by Vincent Alonzo | September 23, 2011
Incentive programs have been coming back, and shipboard programs are no exception. “We’ve seen an increase in both serious inquiries and business,” says Joyce Landry, CEO of Landry & Kling, a facilitator of cruise meetings and events. 

The good news for planners considering the high seas is that a cruise incentive program often can be comparable to a luxury resort program and cost less. Line-item hassles like audiovisual equipment rentals, venue staging, third-party video production, catered meeting breaks, and child care don’t come into play on a ship, since they’re included in the package. 

Landry often sits down with clients and goes over their program budgets from earlier years line by line, pointing out how they could save by doing a cruise program. 

Those planning international incentives would do well to remember that the U.S. dollar is king onboard. “There’s no fluctuation in exchange rates to worry about,” says Landry, based in Coral Gables, FL. “Your costs won’t change, even if you’re planning two years out.” 

For most planners, the desired destination is the starting point, followed by group size. Landry, in turn, starts by pricing out both charter and non-charter options for clients.

To some, charters are sine qua non. “You have privacy and complete control over the activities on the ship,” says Landry. Charter groups can be as small as 80 people and as large as 700. The sweet spot is groups ranging from 220 to 500 attendees, because they can be accommodated by many different cruise lines and ships.

If chartering a ship is too far outside your budget, consider booking private or semi-private space on a large cruise ship. Many ships allow groups to rent their spa decks for receptions. Also, consider that a crew can turn an ice rink into a trade show floor faster than you’d think. 

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have “neighborhoods” (large themed sections on the ships) that can be reserved for large events. The Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line’s megaship, has a block of 120 solo cabins with a common area suitable for groups.

You could always book the old-fashioned way—buying a block of rooms and leaving participants to their own devices—but Landry cautions against this. “At the very least, arrange a private cocktail reception or, better yet, drinks with the captain,” she says, before adding, “Royal Caribbean has a behind-the-scenes tour they run, and you go everywhere—the engine room, the bridge, crew quarters, and galley. They don’t advertise it; you have to ask.”