Are P&O, Others Courting "Dressed Down" Ocean Village Cruise Passengers?

July 24, 2009
Ocean Village (July 24, 6:48 p.m. EDT) -- When ultra-casual cruise line Ocean Village ceases operations next fall, U.K.-based travellers who prefer Hawaiian shirts to monkey suits may be scrambling to find a new line that fits.

You may recall that Carnival Corp., owner of the two-ship Ocean Village, has announced that it will shift both Down Under to P&O Cruises Australia (sister line to the U.K.-based P&O Cruises). Ocean Village Two will join P&O Cruises Australia this fall; Ocean Village, its original vessel, will become a member of the Aussie brand next fall.

In response to the planned departure of two ships that are genuinely beloved by U.K. cruisers, who prefer a more easy-going experience than is found on sister line P&O's (U.K.) more traditional ships, Cruise Critic's forums have been rife with chatter. How, members want to know, will formality-loathing cruisers find a new vacation home?

Though Ocean Village has, perhaps, been the U.K's best-known casual cruise line, there are others. Thomson Cruises, part of massive U.K. tour operator TUI Travel, offers budget fly-cruises from Marmaris, Corfu and Palma de Mallorca on oft-scrubby (though most refurbished to some extent) middle-aged ships. The line is a bit of a traditional-casual hybrid, with some ships offering set-seating dining (Thomson Destiny) and others (Thomson Spirit and Thomson Celebration) going to open-seating.

It's important to note, too, that Island Cruises -- which, like Ocean Village, operated two ships with a casual onboard vibe -- was sold last year to TUI Travel, the parent company of Thomson Cruises. Tui transferred Island Star to Spain-based Pullmantur, but Island Escape remained in place, with its new owners maintaining the ship's low-key flavor. Island Escape still features no dress code, edgier evening entertainment (stand-up comedy) and open-seating dining.

Norwegian Cruise Line, which based its flashy Norwegian Jewel in Southampton this summer and will send Norwegian Sun to Dover next summer, offers a "freestyle" ambience that eliminates the usual cruise traditions (banquet-hall dining venues, formal nights and staid entertainment). And we can't forget easyCruise, the most anti-cruise cruise operator of them all. The one ship line offers Greek Island cruises from Rhodes, Athens and Bodrum, combining a bare bones onboard experience -- very basic cabins, one restaurant, few rules -- with very long port stops. Other lines that operate seasonally out of the U.K., such as Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Holland America, offer a blend of informal and formal choices onboard their ships.

But don't count out the typically-traditional P&O just yet.

According to Cruise Critic members, P&O Cruises is canvassing passengers to ask what they would think if P&O were to offer Mediterranean fly-cruises that embark at places like Palma de Mallorca or Greece's Crete on at least one ship that's been repurposed to offer an experience more akin to Ocean Village.

P&O spokeswoman Michele Andjel, however, tells us not so fast.

According to Andjel, "The research is simply part of our normal long-term planning process, keeping in touch with market trends and customer preferences. There is no connection to Ocean Village, but we always like to ensure that we are in touch with the market and well-informed about our passengers holiday requirements and desires."

P&O's official response, however, hasn't stopped members from sounding off.

Libralass41 says, "I have just completed a P&O questionnaire ... This one asks a lot of questions about my feelings about fly-cruises to the Med, if 'P&O were to start doing them' I think P&O are considering sending one or perhaps even 2 ships to the Med for fly cruise only in 2011."

Another member, History addict, adds, "It sounds to me as though P&O are considering moving towards having different products to suit the different types of cruisers. From these forums there are a multitude of reasons why people cruise and they are trying to widen their target audience. Now for me, if they introduced informal fly cruises for adults only with no days at sea and a formal restaurant for when I fancied something a little more special, then they would sign me up on the spot. I hope someone from P&O is listening."

The brands, of course, are very different, with P&O offering the more traditional cruise holiday compared to Ocean Village's anti-cruise vibe. But, when P&O launched Ventura in 2008, it was clear that the line was making a calculated move from its stuffy reputation, snazzing up its typically toned-down decor with bright colors and contemporary art, adding family-geared offerings like bungee-trampolining and introducing Freedom Dining, a new eat-when-you-like plan that's a sharp turn away from the line's traditional set-time, set-table setup.

We'd like to know: Are you interested in casual cruising, or is the traditional cruise holiday more appealing? After Ocean Village's departure, what line most catches your fancy? Vote in our poll!

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor