Key Takeaways From CruiseWorld Day Three

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


Day three featured a slightly less-packed schedule overall (no rapid-fire meetings today), but that “smaller” theme wasn’t just reflected in my schedule for the final hours. The first two General Sessions at this year’s conference focused primarily on the larger, ocean-going cruise lines. This morning, things kicked off on a much smaller scale with Chris Prelog, the new President of Windstar Cruises. The company has six ships in its fleet, each carrying less than 350 passengers. Chris did a great job giving an overview of his company, but one of the more interesting aspects of his presentation was the discussion of the food onboard. You might think that a smaller ship means less choices and lower quality, but at least on Windstar, you’ll enjoy some of the finest dining anywhere (land or sea) while seeing the world from their beautiful small ships.

One of the great things about industry conferences like this is our access to the more boutique cruise lines. Being based in Texas and having a very active cruise port in Galveston, most of our customers are already at least somewhat familiar with the ships that sail from the island. But they may never have heard of the bulk of the 50+ cruise lines we represent. These sessions help us learn more about these brands that we don’t get to see very often, plus the executives are here to help us find new ways to help get the word out to our customers.


CruiseWorld was Chris Prelog’s first public event as the new President of Windstar Cruises. If his presentation this morning was any indication, the cruise line is in great hands. Welcome aboard, Chris!


General Session Three featured a panel of river cruise executives talking about their various companies and the differences between ocean and river cruising. The cruise lines represented included Riviera River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Amadeus River Cruises, Crystal River Cruises, and AmaWaterways. They offered great insight into how to approach selling river cruises and talked about their protocols for returning to service in a COVID-19 world.

There were two big take-aways from this session worth spotlighting:


One of the challenges with river cruising is the water level. If the rivers get too high, the ships may not fit under certain bridges. If the water level drops too low, the ships bottom out. I’m often asked about this when perspective river customers chat with me about booking one of these voyages. They may have read somewhere that this could be a problem and naturally they are concerned.

The bottom line, according to this morning’s panel, is that this really isn’t the issue some make it out to be. First and foremost, water levels affect less than 3% (by the panel’s estimate) of the voyages in any given year. The chances of water levels affecting your voyage are already very low, but if it does happen, there are plans in place.

Some of the river lines sail more than one ship on each river, and in the case of a water issue, they will simply swap ships. While you’re enjoying your day on an excursion, they move you over to the sister ship. As the execs said the wallpaper might be different, but the ships are essentially the same. You’ll have the same room number and accommodations, but now your cruise can continue uninterrupted. When this isn’t possible, the line’s fleet of luxury motor coaches is standing by to take you to the next city. The executives also mentioned that in many cases the customers are given a credit to return later and experience what they missed.


One very interesting (and logical) point made by one of the panelists had to do with COVID-19 safety. The cruise industry is often unfairly labeled as “petri dishes at sea” – a phrase that might look great on paper but is, in fact, simply untrue. Cruise ships of any size are some of the cleanest vacation options available, with all staterooms cleaned daily and the common areas constantly receiving attention. But beyond the cleaning, there is another factor to consider: the isolation of the employees.

On cruise ships, the crew has been sequestered in a “bubble” onboard the ship. They are not going home to their families or venturing out beyond the ship itself. With a land hotel, for example, those employees are going home each evening and there is no way to maintain a completely COVID-free zone. Certainly there is no way to guarantee that a customer or crew member won’t be exposed, but by quarantining all new crew members and keeping them within the ship’s bubble, these companies are minimizing the possibility of their employees spreading the virus.


Joe Tibble from United Airlines joined us to chat about the latest happenings at the airline. The biggest news, if you haven’t heard already, is that they were the first airline to drop the change fees…and that policy is permanent. No more $200 (or more) charges to change a ticket. You may not be able to get a refund if you need to change or cancel your flight, but now you will at least get the full value of the ticket when you’re ready to re-schedule.

He also talked, naturally, about COVID-19 and its affect on their service. He explained how the planes filter the air, making them one of the safest places to be and minimizing the risk of spreading the virus to almost zero, assuming everyone follows the protocols and wears their masks. He also said United has invested heavily in technology, including giving customers an interactive map online where they can see the current COVID-19 restrictions of all the destinations the airline services.

