Tag Archives: Ovation of the Seas

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.


With the imminent arrival of the new Ovation of the Seas in Australasian waters, now’s the time for MICE organisers to start planning a memorable event aboard a billion-dollar, 168,000-tonne floating palace.

So says Adam Armstrong (pictured below), Managing Director for Royal Caribbean Australia and New Zealand. And it’s no mere cliché. At 168,000 tonnes, she’s the equal fourth-largest passenger ship in the world. She has 18 decks, can accommodate 4,905 guests and 1,500 crew and is a jaw-dropping 347 metres long. She’ll make her Australian debut in December, sailing from Sydney, and return for a second Australian summer season in 2017–18.

Adam Headshot 010816Royal Caribbean’s five locally based ships – Ovation of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Legend of the Seas – offer dedicated, large and small meeting and conference facilities. While the company’s core business area is leisure, the MICE sector is growing in influence, says Adam.

“As the Royal Caribbean brand becomes more familiar to Australian companies we’re seeing enquiries increase,” he says. “Most of our Australian cruises are an average of ten or more nights. Our ships are big enough to host large groups [with a requirement to book at least eight staterooms] and our business is nimble enough to work with event partners on their specific needs.”

Adam adds that one of the parameters for organisers to consider is that the average Royal Caribbean cruise is ten to 11 nights, which suits a certain type of event or incentive. Spaces aboard are “sleek and modern” and can accommodate events ranging from a board retreat for a few to a large-scale national sales meeting. There are also complimentary audio and visual services, Voom – said to be the fastest Internet at sea – plus a dedicated crew member who’ll help ensure everything runs smoothly.

That’s obviously in addition to the other facilities on board like multiple outstanding dining options and entertainment and “incredible features like FlowRider surf machines, a sky-diving experience, rock-climbing walls, ice skating and more”.

Herein lies one of the main attractions for PCOs, says Adam. Everything’s in one place. “That includes conference facilities, accommodation, a la carte dining and entertainment – with great service. Plus guests all have access to the incredible features of the ship outside the conference facilities.”

What about the perception some organisers have that facilities on a ship may lack flexibility? Adam has a clear message here: a prime consideration for a MICE event at sea compared to those on land is to ensure the conference aligns with the itinerary you’ve chosen.

“For example we wouldn’t recommend planning a full day of conference talks while the ship is berthed in an idyllic South Pacific destination,” he says. “In addition the cruise you choose needs to align carefully with staff timings. There’s obviously no ability to embark a day late, or debark early. That said, no other venue in the world can offer such variety of experience as a cruise ship.”

1460412496_SEA-Ovation-of-the-SeasRoyal Caribbean offers a small number of two- to three-night sailings every season. They’re popular with new cruisers who want to test the waters and for our repeat guests who might not have time for a longer holiday. It’s also a good option for MICE organisers seeking to limit the amount of time employees spend out of the office.

Competitive cost

Conference costs can vary depending on the style of conference, number of guests, length of cruise, and a range of other factors. Adam suggests discussing this with a trusted travel agent. But a quick scan of the Royal Caribbean International website reveals that an Ovation of the Seas “three-night sampler” cruise departing Sydney on 17 February next year starts at $1,029 per person twin share, for a balcony stateroom. (Cheaper options are already sold out). The five-night “Tasmania sampler” departing Sydney on 23 January 2017 starts at $1,699 per person twin share for a balcony stateroom, with the cheaper options also already sold. That’s just over AUD 300 a day, and it includes meals and entertainment. All up, as experts agree, it will be much less than a similar sojourn at a hotel with comparable facilities, and offering more.

1474615886462Meantime the excitement for Ovation of the Seas’ arrival has exceeded expectations, says Adam Armstrong. “She’s unlike anything that’s sailed here before. The demand for the ship was so high we extended her maiden season earlier this year with an additional four extra cruises from Sydney, and announced she’ll return for the second summer season. Australians can’t wait for her to arrive.”

More information:  Phone 1800 754 500 Groups (in Australia). 866-562-7625 (USA).

Or email Royal Caribbean at this link.


Meetings on ships are easy to arrange, cost-effective and exciting, and there are more benefits aboard than ever, says Joyce Landry (below), CEO and co-founder of cruise events specialist company Landry & Kling. The Florida-based industry pioneer talked to The Siteseer about her business and what’s on offer.

The Siteseer: Are you really finding there’s more interest in meetings afloat these days?

Joyce Landry - PhotoJoyce Landry: Yes, meetings and incentive planners are looking for new experiences and more opportunities to boost motivation and loyalty. At the same time they’re challenged to demonstrate strong return on investment and return on engagement [ROE], often with tough time and budget constraints. An event at sea delivers it all – great experiences, creative meeting spaces and with multi-generational appeal, and it’s all-inclusive and easy to plan.

SS: Tell us a bit about your company.

JL: My partner Jo Kling and I are former cruise line executives who shared a common vision back in 1982: to bring cruising and the corporate world together. Our company was the first resource for business meetings on cruise ships, and that’s still our primary focus more than thirty years later. We provide cruise solutions and custom cruise planning for ship buy-outs, incentives, cruise meetings, theme cruises and dockside ship charters. We’re the only cruise event specialist that’s been inducted into the Cruise Lines International Association Hall of Fame.

