April 21, 2009
When Silversea Cruises unleashed a deal offering $199 kids' fares on cruises to Alaska and Europe last week, the line had no idea what a furor it would cause. Silversea, considered one of the last bastions of relatively kid-free cruising, has long held a policy that well-behaved children are welcome -- but it has never actively marketed the line to family-oriented travelers. Even now, it provides little programming to entertain them.
So, the move incensed a whole lot of Cruise Critic members, who feared that the encroachment of kids and the hullaballoo they bring with them would change the basic Silversea experience. Wellseasoned pretty much summed up the problem with the kids-cruise-for-$199 deal in a post: "If Silversea is actually encouraging children as passengers and providing programs for them, the fundamental nature of these cruises will change, and not for the better. I'm sure that most of us love the children in our lives but not on our Silversea cruises!"
But there's good news. The deal-spurred drama, which played out on Cruise Critic's Silversea forum over the past weekend and attracted more than 4,700 views, inspired cruise line executives to rethink the offer. Silversea Vice President Steve Tucker says the deal was created because "Alaska is not the busiest market this year. But, we heard our guests loud and clear and took a step back. Ultimately, we took the deal off the table."
Children are, of course, still welcome onboard Silversea cruises. Tucker says that one counselor per ship and a limited array of kids' activities will be offered on voyages that attract some families, but they'll pay the normal third-passenger-in-a-cabin rate, which should squelch interest.
A luxury travel agent applauds that move telling us that, in this tepid luxury-cruise-buying market, she's open to any cruise line deals that help her agency sell trips. But she didn't agree with this one. "Silversea is not a cruise line that would be appropriate for kids in Alaska. Alaska, kids and Silversea do not click." She says that, deal or no deal, she wouldn't have sold her clients family cruises to Alaska on Silversea. (Regent's Seven Seas Mariner has an innovative Ambassadors of the Environment youth program and is, she says, a far smarter choice for families).
What's interesting about this brief tempest in a teapot over kids on Silversea -- and the role that members of Cruise Critic played in encouraging the line to discontinue the promotion -- is that the cruise line, which is under new management, was unusually proactive in handling the situation.
"We like to test things," Tucker says, "and when they work, we continue on. When they don't, we evolve."
The family idea may have backfired, but Silversea, like every other luxury line, is definitely evolving as it reaches out to younger travelers. In the past couple of years, Wi-Fi and cell towers have been added to all ships in response to passenger requests. "We are seeing a younger clientele," Tucker says. "People want to run their businesses while they're gone."
And -- contrary to rumors running rampant on Cruise Critic's boards -- while Silversea's new ship (Silver Spirit, which debuts later this year) will offer some new-to-Silversea features (like an enlarged spa that includes a Kinesis wall, more balconies and a new supper club), it's holding firm on its current family-friendly policies. Says Tucker, "We've always had some degree of children on Silversea, obviously during holiday seasons like Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and in the summer. And we've always had a certain degree of activities for them. But there will be no separate facility for them -- even on Spirit."
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief