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A Computer Conference on a Cruise Ship

After LCA [1] there was a discussion about possible locations for future conferences, most of the messages in the discussion were jokes or suggestions that don’t seriously apply to LCA. So I’ll add my suggestion for conferences other than LCA.

I’ve previously written generally about the issue of conferences at sea [2]. I don’t think that LCA would be suitable for running at sea because delegates have specific expectations for LCA which are quite different to what a cruise ship can offer, so I don’t think it makes sense to change LCA which is working well as it is. However there are lots of other possible computer conferences which could suite a cruise ship.

Price

Price is a major factor in running a conference, so obviously getting a cheap cruise price is very important. Here is a link for Vacations To Go which shows cruises from the Australia/NZ region which are of at least 5 nights and cost no more than $800 [3]. The cheapest entry at this moment is $609 for 5 nights and the cheapest on a per-night basis is an 8 night cruise for $779. The cheapest cruise currently on offer which allows a conference similar to LCA is 7 nights for $699. The prices should be regarded as rough approximations as some cruises have some mandatory extra fees and the prices are quoted in US dollars and subject to currency fluctuations. Note that those prices are for dual-occupancy cabins, this can be a “double” or a “twin” configuration. Some cruise ships have cabins for 3 or 4 people that are cheaper, but if you have a cabin for a single person then the rate is almost the same as for having two people.

The price for LCA accommodation including breakfast was $78 per night for a single room or $92 for a double room. Then lunch cost a minimum of $10 and for dinner there was $80 for the penguin dinner and probably about $20 for dinner every other night. That gave an overall cost for a 6 night stay (which is probably the minimum for someone who lives further away than Melbourne) in Ballarat of 6*78+6*10+5*20+80==$708. For a double room that would be 6*92+6*10+5*20+2*80==$872.

Even if we don’t count the fact that the Australian dollar is worth more than the US dollar it is obvious that on the basis of accommodation and food two people sharing a twin cabin on a cruise ship could pay LESS than two people in single rooms at the Ballarat University dorms! Now sharing a cabin isn’t so great, but the upside is that cruise ships have excellent food and lots of other entertainment options. I previously reviewed the food on the Dawn Princess and determined that it’s better than the food I would expect to get if I spent the cost of the cruise on dinner at land based restaurants [4].

I have been led to believe that the use of ship conference facilities is typically free for any organisation that books a sufficient number of cabins. So there’s no reason why the conference admission fees should be any greater than for a land based conference.

Advantages

A common problem with conferences is finding suitable dining options. Most people want to eat with other delegates but finding restaurants that have sufficient space and which are conveniently located is difficult at best and often impossible. On a cruise ship everything is within a short walk and the restaurants are big, usually be at least one restaurant will hold 500 people. The fact that you have to reserve times for the “Main Dining Room” makes it more difficult to miss one’s colleagues.

Everything on a cruise ship is luxurious.

There are lots of good locations for BoFs, pools, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Basically the ship is filled with comfortable places for groups of people to sit down.

A cruise ship typically has a main theater with more than 700 seats – more than large enough for most conferences I’ve attended. It’s common for the size of a conference to be limited to the size of the main theater that is used, for a cruise ship this will probably be less of a problem than for most other conference venues.

Disadvantages

The first disadvantage of running a computer conference on a cruise ship is the almost total lack of net access. The costs for net access are more expensive than most delegates will pay. Probably many delegates would check their email but it wouldn’t be practical for people to download source code, browse Wikipedia, and use the Internet in other ways related to the conference. It would be practical to have mirrors of Wikipedia, the source of several distributions of Linux, and other big things of common interest.

Another possible problem is the fact that you need to book it well in advance to avoid the risk of selling out (there is no option to stay at a different hotel). An established conference with financial backing could just pay to reserve the cabins. But when starting a new conference this could be a problem.

Alcohol is rather expensive on cruise ships. But getting really drunk isn’t compatible with learning about computer science anyway.

Finally the requirement to have at least two people in a cabin for good rates is a serious issue. The upside of this is that people travelling with their SO would find that it works really well (regardless of whether the SO is a delegate or not). But anyone who’s not travelling with their SO and doesn’t want to share with a friend will have to either pay a lot more or skip the conference.

Conclusion

I think that there is a good potential for running a computer conference around the Australia/NZ region on a cruise ship. It won’t be overly expensive for delegates and the facilities that are provided are good. The trade-off for solitary travelers of having to share a cabin (or pay more) for getting much better food and leisure facilities will be appreciated by many people (and admittedly hated by some).

Some people won’t appreciate the option of swimming, but even if you consider the cruise ship to be just a floating collection of restaurants and cabins it’s still fairly luxurious and beats the heck out of most conferences I’ve attended.

If you are considering the possibility of running a conference then I think that a cruise ship should be considered. VacationsToGo.com is the best site I’ve found for cheap cruise prices, their large group department has experience handling groups of more than 500 people so I think that anyone who wants to run a new conference in/around Australia should give them a call.

Also cruise ships travel around the world, so the same thing can be done in other countries but at a different time of year. The economic factors will differ by country though. Cruise ships probably aren’t a cheap option for a conference in some other countries.

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