Monday, August 03, 2009

The Entertainment Environment: The Cruise Ship Environment

The entertainment environment is the location where audiences interact with entertainment provided by entities within the various entertainment industry sectors and sub-sectors. The entertainment environment surrounds us, after all the very diverse entertainment offering provided by the entertainment industry can be found almost anywhere. There are nine distinct entertainment environments, these are as follows: the urban environment; the rural environment; the coastal environment; the resort environment; the cruise ship environment; the home environment; the mobile environment; the transport environment; and the online environment. These environments are all unique in either their geographical nature, physical size, or physical presence (and sometimes a combination of these things). Some types of entertainment are more predominant in particular environments than they are in others, for example nightclubs and theatres are concentrated within the urban environment due to their need to attract custom, and theme parks are more predominant in the rural environment due to their need for large amounts of land. Of growing significance internationally is the cruise ship environment.

Cruise ships are already considered a major part of the global tourism industry, with the Caribbean and Mediterranean being the most popular locations for cruise holidays. Major players in the cruise market include: Royal Caribbean Cruises, Thomson Cruises; P&O Cruises; and Carnival Corporation. The largest markets globally for cruise holidays are the North American and European ones, with North America being the dominant provider of cruise ship passengers, however since the early 2000s an increase in European passengers has lead to a shift in cruise provision to more European locations, including the Mediterranean countries, Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, and also Baltic Sea cruises. World-wide cruise ships are considered a ‘boom’ area of the tourism industry with 15.5 million passengers cruising in 2006, and an expected 20 million cruise passengers globally by 2010 (Mintel: European Cruises, August, 2007).

The 'Splendour of the Seas' (Royal Caribbean) and 'Celebration' (Thomson) Cruise Ships.
From an academic perspective, where cruise ships should ‘fit’ within the tourism industry is debatable. In 1983 Leiper developed a tourism system model, which identified three distinct tourism industry ‘zones’, these include: a traveller generating zone; a transit zone; and a tourist destination zone, cruise ships could possibly feature in both the transit zone, and the tourist destination zone, as they are both a mode of transport and a destination venue, cruise ships highlight a weakness in Leiper’s model. Whilst cruise ships are acknowledged as being an established part of the tourism industry (wherever they should fit), their inclusion within the entertainment industry is often overshadowed by their tourism identity. Whilst cruise ships themselves are not entertainment entities, they do provide a unique environment that features a significant entertainment offering, and are an entertainment environment in their own right.

On a cruise ship, the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries meet head-on, where transport, accommodation, food and beverage, and entertainment / recreation facilities are all contained within the ship’s generous ‘confines’ (for want of a better word). Cruise ships often have the same facilities as a luxury resort or an entertainment destination visitor attraction, such as Bouganvilla Park in Majorca (albeit on a much smaller scale), and are packed with entertainment venues, and facilities for their captive audience of passengers.
It is probably fair to make the assumption that the majority of those on-board a cruise ship consider it a floating luxury hotel that takes them to a new location each day (or thereabouts), allowing the majority of passengers the opportunity to explore the locations visited en-route. There are however, a number of cruise passengers who spend very little time away from the ship, this may be purely down to choice, but also to physical ability. Cruises are popular amongst the elderly (who are often less mobile), and also attract a number of people with disabilities who may have difficulty travelling too far from the ship, but are happy to enjoy new surroundings and the plethora of entertainment on-board. Cruises often offer excursions to their passengers (usually at an additional cost), but not all passengers are physically able to go on excursions, and additionally some may not be interested in excursions, instead preferring to stay aboard or close to the ship. Cruise ships often spend a good deal of time ‘at sea’ either on full-days travelling between destinations, or more commonly overnight, during this time the passengers are all on-board and need to be occupied so as not to become ‘bored’, which may lead to them feeling negative about their cruise experience. Cruises are often aimed at the ‘high’ or ‘luxury’ end of the tourism market, with customers paying a premium price for their vacation experience, and so passengers typically expect to have extensive facilities, as well as a full itinerary of optional activities and entertainment offerings.

