CruiseCompete's Cruise Podcast

Tom Hollembaek, Aces Cruising CEO on Antarctica, Expedition Cruising, Explora Journeys, the state of the Cruise Market and much much more

July 27, 2023 Bob Levinstein Season 3 Episode 1
Tom Hollembaek, Aces Cruising CEO on Antarctica, Expedition Cruising, Explora Journeys, the state of the Cruise Market and much much more
CruiseCompete's Cruise Podcast
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CruiseCompete's Cruise Podcast
Tom Hollembaek, Aces Cruising CEO on Antarctica, Expedition Cruising, Explora Journeys, the state of the Cruise Market and much much more
Jul 27, 2023 Season 3 Episode 1
Bob Levinstein

Please join me and my guest, Tom Hollembaek, CEO of Aces Cruising, for a wide-ranging discussion about cruises, favorite destinations, and the current state of the cruise industry.

Show Notes Transcript

Please join me and my guest, Tom Hollembaek, CEO of Aces Cruising, for a wide-ranging discussion about cruises, favorite destinations, and the current state of the cruise industry.

Hello and welcome back to Cruise Competes Cruise podcast, where we share tips, ideas, and inspiration to help make your next cruise a fantastic experience. I'm your host, Bob Levevinstein. My guest today is Tom Hollembaek |, founder and owner of ACEs Cruising, a top cruise travel agency. Tom has been on 47 cruises with three more scheduled this year to bring him to an even 50.

Tom has been in the cruise business since 2010, starting at Royal Caribbean. He then moved on to work for Norwegian Cruise Line in the sales department. He is been an independent, independent agent since 2015 and joined Cruise Planters as a franchise owner in 2018. I will be chatting with Tom about a wide range of topics about the cruise business and cruising in general.

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Welcome back. My guest today is Tom Hollembaek | , founder and owner of Cruise Travel Agency, Aces Cruising. Tom, welcome to the program. Thank you, Bob. Appreciate being here. Glad to have you. So, 50 cruises, that's a big number. What have been some of your favorites? Um, the two that really come really to my front of mind when I'm thinking about my past cruises.

Uh, the first time I went with Norwegian, going to Europe on the Norwegian spirit, we did a grand Mediterranean cruise. And it was my first time to Europe as a traveler. Um, first time to Europe on a cruise that was, uh, 2018. And, um, just fabulous. Uh, I really got to see, I think it was five different countries, went to Croatia, which is one of my favorite ports in the world.

And, uh, just had a absolutely marvelous time. Uh, one of the Norwegian's older shifts of spirit, uh, which coincidentally was the first cruise I ever went on to Bermuda. That's another great cruise. Yeah, another great cruise. I'd like to, uh, look back on fondly of, uh, from time to time. But the, the one that really, uh, has come to the forefront was I went to Antarctica in February with a celebrity.

Wow. And, uh, wow. I mean, it was just, uh, not only the itinerary at the sites, uh, the destination, uh, but I was lucky enough to find about eight to 10 people on board that I just met on the cruise. We set up a meet and greet and, uh, it made, it enhanced the trip to such an extent that it made, it really made the cruise.

So those two, I'm, I'm so with you. I'm so with you, the having, uh, the, the right people on board, people that you relate to and, uh, and enjoy spending time with. I just got back from the Galapagos and we had just such a great group of people, uh, on that sailing. Uh, in two languages. Uh, 'cause you know, it was about half in Spanish, half the passengers in Spanish, half the passengers in, uh, in English.

Mm-hmm. A lot of the Spanish passengers. The passengers, the passengers who had Spanish for their, their first language also spoke English. But it just, uh, it really made the trip to have great people to hang out with. But tell me more about Antarctica. What, uh, what were some of the coolest things that you saw down there?

Uh, whale for sure. Yeah. WA whales, I mean, just absolutely incredible. I mean, every, I had, I was lucky enough to have an as facing balcony, so I had like 180 degree view and, um, Whale is everywhere. Um, there's a great tip, there's a great general tip for cruisers. Uh, I love apple. Absolutely. You get a larger, you know, get a bit larger balcony and you know, a lot of the regular balconies on most cruise ships, you can sit there and you can look out and that's nice and, and you know, I love that experience.

But to have a balcony that. Uh, that is, you know, a few more square feet. You can have a couple people over. Um, you can stretch out a little bit. It, uh, it really makes a big difference. So, which, which celebrity, I assume it was the expedition. Uh, Infiniti. Oh, Infiniti. Oh, wow. Infiniti. Yep. Yep. And, um, how, how big a ship is that?

That's about 2000 passengers. One of their older vessels. Um, I didn't realize you could get ships that big. Cant orica. Wow. Well, it, uh, that's the thing, uh, it's not expedition, so you can't, there's no zodiacs or anything. 'cause we did see Silver Sea down there and Viking doing. You know, basically walks on the, I suck work down there as well.

Yeah. Um, so it's, it's an Antarctica cruise in the sense that you are down in Antarctica, but you do not get to get off the ship and set foot on Antarctica. Got it. So, yeah. Um, it's really about taking in the views besides, but yes. Uh, that was one point of, uh, I was like, dang, I wish we could, you know, step foot on the ice or in one of these ports, but it's just not, it's not done with a shift of that size.

So, um, They, but the cruise is so popular, uh, that they changed it from the infinity to the eclipse. So they're gonna bump it up to a 3000 passenger ship for 2023 and four. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, that's great. Well, you know, I think there are also some positives of, of having the, uh, There are a lot of sea days and a lot of times when you can't be out observing or even out on an expedition, even if you were on an expedition chip.

But actually that's a good point. Why don't you explain for our listeners, uh, what expedition cruising is, what it means, and why it's becoming so popular these days. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the, the expedition shifts are, tend to be smaller and they give you more intimate experience with the local, wherever you are.

Um, you know, if you're in Antarctica, you're gonna usually have like zodiacs and things where you can get up close and personal with, uh, terrain that normally you wouldn't be able to venture to if you are on a traditional cruise ship. You know, say a celebrity or a Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, they just don't have that.

Capability for that product. Um, Yeah, I've done a couple, uh, actually a couple, uh, I mentioned I just got back from the Galapagos. I was there in mm-hmm. Uh, in July and we did a four nighter on, uh, on Metropolitan Journeys. Wow. Yeah. Um, small ship, it was mm-hmm. Only there are 20 state rooms. Mm-hmm.

Technically there were 16 two passenger and then, uh, and then, uh, two, four passenger, but maximum 40 passengers. Um, Very small ship, but very, very functional. It was just really, you know, you had your, uh, bottom deck was, uh, Was the lounge and the restaurants mid deck were all of the cabins. And then the top deck had some, you know, some tables and a, and a and a sunshade, and then the, and then the hot tub was up there and the super stuff.

But basically every day was. Three excursions, I guess for better or three activities, um, that you would do. Um, they might be like a deep water snorkel. They might be hiking around on an island, or they might be a, uh, a Zodiac tour where you cruise around wildlife and boy metropolitan Journeys has it down.

They just know they are. So, it was, it was absolutely the best experience I've ever had. The, uh, on a cruise ship, the, um, the wildlife. Nothing's afraid of you. So he can like, take, you know, first morning, uh, they saw a couple of penguins sitting on the rocks, Slagus penguins, and we just, you know, yeah, pushed up, park the ship, uh, the ship park, the zodiac, you know, two feet away from them.

And we're taking National Geographic level photos with our, uh, with our cell phone cameras. Absolutely. Yep. It was pretty amazing. Mm-hmm. Um, but, uh, up close and personal. Yes, it was very, it was a very cool experience swimming with sea lions, swimming with, uh, giant sea turtles. Yes, I could, I could go on for two hours about change the subject, but, um, do Nik I'm hearing more and more about that.

In fact, I've got some, uh, I have some neighbors who are, who are from that, uh, that part of the world, and they go there, uh, pretty frequently. Um, it is becoming a much more popular what's, uh, what's the draw and, uh, and why are people, uh, uh, interested in going to, uh, to that port. Well, for me, uh, when I first went there, um, I recognized it because, you know, game of Thrones filmed there.

Mm-hmm. And I enjoyed that show, you know, and, and at the time it was at, it's really probably its peak popularity. Sure. And I think that really drew a lot of eyes towards it, for one. But if you get down to it and you start really looking at not only the region, but the history, the beauty. I mean, it's, it really is a crown jewel, port Dubrovnik.

But the country itself, I mean, there's so many different things to see and do there. I mean, especially for active travelers. I mean, hiking, bike riding, they've got sport fishing. Um, they've got a, a dedicated cruise line that sails around, uh, the Croatian waters called C Line and. Economical. I've been looking at it for something that I'm gonna do personally, probably in 2024, combined with like a bike ride through Montenegro and Croatia.

Oh, nice. So, yeah. Um, and I think, I think a lot of it, I think that's one of the great things about cruising, which is, you know, you can go and sample different places and then Yep, absolutely. I, this is where I wanna go back and spend more time. Yeah, for sure. And I mean, I think part of it too, You can beat the crowds there.

Of course, the peak travel season, it's gonna be crowded. If you go in the summertime, it's always gonna, you know, if you go to these well known places, cities, otherwise it's gonna be crowded just like anywhere else, but. When you compare, start comparing to Venice and Rome and you know, the big time, you know, the heavy hitters of world travel have been there forever.

You know, uhhuh, right? You can, you can beat the crowds, you can beat the cost, um, and really have a unique experience, whereas, uh, you know, If you tells somebody you went to Paris, they're gonna be like, oh yeah, I've been to Paris about five times. You know, something like that. Mm-hmm. And then the conversation end.

If you tells somebody you went to Croatia, they're like, whoa, what? What? You know, because a lot of people aren't still aware of, of, uh, of Croatia Montenegro, but you know, the Eastern block, can you get by, can you, is it easy to get by with distinguished there? I didn't have any issue. Um, I was only there for a day, but, uh, most people that I spoke with did have English now.

From what I understand, you go out, out of the city into the countryside, little bit more difficult to communicate, so where they might understand a few words here and there, if you have some kind of uh, issue, it might be difficult to get by. Now in this day and age with technology, you usually can. Type something into Google and have it translate for you.

So it shouldn't be too much of an issue if you got a self connection. Sure. I need to, I probably should start learning a little bit of, uh, of, uh, Bosnia and Croatian. I, uh, play soccer on Sundays with a bunch of Bosnians, and they just Oh, wow. They like to yell at each other in their own language. It's really very funny because they're, they're actually super nice guys, but.

When you first get there, you don't really know that because they have this, what I call resting slaw face. They all look angry all the time and they're always, you know, yelling at each other. Uh, like they're angry, but they really aren't. So it's, um, but it, it can be a little intimidating. Of course, I'm the worst player on the field 'cause, you know, on the court.

'cause I'm, I'm 20 years than everybody else. But, uh, but they're actually good guys and I really, I enjoy, uh, I enjoy playing them. Awesome. So you've got three more cruises coming up this year. Uh, where, where are you headed? Uh, well, I've got one that's going to, uh, it's a e uh, Western Caribbean Cruise on celebrity.

I'm hosting a group of about 25. Nice. So I'm looking forward to that. That's on celebrity Equinox, uh, this December, December 19th. I've been on celebrity a bunch and I really enjoy 'em as a cruise line, but I think it's gonna be a very, uh, awesome experience hosting the cruise, and we're gonna have to do a bunch of different events.

So I'm really looking forward to that, even though, you know, it is, it's gonna be a working vacation, but I think it's gonna be a lot of fun. Mm-hmm. Um, so I'm looking forward to that and then one that I'm really, before, before we move on, what, uh, what does hosting, uh, hosting entail? Sure. Yeah. I mean, what kind of, uh, are these people who don't know each other and just, you know, book through your agency or, um, how did that come together and what kind of, what kind of, uh, of groups do you do?

Yeah. I had, I had this group booked. I do all sorts of groups. I mean, I'll do, I. Friends and family, I'll do like-minded activity, you know, chess or playing cards or poker, whatever I've done. I had a school teacher's group. Um, so whatever, um, whatever kind of group you wanna put together, I absolutely can do it.

Um, host. So does this start with you or does this start with people contacting you and say, Hey, I wanna do a chess group? Are you reaching healthy clubs? How does it, how does, how do those come together? Yeah, this particular one I had set up and I started putting together the group just saying, Hey, I'm gonna, you know, uh, have events on board and it's just gonna be, you know, if you wanna join me on a cruise, come and we will make the best of it and do different events and parties and things like that.

