwards, said Marla Baybay.

The business is booming, everywhere

Raw data speaks for itself. There are more and more ships down under, and Australasian seasons are generally getting longer, moving beyond the peak periods of school holidays.

RCI_OV_MusicHallThe Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has revealed that global cruise travel – leisure and group – is continuing to grow and evolve at a record pace. Some 24.2 million people cruised in 2016, a million more than the previous year and almost two million more than the year before that.

“Our meetings and events business afloat changes from market to market, the time of year and the types of group and event we’re hosting, but there’s absolutely no doubt it’s growing,” said John Rae.

It’s “greener” than you may think

As CSR is increasingly important to planners and delegates, it’s notable that the Ovation is flagged by its marketers as one of the “greenest” ships afloat.

For instance it’s equipped with air lubrication systems on the hull to reduce fuel consumption, and Royal Caribbean has removed all incandescent lights; much of the lighting on board is operated by motion sensors.

“We recycle, separate and actually earn money from recycled glass and paper at the ports we visit, with the proceeds shared among the crew,” said Koksal Merdamert. “We adhere to all relevant marine waste standards.”

What makes a group? Eight staterooms or more. Other than that, there are no requirements. You can book a group cruise for weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries, family and class reunions, church retreats and birthdays. To find out more or book, go here or visit the Royal Caribbean International site.

Book well in advance for best results, say these incentive guests

What do people who’ve actually held meetings on this ship say? The Siteseer spoke to Rechelle Dare and Tina Pizzoni (pictured below), Gold Coast- and Brisbane-based managers respectively for helloworld travel. They were on an incentive trip for 14 people from various agencies.

We’ve found the level of support and service terrific. We’re here as recognition for being top achievers in our company. The ship’s people including a maitre ‘d gave us a heads-up about the things we can tell our clients, plus we’ve had a tour of the galley and back stage at the theatre. Fascinating.

We’ve liked the conference facilities where we’ve been holding our more formal meetings at the rear of the ship. We’ve also had a special function in one of the bars [Vintages] which was set aside for us especially. I think the idea of conferences and incentives at sea is fantastic. It’s easier to plan, and you can do as much as you want to or not.

One issue for large groups is that you must book well in advance, so securing space early is key. The conference facilities on board aren’t big enough for really large groups, so you’d need to look at reserving one of the theatres. We’ve been involved in one event afloat where we took up a lot of the ship; we were about 500 strong.

We’ve loved it, eaten wonderful food and had a great time.


The 49 participants in the recent “Cake Me Away” conference of cake decorators in Australia hugely enjoyed their four days of meetings, dining together and networking. Unusually though, the ground seemed to be moving under their feet.

That’s because they were on a ship, P&O’s Pacific Aria, on a four-day voyage from Sydney to Moreton Island, off Queensland, and back. The attendees of what was marketed as Australia’s first “cake cruise” were able to demonstrate their specialised skills, enjoy demonstrations and classes, formal night, themed fun night, trivia sessions, treasure hunt and a day exploring Moreton Island. Some guests chose to bring along their partners, family and friends who joined in the non-conference activities.

Prices for the package included all meals and started off at $1,249 per person twin share.

“The staff on the ship were amazing, nothing was ever a problem for them,” says Blair Olsen, one of the chief organisers.

Cake me away gals“There was always someone around to help with whatever we needed. The conference rooms on board [the Bondi and Noosa] and the Torquay theatre were well equipped and in close proximity to the atrium and reception areas, which made access to staff easy.”

Indeed it was so easy to hold the event and everyone enjoyed it so much that the group immediately booked two more floating conferences with P&O – for February and October 2017. And they are now seeking to arrange a similar event for their Kiwi counterparts.

“Cake Me Away Cruises” is the brainchild of Christine Kerr of The Raspberry Butterfly cake-decorating school in Newcastle, New South Wales. Cake decorating cruises have been happening in the US for a few years and Christine was keen to sail off on one. But it was too pricy to travel to the States, so she decided to organise an Australian version, says Blair. Christine approached P&O’s conference people, who helped put the icing on the arrangements.

One scribe penned this on the site’s Facebook page: “Loved every minute of it. Great work by the team to pull it all together so well.” Another said: “I had the best time, learnt heaps, made friends and I will be on the next one, see you then.”

The feedback must be encouraging for P&O in Australia, which last year began to offer conference space and services on the sister ships Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden in discrete, dedicated conference rooms. With all-in costs of AUD 250 to AUD 300 per person per day – including all meals, the conference venue including AV, and a dedicated groups specialist in Sydney to assist with organisation – demand is reportedly growing strongly.

