Berlitz Guide to Cruising 2012

by Kevin Griffin of The Cruise People writing in

The latest edition of the “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” by Douglas Ward has just arrived. A mammoth tome, as usual since the huge growth of cruising has taken place, it has still managed to slim itself down this year, from 722 pages to 690.
Now in its 27th year of publication, one of the more interesting points about this issue is that Oceania Cruises’ new Marina has joined the top ten mid-size cruise ships (600-1600 berths) in terms of points, with her score score of 1701 being exceeded only by Crystal Serenity at 1717 and tied by Crystal Symphony, all of which have been awarded five stars.

This means that Marina has also joined Hapag-Loyd’s Europa, scoring 1852 and alone in the five-stars-plus category and top of the tops since she was first introduced, and a small number of other ships at the top of the league, rating a very creditable number 18 out of the 285 ships scored this year. In the small ship category (200-600 guests) all ten top ships scored above 1750 and in the boutique category (50-200) five out of ten scored above 1701. In the large ship category, only Queen Mary 2 achieved five stars for its Grill Class, at 1702.

At 1701, Marina has even outscored Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager (1654) and Seven Seas Mariner (1651), which ironically puts those all-inclusive ships into the four-stars-plus category while the extra tariff Marina receives a full five stars. Her 1651 compares well with 1611-12 scored by Celebrity’s four “Solstice” class ships. Indeed, the Marine outscores the Seven Seas Voyager in every category except entertainment, where she falls just one point short of the Voyager.

One peculiarity brought out by the guide is how fully fifteen of the eighteen best luxury ships according to Ward, or more than 80%, have names that begin with the letter “S” – is there something a psychologist is not telling us here? The only ships in this category that don’t begin with “S” are  Europa and the two Crystal ships.

In the “Daily Telegraph’s” Saturday Travel Section this weekend, Ward named his personal favourite top ten as Europa, SeaDream I and SeaDream II, Seabourn Quest, Odyssey and Sojourn, Silver Spirit, Hanseatic, Sea Cloud and Marina. There she is again. Indeed, in his article in The Telegraph, Ward says about Marina: “Larger than all the other ships at the top of the charts, Marina is a ship with some splendid design features and some of the largest suites at sea, with ‘country house’ décor that could easily feature in a glossy magazine. A stunning wrought-iron and Lalique horseshoe-shaped staircase is the focal point of the ship’s finely outfitted interior, while only the very best linens and fabrics have been provided.”

Back to the Berlitz Guide, also new this year is Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, whose Grill Class scored her 1690, for four-stars-plus, exceeding slightly Queen Victoria’s 1671. And new to the top ten boutique ships this year is Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Bremen, scoring 1553, well up from 1461 last year.  Bremen went up in points in all categories, but particularly in cruise experience, where she was up 14%, and food, where she gained 5%. By comparison her five-star fleetmate Hanseatic scored 1746, for five stars.

Also new this year, in big ships, Celebrity Silhouette at 1612 and Disney Dream at 1555, both at four-stars-plus, Mein Schiff 2 at 1548, Allure of the Seas at 1528, Queen Elizabeth (Britannia Class), at 1493, AidaSol at 1490 and Costa Favolosa at 1447, all at four-stars. In the mid-size category, there was notable improvement in the scores of Azamara Quest (1562 as against 1466) and Azamara Journey (1561, up from 1465), which took both ships from four stars into four-stars-plus since they were rebranded as Azamara Club Cruises.

Newly rated Adonia came close at 1540, but scored just four stars. In small ships, Seabourn Quest came in with a score of 1787 for a solid five-star rating. while French twins L’Austral and Le Boréal came in at 1543 each, for four-star status, and Aegean Odyssey scored 1341 for a three-stars-plus.

One surprise, however, is that a ship called Hamburg that is not sailing yet scored 1398 points for three-stars-plus. That ship is still sailing today as  Columbus for Hapag-Lloyd and will have a complete change of crew when new operators Plantours take her over in six months time, so we fail to see how Berlitz managed to score her in advance. Perhaps more deserving of a “Not Yet Rated” score we should think. In the same way, two other ships, Spirit of Oceanus, now trading as Sea Spirit, and Clelia II, now trading as Orion II, seem to have come through their changes of identity with identical scores of 1222 and 1402, respectively, after a change of ownership and areas of operation.

All in all, however, the “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” is well worth the money and answers many of the questions the cruise lines, or even some cruise agents, won’t answer.

After Private Islands, Do The New Cruise Ports Really Appeal?

by The Cruise People’s Kevin Griffin writing in

Back in 1977 NCL, then known as Norwegian Caribbean Lines, opened up its own private island at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. When I became one of the private island’s first visitors in 1978 I found it to be a rather vapid place, although the warm beach weather was grand.

Now, however, more than three decades later, cruise lines are opening up whole new cruise ports such as Grand Turk, Costa Maya, Roatan and Falmouth, Jamaica. But just as private islands were regarded as rather synthetic at the time, do new cruise ports really meet with the approval of to-day’s cruise passengers?

Mainline cruising to-day has become an industry of amusement rather than travel and exploration as was once the case. First we had large show lounges, then shopping, then alternative restaurants, then spas, then private islands, then agreements for on-board entertainment with the likes of Nickelodeon and Dreamworks Animations and new ports. Now we have cruise-line owned and developed ports to add to cruise line coffers.

As Mark Tré called them in this column in November 2009, these “Coney Islands of the Seas” are about anything but exploration. They offer shopping, bars and other diversions. Cruise Critic puts it well when it says “Costa Maya is what you’d expect if, say, Disney World decided to create its own private island in Mexico: a man-made tourism village with bars, restaurants, shops and pools at the ready. The faux village itself was created solely to woo cruise passengers.”

These places tend to style themselves after North American suburban malls, with the more recent addition of amusement rides bringing them into the realm of theme parks (remember that when hiring to-day, some cruise lines regard experience in theme parks as good as cruise or hotel experience).

This year’s newest cruise port, created by Royal Caribbean for  Oasis and Allure of the Seas, is Falmouth, Jamaica, opened just six months ago by Oasis of the Seas. Located between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, it will cater for Royal Caribbean’s new jumbo ships as well as others, but unlike some other new ports has been developed as a heritage renewal project.

Like Cozumel and Grand Turk it will eventually have shoreside beer bars and “retail experiences” galore, but the real difference is that Falmouth is home to one of the Caribbean’s largest historic colonial districts, with a collection of intact Georgian homes. While early visitors say that there is not much infrastructure there yet this will happen with time.

Meanwhile, to the east, Grand Turk, a Carnival Group & PLC port, boasts of the Caribbean’s largest Margaritaville bar, restaurant and store, and 45,000 sq ft shopping centre. Previously an isolated out-of-the-way island of 3,700 souls, it had not seen regular passenger service since the old Clyde Line called there a century ago, Grand Turk has now come to the fore as it is relatively close to Miami, and only thirty miles south of the Bahamas.

It is mainly Carnival, Costa, Holland America, P&O, Princess and Seabourn that call here although it does also see occasional calls from Crystal, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.

The appeal of these new ports has been called into question recently, however, by the results of a Cruise Critic poll and by no less a personage than Arthur Frommer,the famous travel writer. Earlier this month, Cruise Critic published the results of the following poll: “What do you think of custom-built Caribbean ports like Falmouth and Costa Maya?”:

I’ve never been to one 41.9%
They’re cheesy, give me a real place 28.8%
Easy access to tours, so they’re fine 23.9%
Love the shopping opportunities 5.8%

Then last week, Frommer weighed in with his own rather interesting comments, while somewhat rephrasing the question in his own way:

“A recent poll at Cruise Critic set out to determine what they thought of the various private beaches, private islands, and phony port cities that the cruise lines are busily throwing up all over the Caribbean. The results weren’t favourable to these artificial communities. Forty-two percent of the persons polled responded that they had either never heard of or never experienced a private island, private beach or phony port, which means they never really felt the need for such a facility.

Nearly thirty percent responded that they regarded these artificial facilities as ‘cheesy,’ something they could do without. The near-thirty percent went on to say that they preferred going to a ‘real’ port. Only a small twenty-four percent opined that they enjoyed these newly-built stops, and a tiny six percent said they liked them but only for the shopping options they provided.”

“Interestingly enough, one of Cruise Critics’ readers responding to the poll told of taking a long bus ride from the artificial port (Costa Maya) to see actual ruins, while their in-laws remained at the port. Those in-laws later told ‘horrible stories about being pressured to buy items in this tourist-built port from retailers.

The retailers complained to my mother-in-law that she had to buy something because they only had two cruise ships in port and they weren’t making enough money… She’ll never go to Costa Maya again.

“The readers who had gone on the motor coach tour leaving from the phony port told of passing nearby wooden barracks erected to house the people who worked there, who otherwise found they could not live in the nearest actual community because it was too far away. All in all, not a very encouraging response to these phony port cities, private beaches and private islands.”

Frommer has obviously formed his own opinion of the new cruise ports but if one is not looking for “amusement,” it is quite simple to book an alternative cruise on lines such as Azamara, Crystal, Oceania, Regent, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Star Clippers or Windstar that will take you in smaller ship to more out of the way ports. But even then, some ships from Crystal and Oceania now call at Grand Turk.

In fact, if one looks at the berths offered to-day by just the lines that are named above it comes pretty close to the entire capacity of the cruise market in the 1970s, something that itself confirms the fact that “amusement” cruising is just a new development of an old product. While “amusement” cruising attracts most of the attention these days, it almost has to if Royal Caribbean are to be able to fill more than 10,000 berths on its two largest ships sailing from Fort Lauderdale every week, week-in week-out year-round.

Allowing for a two-week drydocking for each ship, that’s half a million passengers a year for just two ships, larger than most of the world’s national cruise markets. But once should never forget that there are always alternatives to the mass market.

Ship’s Registry

Civil ensign. Flag Ratio: 1:2

Bahamas Ensign

by Mark Tre’ – "The Cruise Examiner"
At one time, passenger ships were registered in their country of operation, but those days are long gone. As far back as 1922, William Harriman registered the ex-German Reliance and Resolute under the flag of Panama and, among other things, operated world cruises with them. The chief reason for doing this was to avoid Prohibition as these two ships were at the time American-owned.
In 1948, Edward Stettinius, former Secretary of State under President Franklin D Roosevelt, founded the Liberian registry. Later followed others such as the Bahamian and Bermudian registers and more recently, Malta and Portugal. Meanwhile, a number of countries, particularly Italy and the Netherlands, have seen cruise ships return to their native registries. To-day, for something a little different, we have a look at cruise ship flags if registry.

The Bahamian Flag: Almost a Cruise Ship Registry of Default
By far the most popular flag for cruise ships to-day, and one that has gained from both Liberia and Panama in recent years, is that of the Bahamas, formed just over thirty years ago and now numbering 59 major cruise ships under its flag.
The large carriers are present, but most notably Royal Caribbean International, whose 22 ships are all now under Bahamian flag, a flag that so closely resembles that of Denmark that it is a wonder that that country did not sue the Bahamians when it was first introduced.
Following Royal Caribbean International, which operates about a third of the Bahamian-registered cruise ship fleet, comes Norwegian Cruise Line, with ten Bahamian-flag ships. The one exception is the US-flag Pride of America. Also registered in the Bahamas are six ships from Carnival Cruise Lines and five from Seabourn, numbering 11 ships from Carnival Corp & PLC brands.
Apart from these major participants, who account for over 80% of the Bahamian-registered cruise fleet, there are Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, with four ships, Regent Seven Seas with three, and a number of other one-or-two-ship companies.Cruise Ship Flags of Registry
The Panamanian Flag: The Traditional Flag of Convenience
There was a time when many cruise ships flew the Panamanian flag at the stern but today the Bahamian flag has taken first place. This now leaves two major Panamanian-flag cruise ship operators, Carnival Cruise Lines and MSC Cruises.
Carnival Cruise Lines started under Panamanian flag, with its Mardi Gras in 1972, and has remained largely loyal. While it did go into a mix of Panamanian and Liberian-flag ships, in more recent years the Bahamian flag has displaced that of Liberia. Even to-day, Carnival’s most modern ships, 17 of them, fly the Panamanian flag, while half a dozen of its older ships use the Bahamian.
The other Panamian-flag operator is MSC Cruises of Naples, a line that at one time did contemplate the Italian flag, but has not made the move so far, MSC is of course part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company of Geneva, one of the world’s largest container lines, which keeps the majority of its fleet registered in Panama.

The Bermudian Flag: Weddings At Sea
Bermuda has offered an offshore registry for British-owned ships since 1974 and its flag is the British red ensign. For many years, this ensign carried the Bermuda coat of arms in the fly, as does the Bermudian flag, but now the merchant flag that is used is the "undefaced UK Red Ensign." This meant that when P&O transferred its ships’ registries from London to Hamilton, Bermuda, it did not even have to buy new flags for its ships!
The Bermudian cruise ship fleet almost all comes from this one source, what was once P&O Princess Cruises but is now part of Carnival Corp & PLC. The Bermudian-flag fleet thus numbers 15 ships from Princess Cruises and seven from P&O, forming a flag where Carnival Corp & PLC now has more presence than that of Panama.
Whilst a good part of this fleet was once registered in London, one of the interesting marketing gimmicks that the Bermudian flag allows is that P&O and Princess can now, unlike under the British flag, allow masters to perform marriages on board. While the Bermudian flag is British, its registry has different legislation. This is, of course, a new source of onboard revenue for P&O.
In addition, UK-based Voyages of Discovery keeps its Discovery, a former Princess Cruises vessel, flagged in Bermuda.

The Italian Flag: A European Flag
It is now some time since Costa Cruises returned to the Italian flag from the Panamanian, but with 14 ships registered there it is a significant influence. In fact, when one adds the eight ships operated by German subsidiary brand Aida Cruises, we have a total of 22 ships, an equally important fleet to that operated by sister brands P&O and Princess under Bermudian flag, and yet a third sphere of influence for Carnival Corp & PLC.
It is somewhat ironic that Costa Cruises now controls Aida Cruises as it brings the most important German cruise brand under Italian flag. It has not been German at any rate since the first Aida, as when P&O took an interest in Aida Cruises the ships went to British flag for a while. What is even more ironic, however, is that in order to travel on one of these Italian-flag Aida ships one must be able to speak German!
The end result of this is that the German flag retains only one important cruise ship, Peter Deilmann’s Deutschland, with the balance of the German fleet being registered in the Bahamas (Hapag-Lloyd) or Malta (TUI Cruises).
While MSC Cruises, whose ships remain registered in Panama, is still missing, there is one rather interesting addition to the Italian cruise fleet, in that Plantours & Partners, now owned by Venice-based Ligabue, transferred its Vistamar from Spanish to Italian registry some time back.

