Fun Ship Island is an interactive flash-based portal that attempts to present visitors with the choices offered onboard. Users are free to move around the ship, selecting elements -- with the click of a mouse -- that pique their interest. After brief video intros to features such as the kids' program, the ship's casino and shore excursions (presented by smiling comely hosts), you can virtually play with mascot Fun Ship Freddy, ride down the twist slide, swim with dolphins or join a craps game. While the pages load, you're asked to answer questions like "Are you a first-time cruiser?" and "What cruise region excites you most?"
Until recently, cruise lines had been slow to make advances toward modernity, with notoriously hard-to-use Web sites. In addition to Fun Ship Island, here are a few examples of industry leaders stepping up to the plate:
When Royal Caribbean launched Liberty of the Seas in May, it had already introduced Liberty of the Seas on Demand; the video- and photo-heavy site allowed users to subscribe to a video e-letter featuring iTunes-ready video podcasts on onboard features such as Liberty's wedding programs and upgraded children's offerings.
Italy-based Costa Cruises accompanied the release of its newest vessel, Costa Serena, with a Web site offering photos and a video of the inaugural ceremony. Viewers could "virtually" join the celebration in Marseilles by witnessing a digital replication of the fireworks display or wandering around the decks of the ship. Lines like NCLand MSC have also Webcasted christening ceremonies.
Carnival cruise director John Heald maintains one of the most popular blogs on cruising, featuring long, at least weekly, entries with insider anecdotes, apropos commentary on cruise news, photos from Carnival destinations and plenty of member feedback. Mainstream media outlet USA Today introduced their own cruise blog in September 2006. Gene Sloan posts to The Cruise Log several times a week on industry news ranging from shifting trends in cruise regions to lines shilling their cruises on eBay.
Several lines (and passengers of those lines) have increased the public knowledge of cruising by joining sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as photo-sharing Web sites such as Flikr and Webshots. (Check out Royal Caribbean's MySpace page -- and become our friend, too!). Utilizing free photo hosting sites is especially economical and functional for smaller lines like easyCruise that also benefit from alignment with the youthful demographic of such sites.
These efforts have raised standards well above the previous (and quite modest) bar of grainy 360-degree "virtual tour" photography (though the cruise industry has far to go to match the Web marketing ubiquity of travel powerhouses like Orbitz and Expedia, which tout games, podcasts and cell phone applications). It's just the potency of the Web that allows for name recognition in ever-expanding, increasingly complex Internet contexts. Those lines that are most successful at understanding the subtleties of this landscape will speak to an entire new generation of potential cruisers, those fully reared in an online reality.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor