Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Tue July 26 2016

The Current and Future State of Cruise Specialty Entertainment

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carnival Cruise Line | Jason Leppert | July 26, 2016

The Current and Future State of Cruise Specialty Entertainment

 Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line 

Specialty dining has been around on cruise ships for some time now, but specialty entertainment is a concept that has been surprisingly slow to gain equal momentum. A company like Disney Cruise Line is built upon a foundation of entertainment, so doesn't charge extra for any of it, whereas Carnival Cruise Line offers its Carnival LIVE program for an extra fee.

Specialty entertainment can refer to any entertainment that comes with a surcharge above and beyond the initial cruise fare. Just as spending more on specialty dining affords guests a superior meal over the included cuisine, specialty entertainment offers a similar added value to shows.

 READ MORE: TravelPulse On Board: Carnival LIVE 

One could even argue that theme cruises are where the idea originated. That is bringing on artists for a musical festival at sea on top of the ship features themselves for a premium experience such as The Rock Boat or even “Star Trek” The Cruise which similarly brings fan-favorite actors aboard instead of musicians. This all-encompassing approach has taken off for sure. What remains is its a la carte sibling.

Take, for instance, Carnival LIVE. Its program is very similar to a theme cruise but with individual performances rather than those across the entire sailing. Remaining this season are Sam Hunt, Chris Tucker and Jim Gaffigan, each to be featured on two voyages. The cost of the shows are subsidized by the cruise itself with general admission tickets starting at $30 or VIP tickets starting at $100 for preferred seats and an added meet-and-greet and photo-op. Having experienced it myself for Styx and Martina McBride, I can say the program is excellent and exceeded my expectations.

Carnival specialty entertainment extends to its Thrill Theater on several ships and IMAX Theater on its new Carnival Vista. The former is essentially an interactive virtual reality simulator ride, and the latter is the same premium visual and audio experience for watching films on land but on a ship. Only competitor MSC Cruises offers something similar to the Thrill Theater among its arcade offerings, and no one else at all has an IMAX screen on the high seas.

 READ MORE: Weighing Cruise Inclusions Against A La Carte Extras 

So, with Carnival being really the only cruise line to offer specialty entertainment extensively, why has no other cruise line pushed its boundaries? Norwegian Cruise Line has an extremely wide selection of specialty dining but no specialty entertainment. All of its entertainment is included and so are the DreamWorks first-run films screened aboard Royal Caribbean International and, of course, Disney’s own films aboard its cruise line.

Perhaps the thinking is that people are willing to pay extra for dining but not entertainment, except people do in all cruise line’s arcades and for Carnival’s offerings. In fact, the concept is prime for expansion and could even feature premium live performances in a dedicated theater onboard with even bigger acts repeated throughout the cruise in addition to the complimentary ones. As ships get larger, this could easily be accommodated. Cruise ship entertainment is already great, but this could be a means of elevating it further.


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