Now that's, and really it's gonna be like a laissez fair type thing where I'll just be, you know, sitting in. One of the lounges or something, and you can come and hang out with me if you want to. If not, then you can go do your own thing. But there's gonna be a few different events on board that are organized and, you know, meet, mix and mingle.

But some people, there's about 10 people that know each other and the rest of the people are strangers. So they're, you know, guests of mine or, uh, friends of mine or whatever, whatever the case may be. Uh, I invited anybody who was willing to go during those dates. So, um, that's the group I. Setting up for this year, and then I'll do something like that again for next year.

And just a, you know, a way for people to explore different, uh, itineraries and maybe go on a cruise that they did, wouldn't normally go on. 'cause a lot of these people are carnival cruisers and this just happens to be a celebrity cruise. That's a different experience. Yep, absolutely. And, and then when you're talking about just, uh, generally speaking groups, um, I put together a poker group.

Um, Which it, it's kind of more difficult to put those together because some of these ships are poker players don't want to play electronically, and a lot of these ships have electronic tables. Oh, really? So, yeah. Carnival, when did that start? Oh, it's been like that for a while. Hmm. Um, the, the, the cruise lines that have traditional dealers are Norwegian Royal celebrity.

Um, I think Virgin Voyages, but I can't be sure. But Carnival products, any cruise line with Carnival, they have an electronic machine. So if you go sit down and then you wait for everybody else, and then you guys, you know, you put in, you, you push a button to see your cards, um, you push a button to bet. Yeah.

It's really impersonal. Yeah. So, um, But now if you really look around, um, W P T does a two oh Cruise World Series of Poker does a cruise. So a lot of the bigger poker players look for that. Now, if it's just a, you know, 20 group, 20 people that like to play poker and cruise, we'll do our private poker where it's self dealt.

Mm-hmm. Which, uh, some people love that. Other people that play poker more often aren't a big fan of self doubt. But the point is, um, Groups of any type are I'm, I'm able to handle. And, um, so if somebody's listening to this right now, somebody's listening right now, and they have a sewing group. Mm-hmm. A church group, a poker group, any kind of, you know, thing you can think of, uh, where they would like to get a bunch of people together.

Uh, maybe they live in a condo complex or a, uh, mm-hmm. And wanna do something for that, how would they contact you and uh, and what would that that entail if they wanted to put a group together? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I always tell people that wanna do groups 18 months minimum in advance because, uh, before you know it, either somebody's coming along late and paying more.

Um, so always give yourself plenty of time to build that group. Um, visit my website, ACEs, and gimme a call or email and tell me what you wanna set up and what your goals are with the group. I did a Cru, uh, a church group about, mm, six years ago. And, uh, we did a fundraiser on board, like a 50 50 and things like that.

And it, it generated $30,000 worth of, uh, donation towards the crew, uh, the, uh, church. Nice. So you can also do fundraisers and stuff like that. So, Um, but yeah, I mean, anytime you have a group, especially when it's like-minded, um, it really does enhance, uh, your experience on board. I had, uh, when you, you, when you said condo, I had some, uh, group from the villages of about 30 people that I hosted on Holland America right before the, uh, whole global shutdown.

Mm-hmm. So, yeah, I mean, that was a really fun experience, but we didn't really do anything. We had, you know, little parties. Just kind of relaxed and hung out. And then we would, we, we'd have dinner each night and everybody basically just, uh, move around so I could mix and mingle with everybody on board. So it's just a, it's just a matter of how you wanna do your group.

It's a big group. Give yourself like two years. Yeah. No, that makes sense. That makes sense. Yeah. Mm-hmm. So the other two cruises you have planned for this year? Yeah. So, Explorer journey invited me to get on board their new ship. It just came out about a week ago. They did the, uh, naming ceremony. It was a little bit delayed 'cause of some, uh, build issues.