The Maltese Flag: Four Royal Caribbean Brands plus Louis
The Maltese flag, a fairly recent one for cruise ships, has been taken up in a big way by Royal Caribbean Cruises. Although its main brand, Royal Caribbean International, uses the Bahamian flag, four of its other brands, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Pullmantur and TUI Cruises, are now the mainstay of the Maltese registry. Pullmantur only in recent times moved its seven-ship fleet from the Bahamas to Malta, lifting the number of Maltese-flag cruise ships to 19 in the process.
These brands are followed by Louis Cruises, who intend to add more ships to the Maltese flag in the very near future when they are transferred away from the now-very-expensive Greek flag.
P&O Cruises Australia also keep Pacific Sun registered in Malta.

The Netherlands Flag: Holland America Line
For many years, Holland America Line left the flag of its home country the Netherlands for Panama and the Bahamas, but to-day its whole fleet of 15 ships has been returned to its land of origin and registered in Holland. While there was talk at one time before they went out of business of Royal Olympic transferring its ships to Dutch flag, the basis of the Dutch cruise fleet remains Holland America Line, yet a fourth Carnival sphere of influence.
Not only that, but its Eurodam was named by Queen Beatrix in 2008 and Nieuw Amsterdam was named by Princess Maxima last year (With Queen Elizabeth II having christened the new Queen Elizabeth last year, Micky Arison seems to meet a lot of Queens these days) .

Lesser Cruise Ship Flags: Portugal, the UK, the Marshall Islands, Japan and the US
One flag that has come almost out of nowhere in recent years is that of Portugal, through its offshore registry in Madeira. In addition to the five-ship fleet of Lisbon-based Classic International Cruises, as of last year it also counts among its number the four-ship fleet of Iberocruceros, yet another brand of Carnival Corp & PLC, which now gives Portugal a fleet of nine cruise ships.
A net loser over recent years, however, is the UK, which until recent times numbered the whole of the P&O fleet plus most of its sister Princess Cruises ships, under its flag, Now, however, it is left with the three Cunard Queens and one small Princess,  Hebridean Princess, that the Queen has in fact chartered twice, plus three other cruise ships.
Ironically, the three other UK-flag ships are the three ex-Sitmar ships that now form part of P&O Cruises Australia. So now we have P&O’s UK-flag ships sailing from Australia while the UK is served by its Bermudian-flag ships! The fourth P&O Cruises Australia ship is flagged in Malta. The three Cunard ships and three P&O Australia ships nevertheless form another sphere of influence for Carnival Corp & PLC once again!
The Marshall Islands is new to cruise ships, but the four ships of Oceania Cruises now call those Pacific islands home. Elsewhere, Japan also counts four cruise ships from its Mitsui OSK, NYK and Venus brands the United States continues to see Pride of America, the remaining rump of what was once a three-ship fleet, under its flag.

The Traditional Flags: Norway and Greece
It is somewhat surprising that the Norwegian flag has totally disappeared from cruise ships, where even a few years ago Fred Olsen Cruise Lines still used it. Even with an open registry that allows offshore Norwegian shipowners to avoid heavy Norwegian taxes, the Norwegian flag has been relegated to coastal status with the Hurtigruten fleet, which is not counted here.
Names such as Norwegian America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Flagship Cruises and Royal Viking Line have all disappeared, being bought out over the years by British, Malaysian and American investors. Important Norwegian ownership does remain, however, as in addition to Fred Olsen, Anders Wilhelmsen, along with the Pritzker and Ofer families, remains a major shareholder in Royal Caribbean Cruises.
It appears that the Greek flag too is about to disappear from cruise ships, with the only major operator still flying it, Louis Hellenic Cruises, applying to leave the flag because of huge pension costs now being demanded by local seamen’s unions and potenitally an austerity-driven Greek government. None of the old Greek names is left, among them Chandris, Efthymiades, Epirotiki, Goulandris, Kavounides, Nomikos and Typaldos, all now long gone from the scene.
Two and a half years ago, on September 6, 2008, The Cruise Examiner wrote in "A Return to Greek-flag Cruise Ships" about Louis Cruises placing eight of its ships under Greek flag. Then, on August 30, 2010, we wrote a news item headed "Greece Gives up Cruising Monopoly From its Ports." Now, only a few months later, we find that Louis is contemplating giving up the Greek flag in protest against these demands for onerous pension fund contributions and has applied to have the Louis Cristal and Louis Calypso moved to Malta, where a number of its other ships such as Louis Majesty is already registered. Louis Emerald may also follow.
The savings from switching from Greek to Maltese flag is reported to be in the order of Euros 300,000 per ship per month and the move has more or less been brought about because vessels flying other European flags will now be able to compete with the Greek flag, thus offering Louis Cruises no protection. Louis, meanwhile, would still employ Greek masters, senior officers and senior engineers even under the Maltese flag.
If this happens it will be a sad day for Greece and the first time in many years that no important cruise ship will have flown the Greek flag, long so emblematic of professional seafarers.

Liberian Flag is Dead for Cruise Ships
For many years, the flag of Liberia, one that somewhat resembles that of the United States, was popular with American owners. Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity all used to operate some of their fleet under Liberian flag but since the dictatorship of Charles Taylor, who was removed from power in 2003 and has just been tried for war crimes, all cruise ships left the Liberian flag.
Along with Panama, Liberia used to be the other chief flag of convenience but we have now seen new ones arrive such as Malta and the Marshall Islands. Indeed, the Marshall Islands programme was originally administered by the same people that operated the Liberian register.
Meanwhile, Taylor’s trial was recently completed and a verdict is now awaited. Most people forget that it was President George W Bush who was responsible for removing this dictator. Although Liberia is now led by Africa’s first elected woman president and it retains a high number of cargo ships under its flag, it is very unlikely to be seen flying over cruise ships again, at least in the near future.

All in all, with cruise ships flags of registry seem to be a very fluid subject, but it is interesting that individual fleet policies are much more homogeneous now than they were a few years ago, when different parts of each fleet were registered under various different flags. Carnival Cruise Lines seems to be the only brand that still operates a two-registry policy.

Courtesy of

Canada’s 775,000 "Invisible" Cruisers

Courtesy of Mark Tre

CLIA last year acknowledged the importance of Canadians to the cruising market, estimating the size of the Canadian cruise market travelling in CLIA ships in 2009 at 775,000, larger than any European country except the UK and Germany. But because they usually cruise with Americans in American-frequented ships, they remain a large but invisible part of the market.
Many American ports have benefitted from homeland cruising, particularly Seattle, San Diego, Galveston, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Baltimore and Boston. The sole exception is Philadelphia, which has just closed its cruise terminal. The question therefore is why not Montreal or Quebec?

With such a small population compared to the United States, the Canadian cruise market tends to get absorbed into that of its larger neighbour, but in Europe or Australasia, it would be large enough to support several ships of its own, at least a dozen or even more, depending on their size.

Canada’s Pacific Coast and Alaska
The Canadian cruise market has two coasts. The Pacific coast, primarily Vancouver, has been the base for many ships since the days of Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Alaska Cruise Lines, It remains today the main port for ships sailing to Alaska. The West Coast port has recorded a slight drop in recent years, but Vancouver nevertheless remains a major port with over 837,000 passengers, the majority of whom were embarkations or disembarkations, on 177 calls. How does that compare with ports in Eastern Canada? There is hardly any comparison.

The East Coast and Atlantic Provinces
The East Coast market is growing, having reached 550,000 cruise passengers in 2006, the last year for which statistics are available. The main cruise ports are Saint John, Halifax, Sydney, Corner Brook, St John’s and Charlottetown. The vast majority of these, however, are transit passengers and there is no major embarkation or disembarkation port in the region.

Major North American lines calling in Atlantic Canada include Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, MSC, NCL, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea, while European lines include Aida, Fred Olsen, Hapag-Lloyd, P&O and Saga.

Of these lines, Carnival never goes into the St Lawrence as its ships only sail to Canada’s Atlantic coast and head back to New York.  Carnival Glory, for example, concentrates on short 5- and 7-night cruises from New York to Saint John and Halifax. Although it had a plan to cruise into the St Lawrence for the first time since Mardi Gras visited Montreal in the 80’s, in 2010, this was dropped, but quite why was not made clear.

Princess Cruises, meanwhile, will expand its Canada-New England programme in 2011, running summer cruises for the first time – the area has often been thought of as more of an autumn destination, despite the fact the the weather is better in summer.  Caribbean Princess will sail four 9-night voyages as far as Charlottetown from New York between May and July.

Princess will also offer fourteen autumn Canada-New England voyages on two different itineraries. Caribbean Princess will sail 7-night round trips from New York to Halifax and Crown Princess will sail 10-night one-way voyages between New York and Quebec. Crown Princess will get as far as Quebec,  Caribbean Princess will join Carnival Glory in the short cruise trade to the Maritime Provinces.

A History of Canada-New England Cruising
Following in the wake of the Quebec Steamship Company’s Orinoco, which offered the first Canada-New England cruises between New York and Quebec in 1894, the Furness Bermuda Line took over and continued running such cruises up into the mid-1960s.

An early entrant into Canada-New England cruising, in the 1970s, was Norway’s Royal Viking Line, whose five-star ships called at Montreal and Quebec on many of their summer cruises.

In 1995, Royal Viking was taken over by Cunard, whose Queen Elizabeth 2 also made an annual cruise to Quebec, as far up the St Lawrence as she could navigate, while other Cunard ships sailed to Montreal. RMS Queen Mary 2 then made her maiden Quebec call on September 22, 2004, the first of two 24-hour overnight calls that year.

The Bahama Cruise Line also sailed the New York-Montreal circuit every summer between 1980 and 1993 with Veracruz. This line, later Bermuda Star Line, then part of Commodore and finally Crown Cruise Line, was absorbed into Cunard even before Royal Viking. In 1992, Crown Monarch came into the trade and in 1993 Crown Jewel replaced her but after Cunard took over their marketing, it moved the ships to other routes. Seabourn, later part of Cunard and now Carnival, began sailing the New York-Montreal circuit in 1990 and increased its presence to fourteen voyages in 1991.

Between 1986 and 1995, Royal Cruise Line was a regular St Lawrence caller before being absorbed into NCL, whose ships started offering St Lawrence cruises from New York, Boston and Montreal in 1998. Sun Line and Ocean Cruise Lines also performed one or two seasons of Canada/New England cruises in 1986-87.

In 1988, Princess Cruises entered the trade and the original Sky Princess became the largest passenger ship to call at Montreal in 1989. Since then, Princess ships have continued to get bigger and now turn at Quebec because they are too tall to fit under the Quebec Bridge on the way to Montreal. Regency Cruises cruised Canada-New England from 1990 to 1995, and in 1991, Crystal entered the trade and its Crystal Harmony became the largest cruise ship to call at Montreal.

Holland America’s Rotterdam (V) turned at Quebec in 1991, and was succeeded by the Westerdam (II) and the newly-built Veendam (IV), each in turn the largest Holland America liner to sail to Montreal. To-day, the St Lawrence ship is  Maasdam.

In 1998, Royal Caribbean International became a more recent entry to the trade, with its Vision of the Seas becoming the largest passenger ship to call at Quebec, her tonnage having surpassed that of Cunard’s QE2. Its Brilliance of the Seas then became the largest liner to reach Quebec on her inaugural arrival in 2002. This position was in turn taken by Queen Mary 2.

The St Lawrence and Its New Ports
In terms of cruise passenger numbers, in one year, 1990, Montreal handled 33,000 cruise passengers, and in 1991 it handled 46,000, when cruise trade increased by 28%. But that spurt was due to the 1990-91 Gulf War, when some ships were routed away from the Mediterranean to the St Lawrence. By 2007, the number had dropped to 35,000 on 45 ships but rose back to 40,000 on 26 ships in 2009. Quebec, meanwhile, has now peaked 110,000.

But these numbers are very small out of a market of almost 800,000 cruisers, especially as they are mostly transit passengers. If half of them were Canadians, they would account for only about 7% of the market. Could the number be a lot higher if a ship or ships actually offered round trip cruises from Montreal and/or Quebec? Would passengers come? The old saying of "if you build the ships the passengers will come", as it applies to the cruise trade, might be applicable here.  MSC did a 14-day cruise, roundtrip from Quebec, this past fall.

According to some, the St Lawrence River now offers the greatest potential for cruise growth. The number of passengers having reached more than 100,000, the objective had been to reach 200 000 last year and 400 000 by 2014.
These ports now include not only the more traditional ports of Montreal (40,000 cruise passengers in 2009), Quebec (102,000 passengers), Gaspe (14,500 passengers) and Charlottetown (80,000 passengers), but also Saguenay (37,700 passengers), Baie Comeau (3,700 passengers), Sept Iles (7,500 passengers) and Havre St Pierre (one call with 500 passengers). These numbers are only the beginning as none of the new ports had seen cruise passengers at all since the Quebec North Shore highway was opened in 1960 and the Clarke Steamship Company withdrew its weekly sailings in 1961. But now all of Baie Comeau, Sept Iles and Havre St Pierre have been equipped with new cruise terminals and the facilities and attractions are there in order to start inducing new trade.

Cruising from Montreal
In the round-trip cruise trade from Montreal (as opposed to the Canada-New England trade), Canada Steamship Lines and Clarke Steamship had both operated round trip 7-day cruises from Montreal to ports in the Lower St Lawrence and Saguenay River. After they left, those that had followed included Cunard in 1967, the Baltic Shipping Company from 1967 to 1980, Balkantourist’s Varna (formerly Furness Bermuda’s Ocean Monarch) between 1970 and 1972, the Greek Line in 1971 and the Black Sea Shipping Company in the 1970s. Polish Ocean Lines also performed many summer cruises from Montreal up until 1987. Then things stopped.

After no round-trip cruises from Montreal for more than a decade, the Black Sea Shipping Co returned in 1992, with weekly cruises by  Gruziya, leaving Montreal every Friday for the St Lawrence and Saguenay and as far as St Pierre and Miquelon. In 1995, however, following the privatisation of her owners in Odessa, she was arrested at Montreal for non-payment of bills and the service ended.

Since then, save for the introduction of a cruise ferry to the Magdalen islands in 2002, Montreal’s cruise trade has once more consisted almost exclusively of ships alternating on one-way departures between Montreal and New York or Boston. One has to ask why a market of 800,000 cruisers (that will surely soon reach 1 million) might not support a summer-long season of round-trip cruises from Montreal and/or Quebec?

An aspect that has not even been brought into this is whether having to fly to Florida or elsewhere in order to be able to board a cruise ship has limited the potential for the Canadian market. This is certainly the case in the UK. And the airline industry in North America has developed a reputation for sometimes being unreliable and miserable, so large numbers of people might have decided that cruising wasn’t worth the trouble. Only the harsh Canadian winters force people to fly to the sun by winter – and Canada is nothing if not seasonal.

In 2010, Holland America’s Maasdam was the only major cruise ship to call at Montreal during the months of May through August, largely because as cruise ships were getting larger many of the new ships could not pass under the Quebec Bridge. Beginning in September, Maasdam was joined by  Silver Whisper, AidaLuna, The World, Crystal Symphony and AmadeaMaasdam made eight calls,  Crystal Symphony two and the other ships one each. Only two ships made more than a single call at Montreal last year, while Quebec saw as many as four ships in a day. In 2011,  Maasdam and Crystal Symphony will be joined at Montreal by Regatta and Seven Seas Navigator but this is still quite a poor showing for a city that claims to be Canada’s "European Metropolis."

Meanwhile, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are among the lines that now make Quebec their point of departure and arrival with their new larger ships. And some 102,000 passengers visited Quebec during the 2010 season, an increase of 18% over 2009. Of that number, 60,000 were transit passengers while 42,000 either started or ended their cruise there. Four ships inaugural calls at Quebec: Aida Cruises’ AidaLuna, P&O’s Arcadia, Phoenix’s Amadea and Celebrity’s Celebrity Summit.

There remain numerous challenges for the St Lawrence cruise industry, chief of which is the development of summer traffic. In 2010, for example, the season started at the end of April but more than 80% of the traffic occurred in September and October. And that does not even begin to take into account the possible impact of ECA’s – Emission Control Areas.

Atlantic Crossings

In recent years, Ferrol and A Coruña have beco...

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Cunard Line has now been sailing for over 170 years and RMS Queen Mary 2 has almost completed seven seasons on the North Atlantic, very often running full. Meanwhile,  Queen Victoria has done the occasional voyage, as will the new Queen Elizabeth next year. These are usually January crossings in conjunction with world cruises.

As the season of positioning voyages has just started, it is worth having a look at just how many such voyages are now available. According to the Official Steamship Guide, which includes voyages to North America and the Caribbean, there will be twenty-five Transatlantic voyages in October, nineteen in November and three in December.
Norwegian Cruise Line will provide four of the October voyages, with three voyages each by Celebrity, Holland America, NCL, P&O and Star Clippers, and single crossings by Princess, Royal Caribbean, SeaDream and Silversea.

Cunard will also do three crossings in November, joined by two each from Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Windstar and single voyages from Azamara, Celebrity, Holland America, Oceania, Regent, SeaDream, Silversea and Voyages of Discovery. Single December sailings will also be provided by each of Crystal, Princess and Seabourn.

Among these positioning voyages, to take just one example, Norwegian Sun will leave Dover next week, on October 4, for a 12-night crossing to Port Canaveral. This is quite a bargain as fares are being quoted as low as US$399 per person for an inside cabin, $499 for an outside or $1,299 for a verandah, plus taxes and fees.
Such crossings, other than Queen Mary 2, are only seasonal, however, and those who wish to cross at other times, if they can’t find a suitable date for  Queen Mary 2, have to fall back on the weekly container ships of Independent Container Line or MSC or the twice-monthly bulk carriers of the Polish Steamship Company that run from Amsterdam into the Great Lakes. All of these carry about half a dozen passengers on their regular crossings of the Atlantic.

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Norwegian Epic Makes her Debut

No sooner had Norwegian Cruise Line’s new 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic left the shipyard at St Nazaire, where she had become the largest ship ever built by that yard, than rumours started to circulate that Bernard Meyer of the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg was on board discussing with NCL executives what the design of future NCL ships might be. Simultaneously, NCL chief executive Kevin Sheehan announced that no more F3 class ships such as Norwegian Epic would be built. She will thus become a once-only ship with no sister ships. 

The acrimony that resulted from the dispute between NCL and the French shipyard now known as STX (earlier Akers) will probably also mean that STX is unlikely to build any more NCL ships and that Meyer Werft, who have built the majority of the NCL “Freestyle Cruising” fleet may well see NCL’s next order.

This would follow Regent Seven Seas, who left the French yard after difficulties with Seven Seas Mariner to order Seven Seas Voyager from the Mariotti yard in Italy. One of the things Regent got from this was single corridors on the Voyager compared to double corridors on the Mariner, which Regent did not really want because of its large stateroom and particularly bathroom sizes.

Meanwhile, as Norwegian Epic crosses from Southampton to New York, initial reports from journalists and travel agents who have seen the ship report on her many entertainment venues and their quality. We shall wait to hear the full story when she arrives in New York, where she is due to be christened.

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Cruising in "the Dominions"

Years ago, the Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were known as "the Dominions" – indeed Canada called itself the Dominion of Canada until the 1950s.

The Dominions, which had been served by lines such as Canadian Pacific, Cunard, White Star, P&O, Shaw Savill and New Zealand Shipping, came to the aid of the UK in two world wars, long before the United States entered either.

To-day, however, very few people realize that these four countries contribute about 1.3 million passengers to the world cruise market. This is more passengers than Germany, Italy or Spain and almost as many as the UK. So let’s have a look at the cruising market in these Commonwealth countries to-day

Canada: 775,000 "Invisible" Canadians
Earlier this month CLIA acknowledged the importance of Canadians to the cruising market, in announcing that the next Cruise 360 travel agents’ conference would be held in Vancouver on June 2-6, 2010. CLIA estimates the size of the Canadian market travelling in its ships at 775,000, or triple the size of a decade ago. This is larger than all European countries except the UK and Germany.

The Canadian market has always been easy to miss as most Canadians travel across the longest undefended border in the world, that with the United States, to join ships that are already full of Americans. Thus, unlike Australia, which is geographically distinct from other countries, Canadian cruisers have become a sort of "invisible minority."

One interesting thing that unites Canada and Australia, however, is that RMS Queen Mary 2 visits both during the course of the year, visiting Quebec in the summer or autumn and Sydney as part of her world cruise, thus being the largest ship to call at each country.
At one time, Eastern Canada did have its own small cruise market, with ships from Cunard Line and later the Soviet  Alexandr Pushkin and the Polish Stefan Batory, operating round trip cruises from Montreal. But over the years Montreal and Quebec became part of a one-way Canada/New England cruise rotation whereby ships shuttled back and forth between Montreal and increasingly Quebec in the north and New York or Boston in the south.

Meanwhile, Vancouver, at least up until the past two or three years, had acted as the base for the Alaska fleet.

However, history was made at the Port of Québec this October as more than 13,000 cruise passengers embarked or disembarked in one 48-hour period, with three ships, Crown Princess, Norwegian Spirit and Costa Atlantica, also making inaugural calls. And inward visits into the St Lawrence in 2009 totalled 166,000 passengers on 21 ships.

On the west coast, however, Vancouver, with close to500,000 passengers, 80% of them American, embarking there, remains the cruise capital of Canada, despite the loss of half its Alaska business to Seattle and a general reduction in the Alaska cruise trade because of the Alaska head tax.

Australia: 330,000 Cruisers With a Geographical Base
Unlike Canada, Australia is so far removed from the rest of the world that it has always had its own ships cruising from Australian ports full of mainly Australian (and of course New Zealand) passengers. Starting with P&O ships and a number of ships from Sitmar, which was later taken over by P&O Princess, the two largest carriers to-day are both branches of Carnival, in P&O Cruises Australia and Princess Cruises. Carryings in the Australian market were about 330,000 in 2008.

