When cruise ships come to town, civic leaders rejoice. The floating resorts bring with them jobs and tourism dollars that might be otherwise elusive. In May, Baltimore, Maryland, welcomed Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to town with gusto, as the state’s governor named May 13 Royal Caribbean Cruise Day. But the hoopla of that new cruise ship in town was short lived when just days later, the ship caught fire and was pulled out of service for repairs. Still, cruise lines are worth courting for cities and those cities are worth standing behind for cruise lines.
Returning to Baltimore this week, there was no brass band or gubernatorial declaration and the reason for the fire is still under investigation. Affecting three aft decks of the ship, some areas are still not ready for passengers, reports Travel Weekly. But local businesses and media are still excited to see the ship return, sailing from the Port of Baltimore on seven-night sailings to Bermuda and the Bahamas.
If any part of this story sounds familiar, there is good reason. Just last month we heard from governor O’Malley, then lobbying on behalf of Carnival Cruise Lines, looking for a waiver from new environmental rules to keep the cruise ships coming to the city. In 2011, Gadling was first to report cruise line crew members accused of smuggling drugs into the Port of Baltimore. Still, cruise travelers flock to Baltimore, often setting new records for passenger travel on a variety of year-round sailings.
After a few sailings in the Caribbean, North American cruise travelers can get tired of going to the same islands. Their cruise vacation may be a great value and easy to do but they want more. The problem is that ships can only go so far before having to turn around and get back in a week, the time most travelers have for vacation. The answer: make more islands.
While the cruise industry has not exactly figured out how to make there be land where there was none before, they have become good at building custom cruise ports. New Banana Coast cruise port in Honduras is a great example.
Beginning construction in 2011, the $30 million Banana Coast cruise destination is scheduled to open in November 2014. Billed as “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea,” the western Caribbean port already has cruise lines adding Banana Coast as a port of call. So far, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line and, just this week, Oceania Cruises have committed to regular stops with more lines expected as they roll out future itineraries.When the project is complete, Banana Coast will have a 50,000-square-foot shopping facility and transportation hub, which will take visitors to other places on the island. Possible experiences include a VIP airplane trip to the Mayan ruins, snorkeling, kayaking, ATV rides, a culinary tasting tour and more. The diverse climate and topography of Honduras offers waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains, a tropical rainforest, a nature reserve, coral reefs and crystal clear waters all at the same destination.
This is not the first man-made Caribbean cruise destination either. The Jamaica port of Falmouth, a joint project between Royal Caribbean International and the Port Authority of Jamaica, is another good example. Reminiscent of the historic 1700′s and 1800′s when Falmouth was the big port for sugar exports worldwide, the port is built to handle Royal Caribbean’s huge Oasis-class ships. The location also allows visitors to do shore excursions from both existing ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, each about a half-hour away.
In the Dominican Republic, construction continues on the Amber Cove Cruise Center, a giant $65 million facility that will be able to accommodate up to 8,000 cruise passengers and 2,000 crew members daily. This one is expected to host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year of operation. Amber Cove will feature a welcome center with a variety of retail offerings, including a marketplace for locally sourced Dominican crafts and souvenirs, as well as a wide range of themed restaurants and bars, water attractions and a transportation hub allowing visitors easy access by land and sea to the surrounding destinations and attractions.
As the high price of airfare continues to keep North American cruise travelers sailing from home ports scattered around the United States, look for these man-made islands to continue gaining popularity.
Another Caribbean destination, which has become increasingly accessible by sea or air is Curacao. Boasting 35 beaches and an eclectic mix of history and culture, the capital city of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a good choice to visit as we see in this video:
Hong Kong‘s $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal is open and processing cruise travelers as anticipated. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the terminal will eventually source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in China. This week though, it’s all about the Americans.
Passengers disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas this week found a bit of a different experience than that of other cruise ports around the world. Showcasing some of what China has to offer cruise travelers, Mariner of the Seas offered passengers a kung fu demonstration, a lion dance at Mikiki mall in San Po Kong, shopping, dining and more on planned tours.
Adventure cruise travelers with a desire to go it on their own had a bit different experience, finding transportation options limited. “The terminal is fine, the building is fine but there is no good connection to the city,” passenger Fred Lutjens said in a Standard report that notes a queue of 100 people waiting for a taxi.Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998 after 70 years of service, was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Using that valuable and available land efficiently, the $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal has the ability to handle passenger vessels as large as two of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships, the largest in the world.
Themed cruises are becoming more popular all the time as fans of (insert almost anything here) gather at sea. Music fans dominate the offerings with ships setting sail sold out with fans of Kid Rock, KISS, Blake Shelton and others each hosting their own theme cruise. Then there are fans of movies like the Turner Classic Movies cruise, now in its third year. Another one that caught our attention features music, wine and dining in a way that looks to epitomize what themed cruising is all about.
