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Royal Caribbean CEO says megaships luring younger cruisers

NEW YORK — It’s not just Americans who love cruises.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Adam Goldstein says globalization is the biggest trend in cruising right now, with the company’s new megaships drawing 25 to 30 percent of their passengers from overseas.

As Goldstein spoke by phone Thursday from the company’s headquarters in Miami, its newly launched megaship, Allure of the Seas, was sailing across the Atlantic from Finland, where it was built, to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It’s due to arrive Nov. 11.

Allure and its twin megaship Oasis of the Seas, which launched last year, are the largest cruise ships in the world. Each ship offers at least two dozen places to eat, a boardwalk, a mini-Central Park with trees and plants, full productions of Broadway shows (“Hairspray” on Oasis and “Chicago The Musical” on Allure) and many other activities and amenities. In this Q&A with The Associated Press, Goldstein discussed globalization, how megaships like Oasis and Allure are impacting cruising, and other trends.

AP: How are megaships changing cruising?

AG: Many people have written to me or spoken to me or posted to my blog that this has completely changed their understanding of cruising and what it means to be on a cruise, tearing down myths and preconceptions that all you do is eat, that it’s regimented, etc. You cannot possibly do on Oasis or Allure in one week everything that’s available for you to do.

AP: Are you getting a younger crowd on the megaships?

AG: On an overall basis the average age of an RCI cruiser is 44. … But on Oasis and Allure, the average age of people booking and taking trips is 39 or 40. We’re seeing a much heavier family involvement on these ships. I believe the family vacation experience on these ships is competitive with anything that exists on land.

AP: With so many activities, are passengers staying on board during port calls instead of heading out to explore the destinations?

AG: At most, there are marginally more people staying on board. The destinations are important to people and the destinations that Oasis-class ships are visiting are big, well-known destinations with lots of shore excursions built up over four decades of our industry visiting. Three days at sea are already built into a week on board, so guests are interested to balance that with time in port as a general rule.

AP: What other trends are you seeing now in cruising?

AG: The biggest trend in the cruise industry right now is globalization. That is what’s happening. For the first 30 years of the cruise industry as we know it, the American market was very dominant, and although marketing took place in other countries, particularly the U.K., it was limited. For the most part, people had to travel long distances to get on cruise ships and they were mostly occupied by U.S. customers. In the last 10 years, that has started to change in a meaningful way.

With Oasis and Allure coming into Port Everglades, that allows some of our other ships to move out. We have been able to stretch our brand across the world. Next year we will have three cruise ships in Brazil, a cruise ship in China, a cruise ship in Australia, and a cruise ship year-round in the United Kingdom so that instead of flying down to the Mediterranean, you can get on a ship in Southampton and sail down to the Mediterranean. These ships are being home-ported overseas, and next summer 11 of our 22 ships will be in Europe. But even on Oasis and Allure, approximately 25 to 30 percent of all our guests are not from the U.S.

AP: Once Allure goes into service, what will the itineraries for Allure and Oasis be?

AG: For the moment Oasis and Allure will be doing the same itineraries alternate weeks sailing out of Port Everglades. One will go on Saturday, one on Sunday, alternating between the Eastern Caribbean — Nassau, Bahamas, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, St. Maarten— and the Western Caribbean, which includes Labadee, our private destination in Haiti, then two stops in Mexico, Costa Maya and Cozumel. Starting in March, we will replace Costa Maya with a new port in Jamaica called Falmouth, which sits in between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.

AP: How long does it take to load these megaships, which carry 6,300 passengers each?

AG: You can get from the curb to your stateroom in 15 minutes or less. A lot of people simply didn’t believe the largest cruise ship in the world could do that, but it is very unusual for people to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes waiting.

AP: How has the economy affected bookings on the megaships and what is a sample fare these days?

AG: They are commanding premiums over competitive ships. Guests are paying those rates and coming on board and feeling they received significant value for the money. For Allure, the lead price on its Dec. 12 sailing is $999 for seven nights, six days. For a similar category of stateroom, you would expect to pay somewhat less on other ships.