River cruising is finding its niche as an alternative to mainstream cruises and megaships. Cruise lines are thinking twice about port calls in Mazatlan, Mexico. And a new port is due to open in Jamaica soon.
Those are some headlines from the cruise industry for 2011. Here are some details on what's new in bookings, launchings and other cruise trends for the coming year.
BOOKING TRENDS: Travelocity's year-over-year data on cruise prices shows that overall, consumers should be prepared to pay a little more to cruise this year than last. In 2009, the average price per person for a seven-night Caribbean cruise on Travelocity was $922. The average price for a similar trip dropped to $844 last year, but is back up to $874 for the coming year.
Luxury cruising, meanwhile, has become a little more affordable, with more deals being offered by high-end lines. For example, for 2011 bookings, Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes free overnight accommodations at deluxe hotels before every European cruise.
Booking windows for cruises are not expected to change this year compared to last, with consumers on average reserving cruises about 5.8 months in advance, up from 4.5 months in 2009, according to a survey of more than 500 travel agents conducted by the Cruise Lines International Association. CLIA represents 25 cruise lines, including major brands such as Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard,
CLIA's statistics also show that cruising continues to grow in popularity, with 15 million guests taking trips on its member lines in 2010, up from 13.4 million in 2009. CLIA's forecast for 2011 is 16 million cruise passengers, with 11.68 million North American guests and the rest international.
New ships: Fourteen ships are new to the CLIA fleet this year, including the just-launched Disney Dream, already attracting praise for technology and design features such as a water coaster and virtual portholes, which stream video of sea and sky to windowless staterooms. Also getting attention is its specialty restaurant, the Remy, which charges $75 for meals. While many ships now feature fees for special meals, typically the cost is $25 or $30. CruiseCritic.com editor-in-chief Carolyn Spencer Brown said $75 is "the highest" such fee on any ship.
Also just launched is the 1,250-passenger Oceania Marina, which arrived Feb. 4 in Miami. Paul Motter, editor of CruiseMates.com, said Marina sounds "impressive," with "the largest staterooms at sea on average, 10 dining venues largely coordinated by culinary icon Jacques Pepin, a spa by Canyon Ranch," and furnishings in owners' suites by Ralph Lauren Home.
Spencer Brown said the Marina will help carve out a new category of ships, which she described as "less expensive than high-end luxury cruising, but more upscale than a mainstream cruise, with smaller ships." Ten- to 19-night sailings on the Marina in Europe and the Caribbean start at $1,499 a person.
May will see the launch of Carnival Magic, a 3,690-passenger ship sailing the Mediterranean through October and sailing after that out of Galveston, Texas, to the Caribbean. Highlights include an extensive aqua park called WaterWorks and a pub with a private label beer brewed just for Carnival, ThirstyFrog Red.
Celebrity Silhouette, with room for 2,866 passengers and a July inaugural cruise, will offer an outdoor interactive grill restaurant; a space called The Hideaway, described as "a high-tech avant-garde treehouse-like spot" for relaxing with an iPad or a book; and a studio area that offers both art and culinary-themed instruction.
RIVER CRUISING: River cruises carry about 300,000 people a year, according to Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. That's just a fraction of the passengers that take mainstream cruises, but the industry has been growing about 10 percent a year since 2003, Clark said, with Avalon's growth higher, at 50 percent.
The appeal of the river ships, in part, is an experience that's completely different from a modern megaship. "It's gourmet-oriented, good service, nice accommodations," said Motter, of CruiseMates.com. Instead of thousands of passengers, there might be a mere 150. And while mainstream cruises charge for excursions or activities in port, on European river cruises, excursions are included in the price, and might range from a walking tour of a small village to a cultural experience in Vienna to sightseeing in the south of France.
"They're fun; you get to know everybody," said Heidi Allison-Shane, spokeswoman for CruiseCompete.com. "On some trips, you can even rent a bike in port and meet the ship at the next port." One itinerary CruiseCompete.com is offering for 2011 is a "Christmas market" river cruise on Ama Waterways, with holiday shopping stops in places such as Vienna and Nuremberg, Germany.
Motter added that "a whole new breed of river cruise boats has been built since 2005 and they are more beautiful than ever." Older river boats "rarely had windows that opened," but today's river boats may have sliding glass doors that bring in fresh air, he said. All of Avalon's rooms offer French balconies; a sample fare on Avalon's seven-night Rhine cruise in April runs $2,300-$2,500, per person, double occupancy.
MAZATLAN: Disney Cruise Line has become the latest cruise line to shift its Mexican itinerary because of concerns about violence, saying that its seven-night Mexican Riviera trips no longer will stop in Mazatlan. Holland America also canceled a port call in late January in Mazatlan "in response to recent incidents of violence," the cruise line said in a statement, although it made no commitment either way for the future.
Bob Sharak, executive vice president of marketing for CLIA, said that while some ships have pulled out of Mexico's west coast altogether, other Mexican destinations -- such as Cozumel in the Yucatan -- remain popular for port calls.
Mazatlan, a picturesque Pacific port city, is in northern Sinaloa state, considered the cradle of Mexico's most powerful drug cartel. It's been considered safer than the rest of Sinaloa, but has been battered by occasional bouts of drug-related violence. Several minor crimes -- muggings and thefts -- were reported recently near the port, according to a report in Seatrade Insider.
NEW TERMINALS: Falmouth, Jamaica's new port, is scheduled to open in late February. The town is between the popular resort cities of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, and its port will accommodate megaships such as Royal Caribbean's massive 6,300-passenger Oasis of the Seas.
San Diego is also home to a new terminal that opened in December and is designed to accommodate large new ships, unlike the city's original terminal. But the opening of the new terminal comes at a time when departures to Mexico from Southern California are declining, so the port district expects half as many passengers this year as last.
Philadelphia's cruise terminal, meanwhile, is closing, with just two ships expected to call in 2011.
ALASKA: Cruise visits to Alaska are on the rise. Among the ships joining the Alaska market will be Disney Wonder, which plans 18 seven-night cruises from Vancouver, Canada, beginning May 3. "Disney going into Alaska is huge," said Spencer Brown of CruiseCritic.com. "It gives Alaska a real shot in the arm."