Cruising overseas on the high seas

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Tourists enjoy fireworks while traveling on Royal Caribbean's cruise liner, Quantum of the Seas. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Guo Xiang turned his attention from the vast sea to his giggling 8-year-old.

The girl, he discovered, was laughing because a server had folded a napkin into the shape of a mouse for her amusement.

This was one of many happy memories from their recent Royal Caribbean cruise. They also enjoyed visiting the theater, swimming and roller-skating. And they occasionally docked for excursions through towns.

"Cruises are good for kids because they're not tiring," Guo says.

"She can have fun. At her age, the ocean is more intriguing than cultural heritage."

The 46-year-old university instructor from Guangdong province's capital, Guangzhou, is among the growing number of Chinese heading overseas via the high seas.

"Cruising is ... a slow-paced lifestyle," Guo says.

"Some think time onboard is wasted. But I believe we should enjoy the sunshine, sea and facilities."

Four- or five-day cruises to Japan or South Korea are particularly popular.

Over 1 million Chinese took cruises abroad last year, a 50 percent increase over 2014, the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association reports.

International cruise companies are, in turn, striving to adapt products for Chinese and have even built new liners targeting the market.

They're offering Chinese and Western fare, plus entertainment forms popular among Chinese like performances and karaoke.

They're staffing Chinese speakers and equipping rooms with electric kettles to heat water in accordance with Chinese preferences.

"Summertime is the peak time for cruises," says Wang Ping, vice-president of Carnival China, which owns the Princess Cruises brand.

"Chinese travelers like adventure. They want to experience new things and broaden their horizons."

The company started working with Chinese partners from last year to develop a Chinese cruise brand to capitalize on the country's rich maritime resources.

Princess Cruises mainly target people aged between 25 and 45. Most Chinese spend three to seven nights on board, taking shorter trips than Westerners because of a dearth of holidays in the country. The company has developed 10-day itineraries for Chinese as holiday policies change.

"Cruising is a common form of holiday travel in the West," says Liu Zinan, president of Royal Caribbean International's China and North Asia Pacific region.

"But it's still novel to take such holidays in China. Our strategy is to have large, well-equipped liners. Services on cruises are always good. Facilities are what make the difference."

The Chinese are also staying on board longer than in previous years, he adds, to enjoy such meals and activities such as on-deck surfing and sipping cocktails concocted by robots. The company's entertainment shows are international and multimedia. They combine Chinese elements with such components as, say, Broadway musicals.

"Cruising is changing Chinese preferences, shifting them toward leisurely vacations," says Kelvin Wong, vice-president commercial of Costa Cruises Shipping Service (Shanghai) Co Ltd.

"Guests will seek quality custom products as the market matures."

Costa offers popular Chinese programs, such as cross-talk and acrobatics, as well as shows themed around destinations.

Westerners typically travel as couples on cruises, while the Chinese are likely to cruise as families, he says.

So Costa, for instance, features a kids' club supervised by professional attendants, while parents enjoy other activities.

The Chinese are also more likely to disembark for excursions, he says.

"You can visit different destinations while only unpacking once," Wong explains.

"If you fly, you have to pack and unpack each time you go to a new place."

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