(March 19, 2008) -- When the New York Times announced last month that Royal Caribbean would be offering five "American Idol"-themed cruises, it advised its readers, "If you think you'll need an 'American Idol' fix while the show is on hiatus next fall, here's an idea: take a cruise." Well, if you took the Times' advice and pulled out your credit card, you're now in for an unpleasant surprise. It turns out Royal Caribbean is not (or never was) offering cruises with contestants from the popular television show.
Here's some background: On February 10, 2008, the New York Times reported that Royal Caribbean was planning to offer five six- to eight-day Caribbean cruises on Independence of the Seas featuring live Idol performances in addition to Idol-themed parties and other activities. Dates for the proposed cruises ranged from November 19 through December 21, 2008.
The initial write-up also stated that Royal Caribbean would offer "American Idol" singing competitions onboard Independence of the Seas starting this March. A lucky winner would have won an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's "American Idol" auditions.
Truth be told, things were unclear from the get-go -- the Times offered enough information for readers to find out which sailings were to have Idols onboard, but neglected to indicate that plans between the cruise line and the FOX cash cow were merely tentative. Further facts were as scant as flattery from Simon Cowell -- a Royal Caribbean spokesperson informed us that "We are not able to discuss the details of our relationship with 'American Idol'" when we pressed for more info at that time.
Then, on March 16, 2008, the New York Times ran another story, this time saying the deal was off due to "unresolved contract issues." Times reporter Hilary Howard told us that although the plans between Royal Caribbean and "American Idol" deteriorated about a week after the February 10 announcement, a retraction wasn't printed until a month later because details from Weber Shandwick, a public relations firm that represents Royal Caribbean, were still sketchy.
Why did Weber Shandwick give an exclusive to the New York Times before any contracts were signed between Royal Caribbean and American Idol? Erin Burden of Weber Shandwick, who spilled the beans to the Times about the proposed Idol project and its subsequent demise, told Cruise Critic that the decision to leak the half-baked news exclusively to the New York Times in lieu of a formal press release was simply their chosen public relations "strategy." It appears to us that Royal Caribbean had high hopes the "American Idol" cruises would fly, and didn't believe problems would arise when they allowed Weber Shandwick to make a premature announcement through the Times.
American Idol fans who missed the one-paragraph retraction in the Times might still get duped by RCI's unripe public relations leak. Up until this afternoon, Travel agency SweetVacations.net was selling sailings on eBay falsely advertised as RCI American Idol Cruises (we called the agent, and the eBay description, which included a link to the February 10 Times article, has since been changed; they still haven't returned our calls, however). Since these sailings were never "officially" billed, sold or marketed as theme cruises, there's no way to know for sure how many people booked or will book cabins based on misleading information from the Times via Weber Shandwick.
Furthermore, Royal Caribbean spokesman Harry Liu tells us that because the partnership was never a done deal, the Idol-themed cruises never really existed -- therefore, no special compensation will be offered to cruisers who booked certain dates expecting to sail with the stars. If you did book a trip and wish to cancel, the standard policy applies -- you will get a full refund if you notify the line in writing 70 days prior to your sailing date.
So what really happened? According to Burden, "unresolved issues involving live performances" caused both parties to dump the themed cruises; Burden refused to give further information. The fishy dearth of details only feeds our thirst for Idol drama. Did some diva singers refuse to cruise? Was Royal Caribbean bitter that they wouldn't get the most popular contestants to board their ships?
To add insult to injury, the media is still spinning out spurious information on the bogus Idol sailings. Web site www.RoyalCaribbeanIdol.com (owned and operated by media design firm Battle Medialab in Boca Raton, Florida, which counts Royal Caribbean among its clients) continues to tease, encouraging cruisers and Idol fans to "Keep checking back for more details as we finalize the exciting plans!" In addition, a recent New York Times article, "Voting for the Worst on 'American Idol' Makes Money for an Entrepreneur" -- published on March 17, one day after the retraction -- states that "Royal Caribbean International is embarking on Idol cruises."
Confused yet? We'll break it down for you ... there will be no American Idols onboard RCI ships unless one of them decides to book a cabin on his or her own (don't get your hopes up).
--by Caroline Costello