- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

Unless you have plenty of time to spare, don’t ask anyone in the cruise industry, “What’s new?” Since 1980, the industry has enjoyed an annual growth rate of about 8 percent. This always-growing part of the travel business greets the new year, as it has for the past decade or so, with new ports, new vessels and a variety of new on-board programs designed to intrigue passengers and keep them coming back while also attracting more first-time cruisers.

After September 11, cruise lines focused largely on “home ports” — sailing from Charleston, S.C.; Baltimore; Tampa, Fla.; Philadelphia; Houston; and several cities in California, to name just a few. This enabled many passengers to enjoy the comfort and economic advantage of forgoing airports and airplanes by driving directly to the port to board a ship. It worked. Thousands of passengers did just that.

Estimates are that 10 million passengers went on cruises in 2004, including many who drove to home ports to sail. But the times, they are a-changin’, and travelers are seeking to expand their horizons. Cruise lines have scheduled itineraries that will help them do just that.

While the home-port advantage remains valid, visits to exotic and historic ports of call are attracting passengers who have sailed the Caribbean a dozen times and to whom the Mediterranean or the Baltic are no longer interesting or appealing.

Think about exotic Tibet or Libya or Tunisia on your itinerary, and you have a concept of 2005’s hot new destinations. This year, Holland America will deploy ships to all seven continents.

Whether small boutique lines with a few deluxe ships or a mass-market product with 19 or 20 vessels accommodating 2,000 or more passengers each, the cruise industry continues to offer something new under the sun.

DESTINATIONS

Silversea is offering three new Beirut itineraries this year. The first also will call in Syria and Libya, mostly untapped travel areas holding great appeal for adventurous guests seeking unique and unconventional destinations.

The Oceania and Holland America lines are visiting Libya and Morocco, and Carnival Cruise Lines will sail European waters for the first time, offering round-trip Rome itineraries on the new Liberty and calling at Naples and Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Barcelona; and Cannes, France.

This year, Crystal Cruises will offer excursions to Tibet, the Himalayas and to Xi’an, China, site of the terra-cotta warriors, as well as to exotic-sounding ports such as Nessebur, Bulgaria, and the Seno Eyre Fjord in Chile.

Disney Cruise Line for the first time is moving the Disney Magic from Port Canaveral, Fla., to California for 12 seven-night summer sailings between May 28 and Aug. 19 from the port of Los Angeles to destinations in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.

Holland America recently pumped millions of dollars into its Bahamian island, Half Moon Cay. At Half Moon, guests can ride horseback, then go swimming with the horses — or swim with stingrays — or just enjoy a barbecue on the beach, newly replenished after two hurricanes decimated the shore last year. Plans call for increasing water-park activities for young children and adding additional programs for teens, including three exciting new water slides. The only totally Bahamian-managed cruise-ship island, Half Moon Cay was leased in 1997 from the government of the Bahamas for 99 years.

For Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, 2005 will be the year of the long cruise. Guests can choose from a 108-night full-globe circumnavigation to a 56-night round-trip Top of the World adventure to a 93-night Grand Circle South Pacific voyage.

NEW SHIPS

In 2004, new deliveries included Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, Caribbean Princess and Sapphire Princess; Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s MSC Opera; Holland America’s Westerdam; Royal Caribbean International’s Jewel of the Seas; Birka Line’s Birka Paradise; Costa Cruises’ Costa Magica, and Carnival’s Carnival Valor.

Ships set to debut in 2005 are Cunard’s Queen Victoria, Carnival’s Liberty and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America and Norwegian Jewel.

Next year, look for the new Noordam from Holland America; Caribbean Princess 2 from Princess; Royal Caribbean’s Ultra Voyager 1; Costa’s Concordia; and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Hawaii, the line’s third U.S-flagged and U.S.-crewed vessel.

Oceania Cruises will introduce a third ship, the Nautica, to sail in late November from Athens to the Far East. Nautica will join the Regatta and Insignia in the new cruise line’s fleet.

In one case, an existing vessel is getting a monthlong face-lift and addition.

“In 2005,” says Daniel Hanrahan, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president for marketing and sales, “Royal Caribbean will be reintroducing Enchantment of the Seas, which will be completely renovated as well as lengthened with a new 73-foot midbody insert in the spring.

“We are using the additional space to introduce a series of new features, including bungee trampolines and an interactive Splash Deck for kids, as well as giving Enchantment some of our newest entertainment and lounge concepts, such as the popular Boleros Latin lounge. We are also looking forward to revealing more about the exciting activities and attractions to appear on our next ship, Freedom of the Seas, which will debut in spring 2006.”

ON-BOARD PROGRAMS

In the luxury market, where Crystal Cruises’ six-star Crystal Harmony, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity helped garner the title of top luxury line from several industry magazines and organizations, a new twist on a time-honored custom finds captains and officers posing for the classic welcome picture without shaking hands. In the interest of avoiding the spread of germs, signs request passengers not to extend a hand to the ship’s master.

