Royal Caribbean surf simulator part of latest wave to lure young cruisers

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Time was, cruise ships were twilight playgrounds where baked-Alaska-stuffed retirees could baste away their days in the Caribbean sun. Now, those same decks have gone extreme with a variety of activities-from rock-climbing to in-line skating and now even surfing-that are more friendly to rubber-limbed youngsters than their silver-fox grandparents.

If you thought cruising was only about ravaging a buffet table, smearing on some sun oil and plopping yourself in a deck chair, you've missed an entire rethinking of the cruise experience to make it more palatable for singles and young families. And as the vessels grow bigger, with higher passenger capacity and more room for activities, that younger-skewing initiative is only picking up steam, as evinced by the recent unveiling of the newest attraction to be installed on a Royal Caribbean ship: a surfing simulator.

It's part of Royal Caribbean's strategy to present cruising "as a cool vacation experience" and encourage people to shed those "misperceptions ingrained in old TV commercials and `The Love Boat,"' said Matt Cohen, director-marketing communications for the company. "It's not about shuffleboard and buffet tables anymore."

Indeed, Oivind Mathisen, editor and co-publisher of Cruise Industry News, said the industry has been very successful over the past several years in attracting younger cruisers, with the average age coming down from the 60s and 70s to low 40s. According to research from the Cruise Line International Association, the median age dropped from 46 to 44 between 2002 and 2004.

The changing priorities for the cruise lines "are part of a market evolution," Mr. Mathisen said. "With expanding cruise fleets, they need more passengers, especially since many of their passengers were old-timers who were dying off."

Royal Caribbean's mini-surf park is at the center of its push for its newest ship, the Freedom of the Seas, which will be the largest cruise ship in the world when it makes its maiden voyage next year. The first TV ads, created by Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, shows kids using the FlowRider, as the surf simulator is known. Spending wasn't disclosed.

PR Value

The marketer is also counting on added exposure from the PR that's come not only from construction of Freedom but also the well-kept secret of the surf-simulator, which was revealed in a recent media event. It earned prominent advance coverage in USA Today and would have been higher-profile yet had a segment on "The Today Show" not been canceled because of Hurricane Katrina coverage.

For Royal, first to add rock-climbing, basketball courts, and skating, the demographic change has been more dramatic. Since 2000 when the company launched its "Get Out There" campaign with Arnold, the average age of first-time cruisers has dropped from the mid-40s to 36, according to Caryl Capeci, senior VP-group account director at Arnold. The strategy is crucial to boosting Royal Caribbean's share in the $13 billion cruise industry where, according to Deutsche Bank, it is No. 2 with a 25% share to Carnival's leading 48%.

Mr. Mathisen said the key to maintaining this trend is giving teenagers that come with their parents things to do. He added that he wasn't sure whether exposing teenagers to cruise ships at an early age will result in long-term loyalty to the industry or individual brands. "It's too early to tell," he said.

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