Although we are still in a recession with rather high unemployment, the cruise and tour industry has been able to survive with discounted cruises and hotels and other gimmicks. The bottom line for the companies is less profit and rather full ships and tours. A third of cruise line profits come from onboard ship purchases for extras such as shopping, shore tours, liquor, gambling and extra priced dining opportunities. The ships have pretty much remained quite full during this period and a few cruise lines have decided to build new vessels.
First, let’s talk about two paddle wheel riverboats coming on line which will cruise the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers later this year. American Cruise Lines will begin river cruises in the brand new Queen of the Mississippi Aug. 11. Another totally rebuilt vessel begins in April, operated by the Great American Steamboat Company. It will carry more than 400 passengers and is named the Great American Queen. River cruising is one of the most pleasant forms of vacation. Riverboats on the Mississippi have been missing for several years. This year will be a new beginning.
There are plans to launch eight new ocean-going ships this year. The first will be Disney Cruise Lines’ 2,500-passenger Disney Fantasy in March. Upscale Oceania Cruises will launch its 1,258-passenger Riviera in April, which will be the sister ship to the Marina. Costa Cruises will welcome the new Costa Fascinosa in May, it will carry 3,000 passengers and the German cruise line AIDA begins operating the AIDAmar for 2,174 guests in May.
Mediterranean Shipping Company, MSC, welcomes its new 3,478-passenger MSC Divina in June and Carnival Cruise Lines takes delivery of the Carnival Breeze, which will carry 3,690 guests.
Celebrity Cruises begins sailing its new Celebrity Reflection for 3,030 passengers in November.
Many wonder how the cruise lines will fill all the new and existing cruise ships, but with price-saving fares, I am confident they will do so.
One thing that cruise ships can do if bookings go flat is to reposition to other cruise itineraries. Hotels, of course, can’t do this. All they can do is allocate more money for advertising and discount rooms and perhaps add free air from select U.S. cities. Now, fully one-third of the cruise lines’ target market has taken at least one cruise. And, once these people have taken a cruise, 95 percent want to return for another cruise within three years. People continue to realize a cruise as the best vacation value in the market today since the cruise fare includes your room, meals, entertainment and more.
Four new cruise ships are scheduled for launch in 2013 and four in 2014 and even more are on order from the shipyards for delivery in 2015 and beyond. This is no small order since a cruise ship today costs anywhere from $500 million on up to build. Most of the new builds are constructed in Europe and Japan.
There are some interesting cruises and tours available this year. If you don’t wish to fly on vacation, here is one that may interest you if your pocketbook can afford it. Holland American Line is offering Europe on a leisurely sailing through 25 centuries of history and 14 countries — without a single flight. The 890-passenger Prinsendam departs March 12 from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. for the 62-day voyage. The itinerary will allow plenty of time to become acquainted with fellow passengers and to take in many shows at night. There will be lectures about various subjects as well as time to take in movies aboard ship and read a few books.
The only thing you will have to watch is diet. It’s so easy to gain weight on a long cruise. I took a 64-day cruise a few years ago and only allowed desserts one day per week. It worked.
The Prinsendam will stop at Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, Seville, Cartagena, Spain, Melilla, Morocco, Tunis, Tunisia, Valletta, Malta, Gozo, Malta, Kusadasi for Ephesus, Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey, Constanta, Romania, Odesa, Ukraine, Piraeus (Athens), Greece, Argostli, Greece, Durres, Albania, Korcula, Croatia, Venice, Taromina, Sorrento, Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, Saint-Raphael, Sete, France, Barcelona, Spain, Castellon de las Plana, Malaga, (Granada) Spain, Tangier, Morocco, Lisbon, Portugal then Ponta Delgado and Horta, Azores and return to Ft. Lauderdale May 13. Fares begin at $12,999 per person, plus insurance, tipping, travel to Florida and so on for 62 days of sheer pleasure and excitement and no air travel.
Holland America Line will also be sending their Amsterdam on a 75-day adventure from Seattle, departing Sept. 21, crossing the Pacific to Japan with several stops, then go to South Korea, several ports in China, Vietnam, Singapore and Java, Indonesia, plus two other stops, then to Komodo Island for a look at the famed Komodo Dragons, Port Morsby, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia with several stops and on to Fiji, Samoa, three islands in Hawaii and home, docking at San Diego Dec. 5, just in time for the holidays. Fares begin at $13,699 for the full 75-day voyage.
I have noticed in the past couple of years that a few cruise lines are adding more long cruises to their yearly offerings. They are marketed for guests to take the entire length or to book two- to four-week sections. If you are thinking of taking a long, expensive trip, I strongly suggest using a travel agent. It will cost you probably nothing and they know the latest travel deals and will have a supply of brochures to give you.
A simpler, less time-intensive vacation might be a grand tour of France. Many Americans today choose only one country to visit overseas at a time. With airfares increasing, it becomes more expensive to do only one country, but you may only have two or three weeks to travel this year. Grand European Tours are offering a very fine France itinerary for 16 days and priced at $4,019 per person for land only. Air fare and insurance will be extra, plus meals that are not included, etc.
The tour begins in Paris after an overnight flight. You will be met on arrival at the airport and transferred to your hotel. After checking in, you will have the balance of the day at leisure. After an overnight flight, I try not to sleep until the next evening. It helps me get adjusted to the new time. Have lunch, take a walk and do some snooping before having dinner. This is where you will meet other tour members along with your tour conductor.
Paris is one of the best walking cities in the world and as you turn the corner there is usually something interesting to view. Each neighborhood has its own charm and you will enjoy free time on your own here.
The next day you will be taken down the Champs-Elysees to view the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde and the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame. Then enter the famed Louvre Museum to see its masterpieces including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. This night you will be taken to an exciting Parisian Cabaret with French CanCan dancing.
This is followed by a free day in Paris. I suggest you walk down the Champs-Eleysees to visit one of some 90 museums. You can shop for paintings at the Montmartre, enjoy a coffee in a sidewalk café (there are many) and perhaps book a tour to nearby Palace of Versailles in the afternoon.
Next, the tour heads to Giverny to visit Claude Monet’s house and beautiful gardens, and stop for a view of Joan of Arc’s Rouen, then continues to the hotel in Normandy for a relaxing two-night stay. Here, you can rediscover the history of the D-Day Landings as you hear a special lecture from a local resident.
Next day, visit the Benedictine monastery from the 13th Century, Mont St. Michel. During high tide it appears to be an island. It was started in the 7th Century. The tour will stop in the heart of the Loire Valley for a night’s rest.
A tour of the gardens in the area follows, as well as Villandry and impressive Chateau d’Amboise where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years and was buried.
Next morning there is a little time to explore the area, then to Avignon plus Nice and return to Paris by TGV train. You will have another day in Paris before your flight home.
France is one of the most interesting countries you can visit. Try it, you’ll see. Grand European Tours may be reached by calling (503) 718-2262.