the road with...
isn't your grandparents' cruise: Trends for 2003
In a very gray
year for the travel industry, the relative success of the cruise
lines stands out as one of the bright spots. Although the reasons to
stay home have been convincing (terrorism, the economy), cruise
companies are succeeding in getting passengers off their couches and
into ships' cabins.
half a million more passengers have taken to the sea this year
compared to last, according to the Cruise Lines International
Association. That's a total of 7.4 million cruisers projected by the
end of 2002.
and new services helped to draw in the crowds. But can we expect to
see the same in 2003? I spoke to some cruise-industry watchers and
here's their take on what to look for over the next year:
cruises will still be available, but passengers should be prepared
to pay more onboard.
Like the rest
of the travel industry, the cruise lines were forced to slash prices
to win back travelers after 9/11. At the beginning of the year, they
were practically giving trips away and luckily for cruising
customers, prices still remain low 10 months later. For example,
this week Carnival advertised a five-night Caribbean cruise for
While the right
price has helped attract more passengers this year, the cruise lines
now face a new challenge: plenty more cabins to fill.
Six new ships
will be coming out in the next three months, making a grand total of
15 new ships in 2003. "The cruise lines ordered these ships
years ago when things were good. They're filling them now at much
lower prices," says Anne Campbell.
of a catch. Cruise lines are trying to make up for lost cash by
getting passengers to spend, spend, spend onboard. More days at sea
is a tangible result of cruise companies closely watching the bottom
line, according to Dale Rim, editorial director for Porthole
Magazine. "The lines generate more income with people on
the ship with drinking, the casinos and the shopping venues,"
that cruisers can drive to will remain popular.
post-9/11 trend will continue through 2003 — cruise lines will
choose departure ports based on the convenience of passengers
driving to them, rather than flying. Ports on both coasts that saw
heavy traffic last year should see the same business again next
Cruise Line, in particular, has led the way with its "homeland
cruising program," offering cruises departing from 10 ports in
the United States and Canada. On the East Coast, Baltimore, Boston,
Charleston, New York and Philadelphia have become popular
embarkation points for cruise lines. On the West Coast, expect to
see more cruises originating in Los Angeles, San Francisco and
Seattle. On the gulf coast, Carnival offers several cruises starting
in New Orleans and Holland America sails from Mobile, Alabama.
from local ports is hugely popular with families. More and more are
cruising now that they just have to get in the car and drive,"
says Campbell. "As a result, you might have as many as 600 kids
in the summer on a Carnival Cruise."
ready to pick your own itinerary.
The luxury line
Silversea recently introduced "personalized voyages"
aboard the Silver Cloud, allowing passengers to choose how
long they sail and where and when they get on and off. The option is
available on the ship's 2003 itineraries, which include the
Caribbean, the Mediterranean and South America.
that people want to do this and they're responding," says Linda
Coffman of cruisediva.com,
crediting Silversea for listening to their customers.
Campbell, the flexibility is all in the name of attracting younger
passengers. "The age of the passengers jumps when you exceed
one week. Younger passengers have families and jobs," she says
and younger cruisers are attracted to shorter, more flexible
Rim likes the
idea of personalized cruising, but doesn't expect it to go
mainstream. "I don't think it will extend to the mass
market," he says. "They are in business to make
dining is here to stay and celebrity chefs are coming aboard.
If you haven't
been on a cruise lately, one of the biggest changes you've missed is
the advent of alternative restaurants onboard. Passengers still have
the option of eating in the main dining rooms at appointed seating
times, but for $10-25 per meal, they can eat at smaller specialty
restaurants that offer gourmet selections and superior service. And
many of the luxury lines, such as Radisson and Silversea, do not
charge extra for alternative dining.
"I had one
of the best meals of my life on the new Carnival Legend and
it was only $20 extra," Campbell says.
lines have to entice people who are considering a Las Vegas
vacation," Rim says. In the past few years, Las Vegas has built
a reputation for fine dining, bringing in chefs from around the
country. The cruise lines are doing the same.
Wolgang Puck's Asian restaurant, Chinois on Main, are now featured
in the specialty restaurant, Jade Garden, aboard Crystal Cruises'
Crystal Symphony. Silversea offers signature dishes from Relais
& Chateaux hotel chefs. Seabourn serves cuisine designed by
celebrity chef Charlie Palmer.
agents will continue to serve as a vital intermediary between
cruisers and the cruise companies.
Like all facets
of the travel industry, cruise lines are trying new tactics to get
bookings. Customers can now book a Carnival cruise while shopping at
some Walmarts, reports Rim. The success of Web sites such as
icruise.com indicates that cruise companies are also harnessing the
power of the Internet.
their cohorts in the airline industry, cruise execs are remaining
loyal to travel agents. Crystal Cruises, for instance, will only
take bookings through a travel agent.
really a very different process to book a cruise. Customers have so
many questions," notes Campbell, who says travel agents are
among the best resources for the answers.
Rim says cruise
lines would be foolish to cut ties with travel agents. "It
costs a lot less money for a cruise line to compensate a travel
agent than to have a sales force," he says.