Hotel Director Ron Ness, a 30 year veteran of the cruise industry,was excited about this this year's Travvy Awards, which had been announced shortly before our interview. “Its like the Golden Globes, the Oscars of vacation experiences. Royal Caribbean pulled in 11 major awards. They shocked the industry. It was a good day for Royal.”
Of most immediate relevance was the award given to Anthem, which Mr. Ness has been the hotel director of for nearly two years. “Anthem won as the best overall cruise ship in the industry. We were against the Queen Mary 2, the Quest, the Epic, all these other cruise ships. I don't think anybody thought we had a chance and we pulled the number one award of the year. I think Anthem is very strong right now with the guests and the travel agents.”
The path to achieving this recognition has not been easy.. The Quantum class cruise ships were conceived as all weather cruise ships, ones that passengers could enjoy regardless of the weather. “This ship is built for the cold weather and it is built for the warm weather.” Unlike most cruise ships where the top decks are open and thus unusable in cold weather, these ships have enclosed upper deck areas that can be heated in the cold weather and cooled in the warm weather.
On top of this, Royal decided that the Quantums would be different than past cruise ships in both entertainment and dining. “Royal loves to be aggressive on new things, changes- - the marque sports attractions that we have on this ship, the North Star the iFly, the surfing, the bumper cars They take a risk and some of them pay off.”
While the new entertainment ideas met with passenger approval, the new dining concept did not. “I think they wanted to compete more with the Norwegian Freestyle Dining. We called it Dynamic Dining.” Under this concept, there was no main dining room but rather four themed restaurants. It was up to the guests to decide when and where they would dine.
“The experience on Royal is that one-on-one experience that you are going to have with a team member serving you every night in the same dining room and you become personal friends with them They understand all your needs. With Dynamic Dining we were switching the dining room every night. Also, there wasn't a formal night so you didn't introduce the captain and the senior management. You did not feel like you were on a Royal ship. We were missing a few of the key attributes that makes Royal Caribbean the most incredible company that I have been on at 30 years at sea. So we went back to what we do best. To do that the cost was heavy – all new plates, all the new china new silver, all the new cupboards, new training, going back to basics”
Mr. Ness believes that one factor over any other has enabled Anthem to go from this initial stumble to top cruise ship. “[Anthem] has marquee sports attractions, it is 'We Will Rock You', it is 'Spectra's Cabaret', it is the Two-70 lounge, the North Star, the Bionic Bar, - - those are all great. But what I believe is that it is all about the crew.”
“If [the senior management team] show care and respect for the crew, the crew will wake up every morning and go 'I want to be on the Anthem.' We have so many returning crew right now it is unbelievable. At the beginning it was not like that. In the beginning it was 'I want to go to the Adventure of the Seas, I want to go to a ship where I feel comfortable.' Now they feel comfortable here. Make for a relaxed experience for your crew and your support pays off 10 times to the guests.”
The fact that both management and crew keep returning to Anthem is also important in itself. “This ship - - any of the Quantum class ships - - is different than any other Royal ship there is. It takes a whole new approach to say yes, we can do it. We are a team, yes, we can make a difference. Yes, let's tackle this together instead of being in silos. You break all the silos down and work as one for the same common goal. We find the right people and we put together a team.”
Although Anthem is in a strong position now, Royal Caribbean and the ship's senior management team realize that the ship must continue to evolve.
To illustrate, “the ship is three years old and we have the same entertainment You can't change the We Will Rock You show,. You are not going to change the Spectra show. So we have decided to focus our energies on daytime and nighttime activities. Instead of just doing a trivia, how can we enhance it What can we bring to the table that will enhance it more without taking away something somebody already loves. Our goal 2018 is how can we enhance the guest experience more with daytime and nighttime activities when we are at sea and in port.”
In addition, Royal Caribbean is looking for more ways to exploit its technologically advanced entertainment venue, the Two-70 lounge. “We are only probably touching 50 percent of what it can do. There is so much more that it can do in the future and that is why the investment was worth it. I think it was $28 million – that was more than the first ship Royal Caribbean purchased.”
“We are able to show off things that nobody else has at sea. That's what makes this ship so popular. Our creative team in the [home] office is always coming up with new stuff. We are putting more shows in. They are building more each year.”
Cruise ship inside interviews - Royal Caribbean International - Anthem of the Seas - Hotel Director Ron Ness