As the cruise industry has grown and evolved over the past thirty years, cruise lines now embrace group bookings as a way to help fill every berth. As a result, group departments have grown and become more sophisticated to fit those needs. What might have been standard policies for groups even 4 or 5 years ago may no longer be the norm today. This article deals with those items you need to know at time of booking.

Exterior of Norwegian Escape (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

Exterior of Norwegian Escape (Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)

In the early 2000’s many cruise lines launched new group programs designed to make the process easier. Costa Cruises launched an aggressive group program with their sales force receiving specialist group training, in order to help market and handle groups more successfully. Groups now account for 60% of their business. Norwegian Cruise Lines upgraded its reservation system and now has a more user-friendly system that treats each cabin as an individual booking within the group. Carnival Cruise Lines shifted its amenities program with stellar results. And Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises totally revised their group policies and procedures with positive remarks from travel agents and passengers alike. These new polices are designed to release the mystery behind the group department in order to let group organizers understand exactly how the group department works as well as having those open lines of communication available.

Group leaders need to be informed of the possibilities, whether or not booking through a cruise agency. Lets examine the most important areas group leaders should consider.

Negotiating Group Cruise Rates

Cruise lines used to offer percentage discounts, but these were confusing. Today, most lines offer set discounts to groups. This discount varies according to the ship and sailing date involved, with the norm being that a group must consist of at least a minimum of 8 staterooms booked with 16 passengers. For longer cruises and certain destinations, cruise lines might require fewer staterooms and passengers to be booked to receive the group discount. Other offers may also apply.

Carnival Cruise Lines first discovered they had groups booked who were non-drinkers and their standard offer of a bottle of wine or champagne was not appropriate. As a result, they introduced a system of offering other options, ranging from cabin upgrades, transfers or shipboard credits as an alternative. Now there is a point value for each item offered, with amenities points varying with the ship and sailing date. Other cruise lines quickly adopted similar programs using the same concept which provides the ability to offer flexible extra benefits to groups, whether it be a shipboard credit extended to each stateroom, a private cocktail party for the group, to upgrades, and dollars off discounts. Since most cruise lines have adopted a point system, with each ship and sailing assigned a number of points, giving the organizer or agency more flexibility to customize perks for their groups. The exception is holiday or high demand sailings where limited or no points are given.

Before booking, group leaders should be sure to identify the possible amenities and compare them across cruise lines, as they vary.