Royal Caribbean is known for its large ships. Moreover, Joao Mendonca played a key role on the team that brought the world's two largest cruise ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, into service (see interview). He was also involved with the revitalization of the giant Liberty of the Seas. However, Mr. Mendonca is clear that there is still a place for smaller ships such as Vision of the Seas in the Royal Caribbean family.
“In cruising, there are a lot of guests who like the smaller ships and there are guests who like the bigger ships. A lot of the guests tell me that they like the smaller ships because it is very close to go from your cabin to the Windjammer, to the dining room or down to the Masquerade Theater or the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge. They like this small kind of community. They bump into guests more often that on a bigger ship. There are a lot of guests who like the Vision for being small, they like the team, they like the small ship effect. So I would say that is really our niche.”
In addition, Vision's size allows her to do itineraries that larger ships cannot do. “This ship has a bit of an advantage because it can squeeze into different [ports] where the other ships cannot go.”
Along the same lines, even if a ship with 4,000 to 6,000 passengers can physically fit into a port, the port's infrastructure may prevent it from going to that port. “The pier operation sometimes cannot handle 4,000 guests from our side and maybe another two or three thousand from another ship. Also, the local community, taxis and tour operators [may not be able to handle so many visitors].” Vision, with a passenger capacity of 2,200, is less of a threat to overwhelm the port infrastructure.
Therefore, Royal Caribbean deploys Vision of the Seas on longer itineraries that encompass ports that are often the beaten track. This, combined with the factors mentioned earlier, causes Vision to attract a high percentage of guests who are in the upper tiers of Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor loyalty program. These are people who know cruising. Vision “is very popular because of its long cruises and because we offer these exclusive ports that the bigger ships don't go.”
Guests also observe that although Vision is 15 years old, she is very well maintained. “Maintenance is something which is ongoing, all the time. So you will see people painting, doing marble work, changing carpets. This is just like any land based hotel - - there is always maintenance.”
“We haven't had any revitalizations since the ship came out just normal drydocks. And again, she looks beautiful. It is really the hard work of the crew and the focus of the management on making sure that it is a priority and that it is taken care of.”
The Vision Renewed
Vision will be undergoing the first revitalization in her history in September 2013. It is part of a program designed to roll out some of the features of Oasis and Allure to the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet. A testament to the fact that Vision is in such good shape, she will be the last of the Vision class ships to undergo this revitalization.
“It is going to be a 34 day dry dock. It is a big thing. Like everything else, there are going to be challenges. But I have been in contact with some of my colleagues on other ships that have already had it done, and the ship is going to look amazing.”
“First of all, we are going to be adding four specialty restaurants. Up in the Showboat Lounge area, one side is going to be Chops Grill, the one side is going to Giovanni’s Table. Giovanni’s is an [Italian] restaurant that was first launched on the Oasis class. Then, up in the top part of the Viking Crown Lounge, we are going to be adding Azumi, which is an Asian fusion Japanese restaurant. It has been having a lot of success throughout the fleet. Then, we are going to have the Chef's Table, which is going to be built in a section of the dining room. With the bulkheads, it is going to be completely isolated from the main dining room. It is a very nice experience, a kind of wine and dine experience, where the chef hosts and with a sommelier as well.”
“Then, up in the Solarium, we are going to convert the Solarium Cafe into the Park Cafe. It is a great feature that we have on Oasis as well. It is a great grab and go for breakfast and lunch.”
“Up in the Viking Crown, one section is going to be our Concierge Lounge. The Diamond Lounge is going to be in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge close to the glass area.”
Vision already uses its central atrium, the Centrum, for some activities and events. However, after the revitalization, that area will be better suited for use as an entertainment venue. “We are going to be remodeling that area, all the marble, so it opens up and there will be other activities that we can do in that area. The huge piece of art that we have there is going to be taken out.”
“We [will be able to] do other types of entertainment. We can have guest appearances. We already have live music but the dance floor is going to be even bigger. It brings other opportunities as well.”
The revitalization of this area will also allow Vision to present the Centrum Wow. “The Centrum Wow is basically a show. It is going to be a great upgrade for the entertainment side. They are going to have a lot of flying acts. That show is going to be fantastic. It is going to be great to see the guests up on five six, seven and eight looking down. You will be very close to the entertainers as well.”
Another major addition to Vision's entertainment facilities will be a giant outdoor screen by the main swimming pool. “That is going to bring a wide range of activities and amenities that we can offer We can have live sporting events. We can also Imax activities which are up by the pool. We will have movies at night.”
Also, “throughout the ship, we are going to be changing carpets and furniture. We are looking at the art work as well.”
Turning to the accommodations, “we are going to be re-doing all the top suites, the grand suites, the junior suites. All the guest bathrooms in all the staterooms are going to be re-done. Of course, changing out with new TVs. It is going to be all flat screens.”
“We are also going to build some new cabins as well. Up where we have the Card Room and the Library, that is going to be built into cabins. We are looking to build a new junior family suite. [The space] is actually a crew area now just outside the bridge. It is being used right now as a conference room. So we are going to increase the guest capacity. More opportunities for guests to have outside staterooms with balconies.”
Younger passengers have not been forgotten. “ A nursery is going to be built upstairs in the Adventure Ocean area. This is something we have on the Oasis class and on Liberty and Freedom, It is very successful. People can leave their babies there and rely on our trained team to take care of them while they do other things onboard.”
“That is just the hotel areas that I mentioned. We are also going to be doing some work in the crew areas as well, re-doing some of our dining areas and the crew activities areas, a brand new internet cafe. We are going to be working on cleaning the propellers, work on the stabilizers, clean the hull of the ship - - the usual regular maintenance that they do. She is going to come out looking good. We are really looking forward to it.”
Cruise ship interview - - Royal Caribbean - Vision of the Seas - Joao Mendonca - Hotel Director