This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver explores some recent happenings in the the cruise industry.
Odds and Ends
"Holland America Line recently announced that it will be "enhancing" the dining experience on board their fleet with the addition of: Dancing waiters! A napkin ballet! Flying pepper grinders and a plate-spinning kick-line!"
When I first read this I simply though it was a late April fools joke, but no, they are deadly serious. Performing waiters are not a new concept; mass market lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean have been doing this for some years.
Now, while I will admit that I have enjoyed onboard entertainment in the past, I prefer it done by professional actors, dancers and singers in a ship's theatre or show lounge - certainly not in the restaurant when I'm trying to eat.
I experienced such dining 'cabaret' on an Royal Caribbean cruise in 2005. Personally I just wanted the waiters to concentrate on getting the order right, serving my food efficiently and then disappearing between courses. But no, the meals were regularly interrupted by speeches full of false sentiment, mediocre magic tricks and out of tune singing. It certainly did not enhance my dining experience at all.
I had thought HAL were wise enough not to go down this road and alienate their regular passengers, who I doubt are looking for an all singing and dancing experience. What worries me the most is the fact that the mass-market lines have been doing it for some years now. The majority of passengers onboard these ships must actually like it and give it a good score on their feedback forms.
Still, as HL Mencken once wrote "no one in this world ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses". Interestingly when Royal Caribbean ships sail from UK ports the waiters are all instructed to drop most of the cabaret and get on with their job. I wonder just how many people will read the HAL publicity and think "wow dancing waiters" and rush to book a cruise?
Another announcement that got my attention was Royal Caribbean International's announcement of the name of the cruise line's second Freedom-class ship: "Liberty of the Seas".
What an unimaginative name, especially from the cruise line whose ships are the market leaders in imaginative design. There was a time when ships were called evocative names like Mauritania, Imperator, Majestic and Auquatania, etc.
Today, the big three cruise lines appear to all be using the same names, for example; Carnival Freedom, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Spirit, Freedom of the Seas (RCI), Liberty of the Seas (RCI) and Norwegian Spirit (NCL). Then we have Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Majesty (NCL) and Majesty of the Seas (RCI) and Jewel of the Seas (RCI). We also have the Star, Sun and Dawn Princess, matched with Norwegian Dawn, Star and Sun. These all can't be coincidences, can they?
The big danger is that as cruise ships become more homogeneous in style and name, the passengers will not even remember which line or ship they sailed on. If the ports of call are all islands with sandy beaches and palm trees, they will probably not remember where they have been either. In fact the only thing that might just remind them that they have been on a cruise is cringing at the sight of the singing and dancing waiters!
However, I must give a little credit to RCI, who own Celebrity Cruises. The Celebrity ship names are very innovative compared to most, even if they are not to everyone's taste. Their fleet includes Zenith, Centaury, Galaxy, Mercury, Summit, Infinity, Constellation and the two future newbuilds will be named Solstice and Equinox.