Cruising in Luxury on the High Seas
The cruise line industry keeps rolling out mega luxury ships to meet the ever demanding tastes of high end travelers. More choices in food, activities, itineraries and luxury are some of the trends shaping the cruise industry for 2008. But the biggest unknown is what will happen with cruise prices.
The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that 12.6 million people cruised in 2007, a 4.6 percent increase over 2006. CLIA believes demand will hold, with a projected 12.8 million passengers for 2008 despite the weakening economy. A recent CLIA survey of 500 travel agents found 90 percent expect 2008 cruise sales to be as good or better than 2007.
But consumers with flexible vacation plans may be in for some deals. “The more uncertainty there is in the marketplace, the more deals there will be later in the year,” said Heidi Allison Shane, spokeswoman for CruiseCompete.com. “When the cruise lines go out with high prices and they don’t sell out, the bigger the discounts later on.” The softest markets, she predicted, will be in mega-ships sailing to the Caribbean and Bermuda.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, also expects “more competitive prices for sure, because the economy is shaky, but where you’ll find the real deals are on the older ships in cruise line fleets, not the newer and bigger models. Per diems on vessels like Cunard’s Queen Victoria, Holland America’s Eurodam and Celebrity’s Solstice will be pricey and demand is strong because all three are new designs.”
LUXURY: More cruise lines are offering larger and more luxurious accommodations with private elevators, private courtyards and suites located near spas. Spa suite guests typically get priority or upgraded access to spa services.
Even the mass-market cruise line Carnival is getting into the luxury act with Carnival Splendor, launching later this year with 68 spa suites that feature access by private elevator to a 21,000-square-foot spa. Another new ship, MSC Cruises’ MSC Fantasia, will also feature 68 suites accessed by private elevators.
Norwegian Gem, which launched in 2007, not only has one of the most decorative exteriors of any ship at sea – a colorful jewel design on a white background – but it has large one- and two-bedroom suites in its Courtyard Villa. The shared private courtyard has a private lap pool, hot tub, steam rooms and fitness area.
In May, Celebrity Cruises launched a new luxury line, Azamara, with two midsize ships – Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Both ships carry 694 guests and offer Sky Suites with in-suite spa services. Most itineraries are 12-18 nights with less well-known ports of call like Cartagena, Colombia, and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. In the summer, both ships go to Europe. Azamara Quest will later sail in Asia.
Article written by Beth J. Harpaz – AP Travel Editor