A challenge: Describing Celebritys Cirque show

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ONBOARD THE CONSTELLATION -- Julie VanDerworp of Bee Kalt Travel in Royal Oak, Mich., came to the Bar at the Edge of the Earth to catch the first Cirque du Soleil performance on Celebrity Cruises. She called it fabulous.

I dont know how Im going to describe it to my clients, but they must see it, she said.

Thats the challenge for agents like VanDerworp and Celebrity marketers: How do you explain a concept that isnt what most consumers think it is, namely an after-dinner cruise show?

Very deliberately, as it turns out: Celebritys marketers are still tweaking the way it delivers the message to cruisers.

There has been a lot of work [done regarding] how were going to position Cirque, said Steve Hancock, Celebritys vice president of marketing. Were relooking at all our communications.

One of the things we [Cirque and Celebrity] both discovered very quickly, from a communication standpoint: We said [it was an] experience, and it wasnt a show. But it really wasnt clear because the name Cirque connotates a show.

The Cirque experience is ambitious lounge entertainment, a blend of cutting-edge technology and artistry.

Its a nightly, two-hour experience featuring five Cirque characters who roam about the ships observation lounge, which is resplendent with the latest in sound, lighting and three-dimensional, visual- effects wizardry.

Its a sharp departure from the usual lounge milieu on a cruise.

Its a special, atmospheric experience, right down to specialty drinks created at the Bar at the Edge of the Earth, which is what Celebrity and Cirque call the Constellations redesigned observation lounge.

But there are also several things that it isnt -- including a miniature Cirque extravaganza akin to the troupes new, $165 million Ka at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Passengers who came on the initial cruise on the Constellation in December expecting a traditional show initially stared forward, toward the stage, but then became aware of the activity going on around them as the Cirque characters wandered at will throughout the bar.

If it were predictable and easy to explain, it probably wouldnt be Cirque, said Jack Williams, then-president of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Of course, that makes it more difficult to manage guest expectations.

The cruise line and Cirque, known for its otherworldly circus shows, began tweaking the onboard concept almost immediately after its first showing, which Celebrity billed as a world premiere but which clearly was a work in progress.

A masquerade ball, with attendees wearing white, was intended to be the weeks highlight, but shortly after it debuted, the balls $30 charge was eliminated and guests could opt to purchase the $19.95 mask that had been included in the original fee.

Hancock said earlier this month that the masquerade ball has since been altered to include interactive activities like face-painting and massages. Its like a fun party, he said. 

So far, the Constellation and the Summit, which just received its Cirque bar makeover, are the only two ships to have a Bar at the Edge of the Earth. A decision about converting additional ships is expected shortly.

The Bar at the Edge is a major change from the ships former lounges. A ceiling is resplendent with hanging lights and other ethereal adornments. Fifteen projectors create three-dimensional images throughout the room. Combined with a state-of-the-art sound system, the effect is clearly a Cirque manifestation.

Earlier this month, Celebrity showcased a Cirque demo at its gathering of its top agency accounts. And Hancock said he was meeting with the lines advertising agency to discuss ad directions.

Richard Fain, RCCLs CEO, said a Las Vegas-type show was never the concept.

Its not intended to be a show where you come in at the beginning and stay until the end, but an ongoing party with a flow of people coming and going, Fain said.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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