May 17, 2019 was a special day for me – I retired. As I reflect on my 38+-year career at Thrivent (25+ as a meetings professional) I think about all of the meetings and incentives that I have planned. Over the years, people ask me where my favorite place has been. It’s very hard to single out one place because I have had so many wonderful opportunities with my travels. But, I have to say that cruise programs have been my favorite, as well as our attendees’ favorite. Personally, I was very skeptical about cruising as I always thought I would feel “captive.” My first cruise proved me wrong. I love cruising!
I have planned six cruises during my career—four chartered and two non-chartered. Chartered cruise ships proved to be some of our best programs. Knowing that you have the entire ship and can customize your itinerary and program is a huge benefit. Ships are floating hotels and they had everything I needed for a successful program.
My favorite cruise program was a chartered Mediterranean cruise with ports in Italy (Capri, Amalfi Coast and Portofino, to name a few). The ports were simply amazing and beautiful. This was our one and only incentive that received a perfect 5 rating from our attendees. My second favorite was our chartered Greek Island cruise. Greece is on a lot of people’s bucket lists, and this cruise sparked a lot of competition—it was one of our highest-qualification years in terms of numbers. The ports did not disappoint; each island was very different. They included Athens, Hydra, Santorini, Mykonos and Rhodes and Kusadasi, Turkey. Finally, I have to say I really was very pleasantly surprised on our Alaskan cruise. Although this was not chartered, most of the group was housed together on a couple of decks. The scenery was breathtaking.
The beauty of a chartered cruise is that you have the entire ship and can customize your itinerary, entertainment, dress codes, deck parties, etc. The cruise lines are willing to work with you, but may not be able to do everything, so don’t be afraid to bring in a DMC to assist. They can help with airport transfers, on-board events and events off the ship. My advice is to work with an expert on cruising as they are well versed on the cruise ship that would best suit your group and are able to create amazing itineraries. FICP has quite a few hospitality partners representing cruise lines. Reach out to them to discuss how cruising can help elevate your incentive programs.
As with any program, issues do arise. On a few of the cruises, we encountered technology issues with their “registration” system (where attendees sign up for shore excursions, special dining reservations, spa reservations, etc.) and yes, it was very frustrating at this time. I was able to assist with some of the questions; however, we sent attendees to a help line with the cruise line for the majority of the questions. Meetings professionals should also know their attendees’ demographics and give advance notice to the cruise line for onboard entertainment and shore excursions so they are able to work with you to accommodate your needs and your group’s interests.
If you are thinking (or maybe not thinking) about a cruise for your incentives, I encourage you to pursue it. We are in the business of creating experiences for our attendees and cruises are an amazing opportunity for you to deliver something special. They have been some of my best programs!
Lynn Schwandt, CMP
Thrivent Financial (retired)
FICP Education Committee