Royal Caribbean Deploys Rhapsody to Asia

September 15, 2006

Following in the footsteps of Costa's CostaAllegra, which is sailing its first season of cruises that market Asia to Asians this year, Royal Caribbean announced today it will also deploy a ship in the region.

The 78,491-ton, 2,000-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas will begin its new assignment in December 10, 2007 with a cruise from Singapore that calls at ports in Malaysia and Thailand. The ship will also offer cruises from Hong Kong and Shanghai and will visit destinations in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The cruises will be marketed to an Asian audience.

When Rhapsody of the Seas arrives it will immediately become the largest and most amenity-laden ship targeting Asian cruise passengers. It's definitely larger than the 28,500-ton, 820-passenger CostaAllegra and it's more contemporary (launched in 1997 as opposed to CostaAllegra's 1992), with features ranging from a rock climbing wall to the line's Adventure Ocean youth program.

What Royal Caribbean hasn't yet said, however, is whether it will remake the ship to the tastes of an Asian traveler. Indeed, CostaAllegra underwent a significant refurbishment in April 2006 before its redeployment. Reports a Cruise Critic contributor who is actually sailing on CostaAllegra this week, changes include an expanded casino (gambling is huge in Asia), a main restaurant that focuses on Asian-fusion cuisine, large umbrellas in every cabin to protect passengers from both rain and sun (Asians aren't sun worshipers), and tea-makers in all staterooms (you'll pay $3.50 to order hot tea in a bar).

"These passengers don't seem to care as much about the experience of dining," he reports, noting that dinners are often consumed in 20 minutes -- and the restaurant then empties. That goes for shore excursions in ports of call too -- which on his five-night trip included Nagasaki, Japan, and Jeju Island in South Korea. "Everybody leaves the ship and no one stays onboard," he says. "The Chinese are traveling now and they want to experience other cultures and countries, but they prefer to do so on ship-organized tours rather than exploring independently."

While Costa's marketing efforts have focused primarily on China, it would appear that Royal Caribbean's approach will be more broad based -- at least in Asia -- targeting folks from Thailand, Korea, Japan, China and Malaysia, as well.

We'll keep you posted on additional news as it occurs relating to Royal Caribbean's move into the Asia market.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor.