Making its maiden voyage

Updated: 2016-07-04 08:46

By Xu Lin(China Daily)

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Free-fall simulators, android bartenders and a $4.5 million art collection are all aboard the new Royal Caribbean cruise liner that set sail from Tianjin to Japan and South Korea last week. Xu Lin hops on-deck.

A man in a jumpsuit and helmet - limbs extended - hovers in the air.

He spins like a superhero.

 Making its maiden voyage

Top: The newly launched Ovation of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, offers a variety of activities aboard, including a swimming pool and a playground for kids. Above left: A sculpture of a panda mother and cub reaching for each other is one of 11,000 artworks onboard. Middle: A customer tries a surfing simulator. Above right: A canteen is among the 18 eateries onboard that provide various food choices. Photos by Xu Lin / China Daily

This free-fall simulation comes with a coach and is but one of several unique experiences aboard Ovation of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner that set sail on its maiden voyage in China on June 28.

It sails from Tianjin to Japan and South Korea on trips lasting five to seven days.

"It has the newest technology and the finest design, with a variety of activities on board," says Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the US-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

He recently attended the naming ceremony in Tianjin.

About 1,600 international crew members work on the 348-meter-long, 42-meter-wide vessel. Its 2,090 staterooms and suites that can accommodate 4,905 guests.

"Guests can have a relaxing vacation and enjoy activities at the same time. They can read a book in the library or do sports."

The ship has a lot for children, including a playground and workshops.

"Cruising ... will create countless family memories," Fain says.

The ship has a ride that rises 92 meters above sea level, a surfing simulator and treadmills with ocean views.

Evenings are for cocktails made by robots. Chinese and English bar bands perform. And musicals and multimedia productions are staged.

A large sculpture of a panda mother and cub reaching for each other on the upper deck is one of 11,000 artworks worth $4.5 million onboard. The collection is inspired by a Confucius' quote: "Wherever you go, go with all your heart."

Fain says: "That phrase tells a story about our company and not just this ship. We went in with all our heart and look forward to hosting Chinese guests."

Over 1.11 million Chinese hopped aboard cruises last year, a 50 percent increase over 2014.

"The growth in China is enormous and will continue," Fain says.

"We listen to what our guests want and make adjustments for them. For example, we have a Kungfu Panda noodles shop on the new cruise. But in the US, it's a hamburger store."

In 2013, the company partnered with Tianjin Maritime College, where it established its crew-training center.

"A happy crew makes a happy cruise. Our finest feature is our crew, who work hard to provide such vacations," he says.

"But it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to do that. It (Tianjin Maritime College) is an important source of crew for our ships and an important career resource for local students wishing to have careers at sea."

The captain of Ovation of the Seas, Flemming Nielsen, calls his career a dream come true.

Beijinger Cui Qiming says another Royal Caribbean cruise he took in early June to Japan and South Korea catered to all ages.

Making its maiden voyage

His 2-year-old daughter enjoyed playing with other kids and the crew.

"I was surprised to see a group of elderly Chinese women square dancing on-deck," the 30-year-old says.

About half of cruise guests are middle aged. And up to 40 percent are families, says Ren Tao, chief operating officer of Caissa Cruises of Caissa Touristic, a Beijing-based travel agency.

International cruise companies must partner with Chinese travel agencies qualified to sell tickets.

Bookings peak in summer.

Families should book early since their rooms often account for 20-30 percent of the total, Ren says.

"Chinese like shopping and such onboard activities as tai chi and pastry-making," he says.

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(China Daily 07/04/2016 page22)