Key Takeaways From CruiseWorld Day Two

This week, Premier Custom Travel is attending (virtually) the annual CruiseWorld conference. Presented by Travel Weekly, the event brings together the entire world of cruise, plus other vacation suppliers like hotels, amusement parks, and more. This year, PCT’s Chris Grum has been accepted into the STAR Program, giving him exclusive insider access to the entire conference. Here are some of his key takeaways from day two of three.


My morning started early today with an 8am CT meeting with Dekel Tours of Israel. They are a tour company based in Tel Aviv that specializes in custom tours to Israel. Whether you’re looking to travel independently or as part of a larger group, they can create an amazing vacation to this beautiful country. I found this one-on-one chat particularly helpful since we have so many churches and other religious organizations in the area that might benefit from their services.

Their rep LeeAnn was also quick to point out that there are plenty of secular attractions in Israel as well. No matter what you want to see, Dekel Tours can make it happen and Premier Custom Travel is excited to partner with them on future travel to Israel. I visited many years ago and can’t wait to return to see more of that amazing place.


The biggest part of General Session Two was the chat with MSC Cruises President Gianni Onorato, who talked quite candidly about his company’s return to cruising in Europe.

MSC Cruises has returned to service in the Mediterranean with lots of new protocols, most of which mirror the CDC’s recommendations for the US ports. Onorato explained that they are using wristbands (similar to Disney’s Magic Bands or Princess Cruises’ Ocean Medallion) to monitor contact among passengers in case of any positive tests. He did indicate that the have had one or two people test positive but that the protocols have worked perfectly and procedures were followed to keep the rest of the passengers as safe as possible.

Here’s a video they showed us during their presentation:

The key point was that the system works and their return to the sea has been safe without diminishing the overall experience. He said they are still able to offer a great product to their passengers. Later in their presentation, MSC mentioned that they hope to have their entire fleet back to sailing by summer 2021. That may be a bit ambitious but I certainly hope they are correct.


Today, it was Richard Fain’s turn as the “keynote” speaker at CruiseWorld. Much like his Carnival counterpart Arnold Donald yesterday, Fain did his best to not make any promises on a firm return date. He did say that the Royal Caribbean Group is working to get to that day and that they are beginning to look for volunteers for their initial test sailings. He also indicated that the first revenue cruises would likely be to their private destinations and perhaps one or two previously vetted ports.

When asked about a full return and when his cruise lines (Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, and Silversea) might be back with all their ships, he said he’s optimistic that it will be “sooner than many people think.” He seemed to indicate that the cruise lines are thinking that summer is a likely target for getting back to mostly regular service. This doesn’t mean protocols will be gone or ships will be at full capacity, but rather that they anticipate having most, if not all, of their ships back in service at that point. He did stress several times that this is a fluid situation and things can (and do) change daily.


I can’t tell you how many people in the industry have told me that the Galapagos is their favorite cruise they’ve ever done. One of my sessions this morning was with Celebrity Cruises, learning about their new ship Celebrity Flora, a ship built specifically for the Galapagos.

The ship carries just 100 passengers and 80 crew, making it an intimate experience and the ultimate in luxury. Every room is a suite and the ship has Celebrity’s patented “Infinite Verandahs.” Plus, it’s a truly all-inclusive experience and the culinary options they showed us looked amazing. They also have “Glamping” in the Galapagos, where you can sleep out under the stars and enjoy stargazing with an expert naturalist.

I’ve been kicking around booking one of these cruises, but now I definitely want to experience it. I’m now in the initial stages of planning a voyage for 2022 or 2023. I’ll send out more info and post about it on Facebook once I have a date and itinerary to share.

Celebrity Cruises also announced their new pricing structure – “ALWAYS INCLUDED.” Now every booking will receive at least three perks – the classic drinks package, Wi-Fi, and pre-paid gratuities. Customers will have the option to add additional perks for a nominal daily charge (a small percentage of their actual value) and suite guests will continue to get the four perks (an onboard credit is the fourth) automatically. Here’s a look at the upgraded package options:

This new structure brings Celebrity Cruises to the edge of being all-inclusive, and the ability to upgrade the various packages makes it even more customizable based on your specific needs and desires. Ask us about this new feature when booking your next Celebrity cruise. Current bookings can also adjust to this new group of amenities, although at prevailing rates. So your current package may actually be better than this new structure, depending on when you booked and what was included at the time.


