November 03, 2017
If it's time for a sea change in a traditional meeting or incentive program, holding it aboard a cruise ship can set you on a new course. Cruise vessels today are outfitted with all the amenities necessary for hosting a shipshape event: meeting space; audiovisual equipment, staging and lighting; varied F&B; entertainment; private event spaces; spas; fitness centers, and -- a key consideration for groups -- WiFi. Add in the novel setting, the allure of visiting different ports and budget control (most meals, entertainment, meeting space and A/V are included), and you're set for a crowd-pleasing, turnkey floating event.

Following are some considerations, courtesy of cruise-meeting specialists Landry & Kling, to help you plan a meeting afloat:

A sea of choices. Ships come in all sizes, service levels and price points. Today, planners have more choice than ever -- mega-yachts, small and midsize luxury ships, sailing and expedition vessels, and enormous ships that offer high-tech, first-at-sea features.

Among the newest entries launched this year was Silverseas' 596-passenger, all-suite Silver Muse. Looking ahead, April 2018 will see the launch of Royal Caribbean's new megaship, Symphony of the Seas, with 18 decks and 2,775 staterooms. In addition, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. has launched the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, a fleet of three luxury yachts that will each accommodate up to 298 passengers; the first vessel is slated to debut in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Though technically not "at sea," river cruises are another option to consider. According to Jo Kling, president of Landry & Kling, 13 new river cruise ships -- from classic replica paddlewheelers to all-suite luxury yachts -- are on order for 2017 and beyond. Kling notes that river cruise lines appeal to younger, more active groups, with amenities such as bikes that guests can use in port, as well as hiking and kayaking excursions.

For more details on cruise-line fleets, see sidebar, "Meetings Ahoy!" (below).

That custom touch. Cruise ships can be customized for groups, with signage, custom-logo items, private events onboard or in port, and group buy-outs for specialty restaurants. Check with the cruise line for any additional charges for custom items and restaurant buy-outs. If your group size and budget allow, consider a private ship charter, which allows you to customize daily activities, entertainment, meal times and even the itinerary.

Easy budgeting. Among the line items that won't cost extra on a cruise are A/V equipment rentals, theme décor, linens, florals, meeting rooms, state or city taxes, entertainment or even special dietary meals, including vegan and gluten-free options.

Be sure to leave room in the budget for wine and alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, custom land-based activities and tours. And though most fleets are outfitted with complementary WiFi, consider purchasing more bandwidth if that is a priority for the group.