Deciding on the location for a meeting can be a daunting task. From local sites to resorts to international locations, the choices are endless. However, planning a meeting at sea can be one of the easier options.
What are some of the advantages of choosing a cruise ship over a land-based venue?
- Value – A huge perk of cruising is the major cost savings. Many items that a typical venue would charge for separately, such as A/V equipment, meeting space and food, are, in most cases, included. There is no need to budget for décor, delivery drops, turn-down service, luggage pull, meeting space and basic A/V. Usually, less travel staff assistance is needed. Many cruise lines will throw in both an opening and closing cocktail reception, depending on the size of the group. Meetings at sea can cost as low as $399 per person, inclusive.
- Built-in team building – Unlike hotels and many other land-based meeting options, attendees cannot go in and out of the venue at will. Once on the ship, participants have no choice but to say on-site, which creates a great venue for networking. Attendees (and their spouses or family members) have many chances to rub elbows with their peers outside of the program — at meal functions and at evening activities. This quickly develops a sense of community and camaraderie.
- Group activities – In addition to increased face-time with fellow attendees, cruises offer a number of activities for groups. Planners also can arrange customized shore excursions and special onboard ceremonies.
- Multiple departure gateways and options – Cruise lines utilize more than 40 ports in the U.S. alone. Trip duration ranges from three nights cruises to 10, with everything in between. Depending on the size of the group, itineraries may be customized and international ports are available, as well.
Like all meeting venues, however, cruises can present certain challenges. Here are some things to bear in mind.
- Lead times – One major concern is securing meeting space, as the ships are constantly running concurrent activities. Planning ahead is the key. Ideally, planners should book a year in advance to secure the best space and rates.
- Inclement weather – Weather can be a factor. However, unlike a land based trip, the ships are mobile and able to steer clear of most storms.
- Payment schedules – Payments differ from typical meeting contracts. The cruise line will set payment deadlines for the cabins you have reserved. As with land based meeting contracts, the cruise lines will have a cancellation or attrition policy as part of the contract.
Navigating the sea of choices
Once the choice has been made to meet at sea, planners should ask themselves the following questions:
- How much “sea time” is needed for meetings and breakout sessions?
- What is the projected group size?
- What type of itinerary would be ideal?
- Which ships can accommodate the attendees and the various sessions planned?
- How far in advance does the contract need to be negotiated?
- What are the immigration requirements for the attendees?
- What are the logistics including U.S. Customs requirements, shipping schedules, etc.?
- Who is the onboard group coordinator?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- What optional activities are offered when in port?
To minimize the headaches and maximize the meeting experience, consider working with a travel planner experienced in arranging meetings at sea. Professionals who work with cruise lines every day will know who to ask for additional perks, can schedule a site visit in advance of the event and can provide feedback on location and logistics. Often times these planners don’t charge an extra service fee.
Keep these tips in mind, and getting a cruise meeting on the books should be a breeze — hopefully a warm tropical one!