MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Joe Watters' eyes sparkled every time he
uttered the phrase, "We proved them wrong."
And Watters used it more than once.
"The two-week itinerary some said was too long ..." he said
during an interview with TravelWeekly.com. "We proved them
The occasion was the inaugural cruise of Oceania's second ship,
the Insignia, and the sense of triumph was palpable.
The ship was loaded with Oceania's friends and VIPs, mostly
travel agents who are top producers -- or could be.
Insignia is the twin sister of the Regatta, which was launched
in July 2003 and heralded the birth of the new cruise line.
Both are former R-class ships, built by Renaissance; they now
lay claim to a market niche near the top of the premium class.
Oceania changed both the Insignia and the Regatta from their
previous incarnations. A third refurbished member of the R fleet
will have its first sailing for Oceania as the Nautica in early
The changes reflect the kind of clientele the line is targeting:
50-plus, affluent, educated, experienced travelers.
"We've made a lot of changes from the very beginning from
listening to clients and agents, and we will continue to do that,"
Watters said. "To be a successful cruise line, you have to be a
"This was a sports bar," Watters continued, as we toured the
Horizon lounge, a window-lined room at the top of the ship.
He gestured toward delicate colored-glass sculptures poised on
display cabinets that Renaissance had placed in a semi-circular
pattern between the bar and the picture windows.
"There were TV screens [atop the cabinets], and also over the
bar," he said. "The cabinets were closed. We thought, 'Why should
we block this beautiful view?' So we opened up the cabinets and put
these art pieces on top."
remodeled the Toscana restaurant on the Insignia, giving it a
richer and more vibrant color scheme and new carpets, wall
coverings and artwork, and updated the Martini Bar by adding new
furniture. The verandas on the Insignia are inlaid with teak, in
contrast to the prefabricated teak on the Regatta. The Regatta is
slated to receive the same facelift when it goes into dry-dock this
"We're a small company," Watters said. "We're not bureaucratic.
Decisions are made quickly."
The 'uncruise' line
"I like to refer to it as approachable elegance," said Watters.
"We have been very successful appealing to people who never
cruised, the land-based resort clientele. They find us to be 'the
uncruise.' We're not regimented."
Jeff Drew, senior vice president of sales, said Oceania is
targeting "disenfranchised" premium cruisers, enticing them with
"the highest level service, the finest cuisine you can find at sea
and a wealth of creature comforts and amenities you won't find in
Drew called the ship's food "the ace in the hole," thanks to a
hotel team that was drawn in large measure from Silversea.
There are four restaurants on board, plus a poolside bar and an
outdoor grill called Waves.
The Grand Dining Room offers what Oceania calls five-star
continental cuisine. The Terrace serves breakfast and lunch
buffets. Toscana is an Italian restaurant. The Polo Grill serves
steaks, chops and seafood.
The restaurants operate on an open-seating basis. Room service
is offered on a 24-hour basis.
The sales strategy
The Oceania sales strategy is to price its ships in a category
comparable to lines such as Holland America, Celebrity or Princess,
but then provide a small-ship experience that approaches that of
the luxury lines, such as Crystal Cruises or Radisson Seven Seas
The 700-passenger Oceania ships are smaller than most of the
ships of the premium lines. Dining is open seating. Dress is
"I don't want you to compare us to the luxury lines," Drew told
travel agents on board. "I want you to sell us as a premium line,
and then we'll get you on here and blow you away."
Crystal and Radisson customers would be perfectly at home in the
penthouse and owner's suites, Drew said, "but that's not our
target. We're looking for the upper-premium group."
Food is included on the Insignia, drinks are not. The staterooms
on Oceania ships are not all suites, as on the luxury lines.
"The reasons we're not a perfect match for the luxury lines is
that we have a smaller stateroom and we do not include everything.
I don't want the customers who come from those ships to feel that
they are being nickeled and dimed."
Oceania's itineraries also are designed to target high-end
"Our itineraries are destination heavy," said Drew. "We go to
unique destinations, spend more time in port, and our shore
excursions are being upgraded."
Oceania's per-day charges break down to about $200 to $300
through offers like its two-for-one fares.
"Celebrity is going for the 40-year-old," said Drew. "But they
have no time ... only a quick, seven-day vacation. It's a small
market. I'm after the mature market. They have more money, less
debt, more time. They can take the 10-day, 12-day or 14-day cruise.
That's our niche."
The agents were clearly on board with the sales strategy.
"I'm very critical when it comes to product," said Jeffrey
Kivet, CEO of Cruise Value Center. "But I have to work pretty hard
to find something not to like about this."
Kivet, who said he moves 10,000 passengers a month, said he has
experienced everything the cruise market has to offer.
"It's great to see a cruise line that can talk the talk and walk
the walk," he said. "This company has lived up to everything it
promised. It's refreshing when you can deliver what you promised
and then some."
Kivet said his clients will find the country club atmosphere
"refreshing." And the food and service are at the top of what the
market offers, he said.
"Some are comparable," he said, "but in terms of bang for the
buck, this is thousands less."
In 2003, Watters said, every Europe sailing of the Regatta was
full. Every inaugural sailing in the Caribbean was 23% ahead of
projections. The least successful sailings, he said, were winter
departures that sailed 80% full.
"People thought a new company can't make it today," said
Watters. "We proved them wrong."
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].