In the space of little more than a decade, Royal Caribbean International has become a major player in the British cruise market. Its popularity has grown to such an extent that for the last few years, Royal has been deploying two large ships to Southampton for the summer season. Gordon Marshall is familiar with Royal's place in this market having served as hotel director on Explorer of the Seas (see interview) and more recently Navigator of the Seas when they were based in Southampton.
“Royal is incredibly well-known in the UK market now. We are not the new guy anymore. We've got a very loyal following. Years ago, when you came to the UK, there was nobody at the welcome back parties. Now we have our own hugely successful Crown & Anchor Society. I think people really like the Royal Caribbean product - - the entertainment that they get. They like the fact that the ships are innovative - - Royal is the leader in shipboard internet.”
In addition, Royal Caribbean adapts its product to the market it is serving. “We have what we call standardization with localization. It is the standard Royal Caribbean product but we localize it. So the product is 95 percent Royal Caribbean - - 95 percent the same as when we are sailing from Miami - - but it is that five percent that makes the difference, little touches for the local British market happy.”
“Royal has a very dedicated UK office, very focused. We have a gentleman onboard at the moment who is our UK product manager. He looks at what the British want and what we need to be successful in the local market and makes those little refinements.”
The little refinements include such things as having tea kettles in the staterooms and having two curries on the dinner menus each night in the main dining room. “The Cafe Promenade is set up a little different - - scones in the afternoon, different sandwiches for the British market. I was just up in the Windjammer discussing fish and chips.”
Of course, not everyone who sails on Royal Caribbean out of Southampton is British. “I think even the Americans enjoy the British aspect of it. They poke around at the baked beans at the breakfast table and ask why is this here but I think most of our American guests who come on here enjoy that little difference in the product that they get when they are over here.”
Navigator of the Seas in no stranger to the British market. She spent the summer of 2007 based in Southampton. In addition, she is a member of Royal Caribbean's Voyager class and several of her sister ships have been based in Britain in recent years.
“The Voyager class ships have been particularly successful for the brand. We are a known commodity because the Adventure of the Seas was here before us, Explorer of the Seas was next and then we came [back].”
Navigator, however, is not the same ship that left Britain in 2007. Nor is she exactly the same as Adventure of the Seas or Navigator of the Seas. This is because Navigator underwent a major revitalization in 2014.
“The revitalization was one of the biggest that we have done. I think the revitalization was in excess of a hundred million dollars and so there was a huge amount of work done. The Royal Promenade was completely revitalized, the gift shops were revitalized There are just those extra touches that make the product a little more comfortable to cruise on and sail on.” The ship's gross tonnage increased by 1,290 tonnes.
Explorer of the Seas had also been revitalized before doing her 2015 season in Britain but still there is a difference. “Explorer's revitalization was done with Asia in mind. So we modified the casino, we took the handbag store and put it in the Royal Promenade, we lost the sports pub.”
Navigator's revitalization was not done with the thought of deploying her to Asia so the work done was not the same. “We still kept Vintages. And you have the additional specialty restaurant because we have Sabor, which is not there. We have five - - Izumi, Johnny Rockets, Chops, Giovanni's and Sabor. For a Voyager class ship, this is the most you can get.”
In addition, Royal Caribbean took steps to prepare Navigator for her return to Britain. “A lot of work and effort goes into getting ready for the UK market. We did two moths of preparation before she left the US. The guys were already looking at the menus. I was training them on mint sauce and HP sauce, British terminologies and beers. We got a really good head-start.”
“So far the British market has been very receptive to Navigator. I think the ship has done very well. Of course, we are just going to winter in Miami and then come straight back again. It is nice to do it twice.”
How does Navigator compare to Independence of the Seas, the other Royal Caribbean ship serving the British market? “Independence is a great ship and very, very popular. The local market was determined to have her back, I mean really excited to have her back. I think that is why you see that we have a larger percentage of Americans on here. So I would say if you are looking for the hard core British market, it is probably on Independence. We are a little more mixed on here. Indy and ourselves are the two ships in the market now.”
“Royal Caribbean is always going to be bringing ships here. The reason most people cruise in Europe is to go see things. In the Caribbean, there are a lot more people happy just to lie in the sun. When it comes to the Mediterranean, Norway, cruising is really good value. For the American guests coming in, its a great time to visit the UK before or after [a cruise] because you are getting a massive amount of pounds for your dollars.”
Cruise ship interview - Royal Caribbean International - Navigator of the Seas - Hotel Director