Prices start at $4,550 per person, which includes meals and an open bar aboard. The same cruise company also runs an alternate itinerary that substitutes the Harry Potter film locations for ones featured on "Downton Abbey." Any potential visitor to Great Britain also could find dozens of land-based tours featuring any combination of these film sites, as well as one for "The Crown" or any other popular show now playing to America's Anglophiles.
But what if you wanted that large-scale Caribbean adventure instead? What if you wanted something akin to the Disney Cruise Line experience, except with Potter or other franchises currently featured in the Universal theme parks? Could you imagine Universal one day getting into the cruise business?
Imagine it? Of course we can! What better way to spend a January workday than to imagine what a potentially far-fetched themed attraction might look like? It's what we do around here. So let's start imagining.
Confession time: I have been on exactly one cruise in my life, and I hated it. (FYI, it wasn't a Disney cruise — it was on Holland America to Alaska.) The food ranged from the bland to the terrible, and I ended up confined to my cabin with norovirus for 24 hours. So I am far from a cruise fan. But instead of disqualifying me from leading our little imaginary exercise here, I think my bad experience with cruising makes me an ideal contributor.
If Universal (or any other creative company) is going to get into the cruise business, it needs to offer something different and better than existing cruise lines. Copying what Disney and other cruise lines are doing won't win customers' business. Universal would need to reinvent what a themed cruise is in order to succeed in this competitive market. So what could Universal do with a cruise line to attract not just current cruise fans, but to entice an even larger audience of theme park fans to set sail?
First, I think it would be helpful to remember how Disney got into the cruise business. It didn't start by building its own boats. Disney began by co-branding cruise itineraries with the now-defunct Premier Cruise Line from 1985 through 1993. Only after Disney had established that fans had an insatiable appetite for Disney-branded cruises to extend their Walt Disney World vacations did the company commission the Magic and the Wonder in 1995 and start the Disney Cruise Line.
Universal has "tested the waters" in the same was a Disney once did, offering Universal Orlando vacation packages with Royal Caribbean. But these are not the character-driven, franchise-immersive experiences at sea that Disney offers on its cruises.
That's what I would want to see from Universal — a completely immersive, franchise-driven vacation experience, even beyond what Disney is doing with its Marvel and Star Wars Days at Sea. This shouldn't be a special itinerary during the "off" season. This should be the standard cruise experience.
But should an itinerary focus on a single franchise, or a mix? IDK — what do you think? Of course, throwing anything Harry Potter into the mix would require negotiating the rights from Warner Bros. and JK Rowling, which is never a sure thing. But, good heaven, what I wouldn't give to hang out in the Gryffindor common room and tuck into a proper Great Hall feast on a true Harry Potter cruise vacation.
Or maybe the cruise should recreate the Durmstrang Ship? A great themed cruise experience should be one that could happen only on a ship — and not something that would work just as well in a hotel or theme park on land. One of the things that frustrated me on my Holland America cruise was the on-board gym. They'd set up the treadmills at the bow of the ship, in front of floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the ocean ahead. But atop each treadmill, they'd placed a big TV screen that blocked the amazing view of the sea, as if the treadmill was in some windowless, land-based gym. What a frustrating disregard for the unique environment of a cruise ship!
So let's forget the traditional placemaking of a "cruise ship" and all the wooden boardwalks and other stuff we've been taught that should be on it, and instead envision the vessel as whatever floating themed setting we can imagine to support a designed adventure. Let's load up the tech, too. Every cabin should have an HD video control center for entertainment, communication, food ordering, scheduling, and even role-playing on board. And a mobile version for passengers' use throughout the ship, too.
I also have to fess up that I am not a big fan of shore excursions. On my Alaska trip, I most enjoyed the times when we got away from other cruise passengers and explored on our own, which is often impossible in many overcrowded ports of call. I'm fine hanging out with thousands of other tourists in spaces such as theme parks that are designed with intent to accommodate and engage us. But being in a tourist horde just depresses me in natural or organic locations that we've overrun and changed into glorified malls. I understand the need to get off the ship from time to time, but I rather would call on a destination that the cruise line owns and controls as part of the designed experience of the cruise. (Think, a more-themed Castaway Cay.)
Which franchises in Universal's collection of owned and licensed IP would lend themselves to an immersive, interactive, ship-board experience? What would you like to see from a Universal Cruise Line?Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.