As one of the largest suite operators in the world, Royal Caribbean International (RCI) knows how important suite guests are to the cruise equation. The US-based cruise line has over 2,000 suites across its fleet, and when its eagerly awaited mega-ship Oasis of the Seas enters service this November, followed closely by its Oasis-class sister ship, Allure of the Seas, in 2010, RCI will have twice as many suites as the next largest competitor.

It was this realisation, and the evolving needs and desires of suite guests, that spurred RCI to upgrade the suite furnishings and services across its fleet. "Our suites are highly coveted," says RCI’s senior vice-president of hotel operations Lisa Bauer. "We have 167 suites on the Oasis class, and 100 suites on the Freedom class and they just go! And for the premiums that suite guests pay, we have to make sure that they’re getting great value."

In analysing suite guest ratings, feedback and the changing profile of their suite guests, RCI was able to identify what high-end cruisers value in their cruise experience, from basic requirements to extra luxuries. "The profile of our suite guests is that they’re well travelled, discriminating and have high expectations," says Bauer.

"We wanted to deliver an improved and competitive suite experience that met these expectations both in terms of hardware and service."

Furnishing upgrades

“The profile of our suite guests is that they’re well travelled, discriminating and have high expectations.”

"One of the things that guests have talked about, and the place where we had the most opportunity [to make upgrades], was furnishings," says Bauer. "We have always had exceptional hardware, and the suites are nice and large, but the hospitality industry’s standards are changing, and so are our guest expectations."

RCI is endowing all of its suites with plush new sofa beds, flat screen televisions, stylish new balcony furniture and iPod docking stations. The upgrades began in March 2009, and will be complete by 2010. Personal touches play a significant part of the makeover, which Bauer says are essential to the modern luxury accommodation experience. "I think suite guests are looking for the kind of personalisation they would get if they were at a five-star shore-side hotel," she says. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

These extras will include complimentary slippers, luxury spa bathrobes, the cruise line’s exclusive range of Vitality bathroom amenities, Ghirardelli chocolates at turndown, plush bedding and a special menu from which guests can select their preference of pillow.

Service enhancements

For service, priority privileges are top of suite guests’ list of essentials, says Bauer. While most essential priority services were already included in RCI’s suite offerings, many were upgraded to a more personalised level, such as VIP theatre reservations, priority spa bookings, tender ticketing and offshore excursion ticketing. "From the time they arrive at the pier, we make sure our suite guests have a separate drop off area, separate security line access and upgraded signage so that it is clear this is the suite check-in area. Once they are on board, one of our senior management staff walks them to their room, and later they are invited to a private cocktail party hosted by the captain," says Bauer.

Suite guests also now have upgraded concierge services and VIP areas on private islands. Room service delivery has also been enhanced, enabling suite guests to "order in" from the dining room menu, while guests in the Loft Suites will have a suite attendant instead of traditional room service. RCI has also changed the colour code of its guests’ SeaPasses to indicate their suite category (silver for junior suite guests; gold for those in grand suites or higher). "While we give our outstanding Gold Anchor Service to everybody on board, it’s an indication to our crew that these are our suite guests," Bauer says.

Architecture

Even the architecture of RCI new builds has been designed to integrate better services for suite guests. "When we were designing Oasis and Allure we thought about how we could improve the ship for our suite guests and make things easier," Bauer says.

Many of the suites on Oasis-class ships are designed to accommodate diverse and multi-generational groups. "As a family brand, we ensure our suites accommodate everyone from a couple to a family of 14," says Bauer. "Essentially, all of [the enhancements] are meant to make our guests feel like they’re getting a special upgraded experience from the time they make their reservation until the end of the cruise when making their priority departure. "I think the suite guests are going to think that Royal Caribbean is delivering service in a way that even we couldn’t anticipate."