On the heels of announcing its return to Australia with two ships starting in October, Royal Caribbean has revealed new details of the cruise line’s pandemic-delayed private island destination under development in the South Pacific.
As early as next spring, select Royal Caribbean cruises out of Australia will include an automatic beach day on Lelepa, a small island in Vanuatu. Located northwest of larger Efate island, the private resort, named Perfect Day at Lelepa, will delight cruisers seeking “authentic adventures and genuine relaxation,” according to Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley.
The cruise line hasn’t announced an opening date for Perfect Day at Lelepa, but the smart money seems to be on a wait of another year before the island port welcomes its first guests. One clue as to the timing is Royal Caribbean’s announced itineraries out of Brisbane and Sydney through April 2023. None of these sailings aboard Quantum of the Seas or Ovation of the Seas lists Perfect Day at Lelepa as a call.
Another indication that an opening any earlier than mid-2023 is unlikely is a remark made a few weeks ago by Mark Tamis, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of hotel operations.
“We’ll be opening [Perfect Day at Lelepa] within a couple of years,” said Tamis on the inaugural cruise of Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest flagship and, for now, the largest cruise ship in the world. The cruise line executive also noted that the Vanuatu property would already be in operation if not for the COVID-19 outbreak.
Although Royal Caribbean is coy when asked for specifics on what passengers will see and do at Perfect Day at Lelepa, one doesn’t need to be a pirate of the Caribbean to dig up a treasure chest filled with hints by looking at what already exists in, well, the Caribbean.
Both of Royal Caribbean’s well-established private destinations share a commonality of having pristine sandy beaches dotted with umbrella-shading loungers, pools and lagoon-like bays for all ages, rentable cabanas and over-the-water bungalows, plentiful food options, some shopping, DJ and live indigenous entertainment, and excursion activities. While many of the above activities come with a fee, most things – and food – are included in the cruise fare. And, yes, the drink package you bought for the ship also works here.
When planning a private destination, Royal Caribbean strives to celebrate an area’s cultural heritage and distinct natural features. Unique to Labadee, the cruise line’s 105-hectare foray in private destinations, is one of the longest zip lines over water anywhere in the world in addition to an alpine roller-coaster and other attractions that capitalise on the locale’s seaside and mountainous terrain that doesn’t cost extra. Labadee, opened in 1986, is a favourite stop on Western and Eastern Caribbean cruises being located on the northern coast of Haiti.
Roughly 882 kilometres southeast of Labadee is Royal Caribbean’s second private destination. The 51-hectare Perfect Day at CocoCay in the Bahamas reopened in May 2019 after undergoing a US$250 million transformation that included a new name; it was known as Little Stirrup Cay when Royal Caribbean acquired the island’s lease from Admiral Cruises in 1988. Distinctive offerings include Thrill Waterpark with 13 slides and an enormous wave pool, a tethered helium balloon ride and shore excursions that include swimming with stingrays and pigs, though, mercifully, not at the same spot. Hideaway Beach, an adults-only expansion of the cay, is expected to open later this year.
Many elements of the Caribbean destinations will be repeated in the South Pacific, but Royal Caribbean is promising a private paradise in Vanuatu that will cater to the needs, wants and habits of the market’s demographics and not be a cookie-cutter of its existing escapes.
“What’s a perfect day for an Australian is not a perfect day for an American,” Tamis said. “Thrilling for an Australian might be snorkeling while a thrill for an American might be going down a water slide … not that Australians don’t also like water slides, of course.”
It’s to be seen whether the Lelepa property is also designed with Asians in mind, and if ships of Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, will make stopovers there as they do at the two private destinations in the Caribbean. The resort’s size hasn’t been disclosed, but the company did share that guest volume for Perfect Day at Lelepa is planned to be less than that of Perfect Day at CocoCay, which is on track to receive close to 3 million people in peak cruising years. Lelepa is being designed to handle as many as 800,000 guests annually, according to Bayley.
Smaller crowds should help Royal Caribbean make good on a promise to reduce the carbon footprint by powering the island with renewable sources of energy.
“Lelepa will be the first private cruise destination in the world that achieves carbon neutrality,” said Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises chairman and CEO. “All of the energy consumed will be generated from renewable sources. Accomplishing that requires both major investment and major innovation, but Perfect Day at Lelepa will be rich in both.”
Part of that investment is hiring Australia-based Cox Architecture, a sustainable, design-focused contemporary architectural firm that is serving as a lead on the project. Besides protecting Vanuatu’s ecological features, Royal Caribbean is steadfast in showcasing the island nation’s distinct natural beauty and diverse local culture.
“We believe our destinations should be sustainably designed,” Bayley said. “That idea goes beyond simply protecting the ecological features of Lelepa and includes showing respect for the people and traditions that make this a special place.”
Royal Caribbean has big plans for its Perfect Day brand – an “island collection,” or “global lineup” of exclusive self-contained resorts – though the cruise line hasn’t announced where it’s going after Vanuatu. The competition may not have as grand a strategy around private destinations, but they’re holding their own. Royal Caribbean shares the Bahamas with Norwegian Cruise Line’s recently expanded Great Stirrup Cay, MSC Cruises’ Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, Virgin Voyages’ The Beach Club and Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay. Brands of Carnival Cruise Line divvy up Bahaman berth time at Princess Cays and Half Moon Cay. NCL also operates Harvest Caye off the Belize coast.
With the Perfect Day Island Collection, Royal Caribbean said it is changing what it means to thrill and chill on vacation, creating the ultimate family vacation for memory-making moments worth experiencing and repeating.
“Vacation time is precious, and travellers today have higher expectations and more options than ever,” a company spokesperson said. “Consumers continue to invest more in experiences and make choices based on the range of emotional benefits gained from quality time away. That’s why Royal Caribbean continues to push the boundaries in cruise ship design and one-of-kind private destinations as part of an overall strategy to deliver world-class experiences for loyal guests and the next generation of cruisers.”