Royal Caribbean (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report endlessly innovates. That happens behind the scenes when it comes to things like air filtration and customer safety. It also happens in areas like operating greener ships and advancing liquefied natural gas as a way to limit the environmental impact of its ships,
Many of these innovations aren’t customer-facing. They benefit passengers, but the thousands of people on a cruise ship on any given voyage may not know that they’re breathing cleaner air or traveling on a ship that’s polluting less.
Newer ships like Wonder of the Seas, the recently unveiled largest cruise ship in the world, have all sorts of innovations that customers can see. This includes shows like inTENse at the Aqua Theater, a mix of acrobatics, water, effects, and music that creates a unique type of entertainment.
Wonder of the Seas also has innovations like the Rising Tide Bar, a bar that travels between floors, giving passengers views of different areas of the ship as it moves up and down. And the newest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet also has its latest restaurant, Mason Jar.
That eatery has proven incredibly popular — and that might be a problem.
Can an Onboard Restaurant Be Too Popular?
Mason Jar offers what can loosely be called southern fare. It offers brunch, dinner, and bar snacks. The menu includes takes on chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, a variety of egg dishes, and a “Somethin’ Sweet” section featuring a very large cinnamon roll, dessert-like red velvet pancakes, and french toast stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, and bacon.
In addition, Mason Jar also offers classic po’ boys, hamburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, BBQ at dinner, and a variety of pies, as well as other southern desserts. There’s also ice cream (including some uniquely southern flavors), shakes (both virgin and adult), and a kids’ menu offering more basic menu items.
The restaurant also offers a bar with unique drinks, including one with a mini peanut butter and jelly garnish and the Far From Manhattan, a take on the classic drink garnished with a piece of candied bacon.
And while it has been operating for only the roughly two months Wonder of the Seas has been sailing, Mason Jar has proved incredibly popular. On the last Wonder sailing before the ship heads to Europe for a few months, reservations sold out before the five-day sailing for both dinner and brunch.
In addition — and this might be the biggest problem — the Mason Jar bar, which hosts a country music trio, proved incredibly popular with passengers filling it up early and often spending the night there. Royal Caribbean clearly has a hit concept, but it may actually be too successful.
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What’s Wrong with Mason Jar?
Mason Jar occupies a spot on the 15th deck, near the Windjammer buffet. At least at night it’s an out-of-the-way location, given that it’s not near other restaurants and bars. That means that visitors to the bar area — likely drawn by the band — tend to visit and stay for a while.
So anyone who does not get to the bar early, before the band goes on, will struggle to find a seat or even to find an open patch of the bar from which to order a drink.
The bar has stools around the main bar, a handful of tables, and some comfortable patio-style seating around the edges. It’s not a space that’s set up for big crowds, and it’s drawing them, leading some people to have mixed, or even bad, experiences.
On land, a hot restaurant can push demand down the road as people book reservations months ahead. On a cruise ship, passengers have a limited amount of time, and if you’re unable to get a reservation during your cruise, you miss out on the experience.
That disappointment can be compounded if you can’t even get a taste of the experience by ordering off the bar-food menu (which is pretty much impossible to do if you can’t get a seat).
Royal Caribbean has a hit concept here, but the location isn’t big enough. On Wonder of the Seas, Mason Jar would make more sense in Central Park swapped with Giovanni’s. That location has a large and little-patronized wine bar as well as a nearby outdoor space for overflow.
Swapping locations is a pretty major change. It’s not very likely to happen, but perhaps Royal Caribbean could sometimes move the very popular country trio to the large Music Hall location while importing the Mason Jar bar menu and snacks during those performances.
The cruise line does not want passengers to miss out on experiences during their cruises. It has limited ways to fix that, given that voyages are fixed in length.
This is, of course, a good problem for Royal Caribbean, but it’s a problem nonetheless because having customers not get to experience everything they want to on their cruises runs the risk of creating a broader negative experience.