CLIA Conference 2016

Last week, Donna Woodthorpe and Nikki Wright attended the CLIA conference on behalf of the Holiday With Us Group. Donna has written, below, about her experiences.

“We are sailing…We are sailing…” well, not quite, but we did get a chance to explore three stunning cruise ships over the course of four days, heard presentations from some of the most powerful and influential in the cruise market and generally were wined and dined like Queens!

CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) is made up of over 50 fabulous ocean and river cruise companies who are all dedicated to the development and growth of the cruise market and training of travel agents. They arrange a number of conferences over the year covering all aspects of the cruise industry, and this year both myself and Nikki were lucky enough to travel down to Southampton last week for the annual CLIA Cruise Conference which is now in its 10th year.

Our visit started with a Masterclass on-board the MSC Splendida. The first thing that strikes you about this medium sized ship is the incredible 2 story Swarovski Crystal staircase. Each step is worth 10,000 euro and the effect is staggering! Lunch consisted of Caprese Salad, Fillet Mignon (cooked to perfection!) and a trio of desserts washed down with some great Italian wines. I’ve never been so attentively looked after during a meal. The waiting staff could not do enough for you and service definitely came with a megawatt smile! Following lunch, we were taken for a tour of the ship and I speak for both Nikki and myself when I say how surprised we were by the quality and elegance of the Splendida’s beautiful pool and spa areas, fabulous restaurants, amazing areas for kids and huge cabins! There was even a waterslide for those who need an adrenaline rush. We ended the day in the theatre where we got a small taster of the kind of entertainment you could expect on board. There are 3 words to describe what we saw – bright, bold and acrobatic. Cheap and cheerful was what I was expecting, but this ship surpassed all my expectations! As an Italian line, MSC and their ships are not as well known to the UK as some other lines, however, I think we will see that change massively in the next few years at the hands of the new UK Director Antonio Paradiso. We were fortunate enough to spend some time chatting to Antonio and some of the MSC representatives at a drinks reception later that evening and they are a great bunch; passionate about their product and all striving for the same thing and that’s to bring MSC to the UK cruise market and a household name. They’ll do it too!

Day two dawned a little bit breezy and massively rainy. However, nothing could dampen our excitement for getting on-board our next ship: P&O owned Ventura. Less ‘blingy’, but no less extravagant than the Splendida, Ventura is aimed solely at the British market. The ship is one of P&O’s largest and we were really lucky to have the whole ship to ourselves to explore. We were given a map of the ship with a suggested route and a treasure hunt to complete on the way round. We decided to ignore the route and work our way from top to bottom, but as there was free cruise up for grabs we decided on a team effort for the treasure hunt! The ship has the look of a luxury hotel, but feels really welcoming. She offers a wide range of dining options including the Glass House by Olly Smith, Sindhu by Michelin starred chef Atul Kochhar and The Epicurean and offers a whole fleet of ‘Food Hero’s’ including Mary Berry, Eric Lanlard and Marco Pierre White. The retractable roof over the Beachcomber Pool means that rain or shine, you can still enjoy a dip – a stroke of genius when the weather was a shocking as it was.



We made our way to Havana nightclub where we got the surprise of a performance by Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite from Strictly Come Dancing which was fabulous in this Cuban inspired setting. We then headed up to the Metropolis Lounge where Marco Pierre White was sat signing the aprons P&O had kindly provided on our arrival to the ship. Lunch was served in the main restaurant and was a menu devised by Marco. I enjoyed Duck Terrine, followed by Halibut with a Seafood Stew and then Sacher Torte (served with more wine!). The food was beautifully presented and there was plenty of it. The time came to hand out the free cruises, and although we didn’t win the free seven nights, Nikki did win 2 nights on-board a ship of her choice. She received her prize from Marco and after a kiss from the notoriously grumpy chef, she came back to the table with a bit of a celebrity crush! Time to disembark, but we really enjoyed our time on board and know that this is a ship that suits everyone; groups of friends, families or couples.