These signs of the times have been in effect since early 2003, when outbreaks of the Norwalk virus afflicted passengers on many vessels. Crystal has not had an incident of the disease and implemented disinfectant hand washes before each embarkation. A recent U.S. Public Health Inspection netted the Serenity a score of 100.

Another well-received development is the increased number of courses offered in Crystal’s fleetwide Creative Learning Institute, in which guests can:

• Learn to speak another language through a Berlitz program.

• Discuss innovations in medicine with doctors representing the Cleveland Clinic.

• Learn to play a piano by the Yamaha method.

The institute, far from the days of traditional cruise-ship fare such as bingo and cha-cha lessons, is geared to make cruising more intellectually stimulating.

Well-designed state-of-the-art learning laboratories offer a complete series of seminars as opposed to individual lectures and lead to the institute’s certificates of completion. Classes taken on board can be carried through to additional at-home studies.

Also in the luxury market, Silversea will stress its Italian heritage beginning this year. Actress-model Isabella Rossellini will be the Silversea’s first-ever ambassador and will appear in print ads and brochures.

She will customize and refurbish a suite on each Silversea ship, and that deluxe suite will be renamed in her honor.

Italian firms will be highlighted on each Silversea vessel. They include Lora Piano, a very upscale Italian clothier, Acqua di Parma, an Italian fragrance house; FAI — Fondo per L’Ambiente Italiano — a preservation society for Italy’s architectural and cultural treasures; and Italian Factory, an art house.

Viking Range, the kitchen-appliance firm, will outfit cooking demonstrations hosted by chefs from members of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux association of inns, hotels and restaurants, on Silversea’s Culinary Cruises.

Holland America’s new program — already in place on the Ryndam — is what the line calls “Signature of Excellence.” The line spent $225 million to focus on the enrichment program, which includes a Culinary Arts Center with a state-of-the-art show kitchen, a hub for interactive gourmet experiences, and Explorations Cafe, a comfortable living-room area where guests can enjoy coffee, browse through an extensive library or listen to music.

Other areas of emphasis are on fine linens, robes in all cabins, and replacing existing television sets with ones that also are DVD players. Work will be completed by the end of 2006 on all 13 Holland America ships.

“Alternative dining” is a phrase often heard in 21st-century cruise-industry hyperbole. Once two dining sittings, one at about 6:30 p.m. and another at 8:30, meant that’s when you were fed, but today’s ships offer a variety of alternatives.

The concept may have begun years ago on the former Vistafjord, an old Cunard ship where a space in the back of the vessel served elegant dinners a few nights a week. Along came Crystal Cruises in the early ‘90s offering an upscale Japanese eatery as well as an Italian restaurant. Now some ships offer more than half a dozen alternatives, and a casual bistro menu is often available evenings on the Lido Deck. Smaller cruise lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, Windstar and Radisson offer open seating, and guests can dine anytime from 7 to 9 p.m.

ALSO NEW AND NOTABLE

Many ships are requesting passengers to use an antibacterial solution to cleanse hands before boarding or reboarding ships and offer large bottles of the solution at embarkation.

Carnival Cruises announced in November that it would work with the Cousteau Society to restore the Calypso, the famous research and expedition vessel of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Plans are for the Calypso to become an exhibit and center for science and the environment. The estimated $1.3 million restoration of the ship will be done at Grand Bahama in the Bahamas. The vessel’s new location is to be announced by the end of the year.

Crystal Cruises recently introduced a “pillow menu,” which offers passengers a choice of four types of pillows: soft, fluffy down, therapeutic and hypoallergenic. Crystal also announced a series of seven “kids sail free” cruises to Alaska in summer for youngsters younger than 12 who share a cabin with their parents.

Princess Cruises began its Movies Under the Stars program on the Caribbean Princess last year, and the popular program has just been installed on the Grand Princess. The screen is a Times Square-style LED installed near Neptune’s Pool.

Disney Magic is offering “Pirates in the Caribbean,” transforming passengers into pirates for the evening with a special menu and activities.

On-board spa programs have taken pampering to the high seas, adding such elegant touches as thermal suites and a variety of innovative massages and facials.

Famous chefs and their recipe books and kitchen techniques are all at sea. These include Jacques Pepin at Oceania, Michel Roux at Celebrity, Wolfgang Puck and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa at Crystal, Rudi Sodomin at Holland America, and former White House chef Henry Haller at Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The bar, an evergreen on cruise ships for before-dinner cocktails and after-dinner drinks, has taken on new personalities on cruise ships. Instead of a traditional bar, today’s watering holes may be dubbed champagne, martini, wine or cigar bars; feature wide screens and a sports-bar motif; or be the always-popular piano bar.

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