Are you considering a ship for your next meeting or incentive travel program? There’s never been a better time to meet at sea! And with proper planning, a cruise can be much easier and more rewarding than a traditional land-based program.
You might already be aware of the unique benefits of a cruise ship program, including better budget control (meals, entertainment, meeting space and A/V are included), more memorable experiences both onboard and ashore, convenient travel to multiple destinations, and built-in networking opportunities in a unique environment.
But if you’ve never planned an event at sea, you might be wondering how to translate your land-based program to a cruise ship. There are some important differences, so to help you get started, the cruise event specialists at Landry & Kling put together a list of top 10 planning tips for successful meetings and events at sea.
Top 10 tips for Incentive Cruises and Meetings on Ships
1. Finding the right ship
Choosing the right ship is the key to your successful cruise program. There are ships of all sizes, service levels, and price points sailing all over the world. Besides accommodations, you’ll want to look at the ship’s meeting and function space and determine the capacities of public rooms. What type of ship do you prefer? There are ships of all sizes and service levels sailing around the world, including large contemporary ships, midsized premium ships, luxury small ships, river vessels and mega-yachts.
2. What about your itinerary?
How many hours/days do you need for meetings? What destination would motivate and excite your group? Tropical Caribbean? Awe- inspiring Alaska? Legendary Mediterranean ports? The time of year and budget may limit or expand your options. Do any of your VIP’s or speakers need to join the program late or leave early?
Your itinerary should be chosen with that in mind. If too many choices are resulting in
“analysis paralysis”, your best bet is to contact an experienced cruise event specialist to help
you narrow down the best options for your group.
3. Customize your cruise experience
There are many ways to make your cruise program unique and memorable, including program signage, custom-logo items, private events and team-building activities onboard or in port, specialty restaurant or even cruise ship “neighborhood” buy-outs.
If your group size and budget allows, consider a private ship charter for the ultimate flexibility. You will be free to customize the entire cruise experience, including daily activities, entertainment, meal times – even the itinerary!
4. Cut costs and add “sizzle” to your program
Incorporate complimentary ship activities, sports challenges (like ropes courses or zip lines), or enrichment classes into your agenda. You can also arrange to have the ship’s entertainers make “guest appearances” at your reception or award presentation.
5. Program planning
With a land-based meeting, advance planning is coordinated with your hotel’s on-site convention services manager; however, your cruise program will be coordinated with the cruise line’s shore-side staff. The ship’s staff will not receive your program documents until the week of sailing, so arrange to board a few hours ahead of your group to meet with ship staff and run through the details.
If your program requirements are especially complex, consider booking the cruise through an experienced cruise event specialist. They will act as your liaison with the cruise line to ensure the success of your program. For example, they can set up a ship inspection, pre-conference meetings with the ship’s key staff or “cruising pre-con” prior to your group sailing for one or more of your staff.
Cruise event specialists are accustomed to handling all the pre-cruise coordination — their cruise line contacts can be invaluable. They can also join your team onboard to provide continuity between program planning and onboard execution, and serve as your professional Conference Services Manager, dedicated exclusively to overseeing your agenda.
6. On-site Support
Most large cruise lines designate an on site group coordinator for each ship, but
be prepared – the group coordinator will be juggling requests for a dozen or more groups
Depending on your group size and program requirements, consider adding experienced cruise
staff and/or a cruise-savvy trip director to your team to help operate your program on site.
They’ll work “behind the scenes” on your behalf to make sure all runs smoothly. Request a
private hospitality desk area and staff it with a team member who can answer questions and
handle requests from your attendees.
7. Meeting Space
Since 75% of North American adults have never been on a ship, many meeting planners have no idea that there are purpose-built conference facilities and multi-purpose meeting rooms aboard today’s ships; as well as stunning theaters, creative lounge / dining venues and expansive deck space that can be used for meeting and group events. – plus As an added bonus, complimentary use of cutting-edge A/V and multimedia equipment can save them thousands of dollars.
8. Booking Air
Be aware of your ship’s departure/arrival times as well as Customs clearance time, and book your airline flights accordingly. If your ship is sailing from a domestic port, remember that all passengers must be onboard and checked in at least two hours prior to sailing.
9. Flexibility is key!
Translating your land-based program to a cruise ship takes flexibility and creativity. Your large meetings, breakout sessions or private events might be held in a beautifully furnished lounge or theater – or even outdoors on deck. The ship’s public venues can be reserved for your private functions, but pre-booking with the cruise line is a must.
Take your cruise itinerary into account when planning your meeting times. You might want to schedule business sessions during days at sea, for example, or early in the morning during port days to give your attendees ample time to go ashore.
10. Budget Bonus!
You won’t need to dip into your normal budget for A/V equipment rentals, theme décor, linens, florals, meeting rooms, state or city taxes or special entertainment to enliven your cruise program – it’s already included! Consider adjusting your budget to provide extra room amenities, wine with dinner, onboard credits for spa services, or include customized shore events.
Want your boss to call you a planner superstar? Simply drop the savings to the bottom line!