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Alaska Voters Approve Cruise Passenger Head Tax

On August 22, Alaska voters went to the primary polls and voted to impose a $50 per head tax on cruise passengers sailing the state's waters. The vote passed by a margin of 52% to 48%, and will go into effect for 2007.

In detail, the measure would impose a $46 per person, per voyage tax on cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers, to be deposited in the state fund and divvied up between port towns and areas where ships sail but do not berth, such as Prince William Sound and portions of the Inside Passage. The funds, expected to total about $50 million per year, would be used to maintain port infrastructure and emergency services used by cruise passengers. Measures designed to protect state waters and the local fishing industry include a new requirement that cruise ship operators obtain a new type of permit before discharging sewage, graywater, and other wastewater it in state waters, and gather and report more information on these activities. An additional $4 per passenger tax will cover the cost of a new monitoring program by which a state-employed, Coast Guard licensed marine engineer will sail on each ship to observe health, safety, and wastewater treatment and discharge operations.

Additionally, the law will impose several new requirements that will directly affect the cruise lines' profits:

  • A 33% tax on adjusted gross income from onboard casino gambling
  • A requirement that cruise ships disclose the amount of commission they receive on sale of shore excursions provided by shore-side vendors (which means pretty much all shore excursions)
  • A requirement that paid onboard promotions by shore-side businesses carry a notice stating that the promotion is, in effect, paid advertising
  • A provision that Alaska citizens may bring lawsuits against cruise ship owners for violations of environmental statutes and other breaches of permits or performance of duty

In a statement of support for the measure, the organization Responsible Cruising in Alaska noted that "A $50 fee won't make people choose a cruise to New Jersey," and so would not harm Alaska's tourism economy. Predictably, the cruise lines, which lobbied hard against passage, do not agree.

"We are disappointed that the Ballot Initiative 2 has passed as we believe this will inhibit the future growth and expansion of Alaska's tourism business," said Micky Arison, chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation, whose Carnival, Princess, and Holland America brands carry more than half a million passengers to Alaska annually. "The estimates of the impact of these taxes are being made prior to our finalizing deployment, legal, and other business decisions that will need to be considered as a result of this initiative."

Princess Introduces Cruise E-Ticketing

Following the lead of the airline industry, albeit a bit behind, Princess Cruises (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) announced this week that, in an industry first, all cruise tickets purchased through the line will now be delivered electronically rather than by snail mail, giving passengers online access to cruise and itinerary information, special requests, packages and transfers, shore excursion info, and boarding passes soon after they book and pay. Details on air travel booked through the line will be available up to 75 days ahead of sailing, far earlier than the industry average.

"We've been testing eTickets on select groups of passengers for several months now," said January Swartz, the line's senior VP of customer service and sales. "Feedback has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and our customers have told us what a great convenience it is. Giving our passengers their cruise and air details much sooner and, at their fingertips, provides them more control over their final travel arrangements."

The new program will go into effect immediately for most sailings departing on and after November 17. The program currently applies only to bookings from North American passengers. Travelers without Internet access can receive traditional paper tickets by request, and everyone will still receive a mailed package of pre-cruise documents that includes a welcome letter, FAQ book, shore excursion booklet, passage contract, and luggage tags.

Silversea Raises Rates for 2007

Citing increased demand for popular destinations and high-end suites, luxe line Silversea Cruises (tel. 877/215-9986; www.silversea.com) has announced a two-tier price increase for its 2007 voyages.

Effective this week, published fares will increase by 5% for Vista, Veranda, and Midship Veranda suites and by 10% for premium-level Medallion, Silver, Royal, Grand, Rossellini, and Owner's suites. Air Add-ons for many 2007 voyages will also increase. The increases apply only to new bookings made on or after September 7, and select 2007 voyages are exempt from the increase.

Crystal Plans Major Refurbishment for Crystal Symphony

Every ship does a regular dry-dock, making necessary repairs and patching the wear and tear of a typical year's sailings: replacing worn carpets, upholstery, furniture, Decking, etc. Sometimes, these dry-docks go further. This fall, Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) has opted for the platinum treatment for its 1995-vintage Crystal Symphony, planning a two-week, $23 million makeover that will update the vessel's style and amenities. Plans include:

  • A redesign of all staterooms, with the intent to mimic the look of a boutique hotel. New amenities will include Murano glass bedside lamps, Rubelli fabrics, leather headboards, LED reading lights, 20" LCD flat-screen TVs, and reconstructed bathrooms with granite countertops and oval glass sinks.
  • A redesign of the main entertainment Deck, adding new color schemes, a chic new nightclub adjacent to the new Crystal Casino, new boutiques and shops, a new European look for the Bistro Cafe, new computers and wireless access in the Internet center, and a lighting system that creates different moods throughout the day.

The dry-dock will take place at the BAE Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia. Crystal Symphony will return to service November 12 for her scheduled 12-night Panama Canal cruise sailing from Miami to Caldera, Costa Rica.

Carnival to Debut New Shows on Fascination

Confirming that the lag between contemporary and retro is about twenty years, Carnival Cruise Lines (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) is about to debut a production show called "Far From Over: The 80s," featuring music from the decade that gave us leg warmers, big hair, and songs like "Beat It," "Like a Virgin," and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." The show will feature a laser show, stylized period costumes, and sets highlighting oversized 80s iconography.

A second show, "Fiesta Latina," features Latin and Caribbean music organized geographically and thematically, traveling from an old-time Havana nightclub to a Jamaican reggae splash to Brazil's Amazon jungle. Both productions will be featured aboard the 70,367-ton, 2,052-passenger Fascination, which sails year-round three- and four-night cruises from Miami -- short-cruise options that tend to attract many passengers in their 40s, who came of age in the 80s. But will it make them feel 120?

The shows will debut following Fascination's scheduled September dry-dock, during which its 1,300-seat Palace Lounge will be overhauled to accommodate the shows' technical needs, adding a revolving turntable, orchestra pit, and improved lighting and sound.

Peter Deilmann Schedules New Classical River Cruises for 2007

If classical music is more your bag, look to high-end German line Peter Deilmann Cruises (tel. 800/348-8287; www.deilmann-cruises.com), which has just announced two new music-themed cruises for 2007 aboard the 200-passenger Mozart, sailing the Danube River.

Sailing April 15-22 and October 7-14, 2007, each cruise will include onboard concerts by classical soloists and ensembles, performances in Vienna and Budapest, and visits to sites of musical interest on shore. Cruises sail round-trip from the old world town of Passau in Germany's Bavaria region, with stops in Vienna, Dürnstein, Melk, and Grein (Austria), Budapest and Esztergom (Hungary), and Bratislava (Slovakia). In Vienna, passengers will visit the Theatre of Vienna, where Mozart's "The Magic Flute" was first played; St. Stephen's Cathedral, where he married; and Figaro House, where he wrote "The Marriage of Figaro," as well as the State Opera House and the Museum of Musical Instruments in Vienna's Hofburg Palace. In Budapest, passengers will attend an evening performance at the Hungarian State Opera House.

Rates start at $1,800 per person for an outside double, including transfers and onboard musical performances. All shore excursions, including performances in Vienna and Budapest, are included in an optional package priced at $325 per person. Guests may also sign up for an optional two-night post-cruise package to Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, priced at $490 per person and including accommodations, a half-day city sightseeing tour, and a chamber orchestra concert with dinner at the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Like other Deilmann river ships, Mozart employs English-speaking crew and follows a non-smoking policy everywhere on board except the open decks and one area of the lounge.

Royal Caribbean to Buy Spain's Pullmantur S.A.

The latest episode in the decade-long consolidation of the cruise industry under dominant players Carnival and Royal Caribbean takes place in Spain, where Royal Caribbean has just announced the purchase of Pullmantur S.A., the country's largest cruise operator, for 430 million euro plus assumption of Pullmantur's outstanding debt.

"Pullmantur offers a terrific strategic opportunity for Royal Caribbean to further grow our presence in the European and Latin American markets in a major and tangible way," said Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain. "We have made significant inroads into these regions through our Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises brands, and this combination will allow us to accelerate our growth in these markets. Pullmantur will remain an independent brand under the Royal Caribbean umbrella, keeping its distinctive and successful customer experience."

To comply with U.S. laws, the deal will force Pullmantur to drop its port calls to Havana, Cuba, a popular stop on its western Caribbean sailings.

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