I have just been fortunate enough to spend a week cruising the Eastern Mediterranean, the Agean, and the Ionian Seas around Greece and Turkey on-board the Thomson Celebration cruise ship, this was my first experience of the cruise ship environment, and I have to say that it was a very enjoyable one indeed. I had intended to use the ship as a ‘moving hotel’ from which I would explore destinations, and whilst I expected to find some entertainment on-board, such as live music and cabaret, I was not prepared for just how many sectors of the entertainment industry would be represented within this environment. In fact, information displays on the ship gave the following statistics with regards to some of the on-board entertainment:
· 864 hours are spent rehearsing a two week programme per ship.
· 2,100 lyric sheets are used on each ship per season.
· 1,232 costume files have been opened this season per ship.
· 80 show-based dance routines are learned per person per season.
· 2,350 is the number of costumes and accessories on board the ship.
· 56 costume changes take place per person each week.
· 60,000 miles will be covered by the entertainment team each season.
· 2,500 batteries are used in microphones (and recycled) each season.
· 27 is the average age of the entertainment team, with the youngest being 18 and the oldest 60.

The majority of the entertainment team were provided by PEEL of Skipton, North Yorkshire, UK, a specialist entertainment and event agency who are tasked with recruiting the best people for a number of on-stage and behind-the-scenes roles, as well as devising, scripting, and choreographing the shows.

Having had the opportunity to immerse myself in the entertainment on board the ship, I have outlined (and reflected upon) a number of the entertainment sectors that are represented on the Thomson Celebration cruise ship environment.

Staged Story and Variety

This is by far the largest entertainment sector that is represented on-board the ship. The ship’s entertainment team provided a number of shows, these included plays, musicals and cabaret, including ‘Oh Boy’ The Buddy Holly Story and ‘Moulin Rouge’. This took place in the ‘Broadway Show Lounge’ a good sized theatre with two levels of seating. Thomson promotional material described the shows on-board as being ‘Broadway standard’, I had previously read on Trip Advisor (prior to boarding) a review that said ‘more Butlins than Broadway’, personally I would say that the standard of the main shows in the Broadway Show Lounge was somewhere in-between (but nearer Broadway and certainly very good indeed). The performance space simply wasn’t large enough for the spectacle of Broadway standard shows, but a great deal of talent was very evident in individual performances from those on stage. The girls particularly shone with their well choreographed dance routines and lavish costumes, and I foresee a bright future for some of them (possibly in other sectors of the entertainment industry also).

A scene from 'Oh Boy' the Buddy Holly Story

Also featured on the main stage in the Broadway Show Lounge was stand-up comedian Paul Eastwood, who put on some excellent shows, firing off joke after joke in a series of well rehearsed observational stories and routines.

Liberties is a venue that featured live game shows based upon television classics such as ‘Family Fortunes’ and ‘Catchphrase’ (which in all fairness was a bit ‘Butlinsesque’), these shows were run and compered by young male presenters who were evidently in the infancy of their variety careers. The more senior presenter was called ‘Dave Beatie’ and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the position of Cruise Director, or even on television at some point in the future. All of the presenters however could learn a thing from the ship’s current Cruise Director - Kane Davies who would act as Master of Ceremonies in the Broadway Show Lounge, and who had the confidence, charisma and wit to speak to an audience and get them on his side. Kane holds a Senior position on the ship after a career in the hospitality industry and the licensed trade, and his experience shows.

Other variety performances were dance and exercise performances that were held on the outside stage, as well as cocktail flairing demonstrations, which were also held outside.


