Monday, June 30, 2008

The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas Cruise Line

After months of Regent Seven Seas (luxury) claiming that is not and will not be Oceania (premium), and being blasted by loyalists on such message boards as Cruise Critic that I was just stirring the pot, reality is setting in and, to be sure, I was correct; but alas it is bittersweet.

As reported in Seatrade's Cruise Community, Mark Conroy has announced (admitted?) that not only has the hotel services been turned over to Oceania's vendor, the catering is also being transitioned, as is its reservations system (admitted no loss there!).

But probably bigger news is that the grand plans for its possible new ship has now apparently gone by the wayside. It is reported that Regent may use the Oceania platform for the ship’s technical basis (Decks 3 and below...which would be a significant cost savings) and building the accommodations and public areas as a Regent product with large suites and a spa deck, possibly with a retractable glass dome over the pool. (Compromise in design can be a dangerous thing. I say this not as a travel agent but as a yacht lawyer having a bit of experience in that area.)

For many months I have heard, read and listened to esoteric visions of grandeur of a new ship being delivered in relatively short order with incredible facilities while providing truly luxury service to 1,000+ passengers...something heretofore unachievable by anyone in the industry...while I have been observing Regent making mistake after mistake covering it by marketing.

As a court just observed today in a very important decisionn, just because you repeat it three times (or more) it doesn't make it true. It looks, smells and feels like Regent is becoming Oceania or Oceania+. Does one need to taste it to know it is it? Me thinks not!

I have, as many know, been very skeptical of Regent's plans as I have watched its service and consistency slide over the years...while its pricing has skyrocketed. What is amazing to me is that what has seemed so obvious apparent was so easily masked by Regent's unbelievably costly marketing plan. (I guess it worked...at least in the short term.)

But there is a silver lining in the cloud of what may be the slow demise of Regent as a true luxury product: The emergence of Oceania as a strong value product.

As a travel agent, can I comfortably stand behind a Regent cruise as I do a Seabourn cruise? Not a chance. Can Regent provide a very good cruise experience? Yes. The problem is not in what it may be able to do, but in its inability to provide a consistent cruise product.

Would you be comfortable booking a Regent cruise today and believe the product in late 2009 or 2010 will be of the same or better standards as today after reading this blog or would you first ask what are my alternatives considering itineraries, service and, of course, price?

If you want to cruise Regent I will take excellent care of you, having cruised on four of Regent's ships, but I would not do so without disclosing the foregoing and suggesting you consider alternatives. To me, that is what my job is about.