One of our specialties is cruise ship charters. We also originated the concept of using chartered cruise ships as floating hotels to provide supplemental dockside housing during big city events, like the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

Ovation of the Seas (1)SS: What’s new in the industry?

JL: Well Asia-Pacific cruising is booming! For example Royal Caribbean International signed a deal recently with the Singapore Tourism Board and Changi Airport Group to promote and launch more cruises than ever from Singapore. Royal Caribbean also plans to increase the number of departures from Singapore on Mariner of the Seas [which can accommodate over 4,000 passengers] to more than forty a year.

Their new ship,Ovation of the Seas, will homeport in Sydney for winter 2016-17 and will be the largest and most technologically advanced cruise ship in the region. Meantime MSC Cruises is sending MSC Lira to China in early 2016 and may be building new ships for the Chinese market.Princess Cruises is also building a new ship that will be based in China year-round.

SS: What are the main advantages of using a specialised agency like yours?

JL: We’re not an all-purpose travel agency and we don’t work for any single line; we offer impartial cruise event advice and a menu of services – everything from ship selection and operational planning to onsite staffing and marketing support. Most members of our team have a background in the industry and we know what it takes to convert a land-based program to a cruise environment.

SummitAmericas-Dockside Trinidad-Ship-BannersOver the years, we’ve established relationships with cruise lines and suppliers, and we have lots of creative ideas for customised experiences. We’re based in South Florida, widely known as being the cruise capital of the world, so we can inspect many ships and meet face-to-face with line executives on behalf of our clients.

SS: What are your most popular programs? Is there an “ideal” size for a conference or incentive group aboard, or length of cruise, in your experience?

JL: Our most popular events at sea are incentives, all types of meetings and conferences, as well as ship charters – anything from an executive retreat for fifty people to a 5,000-person convention. The length of cruise programs are typically four to seven nights, with most top-tier incentive programs on new or “ultra-premium” ships sailing for seven nights.

We’re always on the lookout for outstanding short cruise itineraries and last-minute charter opportunities to share with clients. We keep an updated list of these short cruises on the Cruise Gems page on our site.

SS: What are the other benefits of conferencing afloat?

JL: [There are distinct trends like] enhanced onboard wifi capabilities and more competitive Internet service pricing, high-tech entertainment venues, more culinary options, celebrity chef partnerships and interactive dining experiences, and more outdoor spaces for eating, entertainment and sports. There are also more active and authentic adventures ashore, and exclusive private [“ship within a ship”] enclaves available for groups to book, like MSC’s Yacht Club concept, and “The Haven” concept on Norwegian Cruise Line vessels.

SS: Where does your clientele hail from, mostly? Are you finding they’re becoming more budget conscious?

JL: They span the globe, from North and South America and the Caribbean to Europe and Asia-Pacific. While we’re noticing a return to high-level incentives, planners are still watching their bottom line. The all-inclusive aspect of ships obviously make them an attractive alternative to land-based venues. Meals, entertainment, sports facilities, meetings space and AV equipment are all complimentary.

The-crowd-onboard-ITS-THE-SHIP-2014SS: Can you point to recent examples of successful events for which you’ve been responsible?

JL: Our website has some good meetings-at-sea stories, including the SKF Latin America Distributor Conference. This presented us with some onboard challenges that required creative solutions, like building plasma screen kiosks to showcase products that were too large to bring on board, sourcing a translation services company to provide simultaneous multilingual translations in meetings, and working with the ship’s staff and chief engineer to create a big farewell event on the sports deck.

We’ve also had great success in planning and operating music-themed charter programs, like The Livescape Group’s “It’s the Ship” festival (above), Asia’s largest music event at sea. [See the promo clip here: https://youtu.be/NuJ3xh1IyIo].

The 2014 event was very successful and the November 2015 sailing is quickly selling out. An estimated 3,100 electronic dance music fans are expected to be onboard Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas when she sails from Singapore for three nights of performances by dozens of international and regional acts.

SS: How does your ship selection process work?

JL: There are over 300 cruise ships sailing, so busy meeting planners simply don’t have time to sort through all the choices to find the best fit. That’s where we come in. We listen to clients, and research and recommend the best options based on their needs. We then use our knowledge and experience to get the best deals.

CelebrityReflection-ConfRoom-ASS: What does the future hold?

JL: More than 30 new ships are currently on order, including mega-yachts, expedition ships and river vessels, and with cruise lines recognising the burgeoning international MICE market, I believe the future of meetings and incentives at sea couldn’t be brighter.

For more information visit landrykling.com,shipcharters.com or call +1(305) 661-1880.

See a clip of Joyce Landry giving some great packing tips here: https://youtu.be/vtokO8D-QDQ.

And Landry & Kling’s “Scuttlebutt” blog here: http://blog.landrykling.com/2015/08/25/meeting-at-sea-the-inside-scoop-for-planners-down-under/.