Cruise lines just say no

Limits: No-smoking, no-gambling or no-children rules are being tried on some ships, to the applause of most passengers

Strategies

July 25, 1999|By Jay Clarke | Jay Clarke,Knight Ridder/Tribune

No. That's what cruise lines are telling some of their prospective passengers.

No smoking, Carnival Cruise Line tells passengers on its Paradise cruise ship. No children on board, orders Renaissance. No gambling, Disney Cruise Line rules.

All three lines have implemented their new "no" policies in the past year -- Carnival and Disney with the launch last year of new ships, Renaissance effective with bookings made after March 1 of this year.

All made the moves in response to consumer pressures.

Nonsmokers don't want to wade through bluish layers of smoke in casinos and discos. Many older passengers, who have "been there, done that," don't want to listen to whines and screams of children when they're on vacation. And many parents taking their kids on a cruise don't want them exposed to gambling.

Now, those people have a ship to call home. Nonsmokers have for years complained about breathing secondhand smoke on board, and nearly all ships now ban smoking in dining rooms. But Carnival and Renaissance are the first lines to prohibit smoking shipwide.

Customers have responded to Carnival's no-smoking ban on the Paradise the only way it counts: by booking passage on the ship.

"Results have been excellent," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Carnival Cruise Line. The line is so pleased with passenger reaction, in fact, that it is considering a second no-smoking ship. "No firm conclusion, but we're very interested," she said.

Freed said the policy has created few problems because it is made very clear that no smoking is permitted on the Paradise. Passengers must sign an agreement not to smoke, and violators are warned they will be fined $250 and disembarked at the next port of call. About a dozen have been put off the ship so far, all in the first few weeks of operation.

"Over New Year's we had to put off on St. Thomas a grandfather who was caught smoking -- and he had his wife and three grandchildren with him," said Freed. "You may say we don't have a heart, but we can't make an exception."

One side effect of the no-smoking policy: Carnival has found that bars and casinos on the Paradise are not as busy as on its other ships. However, revenue from the gift shops, shore tours and spa is up, Freed said. "It all balances out."

Revenue considerations are important not only to the cruise lines but also to passengers, because in the end profits are what enable the lines to offer amenities passengers want. Bars and casinos, in addition to being popular passenger diversions, are important profit centers for cruise ships. That's why Disney's decision to launch ships without casinos raised some eyebrows. But Disney officials say the move has been well received by passengers -- and increased revenue from other onboard facilities makes up for the lack of gambling profits.

"We've never had any guest negatively approach us about [lack of] gambling," said Matt Ouimet, Disney Cruise Line's executive vice president. "We've successfully replaced [casinos] with entertainment, our strong point. For adults only, we have a lounge area, with a classic nightclub, a martini lounge and an improv comedy club." One restaurant also is earmarked for adults only.

"I think there are still some misconceptions," he said of the belief that Disney ships cater only to families. "A large percentage [of our passengers] are people without children." The ship attracts many young marrieds, he said, because Disney is the biggest honeymoon destination in the world.

As further proof that lack of casinos is not turning off passengers, Ouimet pointed out that the Disney Magic is sailing full and that bookings are booming for its second vessel, the Disney Wonder, which enters service in August. "Besides, if people really want to gamble, we stop in Nassau, and they can go to the Atlantis casino."

To be sure, Disney ships do provide more facilities for children than other cruise ships, including an extensive program that keeps kids happily occupied.

"We tell a story about a woman who put her kids in the program, then starting feeling guilty because she was enjoying herself without them," said Ouimet. "She went to get her kids out [of the program], but was told, 'They'll call you if they need you.' "

Children may be important to Disney, but they're not to passengers on Renaissance cruises, which recently banned children under 18 from sailing on its ships.

"The great balance of our customers welcome it," said Frank Del Rio, executive vice president of the line. "Our ships were not built with kids in mind. There are no kiddie rooms, no interactive [activities]. We're not trying to be all things to all people. There are plenty of other ships out there for family vacations." The line caters primarily to older couples.

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