Whether the cruise ships return in 2021 or not, Alaska is ready to welcome you back. The folks from Visit Anchorage talked to us about tourism in Alaska and how they’re working to make it a safe and fun experience whether you choose to visit on land or by sea. Although the ships didn’t visit in 2020, they did have a relatively good tourist season with land travel.

Premier Custom Travel will be returning to Alaska (hopefully) by sea in 2021. You can find our Alaska itinerary here and we’d love for you to join us. I’ve done this cruise twice before and cannot wait to return for a third time. Alaska cannot be over-hyped and there’s so much to do that you can’t possibly do it all in one…two…or perhaps even three…trips.

One fun note from our session with Visit Anchorage: Dawn Campbell, one of the presenters, has a fun annual challenge with her husband. Each year on their anniversary, they battle to see who can catch the largest salmon in a nearby river. How cool is that?


Our daily dose of inspiration came from some fellow travel advisors who were finalists in the Uplift contest. For those not aware, Uplift is a company that offers loans to pay off cruises. We offer this service on our Carnival Cruise Line bookings and hope to be able to offer it on more lines in the future.

Agents were allowed to submit their Uplift-ing stories before the conference started. Five finalists were chosen to tell their stories with the winner receiving $1000 to use towards their own vacation, courtesy of Uplift. All of the stories were incredible with tales of clever ways to remain relevant and top-of-mind during these challenging times. But Sue Slater seemed to be the one who stole everyone’s heart with her incredible journey. COVID-19 hit in March and then Sue unfortunately lost her husband shortly thereafter. That would be hard on anyone, but Sue is blind and her husband was in charge of her website and helping her with the technical side of her agency. Losing a spouse and having to deal with a worldwide pandemic might be enough to discourage anyone, but not Sue. Despite these challenges, she used the past few months to get certified by several destinations and suppliers, all while continuing to service her clients. She is successfully selling destinations that she will quite literally never see, but she’s not letting that stop her. As much as I loved all of the stories, I think Sue will get my vote. But I honestly hope that there’s a surprise and Uplift decides to give all five finalists some sort of prize. They all deserve it.


Story of the day: Royal Caribbean International’s President Michael Bayley is the very definition of “working your way up the ladder.” He’s been at the company over 30 years, starting as a Purser onboard Nordic Prince, Royal Caribbean’s second ship ever. Three decades later, he’s running the cruise line.


In the first season of the hit show THE WEST WING, one of the episode titles was “Six Meetings Before Lunch.” Today at CruiseWorld, I had 15 meetings in under two hours. Typically, a convention like this would have a trade show where travel consultants could meet with the various suppliers at their booths to learn more about their products and services. One benefit of a virtual convention is less noise and not having to be interrupted while you chat with the reps.

In just under 120 minutes today, I spoke with 15 different suppliers in 6 minute rapid-fire face-to-face virtual meetings. The companies included cruise lines, transportation services like airlines and limousines, hotels, tourism offices from around the globe, and even a Miami-based company that offers speedboat rides. By the end of the conference, more than 25 of these meetings will happen. As much as I miss the true face-to-face interaction, I must admit that this is one area that actually improved by being virtual. I must also commend the CruiseWorld staff and especially their technical people for pulling this off. We found out that CruiseWorld was going virtual in late September, giving the organizers just under 45 days to put all of this together. Sure, there have been a few technical issues, but overall it has been a smoothly run event and more than I could have hoped for in a virtual environment. Hopefully we’re back in Miami next year, but if not, I know they’ll improve on the impressive work they’ve managed to cobble together this year. Kudos to the team at Northstar Travel Group, CruiseWorld, and Travel Weekly for their efforts.

Tomorrow is the final day of the conference. I’ll share my final thoughts in one last CruiseWorld blog tomorrow evening. You can also ready my Day One Recap for a look at the opening sessions.