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10.5 Million Cruising Fans Can't Be Wrong

Usually when cruises are mentioned in the mainstream media, it's bad news: engine problems, an outbreak of stomach virus, or an encounter with a badly placed sandbar. Earlier this month, though, the cruise biz made a lot of headlines just for making money.

Seems a lot of you people took cruises last year -- about 10.5 million of you, and that's only counting the nineteen member lines of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry marketing group. That's a jump of almost a million over the previous year, continuing a trend that's been building since 1996. Let's look at the numbers:

  • 1994: 4,448,000
  • 1995: 4,378,000
  • 1996: 4,656,000
  • 1997: 5,051,000
  • 1998: 5,428,000
  • 1999: 5,894,000
  • 2000: 6,882,000
  • 2001: 6,906,000
  • 2002: 7,640,000
  • 2003: 8,195,000
  • 2004: 10,461,000

The numbers for 2005 seem to be trending upward as well, with the group predicting a total of over 11 million by year's end. "Bookings for 2005 are coming in at a fast and furious pace, far in advance of departure dates," said CLIA president and CEO Terry L. Dale.

Charlie Funk, co-owner of Nashville-based travel agency Just Cruisin' Plus, says this is translating to higher prices for vacationers. "Even adjusted for inflation, demand for certain ships and itineraries has driven prices above 1993-94 levels. Demand is even high for new ships not scheduled to enter service until the second quarter of 2006."

What's it mean for you? Cruises are still affordable, but industry sources say rates are about 8% higher in the Caribbean than they've been in the past year or two, and are some 10% higher in Alaska. Mike Driscoll, editor of industry bible Cruise Week, says you can expect to pay roughly $100 more, probably several hundred more, for a cruise this year versus two or three years ago. "Barring some geopolitical catastrophe, I see prices heading up and stabilizing," he says. "Last minute shoppers will not be rewarded with bargains like they have been for the past five years."

Adds Funk, "If the cruise industry grows at even half the 20 year historic average, it's easy to envision a scenario similar to that of the mid-80s and early 90s, when people who didn't book a year in advance didn't go."

Changes at the Top for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity

This week, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent company of Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.royalcaribbean.com) and Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebrity.com), announced that longtime president and COO Jack Williams will be stepping down by June 30. Current RCI executive vice president Adam Goldstein will step into the presidency of Royal Caribbean, while marketing and sales VP Dan Hanrahan will take over at Celebrity.

Williams has headed both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity since 2001, following the departure of Celebrity's last dedicated president, Richard Sasso, now of MSC Cruises.

Princess to Debut First New York Caribbean Sailings

New York has become a hot port of embarkation over the past two years, beginning with Norwegian Cruise Line's 2003 decision to base Norwegian Dawn in the Apple year-round. Since then Carnival and Holland America have begun offering round-trip Caribbean and Bahamas sailings, Royal Caribbean has built a new pier facility across the Hudson in New Jersey, and the city is planning yet another cruise terminal in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook.

Now we can add Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS; www.princess.com) to the New York list. Last week the line announced that its new 116,000-ton Crown Princess will sail its inaugural season from New York June 14 through October 18, 2006, following its debut in May. The 9-night sailings will be Princess's first-ever round-trip New York -- Caribbean offerings, visiting Bermuda (West End), San Juan, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos) on eastern Caribbean routes and Port Canaveral, Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, and Grand Turk on western Caribbean routes. The itineraries mark Princess's first calls in Bermuda since 2002. In Grand Turk, Crown Princess will be one of the first ships to call upon the completion of the island's new cruise terminal. Calls to Port Canaveral will enable passengers to explore the nearby Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach's beaches.

Like near-sister Caribbean Princess, Crown Princess will offer feature films on a giant outdoor screen and serve Caribbean snacks from the Café Caribe buffet. New attractions include more dining venues (an international cafe, a wine and seafood bar, pub fare in the Wheelhouse Bar, and a steak and seafood house) and a "piazza-style" atrium that the line describes as having a street cafe environment.

NCL Adds High-Tech TVs to Pride of America

When Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America debuts in July, her cabins will be outfitted with interactive digital TVs from which passengers may preview shore excursions, onboard activities, and onboard shows; view port information and restaurant menus; book shore excursions and order room service; request wake-up calls; listen to music; order movies on demand; and send and receive e-mail, all via their remote control and a wireless keyboard.

Pride of America is the second ship in NCL's Hawaii-oriented NCL America sub-brand (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com), and will be the first all-new U.S.- flagged cruise ship built in five decades.

Cruise West to Sail Cruises East

Family-owned Cruise West (tel. 800/426-7702; www.cruisewest.com) is one of America's premier largest small-ship lines, offering cruises in Alaska, British Columbia, the Columbia and Snake rivers, the California Wine Country, the Baja Peninsula/Sea of Cortez, and Central America on a fleet of small coastal cruisers. Most of its itineraries are port-to-port and geared to older, well-traveled, intellectually curious passengers, but since its 2001 acquisition of the deep-water Spirit of Oceanus, it's been expanding into more distant itineraries, such as the Russian Far East and far-west Alaska.

