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A MUCH ADMIRED SHIP
Talking with Captain Henrik Sorensen and Hotel Director Erik Speekenbeck of Brilliance of the Seas
Richard H. Wagner
Above: Captain Henirk Sorensen
Below: Hotel Director Erik Speekenbeck
Brilliance of the Seas is a much admired ship. One of four Radiance class ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, she is a favorite of mariners and of Royal Caribbean's most frequent cruisers. I spoke with her Captain Henirk Loft Sorensen and her Hotel Director Erik Speekenbrink about what makes Brilliance special.
An international ship.
Brilliance and her Radiance class sisters are explorers. “We have a very international deployment. The deployments in Dubai, U.A.E. and India are good examples of that. We have been traditionally, and continue to be, exploring and scouting out places so that we can offer an experience that is a little more unique. A lot of the time when guests come on board here it is to experience something that they have not done before.” Captain Sorensen pointed out.
“Every cruise for us pretty much is different. We are in a constant redeployment. [This produces] new challenges for us as the management team” he continued.
For example, provisioning the ship “is a logistical nightmare,” Mr. Speekenbrink laughed. Most cruise ships that sail the same itinerary week after week take on supplies at the end of each cruise when they return to their homeport. However, because Brilliance moves around the globe so much, often doing cruises that begin in one port and end in another, re-supplying is complicated. “We have some of our provisions that come from the US and some that come locally. The ones we get from the US, we have to plan months ahead because they come out in containers. The fresh produce, we get locally. We had the classic one where we had to buy melons in Norway and that was a very expensive experience.”
Another challenge is to be knowledgeable about ports that the ship has never been to before. “Our guests expect that we are very familiar with our current deployment when in fact we are not.” Captain Sorensen explained. “It requires a lot of preparation. You need to educate yourself a bit in advance.”
Because Brilliance does such diverse international itineraries, the demographics of her passengers change from deployment to deployment with a wide variety of different nationalities sailing on the ship during the course of a year. “Our deployment dictates where the majority of our guests are coming from.” Captain Sorensen noted.
“We very much do tailor our product to meet the expectations of our demographic.” Mr. Speekenbrink elaborated. “Before we start a season in say Europe, we take stock of the language skills that we have on board. We look at our target markets and we try to match them up. That turns out to be very important. You would think that people booking onto an English-speaking or American-speaking vessel [would be comfortable with English] but the language becomes a very big issue. Therefore, it is important that we have in key positions those linguistic skills.”
“One thing is speaking the guest's language but just because you speak the language doesn't mean you understand the culture.” Captain Sorensen added. “That is one of the things in how we prepare ourselves. When we staff the ship in these new parts of the world, we make sure that we have staff on board who can connect with the majority of our guests and understand their culture. In that way we can tailor our product.”
In order to connect with the guests, Brilliance often has international hosts who act as the primary point of contact for guests from non-English speaking countries. It also has entertainment in several different languages and will have items on the menu that appeal to a particular nationality. “For example, if we have a high count of German guests, we like to do some traditional German food or a German beer garden or sausage festival.”
Still, Brilliance is a Royal Caribbean ship and the cruise experience that she presents is a Royal Caribbean cruise experience. “It is primarily a North American product. But that doesn't always get us entirely where we need to go. It doesn't mean that we have different menus than other [RCI] ships, it doesn't mean that we are running our own show but we are adding something to the product which makes our guests feel special, that it is a unique experience when they come cruise with us because of the deployment.”
A different Royal
Even leaving aside the international influence, the cruise experience offered by Brilliance and the other Radiance class ships is different than that offered elsewhere in the Royal Caribbean fleet. Mr. Speekenbrink noted: that “Royal Caribbean has one vision of what it wants to offer its guests and that is a superlative cruise experience.” But that does not mean that it is the same cruise experience on every ship.
