New Study Has Travel By Air Preferred, Thanks To Travel By Sea

cruise ships
Port of San Diego/Flickr

A new study out this week says the idea of a cruise vacation is not as popular as it once was, targeting multiple factors for the hit. Regardless of the reason, the numbers show a cruise industry that has its job cut out for it.

Over half of all Americans are less likely to take a cruise now than over a year ago, says the new Harris Poll out this week. But those numbers are heavily skewed to those who have never been on a cruise before and were probably apprehensive about it anyway. Everyone is to a certain degree before their first sailing. Those who have sailed before were not having as many second thoughts.

The March Harris Poll asked 2,052 adults aged 18 and over in an online poll, how they felt about cruising. Those surveyed clearly thought less of cruising since events that included the grounding of Costa Concordia and a fire aboard Carnival Triumph. That trend continued in the May Harris poll, indicating that public perception of cruises continues to fall while airlines soar higher.”More than six in 10 Americans (62 percent) agree that air travel is much more reliable than taking a cruise (up from 57 percent in February), and the majority (56 percent) agree that air travel is much safer (up from 50 percent in February),” says a TravelMole report.

But cruise lines have not stood by idly. Nearly all cruise lines have adopted a new, higher, more efficient focus on safety. The new Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights spells out what will happen in many otherwise cloudy areas.

Will they come back? Better than ever?

Apparently cruise lines think so, investing billions in ships, ports and jobs. Just this week, Costa Cruises announced the building of a new ship, their largest ever.

The 132,500-ton Costa Diadema promises a different experience, breaking up areas of the ship into several ocean-facing venues, each with a different theme. Also, Princess Cruises new generation ship Royal Princess arrived in Southampton for a smattering of inaugural events.

“I wouldn’t give much credibility to the latest Harris or TravelMole polls,” says cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO CruiseGuy. “Their findings are highly subjective and run contrary to real life actions of cruise passengers, as ships continue to sail full. “

Maybe it’s a little of the “if you build it, they will come” thing or maybe it’s the faith cruise lines have in their unique travel experience that is becoming more diverse all the time.

“Considering less than 15% of the US population has cruised, I’d say 92% of their respondents have probably never cruised, 75% probably still live with their parents and 48% have never travelled more than 1000 miles from home. Based on current trends, their findings aren’t supported,” concluded Chiron.

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Bundling, Unbundling Travel Services For Convenience, Savings

travel services
stevendepolo/Flickr

Bundling travel services can often be the best value when compared to buying individual services in an a la carte sort of way. Buying airfare then adding on a rental car and/or hotel package is a good example of saving travel funds via bundling.

Unbundling, on the other hand, is where fees for everything from checked luggage to exit row seats on airlines came from, generating millions in non-fare income. In a bit of a turn in a different direction, some travel service providers are introducing new bundles that can add up to savings for frequent travelers.

This week United Airlines announced a $499 offer that gives air travelers annual subscriptions that guarantee more legroom and no-charge checked bags. Exclusive to those booking through United.com:

  • The Economy Plus subscription starts at $499 and includes seats typically paid for as an upgrade for flights in the continental United States. Make that $599 to include all North and Central America flights and $699 is the price for Global access.
  • The Baggage subscription starts at $349.00 giving you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation up to two bags checked per flight for free. The program does not waive oversize/overweight bag charges.
  • The United Club subscription gives access to more than 45 United Club locations complete with complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. The cost: 65,000 miles or $500 per person.

The world of cruise travel saw an unbundling of sorts with the advent of specialty restaurants, charging passengers an extra fee for a fine dining experience. The nature of a cruise vacation still swings towards more inclusive travel than, say, a land vacation. But optional extra charges can add up fast, even doubling the total price of a cruise vacation

In a similar move to United’s subscription plans, Royal Caribbean International has a variety of dining packages on various cruise ships. On Allure of the Seas, for example, passengers can choose from the following packages:

  • Central Park Dining Package, at $70 per guest (regularly priced at $90), includes Giovanni’s Table Italian Trattoria, 150 Central Park fine-dining restaurant and Chops Grille steakhouse.
  • Chef’s Dining Package, at $130 per guest, includes the five-course, gourmet Chef’s Table and wine pairing, 150 Central Park and Chops Grille
  • Choice Dining Package, at $80 per guest, includes Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi and Samba Grill Brazilian steakhouse

Bundled dining packages are also offered by sister-line Celebrity Cruises in a Specialty Dining package with three, four or five dinners.

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New Cruise Line Sets Sail In 2014 With Small, Luxury Ships

new cruise lineNew cruise lines are about as rare as new hotel chains; there is just not a lot of action on that topic. Like hotel chains, airlines and other travel-related companies, most cruise lines have been around for a long time too. Still, there are those who see a need in the marketplace that existing companies just can’t fill. Such is the feel of new Pearl Sea Cruises, which will set sail in 2014 cruising the Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Caribbean.