But, uh, they got those, I got that worked out, I think August 1st. They're gonna be doing their first sailing, if I'm not mistaken. Mm-hmm. So I'm gonna go on them in December. It's MSCs luxury cruise product. Apparently it's been the guy's dream for over a decade to get this put together. Ship looks beautiful, but I'm really looking forward to not only seeing what they consider to be a luxury product and um, it's actually sailing on Barbados, coming to Miami.

So that's gonna be a new experience. Yeah. So I'm looking forward to that. Give you, lemme give you a tip on that one. Okay. Get to Barbados and be there on a Friday. Um, there's a place called Oin. It's O I S T E N S, probably o n s. Mm-hmm. I think it's e n s, um, that on Friday nights it's like a little town.

Uh, on Friday nights when the fishing cleat comes in, they have this big outdoor event where they, they do a fish fry basically, and it's, uh, oh, it's a lot of fun. It's, wow, that'd be great. It's great food. So see if you can't, you can't, uh, get there early enough. And frankly, way airlines are going these days.

I, you know, I used to arrive the day before. I now arrive two days before. Yeah. It's always kind of been my rollon. I've been stranded. I've been stranded twice. Once I got stranded for two extra days in New York, uh, I got stranded in carna and then I got stranded in Miami, coming back from, uh, uh, from, uh, Ecuador in, uh, In July.

Wow. So, yeah, I would, that's another piece of advice I would throw out there at anybody. Um, go two days in advance. One day is not enough anymore with the airline meltdowns. It's just, it's, I know. Yep. Um, but, um, but tell 'em, let's, uh, I, I would imagine that very few people are, are familiar with Explorer. Um, it's, it's really common for cruise lines to want to have a luxury product to upgrade their, you know, as passengers.

Uh, become customers and like your product. But you know, as they might get a little older, as they might decide, they want, uh, they want a fancier experience to have a product that they can upgrade to. So explore journeys feature some, some smaller ships. They're not the, they're not the giant, but what, uh, what, what passenger sizes are we talking?

I think it's 900 passengers, if I'm not mistaken. Um, Once they kind of announced that, uh, it's okay, so they've got a really great guest per host ratio. Mm-hmm. That's really across the board with any luxury product, depending on which one you go with, you're gonna have a, you know, a bigger ratio in terms of.

The customer service is supposed to go up exponentially when you go with luxury. Sure. And then you're talking about bigger rooms across the board. So if you get their basic entry level balcony room, and you're used to, you know, two, let's say you're used to 200 square feet, these are usually gonna be about a hundred square feet bigger.

Mm-hmm. Um, sometimes they're gonna be going to smaller ports, so crews I'm on is going. Ocean key, it's going to St. Kits a lot of the traditionals. But I think if you look at the Explorer, they're gonna be going to St. Bart's. Sometimes, uh, smaller Caribbean ports that bigger traditional cruise lines aren't gonna get into.

And I think what, see with luxury, the first thing you'll see is. Better service and then your dining experience is gonna be elevated as well. Yep. It tends to be a more And moral inclusive too. Are, are drinks included on, uh, on this one? I assume that I'm not sure of. Okay. Because on the M S C already has a couple of levels on their big ships.

You can get the Yeah, they've got Yacht Club. Yeah. Yeah. It includes all of the, all of your drinks are included and you have some exclusive vi IP areas that, uh, not everyone can go to. Um, that's right. Yeah. Yacht Club, of course, you're gonna get all that stuff with MSEs, traditional Ocean Liners. I'm pretty sure Explorer is going to offer that, but Yep.

I haven't seen the inclusion that they've put out yet. They've been a little lacking when it comes to communication other than what's going on with the ship. They have been really clear about the delays and what caused them and how they're changing it and dealing with it. But when it comes to what you're gonna get for your money, I don't think that they have as clear so far.

Oh, so we'll see. I mean, I'm excited. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, um, but that's gonna, you know, going on these luxury lines really gives you an idea of how to differentiate the two products, um, because it really is a different experience. I know it's, you're on the ocean and it's a ship and everything, but really it's totally different.

Yeah. And you know, back to what we were talking about before with passengers. You know? Mm-hmm. It's a more expensive product. You are going to find people, you know, if you're looking to party a little more and be outweigh at the bar, eh, you've got less, you're less likely to encounter. Uh, As much entertainment and people who wanna stay up late.

