The family cruise market is an enticing prospect for everyone involved. For individual lines it is about getting a group of people on board a vessel and proving why a cruise is such a good holiday. Get the children hooked from an early age and they will have a passenger for life. For travel agents it’s about high commission group bookings and very satisfied customers. For the cruiser themselves, it is about having the holiday of a lifetime. However, why is a cruise such a good choice as a family holiday? And why is that once a family goes on a cruise, the chances are that they will take another one?
There are few in the business who know the family cruise sector better than Giles Hawke, executive director of MSC Cruises. Having held roles with the likes of Tui, and High Life Breaks, he joined Carnival UK in 2002 as head of sales, becoming sales director in 2007 and sales & customer services director in 2008, where his responsibilities included Complete Cruise Solution. We caught up with him to get his views on what makes a cruise such a good choice for a family, and how British travel agents can get in on the action.
Why is a cruise so suitable for families?
The great thing about a cruise is that there is something for everyone. People can spend as much or as little time with each other as you want. I’ve been on a few cruises with my children and some with my extended family, including third generation cruisers. What’s great, particularly on the bigger ships, is the range of activities available. The children can go to the kids’ clubs if they want to, if they don’t, they don’t have to. There is no forced entertainment. Parents can go to the gym, spa, do a class or just lie by the pool. There is a huge amount of ease associated with a cruise and children have a huge amount of freedom.
What are lesser-known benefits for children?
It’s a great way for children to try other foods. You can take them to the buffet and they will try things that they otherwise would not have had available to them. You can take them to the restaurant – something that doesn’t happen as much in the UK as it does on the continent – which gives them a different experience. My children love the sense of occasion about going out for an evening meal; the dressing up, the waiter service, the whole thing.
A lot is made of multi-generational cruising. Why?
If you were to rent a cottage in the country as a three generational family you would be slightly on top of on another, whereas if you go on a cruise you have a lot more flexibility around your holiday. What we often see is grandparents who want to go on holiday with their grandchildren. They might book a superior cabin, then the parents come too and book a balcony cabin and the children either have an adjoining cabin or an inside cabin directly opposite. You are on holiday together but you are not in each other’s pockets. Remember that you are essentially in a small town. If one person wants to eat Chinese food but another wants a main dining room experience, then that’s fine. You can meet beforehand for a drink or afterwards for a show. It’s a very flexible holiday.
How suitable is cruising for children?
It’s a very safe environment. It’s enclosed, for one thing. People sometimes say isn’t there a worry that people will go over board? Of course you have to be sensible: don’t let your children climb on the railings but they are fully looked after wherever they are on the ship. The kids’ club staff are fully trained and as a parent you are happy to let your older children go off on their own. It is reassuring to know they can’t disappear off somewhere.
Why would a British family be interested in taking a cruise?
Something we provide that is proving popular among British families are our family shore excursions. These are trips that don’t have hours and hours in a coach, are more active and point things out that children would be more interested in. So we will go to waterparks in Spain or do a guided tour of a town that will include family-friendly restaurants. Another thing that some Brits want to do is take a longer shore excursion and be able to leave their children on board, if they want to. So, if you are visiting Rome from Civitavecchia it might not suit young children. They can stay on board and be fully looked in the kids’ clubs.
How should a travel agent sell a cruise to a family?
It is all about knowing the cost because a cruise is such a good value holiday. If you know that you can add drinks packages – for adults and for children – and then pre-book your shore excursions, it can be a solution for a family with a fixed budget. If you are a travel agent then you can sell everything in one package, which helps close the deal. The vast majority of the people I speak to come off a cruise and say it is the best holiday they have ever had. Children will have a brilliant time – as long as they are on the right cruise line. Travel agents need to know the dining options and the ages of the kids’ clubs. Are there waterparks on board? Bowling alleys? Are there computer games in the clubs? It is important for agents to understand what different lines offer different age groups.
What kind of cruise suits a family?
I would also say families want cruises with more ports of call. They might not necessarily want to get off the ship each time but for a first time cruiser there is a concern that children will get bored during sea days. My experience is that when children are off the ship, they often want to go back on and be with their friends in the kids’ clubs. But having more ports of call gives families that option.
Is the ship more important than the destination for family cruises?
Before they buy the cruise, the perception is that the destination is more important. However, when they get on board, the ship is probably more important.
Should travel agents focus on the Caribbean and Mediterranean or are there other destinations to consider?
I think people will often express an interest in where they want to go. So, if they want to go to Spain the travel agent should present a cruise along with traditional land-based holidays. The Mediterranean is great because it is a short flight and you’re into the holiday very quickly. For slightly older children, the Norwegian fjords is great – you can go walking or kayaking for instance. The Caribbean is great for beach lovers. Equally, going somewhere like Dubai – perhaps for children in their teens – is an option. There are activities like dune buggy riding, which is a little more adventurous. So while the Mediterranean is a great destination, there is a broader set of destinations for families to consider.
Cruise Adviser’s Family Guide 2015-16 will be published later in May. If you are a travel agent, email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your free copy