Royal Caribbean has launched its largest, most technologically advanced ship in the region – and opened up the Australian market to a completely new experience.
Tens of thousands of Australians are used to flying to Singapore and taking a cruise. But how about flying to Shanghai, a city filled with jaw-dropping architecture, amazing night life and great shopping, and then cruising to Japan?
Spectrum of the Seas is a 168,666 tonne, billion-dollar baby built specially for the mainland Chinese market. But the line is keen to emphasise: we’re all invited.
Cruise Passenger was on board when she left her new homeport of Shanghai for the first time – and the journey was a revelation.
There are rides and facilities Australians, who have Ovation of the Seas in our waters for our wave season, are familiar with: the 90-metre high viewing platform North Star, Ripcord by iFly, Seaplex, a rock climbing wall, a FlowRider surf simulator and, of course, robot barmen.
On the food front, there’s Jamie’s Italian, Izumi, Chef’s Table and Windjammer – plus a two-deck main dining room.
But there are stunning – and sometimes quirky – elements that are all her own: Sky Pad, a high-tech take on bungee jumping with virtual reality masks, fencing, archery and laser tag.
She also has the first suite-class enclave, with its own private dining and solarium. Royal Caribbean is reluctant to compare Spectrum to other ship-within-a-ship alternatives, but it’s aimed at the ultra-wealthy Chinese who either want a luxury family holiday or to escape scrutiny and indulge.
Plus the Ultimate Family Suite – enough room for 11 in a duplex with private wrap-around balcony, jacuzzi, a slide for the kids – and the kidults – to swoosh from the upper storey bedrooms down to dinner and a private cinema complete with popcorn maker.
The shopping mall is packed with big brands like Gucci, Bulgari, Cartier and Tiffany.
Spectrum is also a fascinating culinary experience: Wonderland features Dadong, one of China’s best known chefs, Teppanyaki, a Hot Pot eatery and Sichuan Red – a no-holds-barred fiery Eastern-style eatery.
But what we really liked about Spectrum is her impish sense of humour.
Step into a glass-fronted lift and there’s a live pianist singing favourites or a casino in full swing. Yes, in the lift! There’s an eclectic modern art collection of pictures, kinetic installations and digital collages in every corridor.
They call these experiences “surprise and delight” moments.
New theatrical productions – Showgirls, Silkroad and a Marvel comics take-off called The Effectors – fight for attention with Headliner acts, silent discos and, of course, an enormous karaoke lounge where sad crooners belt out Mandarin classics.
Our cruise carried just 2,527 passengers – among them a number of Australian travel agents. So we can’t really tell you what will happen when the ship is filled with Chinese sailors.
But the Australian agents we spoke to could see the potential. Their only question: how will Aussies fare when the ship is filled with Mainland Chinese?
The company has prepared emails to each Australian passenger telling them a cruise on Spectrum will be a “culturally immersive experience”.
And it’s true. With announcements in both English and Chinese, more Asian food offerings across the board and holidaying cheek-by-jowl with a nation that doesn’t by-and-large like sun, swimming or queuing, it’s a journey for the adventurous.
Susan Bonner, Vice President and Managing Director Australia and New Zealand, believes there is lots of potential.
“The Asia sailings are the number two choice for Australians and New Zealanders. We send a significant amount of guests to Singapore even on short sailings for fly cruise.
“We are a key source market for those sailing from Shanghai to Hong Kong and even Singapore. Australians love Asia.”
She said Royal Caribbean was expecting 10 per cent of Spectrum’s guests would be from Australia or New Zealand. That’s about 400 Australians per sailing.
Qantas direct flights to Shanghai will be a big help, and she expected agents to work on packages.
There are already some extraordinary offers in the market. How about a 17-day package Jewels of the Orient – Beijing Hangzhou, the great wall and more + flights for just $1,999? That’s $117 per person per night.
With Sydney’s capacity problems slowing cruise growth to a crawl, fly-cruise is one way to expand the market. And adding Shanghai to the roster of Asian destination is likely to prove a hit if the lines can get package pricing right.
Some lines have recently pulled back from China, moving megaliners to areas where they feel they can earn bigger bucks like Alaska and the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean is doing the opposite. After a decade of experience in the Asian market, the big-ship line is “fully committed” to conquering the largest potential market in the world.
And Spectrum of the Seas is a billion dollar weapon. The ultra class ship, which takes up to 5,622 guests and a crew of 1,551, is state-of-the-art. And the Chinese guests on board our cruise looked as if they were suitably impressed.
Australian cruisers looking for a new adventure are likely to feel the same.