Live music was offered every day, this included: the resident band ‘The Nightbirds’ who provided cover versions of classic oldies; live piano and song in the Horizons piano bar; easy listening classics from the Vedasz Duo in the Explorer Lounge; singing waiters in the Meridian restaurant; and the music highlight of the week, the six female entertainers who together formed a ‘girl-band’ and gave a performance in Liberties bar that looked and sounded every bit as good as a number of established chart acts. This was only a 30 minute show, and it was a shame that it wasn’t on the main stage rather than tucked away in Liberties – it’s also a shame that it wasn’t a longer performance.

The Nightbirds

Bars, Pubs and Clubs
The ship has six different bars, including Liberties, which also becomes a nightclub later on. Each bar has a different style or theme, but they all charge the same price, examples include £3.40 for cocktails, and £2.90 for a pint of Stella, which I considered very reasonable.

Dancing in Liberties, which becomes a nightclub after dark.

Audio-Visual Media
A DVD of each cruise is filmed and put together as a montage of clips, this is available to purchase at the end of the week for £19.99. Photographs are also available to purchase.

Broadcast Media
Each cabin has a television that features eleven channels, three of which are music only, along with two news channels, two movie channels, the view from the bridge, a safety information channel, a sales channel for excursions, and a channel dedicated to photographs taken on the ship.

Cinema and Film
The ship has its own cinema, and shows a different film each day at regular intervals throughout the day. The films being shown were all ‘big-screen’ movies, but most were at least six months old.

Printed Media
The ship has its own library, and considering we were cruising around Greece and Turkey, it was a shame that there were no books in the library about these countries or the destinations that we would be visiting. The ship also produces its own daily newspaper, delivered to each cabin by a team of cabin stewards, the paper is called the ‘Cruise News’ which features information about the destinations being visited as well as what is going on aboard the ship. This turned out to be a very worthwhile effort on behalf of Thomson Cruises, and was an interesting read each night before bed.

The library
The Internet
The ship has its own internet zone with fixed PCs as well as a wi-fi network, allowing for users to go online (at a cost), the ship uses satellite communications to connect to the internet.

There are traditional boxed and board games available that can be played in a dedicated game and card room, there are also consoles available including the Nintendo Wii, these are also used in big-screen game tournaments.

Commercial Gambling
The ship has its own casino with several gaming tables and slot machines, this is one of the few areas of the ship where cash can be used.

Hemmingway's Casino
Spectator Sports

There are tennis and basketball courts on deck, with benches around them for spectators.

There are a number of educational talks and displays throughout the week including a guest lecture by Dr. Laurence Carter, a classical historian and romantic novelist (he writes under the name Charlotte Hardy). Some educational talks are particularly targeted towards the majority over-50 market on the ship e.g. arthritis advice, and how to keep your teeth white, where as others are targeted towards anybody including cookery demonstrations, napkin folding, ice carving and cocktail making.

On the first day of the cruise, the destination services team put on a staged sales show to highlight what excursions are available for sale, as well as this, a television shopping channel, brochures, leaflets and flyers highlight Thomson products for sale.

Cultural gastronomy is available through themed food nights, as well as this, cultural information about destinations being visited is available on-board.

Health Entertainment
Health treatments including massage and other relaxing therapies are available in the ship’s spa.

Treatment area in the Beauty Spa

All of the above are merely examples taken from one particular cruise ship, but they serve to highlight what a diverse entertainment offering the cruise ship environment has, and the important role entertainment plays upon cruise ships, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the popularity of cruises. It also highlights the significance of the relationship between the tourism and entertainment industries, with cruise ships holding large captive audiences that require entertaining. The cruise environment is an entertainment environment that will continue to grow in significance (and value) for now, and for the foreseeable future, offering increasingly diverse forms of entertainment on ships, which are growing in size to hold not only more passengers, but more facilities and amenities, particularly those dedicated to keeping passengers entertained.

To view the Thomson Celebration cruise ship, see the video below.

1 comment:

Sean B. Halliday said...

For some real true stories about what happens on cruise ship, check out:


Sean (former crew member)