Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seabourn Changes Its Dress Code...Sort Of. The Sky Is Not Falling!

I preface this article by admitting I LIKE FORMAL NIGHTS and because I travel so much I never have an issue with being charged for taking additional luggage.  And I admit that I regularly cruise with my children, but not on Seabourn...and I have absolutely no plan to change that. 

So yesterday I read a post on Cruise Critic by some hysterical poster claiming that Seabourn's elimination of formal nights on its seven day cruises is a harbinger of Seabourn ridding itself of the triples (Seabourn Pride, Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend) and seeking out children to run through its ships.  How utterly infantile.  And, oh yes, wrong!

Then I received an email from one of my clients on the Seabourn Odyssey's World Cruise telling me about a petition some of the guests are circulating complaining about the dress code change and also some sort of non-existent related change in Seabourn policy to make the Seabourn ships more attractive to families and children.  This is to be presented to Seabourn's president, Pamela Conover, when she arrives on the ship in Melbourne, Australia today.

I have had emails with Ms. Conover and, as I knew, this is (I believe the technical term is) poppycock.  Seabourn is trying an elimination of formal nights on its shorter cruises because that is what the majority of its guests prefer.  (Just last week I had a very loyal Seabourn client - aged in her 50's - who expressed her husband's great relief that he won't need formal wear on their upcoming cruise.  Oh, yes, they booked an Owner's Suite and have no children.)

I discussed this hysteria with my wife last evening.  I think our talk among ourselves may assist you in understanding Seabourn's approach. 

We were going to one of our favorite restaurants, Bistro Ole in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  It serves Portuguese and Spanish dishes with a twist; is owned and styled by an openly gay man and   is based upon every one being friendly and leaving their inhibitions at the door.  (Not like that...you are encouraged to chat with those at the table next to you, try new foods and laugh.)  As it takes no reservations, our arrival at 7:30 p.m. blessed us with 1 1/2 hour wait, so we went around the corner to a bar for a drink before dinner. 

After getting over my seemingly regular frustration with the misinformation provided on Cruise Critic (I had to mention that!), I said to my wife, "You know not only can't I imagine my parents - at 50 years old - going to Bistro Ole, but when going out on a Saturday night, a tie and jacket was pretty much standard dress.  I don't think I have worn a tie to dinner with you more than a few times in our 17+ years of marriage and never in the past decade except when on a cruise."

I also thought back to the days when I first started practicing law.  I wore a tie and jacket every day; with dressing down being a sport jacket and grey slacks.  (remember "Dress Down Fridays" being a big and innovative concept?!)  Now if I am not going to court I do not wear a suit or even a sport jacket and tie.  Khakis or jeans is standard dress.  And I am not a freak of nature.  It is how more and more attorneys are dressing. 

So then I said, "What the heck does this have to do with children?  Why do some people make a connection between being less formal and children.  I think it is, well, childish!"

As one who likes formal nights, I am not thrilled with the change, but then again, it isn't going to really affect my cruise.  I probably will still wear a sport jacket to dinner (sometimes with a tie and sometimes without) and - LISTEN TO THISthere will still be the same wonderful cuisine and intuitive Seabourn service.  So then, what is the big deal? 

How does my not wearing a tuxedo destroy all that is Seabourn?  It doesn't...and it can't.  It is not like the lack of a tuxedo is going to turn into ripped jeans and burgers in Restaurant 2.  It is not like the Seabourn staff will look down upon me as being a second class sort of person.  And, alas, it is not like it is going to stop my wife from wearing her jewelry or some pretty swanking clothes.

So now I turn to the issue of "children" on Seabourn.  Folks, let's make this very simple:  Can someone please explain to me the connection between no formal nights and children? On the mass market lines they have formal nights and they seek out children, have children's facilities and staff for children.  Meanwhile, Seabourn has built two brand new ships (with a third being built) that have absolutely no facilities designed for children.  There are no activities for children.  There are no staff for children.  You see, there is absolutely no connection between formal nights and children:  no logic, no nothing.

