As Margaritaville at Sea approaches its first anniversary, the line is prioritizing making its niche product -- two-night Bahamas cruises -- more attractive to travel advisors, said CEO Kevin Sheehan Jr.
Sheehan is the son of former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan, who was among a group of investors who purchased the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line in 2016. The company rebranded to Margaritaville at Sea in late 2021 and launched its first cruises on the refurbished Margaritaville Paradise last May.
Kevin Sheehan Jr.
Sheehan Jr. said there are plans to offer new itineraries and sail more ships in the future, but his current priority is to grow agent awareness of the line's cruise-and-stay program, which enables guests to spend several days at a land resort in the middle of their cruise.
"Getting a travel agent to pitch a two-night cruise is a challenge," he said, adding that the price point is too low to get agents excited about the commission. "Instead of a two-night product, it's a four-, six-, eight-night product. And obviously, [guests are] willing to travel from farther away for that type of product."
Bookings are growing, Sheehan said, with the line recording its best Q4 and strongest January since 2016. Booking windows have also stretched to 60 days, from 45, he said, with weekend cruises often near capacity and weekdays sailing at least 80% full.
While bookings are strong, guests are "almost entirely" booking direct, Sheehan said. He attributes that to the line's short sailings and a lack of awareness among travel advisors that Margaritaville now has a cruise line, he said.
Cruise and stay at the Grand Lucayan
Sheehan positions the cruise and stay package as the key to attracting agents. The package allows guests to sail from the Port of Palm Beach in Florida to Grand Bahama Island and disembark there to stay for two, four or six nights at a partner hotel or resort. At the end of their land stay, guests board the cruise ship again, now filled with different guests, to return to Florida. The package is all-inclusive onboard and at the land resort. Up to 15% of bookings are made with the cruise and stay package, Sheehan said.
Cruise and stay packages are currently made through the line's call center, although Sheehan is working to integrate that process into the company's online booking platform to make things easier for advisors.
Margaritaville at Sea's cruise-and-stay program currently connects guests to Grand Lucayan Resort and Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach. Neither is a Margaritaville property, a missed opportunity to create a comprehensive branded experience, an issue that's been on Sheehan's mind. Margaritaville has a resort in Nassau, which he called "a very logical extension for us in the future."
The brand also has several resort properties in Mexico that would make for good opportunities for the brand, he said. Other Caribbean Margaritaville resorts are in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sheehan said he's still in the "baby steps" of the planning stages of preparing new itineraries that could connect with a Margaritaville resort, plans for which could be made as soon as this year.
For pre- or post-cruise stays, the nearest location is the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, about 60 miles from the Port of Palm Beach. Sheehan said he is in the process of developing a pre-cruise package and that those stays are currently put together on an ad hoc basis.
When the line launched, some travel advisors who sold Margaritaville said the 30-year-old ship product was incongruent with the higher-end resort product. They noted that while the ship had the 5 o'Clock Somewhere Bar and other spaces refashioned with the new branding, agents said the resorts felt newer and more luxurious than the ship.
But Melissa Vincent, an associate travel advisor at Great White Travels and Associates, a Cruise Planners franchise in Louisiana, said the agency's clients have come back happy from their Margaritaville cruises. The product has been an easy sell for people who are skittish about being on the water, she said.
She has a group of 18 guests booked with the cruise and stay program and said the option gives landlubbers the chance to explore one destination for several days.
"It gives my clients a chance to see something different without having to fly down to the Bahamas," she said.