The Wine, Dine and Music cruise asks a simple question on its website: “Spend a weekend in wine country or a week on a wine cruise – you decide!” Appealing to someone who might go on a weeklong trek through California wine country, this one looks to be a good alternative that brings wine country to you. On your ship. In the Caribbean. With musical guests.Music
Featuring Kenny Loggins, Three Dog Night and others, the Wine, Dine and Music cruise will have nightly entertainment along with Meet ‘n Greet artist sessions and Jam sessions and special music performances on days at sea. For many theme cruise fans, that would be a week’s worth of fun. But there is more.
Each stateroom gets a free bottle of wine from each of the seven wineries also along for the ride, delivered nightly to their stateroom. Like a tour through wine country, the onboard programming also makes available wine tastings, wine seminars and wine club memberships. Focusing on specialty varietal wines in an experiential sort of way, those on the Wine, Music and Dining cruise are likely to meet and spend time with others sharing similar interests.
A central focus of this well planned themed sailing is to enjoy a gourmet meal paired with excellent wine, with others who appreciate the experience.
Unique to this theme cruise, and something we have not seen before, is the combination of all three elements, Wine, Music and Dining, all on one sailing. Also included is all the regular onboard programming and features with prices starting at $1029 per person. That price compares favorably to a weeklong land vacation through California wine country, minus the vineyards, making the Wine, Dine and Music cruise a good choice for budget travel too.
Sailing November 9-16, 2013, on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas from Tampa, the seven-night itinerary includes Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico as well as Georgetown, Grand Cayman and three days at sea.
North American cruise lines really want to be friends with travelers from Europe. A number of times, various cruise lines have scheduled their largest deployment ever to Europe, only to pull back later when demand for their services was less than anticipated. Looking ahead to 2014, that trend looks to be continuing as major North American cruise brands cut back on European deployment. But there is more to this story than simply cutting back the number of ships in Europe, because the price of airfare for North Americans to fly across the pond is prohibitive.
Europe Out, Asia In? Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it will leave the entire Europe cruise market behind in 2014, blaming the high cost of airfare to the region for its addition to an industry-wide exodus. Carnival will move Carnival Legend to Australia and leave the rest of its fleet in North America. Frankly, Carnival’s European deployment was mostly Mediterranean sailing and mostly in the summer as the line rolled out new ships Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine. Those ships were going to be over there anyway because that’s where the shipyard is that built them. I always viewed Carnival’s European deployment as more of a deployment of convenience.
As a bit of a hint as to where Carnival may be headed, Carnival the corporation (which owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and others) has officially launched its regional office in Singapore. That move signals a rock solid step towards developing these markets.
Tweaking A Good Thing Princess Cruises is not entirely abandoning Europe. They will move Pacific and Crown Princess to Alaska in 2014, leaving five ships in Europe. This is where Princess’ long history of being destination focused is paying off for the line of the Love Boat. Princess has garnered a reputation for sailing around the world, to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet.Princess mixes it up every year to keep things interesting; they have drawn on experience from their many long-serving employees at various stops along the way. This year, Princess is featuring reduced-pricing airfare to offset objections by cruise travelers over the perceived high-cost of flying.
Royal Caribbean plans on sending eight ships to Europe next year, including sailing giant Oasis of the Seas to sail three times out of Barcelona while the ship is over there for some routine maintenance. That’s down from nine ships sailing European waters this year and 12 ships in 2013.
Unlike Carnival Cruise Lines, a North American brand that has their trademark FunShip experience producing a fabulous cruise vacation like clockwork, Royal Caribbean is a truly international brand. Sending nine ships to Europe says one of two things, maybe more:
They have been at it long enough that they figured out which ships are the right size to make money in Europe.
Royal Caribbean just really has their act together and has the ability to sail around the world, all the time, year after year.
Oh, should I have sailed in Europe last year then?
This is not the first time North American cruise lines have pulled back on plans to offer what they do for European cruise travelers. Cruise lines were looking for more profitable waters to sail in when the economic depression occurred several years ago. Boasting their “biggest European deployment ever,” cruise lines were quick to turn back when Europe sailings did not fill up as they had anticipated.
The good part of all this is that cruise lines have the ability to move their mobile assets (floating hotels) to different parts of the world when economic issues, safety concerns or other reasons say repositioning is a good idea. Hotels that do not float cannot really do that.
Thinking about a European/Mediterranean cruise vacation? Now would be a good time to either go or begin planning. North American cruise lines want to sail there, but they need passengers to do that.