Royal Caribbean International has an unusual dilemma with the Empress of the Seas.
Because it is planning to sail the ship to Cuba when it gets approval from Cuban authorities, it can't plan cruises very far ahead on the ship's current Caribbean itineraries.
So, for example, it can't sell groups early in the booking cycle to get a base of business going. It only has inventory available through Oct. 29, basically a three-month window.
Moreover, Empress is an old ship — the former Nordic Empress — albeit with a recent $50 million makeover. There's nothing really like it in the rest of the Royal fleet.
So Royal held an open house for agents last week, in a bid to show off the improvements, help agents get a better understanding of the ship and bring it top of mind.
The ship looked remarkably good for a 27-year-old vessel. Some minds were changed.
Cheryl Scavron, a Dream Vacations franchisee in Pompano Beach, Fla., said she initially thought the ship and its four- and five-day itineraries was best suited as a party cruise for young people. "Now that I see it again, I think this would be nice for a couple," she said.
Over the course of a couple of hours, about 200 agents got a thorough tour of the ship's cabins and public spaces. They also got entertained by a Cuban combo in boleros; had a sample of the mixed drinks served onboard; saw snippets of two main theater shows, "Bailamos" and "Three"; and had a lunch of branzino or steak in the main dining room.
Two Royal executives, senior VP of hotel operations Mark Tamis and senor VP of sales Vicki Freed, hosted the event, but Scavron was impressed that Royal brought sales reps, not only from South Florida, but from as far away as California, to conduct the tours.
"Vicki really knows how to sell a ship," Scavron said. "She brought in enough people, and had good entertainment. She made the ship look the best it can look," she said.