How do they decide where a cruise ship will go on a cruise?
Developing the itinerary for a cruise is a process that involves multiple departments both at the cruise line's home office and on the cruise ship itself. Because of the complexity, itineraries are usually designed years before the cruise takes place.
Often the process begins with the cruise line's marketing department. Utilizing input from past guests about where they would like to go, feedback from guests who have visited the various ports before and other market research tools, the marketing people develop an itinerary that they think will attract customers. After all, the cruise lines' are businesses and the objective is to sell tickets.
The itinerary developed by the marketing people is scrutinized by the line's marine operations people. They consider whether it is possible for the ship in question to sail to the various proposed ports within the time allotted. For example, a four-day cruise with stops at New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Singapore might attract a lot of customers but it would not be operationally feasible.
Assuming that it is possible to sail between the proposed ports within the time available, another very important consideration is the cost of doing so. As a general rule, the faster a ship goes, the more fuel it uses. Thus, an itinerary that requires the ship to run at high speed for extended periods is more costly than an itinerary where the ship can sail at a more moderate speed. This cost must be balanced against the price that the line thinks it can charge customers for this cruise. If the cost exceeds the price, then it is back to the drawing board.
Yet another consideration is the availability of berths at the proposed ports. If a particular port only has two places where cruise ships can dock and two other cruise ships are already scheduled to be there, then the planners have to look for an alternative.
Along the same lines, the planners have to consider whether the port is capable of handling the ship in question. Is the port too shallow to allow this the ship to dock? Would it be possible for the ship to tender passengers ashore? What customs and immigration procedures will be required at the port? Also, is the port's infrastructure sufficiently developed to give the passengers a good experience once they are ashore? What shore excursions can be offered in each of these ports?
Input is also sought from the ship. “We're the ones with the intimate knowledge from what the guests have told us and what we have experienced.” For example, the planners may have concluded “you only need six hours to do this [port]. We say, no, we need nine hours to do a successful call because of tide conditions and how steep the gangways get” points out Dean Bailey, Hotel Director, on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas.
“There is a synergy, all these areas coming together providing feedback, saying viable or not viable, profitable or not profitable.”
The passenger contract between the cruise line and each guest gives the cruise line wide discretion to change the ship's itinerary even after the tickets have been paid for and the cruise has begun. However, the decision to cancel a port “is not taken lightly and it is very difficult to do that. Of course, we have to do it from time to time for the safety of the ship and [the passengers] but that is definitely the most challenging decision I make,” explains Captain Stig Nilsen of Brilliance of the Seas.
It is costly and disruptive to a ship' operations to cancel a port. To illustrate, suppose a ship has to cancel a port due to weather conditions. Unless a substitute port can be found, the ship has to stay at sea, using costly fuel and consuming supplies such as food. It loses the revenue that it would have gotten from the shore excursions in the canceled port. This may be offset to some extent by increased revenue from the casino and the shops but in order to open these and other shipboard venues that would have been closed in port, the crew must work more hours than planned. Also, there is the cost of whatever goodwill compensation the line decides to give to the guests because of the missed port.
Perhaps most importantly, there is the injury to customer satisfaction. To an experienced cruiser who cruises many times a year, missing a port may not be that important but for a person who has saved for years to take this particular “cruise of a lifetime” missing that port can be of the greatest importance.
“It is tough knowing that someone has limited time and has chosen to spend it with you and you have not been able to deliver. [Therefore], we always try to deliver what the guests paid for. If they were scheduled to go to three ports in the itinerary at these particular times, our reputation is better and intact if we deliver that” elaborates Mr. Bailey.
Cruise ship FAQs - - What goes into designing a cruise ship's itinerary