But on the other hand, you're also with people who have, generally, who have money to spend. So they've been to a lot of different places. Yep. Uh, and have lots of great stories of, of things they've seen and done. And it's a great way to get ideas for, you know, where your next cruise or your next trip should be.

Absolutely, absolutely. And just off the top of my head, I know that they're gonna have really fine dining experiences on Explorer and. I think they're gonna go the extra mile and it's really gonna become a product that people look for, um, to enhance their cruising experience and also check out maybe what M S C has to offer.

The M S C, the cruise. Brand does get a lot of, uh, mixed reviews. So yeah, their brand, I think they're still, they're still maybe not quite there on all logistics, uh, to the level that some of the guys who've been in the business longer, uh, are. Yeah. Although, um, you know, the value for the money, they're, they tend to be less expensive.

Uh, and I've heard good things about yacht club. In fact, I was supposed to go to Europe and ended up not being able to, uh, On a, on a yacht club trip a few years back, but, uh mm-hmm. One of these days I'll get there. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and you know, I think in general, the crews, the, the, the higher end lines, uh, that work with smaller ships, uh, the Oceania of the world, the.

Zamara who I guess is now independent, I'm not sure how That's right. Has gone for them. I have not really heard a lot because kind of rough owned by Yeah. Royal Caribbean by Royal, but they're, uh, but they sold them off to try to, uh, try to save some cash during the pandemic. Yep, yep. And that'll be interesting to see how that goes.

But yeah, they had a rough start with their call center. They went down for about a week. So, um, uh, but in terms of the ship experience for Azamara, it's pretty cool. I mean, it's a club club experience. I've, I've toured them mm-hmm. And, uh, booked a few people on 'em and they really enjoyed it. Um, but they do have a very niche product, you know, where it's, uh, don't have very many shifts and Sure.

But it's supposed to be, uh, you know, and it doesn't have luxury price points. Say if you were like comparing it to Silversea, but. Of course Silver Seas, its own, you know, absolute luxury, top end betting attention to detail. So, well, you know, and again, I think that's important distinction to make too, where Silver Sea is really of the old traditional, um, traditional cruising, um Yep.

It's very white glove and you dress for dinner and. Um, you know, it's toward the, um, what's the right word for it? Uh, well, let's just contrast it on Oceania, on a, on an asara, and I assume on an explorer as well, it's more of a, a. Country club kind of experience. Mm-hmm. I think you're mm-hmm. You know, it's more of, eh, we're, we're, we're wearing a nice polo shirt and, uh, but we're not, uh, we're not wearing tuxedos, you know, we're not correct on suits for dinner.

Mm-hmm. So it's more of a compromise between people who are not as, uh, formal. There's the word who might not be as formal and, you know, wanna be a bit more relaxed, but still want that really high end of, of service and, and food. Uh, absolutely. The, uh, and, and I think, uh, the age, the age ranges are gonna be a bit different on your, uh, mm-hmm.

You know, more people in their fifties and sixties on a, uh, on an Oceania, more people in their seventies and eighties and, uh, on a, uh, I guess crystal coming back. Uh, yep. Silver. Absolutely. If you're, you're not up in those age ranges, it might not be for you. Yep. Just depends. Yeah. Depends on your experience or your, your desires for sure.

But yes. Yeah, absolutely. That's a good way of looking at it. Mm-hmm. So between, you worked for both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, uh mm-hmm. What are some of the difference between those companies, how they view what they do, how they, um, uh, you know, how they differ for passengers as well, but, uh, what, uh, what kind of insight or insights do you have for Well, of course, Royal Caribbeans claim to fame, at least one of them.

And I think the one they boast allowed us is the biggest ships in the world. Yep. And when you have the biggest in the world, you have. Really the most to offer when it comes to onboard experience, because Norwegian has the second biggest ships in the world for the most part, and they still can't offer what Royal offers when it comes to, you know, you got an ice skating rink, you've got flow riders, huge water parks.

Um, I mean, I'm missing so much just because, I mean, central Park area. The boardwalk area. So you really, it's, it's hard to imagine it because even when I was in the industry and I hadn't seen one of the Oasis class ships, I finally saw one probably in like 2014, and I was in the Fort Lauderdale port and I was like, that ship is absolutely massive compared to all everybody else.

