“We are always focused on the food – we look at it, analyze it and study trends; food is always in the picture,” said Natko Nincevic, senior vice president of hotel operations at Carnival Cruise Lines.

At Holland America Line, Johan Groothuizen, vice president of marine hotel operations, said that he was concentrating on the line’s new As You Wish Dining program being introduced across the fleet. At both AIDA Cruises and AIDA Cruises, the immediate focus is on recruitment. Said Michael Rohr, vice president of guest services at AIDA: “We are stepping up to a fleet of six – seven ships, maybe more. We are working on recruitment, training and management.”

Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of hotel operations at Crystal, said that with more new and bigger ships entering service, and with fewer young people interested in going to sea, his near-term and long-term focus is on recruitment.

“Ultimately, the key to a great product is not technology or hardware,” he said, “but above all the ability to recruit and retain the ‘right’ people.”

P&O Cruises, meanwhile, is focused on its newest ship, the Ventura, entering service in April. “We are introducing a lot of new features,” said Neal Martin, director of hotel services. “Ventura will make an enormous leap forward for the industry in the British market.”

Dining is still the most popular passenger activity, according to Nincevic, who said Carnival is always working to raise its food and service standards.

This year, plans call for a pow wow with all the chefs meeting on one ship to review and revamp all the menus on the 22-ship fleet. “We will set the standards on one ship and then roll out to the rest of the fleet,” Nincevic said.

With As You Wish Dining, Holland America is giving its passengers more choices in dining. The lower level of the ships’ two-level main dining room features open seating from 5:15 to 9. Passengers can make reservations or walk in, according to Groothuizen. “We were a bit concerned with the walk-ins to start with,” he said. “We set up a system with pagers, but we never handed out more than six pagers and are able to turn the tables over two to three times per night.”

AIDA’s new ships are also bigger than its previous ships, enabling the line to offer more dining venues, said Rohr. The new Diva, and the Bella, coming in April, have two more a la carte restaurants in addition to the Rossini on the existing ships, plus three self-serve restaurants and a pizzeria. “In the past, we would have theme nights in the restaurants,” said Rohr. “Now, we have taken the most popular themes and created a Weite Welt restaurant instead with open seating for up to 900 passengers.”

Excerpted from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2007/2008