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All at sea as cruise vacations come on stream in Asia

Luxury cruise lines are setting course for Asia to net more cruise vacationers in the region’s rapidly growing economy.

SINGAPORE – At least 2,000 Asians recently took part in a cruise vacation aboard the Mariner of the Seas that kicked off its maiden Asian season. The 1,020 foot-long vessel departed from its regional base in Singapore for a four-day-three-night roundtrip to Kuala Lumpur.

The ship will be sailing out of Shanghai until October and will drop anchor back in Singapore come November for its second Asian run.

The interest of Asians in cruise vacations was evident, with passengers mostly from Asian countries, including China, India, Japan and also Indonesia. They are catered to by an equally diverse cabin crew made up of 56 different nationalities.

The Mariner of the Seas is Royal Caribbean International’s largest cruise vessel of its four ships home-ported in Asia, following sister ships Rhapsody of the Seas, Legend of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas. It is also the largest ship currently sailing Asian waters.

But how lucrative is the cruise business in the Far East?
A spacious theater for international perfomances. According to, the total potential number of Asian cruise passengers will be 3.7 million by 2017 and will continue to double by 2020.

“We have continued to increase our ship capacity more and more in Asia, so it is definitely a growing market,” said master captain Flemming B. Nielsen, who has sailed with Royal Caribbean International since 2000.

Asked whether a route through the Indonesian archipelago is in store, the captain replied, “I docked in Bali back in 2007 with the ‘Rhapsody’, so I would love to visit Indonesia again. But a ship of this magnitude needs certain infrastructure to be seaside. Once the infrastructure is available, we will definitely be coming soon.”

Suitable infrastructure to harbor the massive ships is not the only challenge in Asia. Companies have to tailor their Asian route programs to suit market needs, most notably passenger eating habits.

Dining and shopping arcades: Dining and shopping arcades. The ship galleys produce around 15,000 meals a day for both guests and crew, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Food and beverage director Christophe Poitevin admits the change in tastes has taken adjustment.

“We just came off our US route so we have been undergoing repositioning to meet the needs of our new passengers. It has been a drastic change; our new guests eat much differently than what we are used to,” he said.

“For instance, the beef tenderloin is usually the main seller on last night’s menu, but instead it was the roast duck. And our regular prep amount for two seatings was gone after only one. However, we are slowly beginning to understand this demographic better.”

Apart from the cruise line’s renowned Golden Anchor Service standard of hospitality, Poitevin believes a well-assembled support team is key to keeping guests happy.

Most middle management staff on board have either worked in Asia or originate from the region. For example, the head galley crew consists of an Indian executive sous chef, a Singaporean executive chef, another one from China and several Filipino chefs.

“This cultural edge allows us to better approach our customer’s needs in this part of the world,” said the Frenchman with 17 years of working experience in Asia under his belt.

Ship bartender Adit, originally from Bandung, also acknowledged the change in customer tastes.

“Our new route through Asia has us facing new customer demands. For me it has been an adjustment to see our bar empty because most Asian guests do not drink,” said the 28-year-old, who has been on the ship for three months.

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