P&O Cruises has expanded from two ships to four in a fairly short time, with the delivery this month of Pacific Jewel, ex-Ocean Village 2, and in 2010 its fourth ship, Pacific Pearl, now Ocean Village. Having already acquired Regal Princess, now Pacific Dawn, this means that the flagships of the P&O Cruises fleet in Australia are now the last of the Sitmar ships.

The once Crown Princess and Regal Princess were introduced in 1990-91, while the old Fair Princess was still cruising from Australia.
Last Thursday, December 10, proved to be a big day for Sydney, with Diamond Princess arriving first, followed by  Pacific Jewel, fresh from her makeover in Singapore, and then Sun Princess. Nearly 10,000 passengers were handled in Sydney that day.

With Diamond, Sun and Dawn Princess, Pacific Dawn, Sun and Jewel all based in Sydney either full time or for the summer, the Australian market has finally shown it can support not just one or two ships but two fleets of ships with P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises each having its own fleet of Australia-based ships now. And in the west, Classic International Cruises has its Athena now based in Fremantle on a seasonal basis.

New Zealand: 119,000, Mostly Foreigners
In the 2008/09 season, 118,987 cruisers were reported to have left New Zealand ports, of whom almost 90% were visitors, mainly American, Canadian and Australian. About 25,000 were actually New Zealanders. This total of almost 119,000 was up from 40,000 in 2004/05 so the market has almost tripled in just four years.

The local New Zealand market is strong enough, however, that P&O Cruises will lengthen its 2010 Auckland season for  Pacific Sun from two months to twenty-four, after the 2009 season sold out with 12,000 Kiwis cruising in her over just two months.

South Africa: 70,000 in MSC Sinfonia Alone
South Africa this year has its largest cruise ship yet in the 2,100-passenger MSC Sinfonia, now based at Durban for the 2009/10 winter season and working for South Africa-based Starlight Cruises. MSC Sinfonia is expected to carry some 70,000 cruisers this season and replaces  MSC Melody and MSC Symphony/Rhapsody before her.
Spring will also see Holland America Line’s Noordam and Westerdam in Durban and Port Elizabeth, not as cruise ships but as accommodation ships for the 2010 World Cup in Cape Town
Other than that, there is no indigenous South African cruise market other than those operated by Starlight Cruises, although other ships calling in South Africa this season will be Queen Mary 2, Balmoral, Discovery, Seven Seas Voyager, Silver Wind, Crystal Serenity and Columbus, all making calls on world cruises or longer voyages.

For those who like statistics, here are the estimated non-US markets by rank, in number of cruise passengers, with Commonwealth countries shown in red:
UK – 1,500,000
Germany – 907,000
Canada – 775,000
Italy – 682,000
Spain – 497,000
Australia – 330,000
France – 310,000
Scandinavia – 123,000
New Zealand – 119,000
Benelux – 92,000
South Africa – 75,000
Switzerland – 62,000
Commonwealth – 2,799,000
Continent – 2,673.000
The Commonwealth countries thus total 2,799,000 cruisers while Continental European countries total 2,673,000 – a very different way of looking at things, but one that is no longer current since the UK joined the European Union.
(Source: By Mark Tré –

A Modern Crystal Beach at Sea?

Now that ships have become destinations in their own right, the 225,282-ton Oasis of the Seas has had to set up some of her own ports of call as she’s too big to go to most other places.
A new dock has been built at Labadee and a new port is being developed for her at Falmouth, Jamaica. Recent new ports developed by the cruise lines have also included Cozumel and Costa Maya in Mexico, Roatan in Honduras and Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
These places, with their instant shopping villages, restaurant outlets and beer halls, tend to style themselves after the North American suburban mall, except for the more recent addition of theme park rides, which is bringing them more into line with theme parks.
Let’s have a look at the places the mass market lines go and examine some recent trends brought about with the advent of the jumbo cruise ship.

Now: Caribbean Theme Park Islands and Beaches
For years there were two ports in the Eastern Caribbean that most cruise ships sailing from Florida went to. One was San Juan, in the associated free state of Puerto Rico, and the other was St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Indeed, St Thomas became so large that malls were finally built right on the docks so that passengers could shop without having to go into the town of Charlotte Amalie. And of course Americans could double their duty-free purchases from the usual two bottles of spirits to four at St Thomas. However, is beginning to be the mass market cruise of the past.
Starting next month, Oasis of the Seas will run a 7-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary from Fort Lauderdale that will include St Thomas, St Maarten and Nassau, and a Western Caribbean itinerary to Labadee, Costa Maya and Cozumel. In December 2010, the new Jamaican port of Falmouth, whose opening has been delayed a year, will replace Costa Maya.
If Falmouth is anything like Cozumel and Grand Turk it will have shoreside beer bars and "retail experiences" galore, but there may yet be hope. Meanwhile, NCL’s new Norwegian Epic will sail from Miami to the same Eastern Caribbean ports as Oasis of the Seas but her Western Caribbean itinerary will include Costa Maya, Roatan and Cozumel. Although two calls in Mexico may be rather repetitive, at least Oasis of the Seas will be able to switch to Jamaica in a year’s time.
As of to-day, we have landside surfing at Grand Turk, which now has a FlowRider installation dockside that is similar to those carried on the larger Royal Caribbean ships. Opened in June 2008, this is now part of the new $50 million Grand Turk Cruise Center, which features an 14-acre shopping and restaurant complex and dates to February 2006.
Among other things, it also includes the Caribbean’s largest Margaritaville bar, restaurant and store, and 45,000 sq ft shopping centre. Previously an isolated out-of-the-way island of 3,700 souls that had not seen regular passenger service since the Clyde Line a hundred years ago, Grand Turk has now come to the fore as a Carnival Corp & PLC cruise port that is relatively close to Miami, and only thirty miles south of the Bahamas. Indeed, it is mainly Carnival, Costa, Holland America, P&O, Princess and Seabourn ships that call here except for the odd unexpected call by Crystal, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas.
Elsewhere, next week, a new elevated chairlift will begin taking cruisers from the Carnival cruise terminal at Roatan directly to the private beach at Mahogany Bay. Passengers will pay $5 for a pass for unlimited six-minute rides that travel 67 feet above the ground and the treetops. With a capacity of 1,500 passengers an hour, the four-passenger chairlift units, named by Carnival the "Magical Flying Beach Chair," look very much like a conventional ski lift.
Last year, the three-acre Roatan Cruise Port Village was opened there by Royal Caribbean, something that added shopping to the agenda where previously they had had to rely on that island’s "rustic charms.".
Royal Caribbean has gone a step further at Labadee, however, with the opening this year of a new "Dragon’s Tail" Alpine roller coaster at its private "island" beach in Haiti. According to Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean International president, riders will reach 680 feet and "have just enough time to catch your breath and marvel at the view before turning and whooshing down at 30 miles per hour. Racing through 360-degree turns and dips, waves and curves, riders will be able to catch glimpses of the ocean."
The ride time will be 3-5 minutes, of which about two thirds is reported to be up and about 30 seconds down. Royal Caribbean charge $35 per passenger for the ride (a child with an adult rides free), and $85 for the "Dragon’s Breath Flight Line" zip-line. There have been a number of protests that Royal Caribbean is charging too much for these installations, where they have everyone captive anyway as it is a private island (it’s actually a peninsula).
Once back on board, however, passengers can benefit from the carousel and zip-line in Oasis of the Seas, as well as a bar that rides up and down between three decks.
Not only that, but Labadee will soon boast three new features, now under development: the "retail experiences" of Dragon’s Plaza and Labadee Town Square, and the Columbus Family Beach. Dragon’s Plaza will be the heart of Labadee and will also feature the Dragon’s Breath Café and Pub, a welcome centre, and central tram station, which will ferry guests to other areas of the peninsula. Labadee Town Square will offer guests shopping, dining and entertainment, including the Haitian Cultural Museum, Café Labadee and Bar, and the Straw and Artisan Market.
This expansion, including a new pier, is all caused by Oasis of the Seas, of course, which is scheduled to make her first call there on December 3. Bringing 5-6,000 passengers a week, the existing facilities would have been hopelessly inadequate.
Meanwhile, Falmouth, a small 18th Century port on Jamaica’s north coast, is due to open in December 2010 as a new cruise port for larger vessels. Located between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, it will cater for Royal Caribbean’s new jumbo-sized Oasis of the Seas and will be developed as a heritage renewal project, based on the town’s early Jamaican architecture, plus a large shopping mall, developed from existing facilities.
Built as a planned town, Falmouth had piped water even before New York. Once home to several hundred sugar plantations, it thrived during the slave trade but has been relatively quiet since 1840 and is only now being redeveloped. One potential source of confusion, however, is that there is already a cruise port called Falmouth in Antigua.