Rebecca MutanenThe cruise line has already doubled its 2015 booking numbers in 2016, with six months of the year remaining, says P&O Corporate Groups Sales Manager Rebecca Mutanen (pictured left).

“Interest for the rest of the year is strong – our challenge is that we need more cruises to offer clients,” she says.

“The Noosa and Bondi rooms have a partition that can be opened up to create a larger space, so the ships can accommodate up to 180 guests for an event,” says Riccardo Garbin, Administration and Revenue Director for P&O who spoke to The Siteseer onboard. “We also cater for many larger incentive groups, which are very popular on all ships.”

More info:



Cake me away gals 2

Industry planners seeking to organise engaging MICE events that come in under budget will have new options from November 2015. That’s when P&O Cruises Australia adds two ships with dedicated conference space to its existing fleet.

Events afloat, especially incentives, have been around as an option for decades now. But interest in meetings on cruise ships has surged in recent months since P&O began work on a new offer – with the theme of “leave earth for your next conference”.

It’s based on a key factor that appeals to events organisers, explains Rebecca Mutanen (below, left), Senior Sales Manager for P&O Cruises Australia: shorter cruises. Over 40% of the company’s business now consists of two- to four-night itineraries.

Rebecca MutanenAnd it expects growth to accelerate when its new ships arrive, because the former Holland America vessels now re-named Pacific Aria (whose atrium is pictured, below) and Pacific Eden (immediately below) have dedicated conference facilities capable of handling up to 200.

P&O Cruises has catered for meetings of hundreds of people already on its existing ships by being flexible with the use of space on board and breaking up sessions to run sequentially, Rebecca says. “However we’ve knocked back a lot of business because of that, with organisers saying they actually need at least two full days of conference. With the new ships we’ll have formal conference space as well as plenty of room for break-outs so we can really knock their socks off.”

Staterooms, venue hire, main meals, entertainment and so on are all included in the price, she says. Other than beverages there’s no added cost, or any daily delegate charges on top.

Changing perceptions

P&O’s own research indicates that many organisers still don’t understand the conferences-afloat concept – or they think it’s hugely expensive – which is why its now focusing on  combating the perception a conference on a ship is frivolous, or “not serious enough,” as Rebecca puts it.

ms_Ryndam_Pacific EdenOne company that needed little convincing is an equipment manufacturer that took 350 delegates along with 150 partners and kids for a conference on Pacific Dawn in June. On this seven-night voyage to the Pacific Islands, the organisers arranged a product launch on board, and it also served as an incentive trip for suppliers. For such events, or for any group of more than 150, a head-office staffer from P&O sails with delegates to troubleshoot.

P&O has hosted technology, finance and pharmaceutical companies as well as associations in this way. Some organisations have tougher internal regulations for getting such events across the line than others, Rebecca observes, but as awareness grows, more and more are in favour.

Three- and four-nighters

From November most of the three-nighters on the two new ships will be from Sydney and Brisbane. They’re round trips, so the vessel itself is the destination, though some offer a port call. That includes a cruise from Melbourne which goes to Burnie in Tasmania and sailings from Brisbane to Moreton Island.

Some four-night cruises from Sydney also head for Moreton Island, with a full day at the resort township of Tangalooma where there are plenty of opportunities for team building, like sand tobogganing rides and dolphin-feeding. Other four-night options from Sydney include calls at the Mornington Peninsula, the Hunter and Sunshine Coast.

Atrium - P&O Cruises Pacific Aria and Pacific EdenWhatever floats your boat

For the rest of the time, après-conference guests have the whole ship to enjoy, Rebecca says. “Go in the bars, or do any of over 60 activities a day; you can catch a show or just hang out with colleagues on deck. There’s a lot of added benefit in networking from having your delegates all in one spot, and the event planners don’t have to organise anything.”

In many cases where delegates want their partners to accompany them, organisers will choose a cruise that includes a weekend.

Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden will be in dry dock and undergoing refurbishment before arriving in Australia. P&O’s three existing ships, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Jewel (whose main theatre is pictured, left) and Pacific Dawn – which has just been refurbished – will continue to operate in Australian waters.

Less than $300 per day

P&O has done a breakdown of conference costs on board for a three-night conference/incentive cruise compared with a city four-star hotel. Given that, inter alia, function space is complimentary and there are no additional transport or logistical costs, the ballpark cost per delegate per day is $290 compared with $347 for the hotel.

Pacificpearl marquee theatre“That’s being quite generous [to the hotel],” says Rebecca Mutanen. “You have all your main meals including a gala dinner for which we section off a part of the restaurant, venue space, state-of-the-art AV, technicians on hand and so on. There’s no better time in the MICE market to be offering such an experience that allows planners to come in under budget.”




Watch the video below for more exciting images: