It’s all new and bright and colorful; it has the highest waterslides and the most charming hot air balloon ride; the buffet is plentiful and the lines are short.
In fact, “the one thing we hear is, ‘We wish you would do a late-night stay,’” Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, told Travel Market Report. “So, we are talking about that, maybe doing a barbecue and entertainment in the evening. Use your imagination.”
Royal Caribbean made a conscious decision to “flip the model and put our better hardware in the short market” on this itinerary — both on the ship and on the island — Freed said, and to offer “a true water park experience” that pulls in younger and new-to-cruise customers.
The cruise operator spent $250 million updating and upgrading this little piece of heaven into a cheerful and spacious destination in its own right, the lynchpin of five-day Caribbean getaways out of Miami on the newly reimagined Navigator of the Seas.
Even before arriving at the island, the trip on Navigator of the Seas offers plenty of action. Just out of a $115 million remodel of its own, the ship now sports The Blaster waterslide, “the longest at sea” at 800 feet; and Riptide, “the first mat racer waterslide,” with two-person rafts so you can share the terror with a loved one.
There is no Broadway show, but there is a musical or comedy show every night, ice shows and a rink for skating, along with the casinos, bars and atrium; the spa; and The Lime and Coconut, a three-level signature bar with ocean views. There’s also laser tag, an escape room, rock climbing and the FlowRider surf simulator.
But the biggest draw is surely CocoCay, where every Navigator sailing since May has been stopping. Royal envisions it as the first in a collection of private destinations around the world.
Photo: Royal Caribbean.
“If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, we have the thrills and the chills,” Freed said.
RCCL surely understands the concept of bragging rights, and there are “ests” galore: the helium balloon is the tallest vantage point in the Bahamas (450 feet); Daredevil’s Peak is the tallest waterslide (135 feet); there’s Oasis Lagoon, the Caribbean’s largest freshwater pool, and the largest wave pool.
Though the best things to do come with a price tag, guests also can take the tram or walk (a distance of two or three city blocks) and enjoy a chaise at the ocean beach of Chill Island or on Oasis Lagoon, the calmer freshwater pool. The extensive buffet, which includes the traditional barbecue as well as sandwiches, salads and a taco bar, is free to all. (Try the crispy chicken!) The ship’s drink and WiFi packages apply here, and the WiFi is faster here than onboard the ship.
Beyond that, upcharges apply for the Thrill Waterpark, home of the waterslides and wave pool; the zipline; the private cabanas; and the helium balloon ride. All can be purchased in advance, online or through travel advisors.
“At the entrance to the water park, the pricing changes,” Freed noted. “If you buy it in advance, it will be a lower price point.”
Agents weigh in
Judging by the reaction of almost all the travel advisors and guests, the plan is working.
For young agents just starting out, the shorter itineraries, with their shorter booking windows, mean quicker commission payments, and that helps cash flows.
Millennial travel agent Mary Murphy of Vitamin T Vacations, for example, has been selling quite a bit of Navigator and the Cay; it’s “especially good for a family that only has four nights,” she said. “I love the way they have renovated Navigator of the Seas, and there is so much to do on CocoCay. There are slides for all ages and they are new and fast; I like them better than the ones at Atlantis. It just really did have everything you need to have a perfect day.”
The waterslides at Perfect Day at CocoCay. Photo: Royal.
Kimberly Mossner liked Daredevil’s Peak, the very tallest slide, best of all, and considers CocoCay “one of the best places to do a hot air balloon; I really enjoyed it.”
Many travel professionals said the island reflects the Royal Caribbean service ethic toward both its customers and its travel partners.
“I sell Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Oceania [almost exclusively] because I believe in those brands,” Mossner said. “I push Royal Caribbean because I don’t have to worry about things going wrong; I know they will make it right. They really back up their talk, and Vicki Freed is always 100% for us. I know she is going to get up there tomorrow at the general session and talk about how to make your business better; she never talks about Royal Caribbean.” (Editor’s note: Hang on for Travel Market Report’s story about that presentation, in a separate story.)
Mossner also likes the four-day itinerary, she said: “People can’t get away for longer or don’t want to pay for a longer cruise. And if customers want a vacation that’s a little longer, they can stay in Florida pre- or post-cruise.”
Freed said early rankings from customers give the island a 94 out of 100.
The only negative feedback Travel Market Report heard came from Sylvia Longmire, owner of Spin the Globe Travel. While there are accessible sand wheelchairs, they require someone to help the guest transfer into them and push them, she noted — and the deep sand everywhere, including around the “accessible” bathrooms, make it “absolutely impossible to stay in your wheelchair and enjoy most of CocoCay.”
How to sell CocoCay
When it comes to selling CocoCay, meanwhile, the most successful travel agents look beyond the individual traveler to groups, Freed said. One offers a crafting program onboard the ships, for example, using the conference center on the second floor to lay out materials. Others put together mah jongg and square-dancing groups, and music groups that bring a variety of entertainers onboard. One national restaurant chain has booked two full ships for its annual sales meeting, and will be bringing everyone together at the end of the day for their own private Perfect Day on CocoCay.
Most of all, though, “it’s important to really understand the differences among the private islands,” Freed said. “Work with your local strategic account manager; we’re happy to meet with you face-to-face and help you develop your business. But whether it’s face-to-face or through webinars, it’s important to keep learning. We have a lot of dinners and Caribbean nights in local areas, and we recommend you get on a secondary phone field with us so even if you work under a host, we can get to know you.”
RCCL in January rolled out a team of three dedicated to the home-based market, to provide “an added layer of resources, training and ship tours for home-based agencies. KHM has been our beta test, but really we are happy to work with whoever raises their hand.”
In addition, Freed said, “If you are in a home port and want to partner with us and use one of our ships to host a luncheon for a charity in your community, we want to roll up our sleeves. Please talk to us. We want to support you and your charities in as many ways as we can.”