What is true is that the cruising population is not only increasing (how many ships are out there now as opposed to 10 years ago?) it is getting younger.  Seriously, when was the last time you heard the phrase, "Cruising is for the newlywed and nearly dead."  You haven't because the demographics have changed with younger people regularly cruising.  (Am I younger since I am 51 and not nearly dead?  Or because I have been cruising since I was in law school over a quarter century ago?)

And those younger people, unlike the "nearly dead" have children that are dependent upon them.  (I know there are some in the "nearly dead" category that can't shake their kid's dependence as well, but that is a subject for another time!)  And the world is far more available for travel.  And the concept of "Children should be seen, but not heard" is no longer a mantra repeated...or, frankly, accepted by most.

Just this past month, my 14 year old son gave a photo presentation on the multi-cultural aspects of Israel and is now working on a project as to how he would divide up Israel to resolve the Palestinian conflict and why.  And my 10 year old daughter gave a PowerPoint presentation on Greek mythology.  Both children drew upon their experiences in Israel, Greece, Turkey and Egypt and utilized the photographs and souvenirs they obtained along the way.  For those claiming the horrors of children being on a cruise ship, please explain to me which cruises you took your children on or what the benefits to them were by leaving them home while you traveled the world?

The point is that parents are traveling at a younger age and they do, more regularly, bring children with them.  But they do this only during a very limited portion of the year.  And, alas, it is not a Seabourn thing, but a cultural thing...unrelated to dress codes; though the parents don't dress so formally.  Is it then that by keeping formal dress codes these "nearly deads" (in body or spirit) want to keep 30 and 40 year olds (and I guess 50 year olds with children, too) off of Seabourn?

Now, let's shift gears:  How many older folks travel now then say 20 years ago?  And how many of those older folks travel by taking cruises rather than, say, spending two months in Miami Beach?  (Should we talk about how South Beach in Miami became a vacant, run down, slum because older folks stopped going there in part because they died and their children - when they became "older folks" didn't follow their lead, but went elsewhere be it Myrtle Beach, Lake Tahoe, Aruba..a long cruise?)  Think about this:  How many World Cruises are available today versus twenty years ago?  Mind-blowing isn't it?

So the facts are that more OLDER and YOUNGER people are traveling (and, more people are cruising than ever before) and families like to vacation together.  This does not necessarily mean children, but older parents and their adult children.  (I have many clients that travel like this.)  But their are others that extend the multi-generational concept to include three generations...which include children (not necessarily "wheelchair to high chair", but teens and college kids). 

And Seabourn would not like to tap into this multi-generational market because why?  Of course it would.  Why seek to only sell one suite when it can sell 3, 4 or 5 suites to the same family?  (And, folks, consider the economics.  A Seabourn cruise is far more costly than a Carnival cruise.  Just how large do you really think this multi-generational market is and how many of these suites are going to be affecting your particular cruise...just by economics!)

Alas, it is not Seabourn seeking to create a market, as explained, it is an ever increasing market that Seabourn is happy to accommodate as it now has 5 ships and soon 6.

And that brings me to the last point:  Seabourn has no plans to sell off the triplets.  There are quite a number of loyal Seabourn guest that like the smaller ships better.  They don't get the intimate feel they require on the larger ships regardless of all the "latest and greatest".  Also, there are many exotic itineraries that well-traveled guests are looking for that are viable when utilizing the smaller ships that are not practical with the larger ones.  For example, filling 100 suites for a cruise to Java or where the flights are very long is far more realistic than 225 suites.

Not to mention that many of those ports can only be visited by the smaller ships.  Remember that is one of the focuses of Seabourn.  With all the recent focus on the newest, larger, ships, the very backbone of Seabourn's itineraries possibly need to be brought more to the fore.

So for the "genius" who linked formal nights to the elimination of the triplets I ask the following questions:  "How many times would you like Seabourn to take you to Rome?"  "Do you prefer the intimacy of the smaller ships?"

To wrap things up, I ask a question, "Do you want Seabourn to go the way of Miami Beach?"  If the newlyweds find Seabourn unattractive and the nearly deads demand things remain the same, isn't that exactly what you are going to wind up with?  Remember, the "nearly deads" aren't really nearly dead...there is a prejudice that older folks are not vital when we all know that they are traveling more, living longer and better.  What was that about today's youth?

What do you think?  Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.