Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hello Oceania Marina...and, Quite Possibly: Bon Voyage, Regent Seven Seas.

I have wondered over the past year or so if the sister companies, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will merge into one cruise line. I first wrote about this in June 2008 with my article "The Oceania-fication of Regent Seven Seas" and then, again in April 2009 in "Oceania Cruises - More Like Regent Seven Seas Every Day...Or Is It The Other Way Around?" While I was originally skeptical about the changes, or more accurately what has actually become the Oceania-fication of Regent, it is clear to me that it was both necessary and successful.

And now there is the Oceania Marina!

First some background: Regent Seven Seas was, in my opinion, a horribly run company. Millions of dollars were expended marketing the company to be "Six Star Luxury" (a term it fabricated) while its management allowed the ships to be poorly maintained, truly never updated anything, slashed its staffing and training and cut the per passenger food costs shockingly low. The reason to me it was obvious: Improve the bottom line by cutting costs and driving up prices so that it would look attractive to a buyer...and make sure the closets remained under lock and hidden...so the truth would not be known until after the sale was completed.

Old Regent succeeded and Apollo Management bought it...and then had to rebuild and restructure a failing cruise line. Its cruise line holding company, Prestige Cruise Holdings (PCH) did a number of radical things and it did them quickly. It quashed the tauted new ship. It poured tens of millions of dollars into the poorly maintained and rapidly becoming outdated ships. It stopped the wasteful marketing and ended the silly Six Star Luxury garbage. It eliminated the poor provisioning. It shook up the staffing. And it did more. (Alas, it is still a work in progress...but with so much to do, there is no way all of that could be completed by now.)

Keeping in mind that PCH is headed by Frank Del Rio, who is also the head of Oceania Cruises -which is a very fine product with very loyal clientèle and strong brand recognition/identity - many of the things that work for Oceania have been transitioned over to Regent, both operationally and marketing-wise. And while the public (that would be you and me) has struggled to keep Regent as one of the few "luxury" cruise lines, the fact is that PCH has been transitioning Regent away from the "luxury" sector focusing on "free" as in "free air", "free tours", "free drinks", etc. and also reducing the overall service levels to one which is overall acceptable, but not "luxury".

It is of note that, generally speaking, people are more satisfied with Oceania's service levels than they are Regent. The reason: The expectations of Oceania are not nearly as high as those which remain of Regent (due to the Six Star Luxury marketing and its prior focus). As old-timers dissipate and new passengers take over (who have no such expectations) the expected levels of service quietly are reduced and, not surprisingly, found to be acceptable.

Now for the BIG transition...and what I believe will be the eventual elimination of Regent Seven Seas as a cruise line: Oceania Marina.

Regent's "ace in the hole" as always been its suites. The are 300 square feet and up and very nicely laid out (with the possible exception of the bathrooms on the Regent Mariner...but those troublesome high tubs are being eliminated over time). On Oceania Marina the 444 Veranda Staterooms will be 282 square feet
and will come with a mini-refrigerator with unlimited soft drinks and bottled water, robes and slippers and full size bathtubs. Forty four (44%) percent of them will be Concierge Level which will add a laptop computer (internet will be extra), welcome bottle of champagne, upgraded toiletries, a private concierge lounge and various priorities (embarkation, luggage, reservations), etc.

I now pause and ask, "So what is it that is contained in the standard Regent Suites that the Oceania Marina doesn't have? I can't say, looking at the computer generated "photographs", that the furnishings are better or the style more upscale (possible less-so). The only thing I can perceive is that Marina will have many more cabins than the present Regent ships, but that relates to service levels; not accommodation standards.

So then I look at the Marina's suites and, of course, first ask, "If 282 square feet is not a suite, then why are the suites on Regent (Silversea and Seabourn...and Celebrity, etc.) called suites? But I digress, there will be 124 Penthouse Suites (420 square feet), 12 Oceania Suites (1,000+ square feet), 8 Vista Suites (1,200 - 1,500+ square feet), and 3 Owner's Suites (2,000+ square feet). These Suites include butler service, course-by-course dining from any of the six (6) restaurants, Bulgari toiletries, access to the Executive Lounge and more. Sounds pretty good!

Dining-wise, there will be six open seating restaurants (all without additional charge) ranging from the main Grand Dining Room to Jacques (Jacques Pepin's restaurant), Red Ginger (for Asian cuisine), Polo Grill (for steaks), Toscana (for Italian) and casual dining venues.

In addition to these venues, there will be two additional cost exclusive cost restaurants. Privee - limited to 10 guests per evening for a 7 course dinner; and, La Reserve - "an elegant wine tasting room" limited to 24 guests for food and wine paring dinners.

Add to this the various other expected (and some unexpected) venues and one must pause and ask, "So what is it that Regent ships have over the Oceania Marina?" The answer - at least at this point - comes down to "free air", "free tours" and "free alcoholic beverages". But, of course, we all know that nothing is "free" and those costs are buried into the cruise fare. These are not things which are not available on Oceania Marina (or its other ships); they are just charged ala carte.

One point of concern: I am not sure what the staffing levels or back-of-the-ship facilities are, but there are going to be some pretty high demands on the Marina staff to match the actual service level with that which is promised.

So with Oceania upping the ante on the size of the cabins, the amenities provided, the inclusiveness of the product, etc...and the levels of service being as good or better than Regent's, how or why would Prestige Cruise Holdings continue to market and operate Regent Seven Seas when the line between the products is so blurred and the benefits of competing with itself so limited? (Heck, I can't even see the benefit of keeping the tarnished Regent name at this point!)

I see myself saying "Bon Voyage, Regent". Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

What do you think? Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum!

Interested in booking a cruise on the Oceania Marina? Cruises will open for booking in the next few days. Call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.