Then: American Theme Park Islands and Beaches
In all this modern cruise port development there is something wonderfully reminiscent of America’s early theme parks in the days before Disney. A century ago many large US cities had amusement parks developed closer to home so that the population could escape their day-to-day activities, often by dedicated steamers that took millions to locales such as Coney Island from Manhattan, Bob-Lo Island from Detroit and Crystal Beach from Buffalo. Both the latter were actually in Canada (and two of the Bob-Lo steamers are still afloat awaiting refurbishment).
Coney Island itself had two kinds of steamers – as well as the ones that took the crowds from crowded piers of Manhattan and elsewhere to Coney Island, the other "Coney Island steamer" was the hot dog that was sold in Coney Island starting in 1871. And Coney Island had not only its fairground rides and hot dogs but beaches and even hotels.
There were even two Coney Islands – as well as the one in Brooklyn, Cincinnati developed its own, along with a five-deck steamer called Island Queen that could carry up to 4,000 passengers at a time from Cincinnati to their "island" escape, actually on the mainland ten miles up the Ohio River.
Much like these destinations, Cozumel, Grand Turk, Roatan and Labadee (although the jury may be out on Falmouth) are beginning to sound just a little bit like the Coney Island, Bob-Lo and Crystal Beach of a hundred years ago.
And the ships going to these new "islands" carry 4,000 or 5,000 just like the old excursion steamers used to. Labadee is even beginning to develop its own tram lines just as Coney Island once did (it had five of them).
One is somewhat tempted therefore, if one is not looking for an amusement park, to move over to Oceania, Windstar or SeaDream. Oceania’s Regatta, for example, offers a typical 12-night Caribbean cruise itinerary from Miami (for them) that includes Virgin Gorda, St Barts, Dominica, St Lucia, Antigua, Tortola and Samana (but finishes with Grand Turk before returning to Miami).
Or, further south, Windstar’s Wind Surf leaves Barbados on a 7-day itinerary that calls at Bequia, Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and St Lucia, island stops that are all more familiar to the traditional Caribbean cruiser.
While these new ports for 100,000-tonners are perhaps not the kind of cruise experience one is used to, it must be said that the cruise lines are developing plenty for their passengers to do, even if it appears that they own most of the shore side cash registers too. And luckily enough, the cruise market is now large enough to be able to cater to both types of cruiser.
Courtesy: By Mark Tré –

An Excellent Year to Cruise Alaska

052 Diana and John Lang of The Cruise People, Ltd. at Juneau, Alaska
Every destination visited by ships has its own special character and personality. The Caribbean is all about tropical beaches and sensuous indulgence. Europe is history, sophistication and cosmopolitan charm. And, then there is Alaska.

America’s Last Frontier – the “Great Land” – is like nowhere else on earth. Wild, expansive, magnificent in scale and natural beauty, its boundaries seem limitless and visitors are constantly reminded of the immensity and power of Mother Nature. Cruising through sweeping bays and steep fjords against a backdrop of giant glaciers, even a cruise ship seems tiny. As spring bursts into summer, this is what travellers from around the world come for – the unique experience of Alaska, thoroughly enjoyed in the comfort and luxury of a cruise. With new itineraries, ports, land options and special offers by cruise lines of, there has never been a better time to visit.

Alaska cruises are offered in varying lengths from ports all along the West Coast, from California to British Columbia to Alaska. Most lines also feature extensive land programmes to ensure that the full offerings of the destination are appreciated, whether it’s by dog sled, floatplane, jetboat or steam train. For 2009, cruise lines are making all this even more irresistible with added-value and special pricing, even, in some cases, two-for-one offers.

“The scope and beauty of Alaska is hard to imagine until you’ve seen it for yourself, and there is no better or easier way to see it than by cruise ship,” said Terry Dale, CLIA’s president and CEO. “If you’ve never been or have been yearning to return, this is the year to go north to Alaska.”


Here is a sampling of Alaska cruises offered in 2009:

Carnival’s Alaska season begins May 13 with the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit embarking for Glacier Bay and the Last Frontier. The week-long Glacier Route voyages operate either northbound from Vancouver to Whittier/Anchorage or southbound, with stops in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka plus cruising Prince William Sound, College Fjord and the Inside Passage. Carnival Spirit also will make three round trip voyages from Vancouver to Glacier Bay, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, with two days cruising the Inside Passage.

In each Alaska port, Carnival passengers have the option to engage in numerous shore excursions, from kayaking, canoeing and steam train adventures to rafting, horseback riding and flightseeing.

Three ships – Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Mercury and Celebrity Millennium – will sail Alaska in 2009 from a total of five ports. The itineraries include the first roundtrip Alaska cruise from Los Angeles, a 14-night voyage to Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia plus five stops in Alaska. Celebrity also offers the line’s first 10-night roundtrip cruise from Vancouver; a series of seven-night sailings featuring Hubbard Glacier, with roundtrips from Seattle and Vancouver and one-way voyages between Vancouver and Seward.

Celebrity offers more than 20 cruise tours featuring a wide variety of destinations, including rail travel on the Whistler Mountaineer Coast Classic, Calgary, Banff, Denali and more.

Crystal Cruises returns to Alaska for the first time since 2005 with an early season itinerary departing Yokohama on April 16. The 22-day voyage also marks the first time Crystal Serenity has ever visited Alaska, with calls at Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Seward and Ketchikan.

Land programmes called Crystal Adventures will highlight the region’s scenery and wildlife, with zip-lining in the Tongass National Forest, flightseeing wildlife tours, puffin expeditions, yachting off Kodiak to view Alaska’s sea life and cruising across Resurrection Bay into Kenai Fjords National Park.

With more than 60 years experience in the region, Holland America will have eight ships in Alaska this season sailing three different itineraries. These include seven-day Alaskan Explorer roundtrip cruises from Seattle; seven-day Glacier Bay Inside Passage roundtrips from Vancouver; and seven-day Glacier Discovery voyages between Seward and Vancouver. With more than 250 optional land excursions, the line’s itineraries are planned so that even CruiseTour guests who are on board only three days will visit a tidewater glacier.

Among its extensive CruiseTour offers is Holland America’s 17-day Voyage of the Glaciers CruiseTour which combines two cruises with inland options as well.