Starting out by building just one new ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, Pearl Seas Cruises will operate various seven-, 10- and 11-night Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes and New England cruises during their 2014 inaugural season.Currently undergoing final outfitting by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland, the Pearl Mist will be a Marshall Islands-flagged ship, first departing June 28, 2014, on an 11-night inaugural sailing from Baltimore to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On a total of 17 cruises planned for the 2014 season that runs through November, itineraries include:

  • Atlantic Coast– 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Halifax & reverse that showcases scenic areas long the U.S. East coast.
  • The Canadian Maritimes – 10-night cruise from Halifax to Québec focusing on Eastern Canada’s scenery, history and beauty.
  • St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands –seven-night cruise from Québec to Toronto & reverse taps international and old world charm via history, culture and scenic beauty.
  • Great Lakes and Georgian Bay – 10 and 11-night cruises from Toronto to Chicago & reverse features the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth, sailing through four of the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay.
  • Southeast United States – 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Nassau, Bahamas – this trip down the East Coast stops in the various iconic cities of the south and ends in the Caribbean.

Bringing the current destination focus of small-ship cruising to North America on a new luxury ship, Pearl Seas Cruises brings the latest in comfort, safety, technology and communication. Not that cruising the waters of North America is something new; river cruise lines have been doing that for quite some time. Pearl Seas will sail the coast on new ships, in luxury.

Unique to Pearl Seas are oversized staterooms, all with a private balcony and most with sliding glass doors, a spacious dining room, and a variety of lounges. Combined with on-board enrichment and entertainment programs as well as exclusive shore excursions, Pearl Seas Cruises looks like a new cruise line that should do well here.

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[Photo credit – Pearl Seas Cruises]

Norwegian Breakaway Debuts, UK Travel Pros Approve

Norwegian BreakawayNorwegian Cruise Lines new Norwegian Breakaway is due to arrive in New York City to be christened in the city by Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes on May 8. This week, the 146,600-ton ship was previewed by UK travel professionals and members of the press in Southampton on a two-night preview sailing prior to its inaugural transatlantic sailing. Sailing year-round from New York, Norwegian is betting heavy on the success of the ship’s New York City theme with everything from the city skyline painted on the ship’s hull to Sabrett hot dog carts positioned around the ship. But how did the ship play out in real life? Gadling asked travel professionals on the UK sailing for their opinion.

Norwegian promotes the ship as “ground breaking” and “innovative,” something Norwegian Cruise Lines knows a thing or two about. They introduced the concept of Freestyle Cruising that broke away from rigid ship schedules for dining and activities.

Scott Anderson, General Manager of The Luxury Cruise Company told Gadling he thinks Norwegian hit their goal, saying Norwegian Breakaway is a “much needed departure away from the clashing colours and gaudiness of the Jewel class and (Norwegian) Epic. The Norwegian Breakaway cabins and suites are all decorated in soft, natural, muted tones; the ships public rooms, whilst being ‘themed’ are not over the top and the carpets throughout are not migraine inducing.”Norwegian BreakawayTop-end staterooms include The Haven by Norwegian, a luxury ship within a ship area full of suites. Guests booked in the luxury accommodations enjoy an array of amenities, including private 24-hour butlers, concierge service, in-suite dining, priority embarkation and disembarkation, a distinctive platinum keycard, priority boarding of tenders to shore, in-suite espresso/cappuccino machines and more.

“What really distinguishes it for me is the Haven area – beautifully decorated, with guests occupying Haven suites given access to their own bar, lounge and restaurant,” said Anderson.

Built to handle 4,500 passengers, Norwegian Breakaway continues the line’s innovative spirit with two signature areas. An oceanfront boardwalk called the Waterfront combines dining and drinking venues with entertainment and gaming. 678 Ocean Place will be a hub of activity spanning three decks that feature seven more dining venues, 12 bars and lounges coupled with shops and other entertainment options.

“A very innovative design and great for a bar crawl!” said Anderson. “Shakers cocktail bar was great, and I would love to sit outside at La Cucina in the evening for a nice Italian meal.”

Norwegian BreakawayBut whom will this ship appeal to? New Yorkers? Non-New Yorkers wanting a New York experience? Cruise travelers in general? What age group would like Norwegian Breakaway? The ship has plenty of bars, restaurants, entertainment options and top-deck features like an Aqua Park and Sports Complex. It sounds like Norwegian Breakaway has all the bases covered.

“If I was sailing with a multi-generational family group – who all wanted different things out of their vacation, then I would definitely sail on this ship,” concludes Anderson. “The kids clubs facilities are very good, the number of bars and clubs are perfect for 20-somethings and young parents, and there are enough areas for those who like quieter times to sit and relax. Evening entertainment and the choice of restaurants should keep everyone happy.”

Norwegian Breakaway will sail year-round from New York to Bermuda in the summer then do a seven-day Bahamas and Florida itinerary in the winter.

Want to know more about Norwegian Breakaway? Norwegian has a dedicated website for the ship and this video highlights other features:

[Photo Credit – Scott Anderson]

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]