Well-heeled travellers thinking of taking a luxurious Radisson Seven Seas World Cruise are advised to book early for 2006, in light of the success of the Seven Seas Voyager 2005 World Cruise. It sold out early, with more than 300 passengers booked for the entire 107-night-and-day voyage, which set off from Los Angeles for the South Pacific on 5 January 2005, spanning the entire globe to take in 44 ports in 27 countries on five continents.

The 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager, which entered service on 1 April 2003, is the world’s second all-balcony suite ship and the 46,000-tonne vessel offers worldwide itineraries, accommodating her guests in 354 luxurious ocean-view suites with private balconies.

In keeping with the six-star tradition of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC), the vessel boasts exceptionally generous space-per-guest ratios, with the world’s largest lead-in suites (minimum 356ft2 with balcony), featuring hi-tech interactive TV systems, CD/DVD players, large marble-appointed bathrooms with separate showers and full bathtubs, top European service with butlers offered in 88 suites, an internet centre with 29 computers, and the finest dining on the high seas in four restaurants, including Signatures, a reservations-only dinner venue staffed by Cordon Bleu-trained master chefs.

RSSC also operates and markets the 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner, the world’s first all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship, which debuted in March 2001, and the 350-passenger twin-hull Radisson Diamond. The 320-passenger Paul Gauguin, which entered service in Tahiti in 1998, has established herself as the gold standard for year-round elegance in French Polynesia. While the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator, which debuted in 1999, is the line’s first all-suite (90% with private balconies) vessel.

RSSC was formed in December 1994 with the merger of Diamond Cruises and Seven Seas Cruises, each of which was only operating one ship at that time. From these modest beginnings, it has evolved into one of the world’s largest luxury cruise lines, and is now part of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, one of the world’s major hospitality services companies, comprising over 1690 hotels, resorts, restaurants and cruise ships.

With headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, RSSC employs about 2000 people worldwide in its ship operations business, including over 200 employees ashore. Working hard to keep its hotel, land and sea programmes on the right course is Christian Sauleau, its executive vice president of operations, who is also based in Florida. He joined RSSC in 1998 after working for several companies in the leisure industry, including Royal Viking Line and Silversea Cruises.

RSSC’s cruise line technical managers report to Sauleau, who has also been actively involved in the construction of one of the four cruise ships the company has launched in the last five years, from initial design to final delivery. Since joining RSSC, he has witnessed several key changes in operational management.

‘Today, we are looking for greater efficiency and cost control because cruise ships are now run a lot better than they were 20 years ago,’ he says. ‘There’s also more focus on safety and the environment – which have now become top priorities. The cost of doing business these days is higher, as it includes the cost of extra security, and the alignment and the new technology needed to drive the new green rules – which I think is a good thing because we have to protect our oceans.’

Not that cruise companies like RSSC necessarily need to employ more staff to handle all these changes. ‘We do employ more security on the ships, but with all this new technology we’re now looking for greater leadership and more skills,’ says Sauleau. ‘Training is the key for every aspect of a vessel, and we’ll always be looking for well-qualified, efficient people.

‘When it comes to improving cost-efficiency, one thing we now have to look at is the itineraries. At some point you may have to cut one or two ports out of, say, 15 to remain cost-efficient. You also need to look at things such as the speed of your vessels because this affects the consumption of fuel.’

While all this is going on, Sauleau is kept busy pulling many of the strings that ensure RSSC’s tightly run, seamless approach remains focused. ‘Everyone must be on the same wavelength,’ he explains. ‘You have to remember that our customers not only want to stay on a great ship, they are also looking for great and new destinations, which is the second vital part of the package.’

Does today’s instant global communications make his job a lot easier? ‘Certainly, the technology is a great help, as it enables you to deal with a problem much faster,’ admits Sauleau, ‘but the means of performing a task has also created a demand for a quicker response, so you have to be able to think on your feet, which comes with experience.

‘It’s all down to good teamwork and communication, which in turn comes from finding, training and encouraging the right people, as their skills can save you time, and time is money. The technology is a plus, as it can help you to get to know your existing and potential customers better, which is vital; when it comes to service – and ensuring an excellent quality of service is what our brand is all about – the difference is in the details.’

The good news for 2005, according to Sauleau, is that RSSC is now seeing a ‘strong rebound’ in its cruise business. ‘In 2003, we had a world cruise just after 9/11, with about 56% cancellations,’ he said. ‘Obviously, we are in business to succeed, not to lose money every year. We schedule a ship two to two-and-a-half years in advance, so you also have to be aware of global politics, and have a contingency plan in place.

‘With all these things going on, I seemed to have stepped into the “challenge business”. Yet at the end of the day you always have to remember that we have to sell to the customer. What we promise, we have to deliver – and we have to make