And I, you know, to, to put it in words, doesn't do it justice. So with Royal Caribbean, I think you're absolutely right about that. And I think, uh, just even going back to, oh boy, yeah. Going back to the early two thousands when I first started cruising mm-hmm. The first time. And these ships were, you know, hmm.

Half the size or less. I know they have now, but the first time that you got off at the dock level. Oh yeah. And you just looked up and you know, looking up into your left and to your right and there's just this huge white wall that goes in all direction. Yep. Until you actually experience that, you can read the statistics, but it just doesn't really register until you're actually, that's right.

Absolutely right. And, and I think that sets Royal apart. I mean, Royal's been around forever and they really, I mean, when did they start in like 1977 or something? In, in Florida. Something like that. Yep. And, um, from where that they've came, they've really maintained a steady progression of not only their ships, um, but expansion.

Where they go and they've, they've brought on such a loyal following that if you notice, Royal Caribbean really never offers anything in terms of promotions. They always have that 30% off thing, but when they offer that, they get to control what 30% means. Yep. So, um, if you, you, yeah, I think really seems to be, it really seems to be the best run company in the industry.

Yeah, I mean, you can tell that by, you know, their stock prices and, uh, their ships and Yeah. Just very, they've, they've got, they've got everything mainlined to the point. I mean, they're not, they're not perfect by any means, but when it comes to what they offer and what they do, they seem to have it down to almost like a science, because they've got everything set up.

Where you don't see that as, like, that doesn't look right or that doesn't make sense in terms of like maybe an itinerary that's off or something. Or you might see that with other cruise lines. Sure. So multi-gen, you know, if you're talking teenagers and then grandparents and, and maybe some 40 year old parents or something in that area, Royal seems to be the most popular.

Um, not with everybody, but I would say in general, generally speaking, and you tend to get the onboard experience for everybody, uh, with your, what you're paying, your price point. Now, if you compare that to what Norwegian has, you might sacrifice a little bit when it comes to what you get on board, but Norwegian has, you know, where they offer you the specialty dining package, the drink package, and a lot of people.

That makes a big deal because if you go in Royal Caribbean for seven nights, you're looking at about an extra 15 to $2,000 of drinks if you, if you bought packages. Sure. So it really comes down to, I think it, I think the experience on both lines are great, but they, they're, there's a bigger contrast, a bigger difference between the two than I think people realize.

Um, when it comes to the value for your money and where your money's being spent, You know, I think that's very true and I think it depends on what's important to you. You know, flashy having the ice, ice skating rink and the float rider are important, you know? Great. On the other hand, for me, I actually love going on Carnival.

Um, yeah, because I love the live music. Yep. I think the food, my music got that got, um, and you know, there are people who are, who are actually ready to, you know, go out at night and go dancing and go to the bars. Mm-hmm. Go to the piano bar or do the, it, it seems to be a more lively crowd. It is, absolutely.

And they really, their food is underrated. Carnival food. I preferred it to royals, uh, all the mean steakhouse on Royal is amazing. Yeah. Yeah. All the specialty dining, that's totally different. I always put a disclaimer by those, Hey, that's not, it's not to be expected at the main dining room or whatever.

Not to say that it's not good, but it's just an upgraded experience. Any cruise line you look at, um, but the, you're absolutely right about, Carnival crowd does seem to be a little bit more lively. Um, and then, uh, with Royal Caribbean, if you look at what a lot of people expect, it's, they want, you know, unique experiences in the Porsche too.

And now a lot of has to do with their private island that they've dumped, you know, $500 million into over the past, you know, decade. Yep. They get waterpark and all the different sides and stuff. But that's also, I tell people, you know, if you want to take part in that kind of stuff, you're gonna have to pay for that as well.

So it's something to exactly, it's for what's important to you. I was always less stressed out working for Norwegian. I will say that. I thought they had a more

Yeah, they, they really made, they were like, Hey, you're selling Cruzs here, try to have a good time. Or Royal Caribbean was a lot, a lot more like, Hey, make sure you're back of your seat one minute before your break in, stuff like that, you know? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. But that didn't reflect the onboard experience. I mean, I'm a Diamond Don Royal, so, uh, I like Royal.

