By Mark Chesnut
For most travelers, cruises bring to mind things like a Caribbean vacation or family travel, not a business trip. But today’s increasingly high-tech cruise ships can be ideal settings for corporate and organizational meetings, conferences and private events.
The selling points for taking that next group meeting onboard are many. For one thing, it allows participants to enjoy consistent service in a controlled environment that also offers the added bonus of seeing a variety of destinations (meeting planners might also like the fact that attendees aren’t likely to wander away from important events when they’re surrounded by miles of ocean).
Cruise ships provide a surprisingly varied array of meeting and private event venues, from discos and theaters to libraries and conference rooms. On larger ships, audiovisual equipment nearly rivals what’s available in the best land-based convention centers. And planners can arrange meetings and events on just one part of a ship, or charter an entire vessel.
Among the big cruise companies that cater to meetings and conventions is Carnival, which offers different facilities for meetings based on the class of ship. The company’s Fantasy Class ships — including the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, which cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean — targets meetings for three-, four- and five-day cruises. Venues on board range from a 1,300-person main show lounge to a 60-person conference room.
Royal Caribbean has ships with flexible conference centers that accommodate anywhere between 18 and 330 guests, and offers free use of its audiovisual equipment. The company’s Oasis Class ships offer the option to reserve an entire “neighborhood” — themed areas that include the Boardwalk, Central Park and the Solarium — for private events.
With Cunard, groups can meet aboard the legendary Queen Mary 2, which has more than 10,000 square feet of classrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums. Wine tastings, customized décor and special New York and London hotel stays are among the tempting add-ons available.
Mark Chesnut is a freelance writer, editor and publisher of LatinFlyer.com, which focuses on travel to Latin America. He was an avid viewer of “The Love Boat.”