The 10 Big Trends in Cruise Ship Vacations
The use of more American ports, additional costs while at sea, the growth of discounters, and more
As spelled out above, many cruise lines post-9/11 have adjusted their itineraries allowing more ships to depart from drive-friendly ports such as New York, Boston, Mobile, New Orleans, and Galveston, to accommodate travelers preferring not to fly. It make take longer to get the more popular cruise destinations, but the cruise lines have tapped into an eager market who'd rather drive over fly before hopping aboard a ship.
4. The rebirth of the passenger-carrying freighter
There's yet another cruise alternative. Having all but disappeared about a decade ago, freighter sailings have made a remarkable comeback and are now available on no fewer than forty vessels going to all inhabited areas of the world. The reason: Increasing computerization of freighter operation has lessened the need for crew and made their cabins available for passengers, at rates that can run as low as $80 a day per person, but more usually hover around $100 to $110. For a totally comprehensive list of all such ships, their dates of departure, prices, and destinations, contact Freighter World Cruises, Inc., (180 South Lake Avenue, Suite 335, Pasadena, CA 91101, 626/449-3106 or 800/531-7774, Web: freighterworld.com).
5. The "explosion" of itineraries
Time was (and not that many years ago) when nearly all cruise ships went to Bermuda and the Bahamas in winter, and to the Caribbean in summer. Then came the discovery--probably by a junior cruiseline employee--that it costs no more to operate ships in other seas of the world; only the airfare for getting there rises by a relatively insignificant amount. And thus it came about that cruiselines today, in their fierce competitive struggle, vie with one another in offering exotic cruise destinations for not much more than they charge for the standard one-weeker to St. Thomas/St. Croix/St. Kitts. Southeast Asia is coming on strong (four lines now cruise there), as are cruises to the lengthy coastlines of Africa and India, the Antarctic, South America and the South Seas. Europe's Mediterranean has returned to popularity, but this time supplemented by cruises of the North and Baltic Seas, especially to port cities of Eastern Europe. If you've "had it" with steel bands, straw hat souvenirs, and tours of the "Governor's Mansion"--the staple of Caribbean cruising--you now have countless cruise alternatives to areas far less heavily touristed.
6. The boom in "theme cruises"
Along with this expansion in itineraries has come a vastly greater schedule of activities at sea, almost always at no extra charge to the basic tariff. Movies have been joined by full-scale stage shows; ocean skeet shooting now takes a rear seat to spa-style aerobics and yoga meditation; and "theme" cruises--extra heavy attention to styles of music, historical periods, food specialties, murder-mystery, square dancing, lectures by athletes, chefs, poets, and inspirational psychologists--are numbered in the dozens. Another popular theme cruise in recent times, even though it carries an extra fee? Sailings for spouses of either sex who really don't enjoy cruises, and therefore spend their time on board learning computer software programs.
7. The bonanza of wind-driven cruises
Low-cost cruising (a current average of $110 to $150 a day per person) with 80-or-so other passengers in a sail-powered "tall ship" was the breakthrough idea of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises in the early 1960s; it presently operates seven 200-to-230-foot ships. When competition arrived in the late 1980s, it took the form of high-priced and extremely elegant ships (upwards of $350 and $400 a day per person). Wonder of wonders, a mid-priced line ($200 to $225 a day, on average) operating the Star Clipper and Star Flyer has recently emerged on the scene for unpretentious people who nevertheless crave the creature comforts that Windjammer doesn't always provide. Here's the beginning of what may become a major segment of the cruiseship industry, best analyzed by phoning "Star Clippers" at 800/442-0551 or go online to starclippers.com for literature.
8. The "slightly longer" cruise
The length of the voyage is also undergoing change. After years of almost exclusively operating 3-night, 4-night and 7-night cruises some lines are clearly moving toward a 10-night and 11-night pattern, at prices that capitalize on the obvious economies involved in such a step (for one thing, air fare to the embarkation point is amortized over more days). The now defunct Fantasy Cruises was among the first to experiment in 10- and 11-nighters followed by its sister company Celebrity Cruises whose Mercury, Galaxy and Zenith periodically traverse the Panama Canal and surrounding areas on 14- and 15-night stints (the line's Horizon also takes 10- and 11-night sails through the Caribbean in Spring). For that matter, the number of four- and five-night cruises has also increased over the past two years, so overall there is more of a variety out there in terms of cruise length than in the past.