NCL has three Freestyle Cruising ships sailing in Alaska this summer from May through September. Norwegian Pearl will sail a seven-day Glacier Bay cruise from Seattle. Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sun will offer seven-day voyages to Sawyer Glacier departing from Seattle and Vancouver respectively.

Denali National Park is featured on a four-night pre-cruise “Discover Denali” package that includes a first class hotel stay in Anchorage, motorcoach and rail sightseeing, tour guides and airfare back to the guest’s embarkation port.

Princess Cruises will offer seven-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” Gulf of Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Whittier featuring Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay and College Fjord as well as seven-day roundtrips from Seattle featuring Tracy Arm. In addition, the 680-passenger Pacific Princess will sail on 14-day voyages from Seattle, with stops at Kodiak, Valdez, Icy Strait Point, and Seward as well as Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria and Glacier Bay. Sea Princess will offer varying itineraries on 10-day roundtrips from San Francisco.

Princess’ Alaska Cruisetours combine the Voyage of the Glaciers cruise with land options ranging from three to nine nights, featuring two nights in the Denali wilderness area, plus the unique Direct to the Wilderness rail service.

Regent Seven Seas will position the 700-passenger, all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Mariner in Alaska this season between May and September. The ship will make seven-night voyages between Vancouver and Seward featuring Hubbard Glacier, Sitka, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Ketchikan and cruising the Inside Passage. The ship will also offer a seven-night roundtrip Alaska cruise from Vancouver with two days of cruising the Inside Passage and visits to Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka.

Regent Seven Seas is offering two-for-one savings on most Alaska cruises, as well as free roundtrip economy airfare and free unlimited shore excursions.

In its 20th consecutive Alaska season, Royal Caribbean will offer different itineraries ranging from seven to fifteen nights on sailings from San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Seward and Vancouver. Passengers will sail aboard one of three Royal Caribbean ships: Radiance of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas. Radiance and Serenade feature 10-story glass-enclosed Centrums for spectacular views of the coastal landscapes. Itinerary highlights include Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm, Sawyer Glacier and Icy Strait Point.

Royal Caribbean offers 21 cruise tour options, including a seven-night overview of Alaska’s interior, including Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Talkeetna.

Silversea’s all-suite, 382-passenger Silver Shadow will set course for Alaska in May to offer 12 voyages ranging from seven to 12 days with round-trip or open-jaw departures from San Francisco, Seward and Vancouver. Highlights of the itineraries include the Tracy Arm fjord and twin Sawyer Glaciers as well as Misty Fjords National Monument.

New Silversea land programmes in Alaska this year include a “Champion Alaska Huskies” dog-sledding experience with Iditarod race champion Martin Buser; a “Wilderness Retreat” escape to two of Alaska’s premier remote lodges for hiking, floatplane sightseeing, jetboating and fine dining.


Diana Lang of The Cruise People, Ltd. has extensive knowledge of all the Alaska sailings and Cruisetours.  She can be reached at 1-800-268-6523.

The Middle Way – A Return to Medium-Size Ships?

In the head-long rush to build ships that carry 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 people that give cruise lines the economies of scale that allow them to keep fares down, and with a proliferation of small ship deliveries, the medium-size cruise ship has been largely neglected. There will soon be fifty ships above 100,000 tons, of which half a dozen will exceed 150,000 tons and three will be above 200,000 tons.
As the many "Cape" size and Panamax cruise ships have been delivered over recent years, the Handysize fleet has been aging. However, the 2000’s have also shown the first signs of a resurgence in delivery of medium-size ships carrying between 500 and 1,500 passengers.

The Luxury Market
For many years, it was considered that the luxury market could support only relatively small ships, starting with a pair of Sea Goddesses in 1984 at 112 passengers, the first pair of Seabourn ships in 1988 at 212 guests and then the first pair of Silversea ships in 1994 at 296 berths. Even Radisson Seven Seas limited itself to ships of between 160 and 354 berths.
The only exception in the luxury business was Crystal Cruises, formed in 1988 by NYK to build the 940-berth Crystal Harmony, delivered in 1990 (and transferred to parent company NYK in 2005) and sister ship Crystal Symphony in 1995. For many years, while the mainstream lines kept producing larger and larger ships, Crystal offered the main choice for those seeking new ships in the up-to-1,000 berth range.

Renaissance Cruises
Then, in the upper premium market, along came Renaissance Cruises in the late 1990s with plans for eight 684-guest ships for delivery in France between 1998 and 2001 (the latter ships of this series could carry a few more). Unfortunately, Renaissance went out of business in 2001, but the hardware they had created survived. This was not the first group of eight ships Renaissance Cruises had produced, as it had earlier had eight 114-passenger ships built in Italy, backed by Norwegian shipowner Fearnley & Eger.
With the bankruptcy of Renaissance Cruises in 2001, the whole fleet was laid up and for a while a whole string of theses ships could be found laid up one behind the other at the French port of Marseilles, their builders having taken repossession. Eventually, these ships all found new employment and today three each can be found with fledgling Oceania Cruises and veteran operator Princess Cruises, while the remaining two now sail for the newly-formed Azamara Cruises.

Mid-Size Luxury Ships
Meanwhile, there has been a slow resurgence of mid-size vessels. First, in the luxury market, Regent Seven Seas Cruises entered the game. Starting with its 490-berth Seven Seas Navigator in 1999, it then introduced the 732-berth Seven Seas Mariner in 2001 and the 714-berth Seven Seas Voyager in 2003. These were soon followed in 2003 by the Crystal Cruises, with its 1,080-berth Crystal Serenity.
More recently, Apollo Management’s 2007 takeover of both Oceania Cruises in the mid-range and Regent Seven Seas in the upper range has made more funds available for the construction of new medium-size cruise ships. Oceania has ordered two new 1,260-berth ships in Italy for delivery in 2010 and 2011, with an option for a third, and there is speculation that Regent Seven Seas may soon resume its own newbuilding programme.
Elsewhere, Seabourn has ordered two new ships in Italy with an option for a third in the new 450-berth Seabourn Odyssey class, the first two for delivery in 2009 and 2010, and Silversea have ordered a 540-berth vessel, with option for a second, also in Italy, with the first, the Silver Spirit, for delivery in 2009.

The Future?
All very well say some, but these newbuildings, with the exception of those to Oceania, are all for delivery to luxury lines.
Nevertheless, because a number of older medium-size ships are due to be retired in 2010 they will no longer meet Safety of Life at Sea requirements, some European mid-market operators, including Fred Olsen Cruises Lines and Saga in the UK, Club Cruise in the Netherlands, Phoenix Reisen in Germany and Louis and easyCruise, have all investigated the possibility of building new medium-sized cruise ships in yards in France, Italy, Greece and South Korea.
To date, because of restricted credit markets, the only orders placed have been those for Oceania. But the designs exist and there is certainly demand from those that can afford to pay more than most mass-market fares and would prefer to travel in hundreds rather than thousands.
The whole experience in the large new ships is more geared for the young new holiday-maker than the experienced cruiser. Port congestion and crowding alone can be a serious drawback with to-day’s mega-ship crowds. And just like "premium economy" as opposed to "club class" on the airlines, there are many people willing to pay a little bit more but not a whole lot more.
While a return to medium-size ships may seem a bit like a vision of things to come, there is no doubt that it will occur, especially as the world market grows beyond 20 million cruisers and cruisers seek more than that mass-market experience.

(Source: By Mark Tré –