Royal considers charging for some shows

By Tom Stieghorst
For the first time, Royal Caribbean International said it is actively considering an extra charge for some of the entertainment offered on its cruise ships.

Nick Weir, Royal Caribbean's vice president of entertainment, made the disclosure in an online Google Plus Hangout chat that Royal Caribbean presented from the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Weir was asked about charging for entertainment by one of a half-dozen questioners who were picked by the cruise line to appear in the video feed.

"Is there an opportunity to charge in the future? Maybe," Weir acknowledged.

He drew a parallel between entertainment and dining, which was traditionally included in the fare but today consists of both complimentary and for-charge elements.

"We're thinking about doing that in the future with entertainment," he said. "It will be in addition to the core product."

Premium entertainment, Weir said, would "change the experience in the direction we want to change it."

The disclosure would appear to herald a new source of onboard revenue for the cruise industry. If implemented, Royal would become the second major line to add fee-extra entertainment options.

Carnival Cruise Lines has introduced fee-extra entertainment on some of its ships through its Carnival Live series, in which name acts such as Chicago and Olivia Newton-John do single concerts in the ship's main theater at a price of $20 to $40 per person, or $100 to $150 for VIP seats.

Until now, cruise lines have typically included entertainment in the ticket price.

Norwegian Cruise Line also charges a fee for admission to dinner theaters on its newer ships, where a meal is included with the show. For example, Norwegian charges $30 for floor seats and $25 for banquettes in Norwegian Getaway's Illusionarium, which seats 232 diners.

The Google Plus Hangout chat, featuring Weir and actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth, the Quantum's entertainment consultant, was staged to unveil some aspects of the entertainment Royal Caribbean has lined up for the Quantum of the Seas, which is due to enter service in November.

The two said that contemporary harpist William Close will present a show called "Sonic Odyssey" in the main theater on the Quantum. The centerpiece is a giant instrument called the Earth Harp, which has strings that reach various corners of the theater.

The show will also feature a drum wall consisting of 136 drum and a woman wearing a dress that Weir said can be played like a violin. The show includes a nine-piece orchestra with singers, dancers, aerialists and gymnasts.

A second space on Quantum, the Two70 aft lounge, will be used for entertainment in the evenings. The signature element in that room will be the projection system, which renders 3-D video on screens that descend to cover the wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling windows in the three-story space.

The system, which Royal Caribbean has dubbed "Vistarama," will be used to provide backdrops for shows that will feature entertainers emerging and descending through the floor atop tube-like platforms.

A second entertainment feature will be "Roboscreen," six 100-inch video monitors that will move and converge in computer-controlled artistry that in a preview video brought to mind a high-tech kaleidoscope.

The video monitors will also enable Two70 to present remote performances. Royal Caribbean named a Las Vegas band, Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, as being among the first acts that will appear virtually in Two70.

While much of the entertainment on the Quantum depends on new-generation technology, Weir and Chenoweth assured their audience that the human element will be preserved.

"Kristin was very insistent that the room have soul," Weir said of Two70.

Audience involvement will be a touchstone in another Quantum lounge called the Music Hall, where the idea will be to integrate performers and guests. It will be the locale for an after-party following the full-length production of "Mamma Mia!" in the main theater. It will also be a regular venue for tribute bands impersonating acts ranging from the Beatles to Bon Jovi.

Overall, the vision for the Quantum's entertainment, Weir said, was to offer not just firsts at sea but "things you can't see anywhere. We wanted to start creating spaces that look like they've never been on a cruise ship."

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.
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