This month, the line finally announced Oceanus's 2006 itineraries, which will take it across the Pacific to Japan and Polynesia.

  • The odyssey begins December 20, 2005, with Oceanus's 13-night Holidays in Paradise voyage, on which CW chairman and CEO Richard West and his family will sail as hosts, beginning in Honolulu and sailing to Papeete, Tahiti, with visits to Huahine, Bora Bora, and Vostok Island in the Kiribati Republic. Prices start at $4,949 per person.
  • The 11-night Island Sanctuaries itinerary sails January 1, 11, and 21, 2006, round-trip from Papeete, visiting the Society, Tuamotu, and Marquesas islands. Prices start at $4,149 per person.
  • The 13-night Pearls of Polynesia voyage sails from Papeete to Fiji, February 4, 2006, exploring rainforests, coral reefs, and spectacular waterfalls through the Fiji Islands, Cook Islands, and Society Islands. Prices start at $5,149.
  • The 18-night Legends of the Pacific cruise, sailing Fiji to Guam beginning February 16, 2006, combines visits to Pacific-theater World War II sites with nature and cultural exploration. Prices start at $5,999.
  • From the South Pacific, Oceanus sails north to Japan for twelve 13- night cruises, visiting Kobe, Okayama, Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Beppu, Nagasaki, Hagi, Izumo Taisha, Matsue, Anchor off Izumo for a visit to Izumo Taisha, Japan's oldest and largest Shinto shrine. Be greeted by local dancers as we enter Matsue to tour the famous wooden Matsue Castle and the Hearn Museum, dedicated to Lafcadio Hearn, a distinguished author who introduced Japan to the rest of the world. BLD
  • Kanazawa, Niigata, and Tokyo, with sailing time on Japan's Inland Sea and a side- trip to Pusan and Kyongju, South Korea. Prices start at $5,349 per person. If booked and paid in full nine months prior to departure, guests can save up to $800 per person.

A Frommer's rated five-star vessel, Spirit of Oceanus was built in 1991 as Renaissance V, one of the original ships of now-defunct Renaissance Cruises. She sailed briefly for Star Cruises before Cruise West bought and refurbished her in 2001. Today, she's the line's largest and most luxurious ship, with more public rooms, a small gym, an elevator, and even a hot tub on the top deck. Her décor is more private yacht than cruise ship, with corridors and cabins paneled in glossy wood-look paneling studded with gleaming brasswork, and her cabins are absolutely massive for a small ship, with most measuring in at 215 -- 250 square feet.

Extreme Excursions & Explorations of Jewish History Mark Crystal's Summer Cruises

Forget bus tours and snorkeling. In Europe this summer luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 866/446-6625; www.crystalcruises.com) is offering excursions and add- on tours that delve deep into history and fly high into the stratosphere. Offered April to October on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity's 7- to 12-night Baltic, Mediterranean, British Isles, North Cape, and Black Sea cruises, adventures include:

  • A 2-night overland excursion to Moscow, with a visit to the KGB Museum and an overnight return to St. Petersburg aboard the luxurious Nikolaevsky Express train
  • A high-speed sailing adventure in a state-of-the-art V.O.60 Volvo professional ocean racer (from Warnemünde)
  • Tours of the Amalfi Coast by helicopter or private motor launch, highlighted by lunch on the Isle of Capri (from Sorrento)
  • Helicopter or hot-air balloon flightseeing over Dublin, Ireland, and Tallinn, Estonia; and
  • An intimate tour of Italy's Veneto Valley for exclusive wine tastings and meals at the Villa Monteleone and Villa Spinosa (from Venice)

Fares for Crystal's Baltic sailings start at $3,995; Mediterranean fares start at $1,795; British Isles fares start at $4,295; North Cape fares start at $4,495; and Black Sea fares start at $4,915. Add-on costs run from $500 to explore the underwater ancient Roman ruins of Baia to $13,500 for a flight aboard a Russian MiG fighter.

In addition, several Crystal Adventures focusing on Jewish points of interest are available on more than half of the line's European itineraries, including:

  • A 2-night visit to Krakow and Auschwitz, revealing the area's tragic history as well as its historic neighborhoods and monuments(from St. Petersburg)
  • A full-day exploration devoted to the history of Gdansk, and the much briefer, but all the more poignant story of Nazi occupation as told by the Stutthof concentration camp (from Gdansk)
  • A tour of Dublin's Jewish landmarks, includes the Irish Jewish Museum, the Ireland Courts of Justice, and the Jewish cemetery, dating from the early 1700s (from Dublin)
  • A walking tour of Venice's historic Jewish Ghetto, including visits to two local synagogues (from Venice)
  • A visit to Sachsenhausen, one of the Nazis' first concentration camps, and its new visitors' center, opened in 2004 (from Warnemünde); and
  • A tour of Berlin's Old Jewish Quarter and the Centrum Judaicum, including visits to the new Holocaust Memorial, the Jewish Museum, and the New Synagogue (from Warnemünde)

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