By David G. Molyneaux, editor, TheTravelMavens.com
Oceania Cruises, a growing company that introduced the gorgeous 1,250-passenger Marina in 2011, makes no secret of its plan to fill its ships: Take customers away from other cruise lines.
That is not the primary strategy for most cruise companies. Their reach for new customers, to fill their ships, primarily is centered on enticing people to switch from vacations on land to trips at sea. As a result, on most ships, 30-50 percent of the passengers aboard are sailing on their first cruise.
Not on Oceania ships, where maybe 1 percent of the passengers are new to sea vacations, says a company executive.
The advertising to customers is bold: Step up from other cruise lines to Oceania, and your voyage will be well worth the extra cost.
How much extra cost? That’s always difficult to figure in this age of discounting from brochure prices and with sneaky rebates such as onboard credits to pay for shore excursions and bar bills. One estimate is that Oceania is about $100 per day per person above the cost of the so-called premium cruise lines such as Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. That would make the Oceania rate about $350 a day per person, based on two to a cabin.
For the extra money, Oceania says it provides smaller, more comfortable, classier ships, a higher standard of service, and gourmet meals at all its restaurants at no extra cost. The dining rooms are open seating.
Oceania points out that its ships are at least $100 a day per person less expensive than the luxury lines, which include Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas (owned by the same company as Oceania).
Just what is Upper Premium?
Oceania is operating in a relatively new niche in cruising – between premium and luxury – and is calling it Upper Premium. One cruise travel expert suggested Ultra Deluxe, but you might as well call it (almost) luxury, because these cruises lack only the exclusive experience, the smaller vessels, and the price inclusiveness of the highest rated luxury ships.
The two primary competitors in this Upper Premium niche are Oceania and Azamara Club Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean.
Until the launch of the Marina in 2011, Oceania and Azamara were sailing the same basic ships – the beloved 684-passenger “R” vessels that once were the heart of the defunct Renaissance Cruises. Three of the ships now belong to Oceania. Two are owned and operated by Azamara.
The only major complaint from passengers about the delightful, decade-old “R” ships is the size of their bathrooms. Most cabins have a tight bathroom with a simple shower – hardly the definition of luxury or even (almost) luxury.
With the introduction of the Marina in Miami in February, Oceania leaped ahead of the competition. The Marina, twice as big as the “R” ships, is a stunningly beautiful vessel with high class furnishings and fabrics, intriguing works of art, and four fine alternative restaurants that are included in the price of the cruise. Even the standard Marina cabins are bigger than those on the “R” ships, and all contain – you guessed it – bigger and more luxurious bathrooms, including a bathtub.
Through March, the Marina is sailing in North America, before heading to Europe for the summer season. Oceania executives report success in bookings this year for Marina and its other three ships. They target vacationers who typically are ages 55 and older, have the time and money to cruise for 10 days or longer on international itineraries, and have cruised before, so they know what experiences they want from their trip.
Design a category, define it, win it
Of course, some of this Upper Premium hoopla is advertising and marketing at work, and the Premium cruise lines will say that they have a competitive product at a lower price.
I thought it was marketing smart of Oceania Cruises to publicly define the Uppper Premium category, then introduce a ship that perfectly fit Oceania’s own description of the category, and then claim that the ship is the best in the category.
Is Oceania Marina the best ship in Upper Premium? How could it not be? Besides being a beautiful vessel, the belle of the ball, it is also a public relations success.