One of my favorite types of travel to put together is a group cruise. It might be a family reunion, a niche group such as foodies, and wine lovers, or it might even be a company or incentive group. As a cruiser myself, I bring excitement to the experience when I meet all of the passengers, and I love building relationships, and organizing all of the details to ensure that it will be a successful voyage. Also, most cruise lines prefer working with an agent when planning a group cruise, as it is easier to deal with one point person who understands the business, than having multiple people involved.
One particular group I assisted was a small, family-owned business that wanted to take their 60 + employees on an Alaskan Cruise. I met my client through a networking group, and we began the planning process. The first step I take with my clients is to ask several qualifying questions. There are many differences in the cruise lines as well as the individual cruise ships, and finding one that matches the group’s personality is of great importance. Also, planning a group in which there are a broad range of ages and types of people can make for more of a challenge, so asking the proper questions is a necessity.
1) How long is the trip?
2) When do you want to travel?
3) How much do you want to spend?
4) What is the age range of the group?
5) Where do you want to sail- Inside Passage or Outside Passage? They knew they wanted to go to Alaska!
6) Which ports of call and which excursions interest the group?
7) What types of cabins meet your needs?
8) What are the dining preferences of the group?
9) Does the group enjoy dressing up?
10) Does the group need meeting space?
For this particular group, I recommended Holland America Line. They have been cruising Alaska longer than any other cruise line, and they have a very sophisticated infrastructure, insuring passengers a wide variety of excursion possibilities. The shipboard activities are also varied and pleasing for all tastes and ages, with examples like cooking classes, photography classes, and wonderful programs for kids and teens.
With the number in this group, I was able to obtain several amenity points, which I used for an open bar cocktail party for the group in a beautiful setting, as well as champagne and strawberries, and photos per stateroom. I also negotiated two free cabins and a suite, which I passed to my client.
I held informational cruise nights where I gave each passenger a personalized folder with brochures, fact sheets, and helpful travel information and I assisted many passengers with passport issues, online registration and check in. Many of these people had never traveled, and I was available to each client who had questions, or needed assistance, via cell phone and email, during the entire planning process.
I worked with the cruise line, assuring that any passenger with food allergies, or handicaps was taken care of properly. I also negotiated a great air rate, handled the flight and cabin assignments, transfers, and set up an on-board meeting with HAL personnel for my client.
One of the special things I did for this group was to design and have professionally printed “passports” for each passenger, with the itinerary, photos of the different ports of call, and lined, blank pages for a travel log and note-taking. The cover and the pages inside replicate an actual passport, with the addition of the company logo and their specific itinerary. We had a final cruise night two weeks before they departed, where I went over helpful details such as packing tips, international regulations, and helped those who hadn’t yet, with final online check-in. I also presented the passports, which were a big hit!
The final special touch I offered my clients was to meet them at the airport at 6 am the day of departure! That is an hour drive for me, but I believe it is an important part of customer service for a group, to make sure everyone gets to the right place.
Upon their return, I followed up with calls and emails, received rave reviews, and I had a couple of the passengers share stories and photos about their adventure.
Planning a group cruise is a big undertaking- one that requires great attention to detail, and a lot of patience, and one that is made much simpler by engaging the services of a professional travel consultant!
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