It was a land based day on day three and our base for the day was the brand new Hilton Hotel which is built in the stands at the Ageas Bowl cricket ground. The day started with a bang as CLIA celebrated their 10th birthday with a carnival style celebration with stilt walkers, samba dancers and confetti galore! Keynote speakers for the day were Larry Pimental President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, Arnold Donald President and CEO of Carnival Corporation and Adam Goldstein President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. All three of these gentlemen were discussing how the cruise market is still only in its infancy and is a very small fish in the very large travel pond. There were few insider nuggets of information (keep an eye out for new ships and an increase in cruises from Cuba) and all three speakers were passionate about the industry and its expansion over the next 5 to 10 years. The day closed with a rousing rendition of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ from Les Miserables which was perfect for the Cruise Revolution theme of the conference.

Our final day dawned and the sunshine had finally made its way out. The day we had been looking forward to most had finally arrived. For the last 3 days, wherever in you went in Southampton, there was something looming in the skyline that you just could not escape, something so exciting that it was all the press and social media sites had been discussing since her arrival a few days earlier. Today was the day we got to step aboard Royal Caribbean’s brand new $1 billion ship Harmony of the Seas! I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was at the prospect of being one of the first travel agents in the country to get on this ground breaking new ship; think kids on Christmas morning and you’re about there! There are never going to be enough superlatives to explain the sheer size, scale and magnificence of this incredible ship! I’m not sure what my favourite part of Harmony is; the huge and varied art collection worth millions of dollars, the 20,000 live plants in Central Park, the 10 storey slide ‘Ultimate Abyss’ (FYI it’s AMAZING!), any of the 23 pools or the 2-storey Wonderland restaurant where you have to paint your menu before you know what’s actually on it; but there is enough of this ship to keep you occupied for a week and you wouldn’t even need to step on dry land. We were touring round the ship for a good couple of hours and didn’t get a chance to see half of what is offered, however, we saw enough to know that anybody who books a holiday on-board Harmony of the Seas (or either of the 2 ships that are going to follow on from her), is going to have the holiday of a lifetime! If you are a family travelling with children, book into one of the family suites and enjoy the 3 water slides, the mini-golf course or the incredible kids club. If you’re travelling with teens make the most of the zip lines that reach across the interior sections of the ship, the 2 Flowrider surf simulators at the rear of the ship or the teens only nightclub. For groups of friends and couples looking to spoil themselves then splash the cash and upgrade to a 2 storey loft suite. Indulge in an alfresco meal in Central Park, treat yourselves to a luxurious pamper session in the spa or get away from it all and enjoy some quiet time in the adults only solarium. We have had friends and colleagues, all of whom has said “she’s too big” or “I’d get lost”. I think we both wondered how we would feel about the size of Harmony, but you know what, once you step into the Royal Promenade and start exploring, she makes perfect sense. Due to her ‘neighbourhood’ layout, you never feel too far away from any of the facilities and she is incredibly easy to navigate. Other comments have been “ooooh, she’s too family orientated”: yes, she is, but not in that in your face Disney way. She’s got Shrek and Fiona wandering round on occasion, she has kids clubs and a splash zone and she has a pair of huge Elton John style glasses and a working full sized carousel. But, she can be quiet, subtle and elegant. Take a stroll around Central Park and you would never know you were in the middle of a ship. Enjoy exquisite a la carte dining in some stunning restaurants and be inspired by the huge variety of entertainment available. I honestly mean this, if you are thinking of going on a cruise – just speak to any of the staff at any of the offices, and get yourself booked onto this stunning, stunning ship.

I am even more in love with the cruise industry as a result of this CLIA conference, than I was before visiting the conference and can’t wait to travel on my own cruise holiday next year!

Donna Woodthorpe is a Travel Consultant at the Holiday With Us Group.