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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Confidence returns as cruise lines report brisk bookings ahead of last year

   Out to Sea column for Aug. 18/12

   (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   The tide has turned for the cruise line industry.
The Caribbean remains the leading cruise destination as the Caribbean Princess “parks” right at the beach in Grand Turk. (Jim Fox photo)
   After a disastrous event that shook the confidence of many considering a cruise, bookings are rising and have even surged, a poll of Canadian and U.S. travel agents shows.
   The January disaster that saw the Costa Concordia smash into a reef off the Italian island of Giglio and partially submerge with the loss of 32 lives, cast a pall over the industry.
   The haunting spectacle threatened to throw cruise vacations off course in a business that prides itself on an exemplary safety record.
   More than 300 agents recently polled cited “optimism” has returned, with more than half saying they are selling more vacations at sea than last year, said Christine Duffy, president and ceo of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
   As well, 64 per cent of the agents expect cruise bookings this year to increase over 2011.
   After the Costa incident, cruise lines began offering deals and incentives to keep sales afloat during the difficult period.
   The survey reported consumers are motivated by good value offered by the lines; love of cruising; prices; getting away with friends; trying out new ships; family reunions; shorter cruises; and honeymoons/weddings/anniversaries.
Vibrant sunsets and exotic vistas can be seen while cruising past the tip of Baja California and through the Mexican Riviera. (Jim Fox photo)
   What’s hot, hot, hot
   Travel agents say the top “hot” cruise destinations for the next year are the Caribbean, Alaska, the Mediterranean, Hawaii and Europe/Scandinavia.
   They are followed by Australia/New Zealand, trans-Panama Canal, Asia, Bahamas, Mexico, transatlantic and the Middle East.
   Agents said the strongest sales potential is with river, contemporary, shorter, premium and luxury cruises.
   Generating the “most excitement” are new itineraries and destinations; new ships; longer stays in ports; family and children’s programs; and innovative shore excursions.
   Other “elements” are domestic ports of embarkation; smaller/specialized ships; weddings/honeymoons/anniversaries at sea; new choices in dining and entertainment; and theme cruises.
Cruisers fill the decks to experience history while travelling through the Panama Canal. (Barbara Fox photo)
   Representing the strongest growth in order are first-time cruisers, families, couples without children, seniors, multigenerational families, single travellers, younger adults from 21 to 39, wedding/honeymoon and social or corporate groups.
   Details at www.cruising.org

   In your dreams?
   Luxury line Silversea is offering exclusive complimentary events and mid-voyage land adventures for Silver Whisper's World Cruise next year.
   It’s a mind-boggling 115-day journey from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, departing Jan. 5 and following the tropical belt to 52 destinations in 28 countries with overnight stays in several key ports.
   The warm-weather journey will explore a realm of far-flung cultures and scenic wonders including New Zealand and Australia's remote west coast; the idyllic isles of French Polynesia; fascinating Asian cities of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore; and Africa's rarely seen western coast.
   OK, if you must ask, fares start at $49,999 US per person, double occupancy, with shorter cruise segments available. www.silversea.com
Passengers leave the Caribbean Princess for a day ashore in Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the Caribbean. (Barbara Fox photo)
   Decompress on Royal Princess
   An expanded Lotus Spa will offer the “ultimate in rejuvenation” for passengers on the Royal Princess to launch next June.
   New features include the private Couples Villas and the Enclave – a thermal suite that’s triple the size of any existing Lotus Spa.
   Passengers will be able to totally decompress with new relaxing options such as the Hammam (Turkish-style steam room); Caldarium (herbal steam room); Laconium (dry-heat sauna); and the line’s first hydro-therapy pool.
   Details at www.princess.com/royalprincessactivities
Passengers on the Rotterdam cruise ship get a chance to go ashore at Gatun Lake during a transit of the Panama Canal. (Jim Fox photo)
   Here’s looking at you – rather looking at the ocean – as a suite on the Celebrity Reflection will feature an all-glass shower extending out over the edge of the ship.
   The ship, which begins sailing on Oct. 12 from Amsterdam to Barcelona, has the two-bedroom Reflection Suite with a distinctive sea-view bathroom.
   Nestled in the corner on the 14th deck, occupants can “enjoy breathtaking sea views while discreetly showering, courtesy of the shower’s special reflective glass,” said Celebrity’s Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.
   “We made a big investment in ensuring our guests can enjoy the shower entirely free of any concerns of being seen,” she added. www.celebritycruises.com

   Motion on the ocean
   Legends will rock the Norwegian Epic this fall as tribute artists perform as Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and Jimmy Buffet.
   As part of Legends in Concert, a Las Vegas staple for more than 25 years, the shows start on Nov. 3 when the ship begins weekly Eastern Caribbean sailings from Miami. www.ncl.com


Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com

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