Called simply Island, the new cruise brand to be launched by U.K. tour operator First Choice and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) in March 2002 will target the 40,132-ton, 1,512-passenger Island Escape (ex-Viking Serenade) toward "younger, discerning" below-50s travelers.

The vessel will offer two alternating Western Mediterranean itineraries from Palma, Mallorca, "the majority of which will be booked with a pre- or post­ cruise land package," according to Island Managing Director John Drysdale. Prices for the seven-night cruise packages will start at $699. 

Outlining the company's overall strategy, Drysdale explained, "We will be marketing in the U.K. to a younger age group, those who are accustomed to quality resort holidays but who may not have even considered taking a cruise, in many cases because of negative preconceptions" - for example, "that cruising is for the older market, that it is regimented, stuffy, that you need to dress up."

To attract such first-time cruisers, Island will use the marketing tagline "Relax+lnformal+Cruise" and will adopt an onboard product strategy that is noticeably similar to Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) "Freestyle Cruising" concept. According to Drysdale, "We will offer flexible dining - which we call 'Ad Lib Dining.' You can dine whenever you want and with whomever you want" - with no jacket required. Thus, Island will become the fourth cruise line worldwide (after Star Cruises, NCL, and Princess Cruises) to offer open-seating dining in the main dining room.

The entertainment product will likewise be designed to appeal to the younger U.K. market, as will shore excursions, which will be developed to appeal to the more active travel set. Also featured will be visits to beaches and sporting events as well other youth­ oriented offerings.

At press time, a yard and price-tag for the refurbishment of Island's first vessel had not been announced. In particular, Drysdale said that the dining venues would need to be reconfigured to accommodate the "Ad Lib Dining" product. Asked about the long-term plans of the company, Drysdale explained that the concept will be developed aboard the Island Escape, and when expansion is warranted, a second ship would be transferred from the RCI fleet. Expansion plans in the initial stages of development call for second-hand acquisitions rather than newbuildings, he said.