Bruce Nierenberg, President of Costa Cruise Lines, has presented its new project, American Family Cruises. It is a joint venture between Nierenberg and Costa, exclusively targeting the family market.
Thirty million dollars will be spent to rebuild the Eugenio Costa and the Costa Rivtera into 1,500-passenger family resorts with 50 percent of public spaces devoted to children of various ages and 50 percent to adult activities.
The Eugenio Costa becomes the American Adventure and is scheduled to start service from Miami in December 1993. The Costa Riviera becomes the American Pioneer and begins service from Tampa next March.
The Greek design team of A & M Katzourakis is responsible for re-designing the ships whlle a shipyard has not yet been selected.
The shlps' hulls will be painted blue with red stripes and a white eagle design; the shlps' interior design will be alike.
Designed specifically for families, entire decks will be devoted to kids. Public spaces have been themed for each age group. Kids two to four will be play in an artificial forest populated by huge stuffed teddy bears. Chlldren five to seven will play among dinosaurs in the "Rock-O-Saurus Club." A giant aquarium-like space has been designated for eight to 12 year olds. Teens will also have their own facility.
Deck names will also differ from the industry norm, ranging from Sports Deck, on the top, to Colorado Deck, Entertainment Deck, Restaurant Deck, California Deck and Florida Deck.
Public rooms will also have American sounding names such as America the Beautiful Restaurant, Call of the Wild Night Club, Fisherman's Wharf Buffet Restaurant, etc.
There Are No Rules
"At AFC, we have only one rule; that there are no rules; said Nierenberg. He commented that resorts and traditional cruise shlps have physical limitations and operational requirements which restrict their ability to cater to families. "ln contrast, AFC has created a whole new category of vessels called KinShips," Nierenberg said.
Nierenberg said that AFC conducted focus groups with kids and parents all over the country. Every aspect of the AFC product will be geared to families. Aboard ship, for instance, dining will be arranged to allow parents time away from their chlldren. Little kids' meals will look like faces; and waiters may be dressed like clowns and will play practical jokes. Buffet food service will also be available 18 hours a day serving "Kids Kuisine."
Nierenberg said that ports of call were "selected not because they are good places to shop or take bus tours, but because they are places where parents and kids can, in a secure environment, enjoy lots of fun activities and live out their holiday fantasies."
The American Adventure, beginning to sail seven-day cruises from Miami in December, will call at Sao Juan, Serena Cay/Casa de Campo and Key West. The itinerary is called "Landfall of Explorers" and will be offered year-round.
The American Pioneer, which will start service from Tampa in March 1994, will sail what is called the "Voyage of Buccaneers" itinerary seasonally in the Caribbean calling at Playa del Carmen/Cozumel Buccaneer Bay, a new private island call being developed for AFC in Jamaica, and Grand Cayman.
During the summer, the American Pioneer will sail seven-day Alaska cruises from Vancouver calling at Ketchikan, Endicott Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Davidson Glacier and Sitka.
Nierenberg said that special shore activities will have kids becoming honorary members of an Indian tribe; being kidnapped by pirates; petting giant sea rays; or playing donkey polo in a rodeo. A sports program will organize soccer and baseball tournaments with kids in the ports of call. Sports offerings also include rollerblading aboard ship, a windsurfer simulator, and a batting cage.
"All the while, parents will know their kids are safe; Nierenberg said, because they will be supervised by AFC's trained "Coaches."
Nierenberg said that AFC will not be discounting. Instead, AFC is offering two-sets of six different rates for large and small cabins, outside and inside, mini-suite and regular suite, for parents and/or for children (two to 17). Depending on cabin size, parents' rates range from $795 to $1,995 for seven-day cruises; children's rates are $395. Children under two are free.
However, during its inaugural year, AFC will offer complimentary three-day pre- or post-cruise packages including hotel and rental car, and kids cruise for free.
In addition, families who book during the inaugural year are entitled to a 50 percent discount on their next AFC cruise within five years.
Nierenberg cited a study by Better Homes and Gardens that scud that 41.7 million American families took vacations with their children in 1991. Fifty percent of these earned more than $40,000 a year. Thirteen percent earned over $75,000. Fifty percent of the households had two wage earners. And almost half said they would spend more on their family vacation next year than last year.
Nierenberg also noted that 92 percent said that being together as a family was the most important factor in their choice of vacation.
While children usually have vacation periods during the summer and holidays, Nierenberg is counting on parents with children below the age of five to cruise during the rest of the year. He also believes that some parents prefer to cruise in the less-crowded off-season and will take their children out of school. In addition, he noted that some states are looking at a year-round school program rather than the traditional summer-off schedule.
Nierenberg noted that the cruise industry has largely ignored the family market with at best token kids' programs and closets for club rooms. He also said that cruise lines are focusing too much on "trying to hardware each other out" and that they are not paying enough attention to the onboard product.
"It is the sameness that generates the high competition level in the industry; Nierenberg said, "and forces the price level down."
"We do not do enough on board," Nierenberg said. "Nobody is selling anything different. My product is tourism not cruising. We'll develop a niche product that nobody else has," Nierenberg added. "This product has infinite potential and goes beyond the cruise business."
Nierenberg, who is President of Costa, is also President of AFC. The two cruise lines will share administrations, sales and marketing staffs, along with office facilities in Miami. Both will also benefit from shared purchasing, according to Nierenberg. Field sales people will represent both Costa and AFC.
Nierenberg noted that he is including all employees in the planning and that the company has a "town meeting" every 60 days. Aboard the ships, he will get everybody together regularly and discuss what they like and dislike and "make the officers listen."
The Costa Riviera was built in 1963. She is 35,000 tons and passenger capacity will be increased from 1,000 to 1,500.
The Eugenio Costa was built in 1966. She is also 35,000 tons and passenger capacity will also be increased from 1,000 to 1,500. Nierenberg suggested that newbuildings may also be part of the future for AFC.
Before joining Costa last year, Niereberg was co-founder and Executive Vice President of Premier Cruise Lines. Before that he was President of Scandinavian World Cruises; President of Seaescape, which be formed; and Vice President at Norwegian Caribbean Lines. He is presently also the only cruise industry member of the Florida Commission for Economic Development and Florida's Tourism Commission.