Um, but if, I mean, if I had my druthers, most likely I'd be on a celebrity cruise, pretty much for the most part. Um, You know, but I like, I, I like all different cruise lines for different reasons. Sure. And it just depends on what I'm planning on doing on that particular trip. But I really do think all the, the contemporary lines, carnival Royal and Norwegian do offer something for everybody.

Yeah, no, I would agree with that too. Yeah. Which, which may or may not be a good thing, but they do need mass appeal. I mean, that's how they make their money, you know. Oh yeah. Well, you know, no, I, but I think the fact that they, that they, that they were able to do that, it means you can go on with, you know, the multi-generational you can take your kids, you know?

Mm-hmm. Uh, when my, so I remember when my son was seven, gosh, that's 10 years ago already. Uh, we went on a, uh, we did Norwegian cruise where he was with my mom too, who was probably 80 at the point 82. Yeah. And now, 79, 80. Uh, and she, and he, you know, we put him in the, uh, uh, in the, in the, what'd they call it?

The camp, the, uh, You know, the kids program and I remember looking at the itinerary and it saying, oh, you know, it's open till 10 o'clock at night. And I'm thinking, yeah, this kid's bedtime is seven o'clock. Mm-hmm. There's no way he's gonna be there at 10. If we pulled him out there at 9 55, he screamed because he just looked it so much.

It's like summertime. Mm-hmm. They got. Play with, they've got, you know, people with great personalities running the camp, you know, who love playing with the kids and having activities for 'em. Mm-hmm. And I think that's true across not just Norwegian, but I think, you know, you'll get that same experience in Carnival.

You'll get that same experience in uh, on, uh, on Royal. Absolutely. But the nice thing is, you know, my mom went and found people to play Bridge with. That's right. Um, you know, my now Ex and I had other stuff that we were doing while he was in the camp. Mm-hmm. Um, and, you know, I would meet up with my mom once, we'd always meet with the trivia to do trivia together.

It's just, it's, there's stuff that you're gonna want to do with the people you're with. There's stuff that you're not gonna do with the people you're with. And it's, uh, but everybody's got those options for, for different things to do. And I think it's, uh, choose your own adventure kind of experience. Um, absolutely.

I think that's a. Yeah. Yep. Even in the porch. Great way to look at it. You know, there were days that we went, places where, uh, you know, my mom said, eh, I'm gonna stay on the ship. Mm-hmm. You know, and I took my son to the beach. It just, that's right. Uh, you know, you've just, you've got a lot of options. Mm-hmm.

For sure. Alright, Tom, well this has been great. Lots of great information out here. Um, to finish up, do you have any cruise tips that you, uh, that you wanna share from your, your wealth of experience here? My biggest tip as of today is if you have not yet made your plan for 2024, you are behind schedule. Um, everything that I'm looking at, no matter the time of year, no matter, the itinerary space is limited.

And I people think, uh, that I am misleading 'em or, uh, uh, misrepresenting the numbers. No. Um, it's gonna be absolutely as long as God willing, everything stays. Relatively normal worldwide. Um, then we're gonna have an absolute shortage of space for 2024. Gonna have a lot of people left out because they think that they can go back to their 2018.

I'm gonna book two months in advance and get what I want. No, you have to book what you want now or you're not gonna get what you want. And that's, I think that's absolutely true. We're certainly seeing on cruise compete, we're seeing record level. Yeah. So that's, that's my tip stuff being booked for next year.

And I think that's, uh, that's, that's very, very good advice. Mm-hmm. And I've run out of, uh, especially on Royal Caribbean, my, my, uh, promotional group space is basically gone. Yep. So don't book sooner to pay less and, uh, and, uh, make sure you, you get the cabin type you want, you get the sale date you want, you get the itinerary.

That's right. Absolutely. And a pleasure, Bob. Yeah. Thanks so much, uh, for joining us today, Tom. Um, my guest has been Tom Holbeck, founder and owner of Cruise Travel Agency, ACEs Cruising, uh, ACEs if you want to contact him about, uh, about setting up a group. Uh, otherwise, uh, you can also find him quoting on cruise compete.

So, uh, we're, uh, we're out there for you. So thank you so much and have a great day.