“Our business unit model is all about connecting with our guests. We spend a lot of time making sure that the guests are feeling welcome and that is really what it is all about - - to be part of the family here, come aboard the Brilliance you can feel that you are at home. We spend a lot of our time targeting our training and finding employees to create that atmosphere for us.” Captain Sorensen explained.
“The overall experience is truly elegant. It is a very interesting type of vessel in that it is smaller than the Voyager class and larger than the Vision class ships and it is larger than the Sovereign (Mega) class ships. But it and fewer guests,“ Mr. Speekenbrink commented. “It is an elegant luxurious ship with a level of service that we aspire to give which is second to none. While in some ways it is very modern, very advanced, it is also rooted in a traditional elegance that in some cases no longer exists. I would regard this as being one of the more glamorous of the vessels. That is what everyone said when I came here - - 'you are going to the most beautiful class of ship in the fleet.”
“This class of ship was built a bit more upscale so you get a feeling being on board the ship that it is quality material; there has been attention put into the spaces and the venues.” Captain Sorensen continued.
Brilliance and her sisters were built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany. “The Meyer Werft is a family tradition through many, many years and they are very particular with making sure that they deliver a quality product.”
The Radiance class ships do not have the Royal Promenade or the ice skating rinks that the very large Royal Caribbean ships are known for. However, this was by choice. While RCI's Vision and Sovereign class ships pre-date the invention of such features, the Radiance class were built contemporaneously with the Voyager class. Thus, they were designed to provide a different type of cruise experience than the larger RCI ships.
“Brilliance is not necessarily the right [ship for you] if you are bringing your whole family and you are expecting a lot of fun and facilities for the kids,” Captain Sorensen commented. “We don't have a flow rider or an ice rink [but] that is not what our guests are looking for. The Brilliance is more for everyone who wants to be part of the family.”
Indeed, this variation on the Royal Caribbean product has been particularly successful with those cruisers who are part of the Royal Caribbean family. As Mr. Speekenbrink noted, “It is a popular class of ship particularly among the more frequent of our frequent cruisers.”
But that does not mean that Brilliance is only for veteran cruisers. “It is not like some of the other [cruise lines] where it is targeting a very specific audience. We try to very much accommodate the various expectations and needs [of the guests]. There is a lot going on. It is dynamic, it is fun, it is fast paced very often. There is a lot to do so you need never get bored. We have a very broad appeal to people who like the oceans and who like sailing the seas.”
A mariner's dream
Whenever I have interviewed officers who have served on a Radiance class ship, a smile comes across their face when you talk about the ships from a nautical perspective. This has been true both for officers who are still with Royal Caribbean and ones that have left the line. While admittedly an unscientific sampling, the Radiance class appear to be the most admired cruise ships by the people who drive them.
Captain Sorensen is no exception. “They really are wonderful ships to handle. They are very powerful, redundant, we have a lot of technology aboard. Its a pleasure to work with. They are highly maneuverable having azipods and an immense amount of power. Actually, we have more power than a Voyager class ship in a smaller ship. So they are very nice to handle.”
“It also means that we can handle more adverse weather conditions. It is usually the port that closes down before I am no longer comfortable going in. Most of the time, pilots and ports are surprised about how much wind we can handle without the use of tug boats.”
In the Spring of 2013, Brilliance will undergo a revitalization. This is part of a program designed to bring some of the more popular features of the Oasis class ships to the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet.
“There is an awful lot planned for that. There are going to be new venues, changes of venues, some additional accommodations, re-location of some of the crew facilities.” Mr. Speekenbrink said with evident anticipation.
However, the object of this program is not to make every class of ship the cookie-cutter image of the rest. “I think that the long-term vision is that [the Radiance class ships] will continue to operate in the market that they are currently operating in and that would be sort of the upper end of the cruising experience. [The revitalization] will be designed towards that. It is going to be exciting. There is a lot on the cards.”
Cruise ship interview - - Royal Caribbean - - Brilliance of the Seas - - Captain Henrik Loft Sorensen, Hotel Director Erik Speekenbeck