With United as our “hometown airline” these changes and procedures are very welcome. There are also plans in place to add some new routes to their network, further expanding their reach. COVID-19 has certainly impacted their operations, but Joe indicated that they will continue to expand their footprint across the world as soon as practical.


If you read yesterday’s recap, you know that there was a fantastic contest sponsored by UpLift where five travel consultants shared stories about how they had UpLift-ed themselves and the industry during these difficult times. Sue’s story touched all of us and I’m happy to report she was the overwhelming choice to win the $1000 vacation loan to be fully repaid by UpLift Financial.

Yesterday I also suggested that UpLift should give the prize to all five finalists, as their stories were all worthy. They didn’t do that, but they did give a second $1000 prize to the runner-up, which is still very cool in my book. So congrats to Maurisia Jeffers as well as Sue Slater, two big winners at CruiseWorld this year. On top of all of that, the event organizer Travel Weekly gave the remaining three finalists $100 gift cards. So I’m happy to say that nobody walked away empty-handed. Congrats all!


The final General Session of CruiseWorld 2020 began with a focus on luxury cruises and panelists from Crystal Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Oceania Cruises. Each discussed the current status of their sailings, their plans to return to service, and how travel consultants can connect their customers with the luxury cruise experience.

There were some very important points made during this panel:

  • SAFETY – The smaller ships allow for a more controllable environment than other vacation options.
  • VALUE – Customers sometimes get “sticker shock” when seeing the price of a luxury cruise, but when you do the math, the value is clear. On larger ships, you pay to get on and pay again to get off. With luxury cruises, you pay once and most everything is included.
  • DEMAND – There is tremendous pent-up demand for cruising, especially in the luxury market. When cruising does re-start in earnest, bookings will be tremendous and, due to limited capacity, ships will fill quickly. Many are already close to capacity. Several panelists emphasized that NOW is the time to book and that waiting until later might leave you on the pier without a stateroom.

    Crystal Cruises’ Carmen Roig offered a clever alternative to the phrase “bucket list” – “life list.” Instead of things you want to do before you die, make it a positive and list the things you want to do to live your best life.


    There have certainly been a lot of stories from suppliers and agents about loss in 2020. Let’s face it – business has been brutal for all of us. But if there was going to be a “HARD LUCK AWARD” for the cruise industry this year, it might go to Harry Sommer, President of Norwegian Cruise Line.

    Harry took over the reins on January 1st from Andy Stuart, a leader who was beloved in the travel community. Hard enough to follow in those footsteps, but even more so when you factor in a worldwide pandemic. For the majority of the time that Sommer has been in charge, his cruise line has not been sailing. A former travel agent himself, Harry did a great job connecting with the almost 600 consultants watching the presentation and assuring us that he will be the head of a cruise line that actually cruises at some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future.


    Starting next Thursday, November 19th, Norwegian Cruise Line will launch a new online video series called “Embark.” Each episode will feature some of the Broadway-calibre entertainment featured onboard their ships.

    Up first is “THE CHOIR OF MAN,” an incredible musical experience, live from London’s West End. You can watch it live starting at 9pm ET on Thursday, November 19th by visiting More episodes will be added on a regular basis.


    With under two months to convert from a live convention to a virtual platform, there were bound to be issues. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from CruiseWorld (my first time attending this particular conference) and I must admit I was not anticipating much from the virtual experience. I am very happy to report that it has not only met my expectations but exceeded them. In many ways, this virtual platform improves on the overall experience. I certainly miss the live interaction and the energy, but the technology actually made things a lot easier overall.

    I must say a huge thank you and congratulations to everyone at Northstar Travel Group, Travel Weekly, and the CruiseWorld staff. I’ve shown most of them above but there are others who are, unfortunately, not listed. You did it! You pulled it off and gave us all an amazing, unforgettable experience. This is just what we all needed right now and we are now very well positioned to begin what will surely be a very busy time in our industry. I can’t wait to thank you all face-to-face next year.

    That’s a wrap on CruiseWorld 2020. Looking forward to (hopefully) doing this in person in 2021 in Miami. Until then, you can read about the other two days of the conference here: Day One RecapDay Two Recap