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A Sea of OptionsApril 4, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|Expansive children’s facilities such as the top-deck water park are just part of the appeal of Carnival Magic, which sets sail in May.|
Cruise to higher sales with new vessels sailing the globe.
Spring is a time of awakening, when everything is fresh and new. On the heels of the Disney Dream and Oceania Marina launches earlier this year, the unveiling of more new and refurbished vessels begins this month. And, consequently, cruise capacity will continue to increase through 2012 and beyond, giving agents more cabins and suites to sell.
“It has been—and this year will continue to be—the most exciting time for the cruise business and the travel agent,” says Bob Sharak, executive vice president-marketing and distribution of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). “Partly, that’s attributable to the new capacity and, most importantly, the diversity of that capacity.”
Just as people are different, so are ships, says Sharak, citing large ocean vessels, luxury ships, European river boats and even a Mississippi sternwheeler. He says the publicity for new ships often translates into marketplace buzz. “There’s a product out there that’s perceived by the public as high-value, of high interest and aspirational,” says Sharak. And, on an annual basis, only 3 percent of North Americans are cruising.
So “there is plenty of room to grow,” says Sharak. “This isn’t a saturated market.” Here’s a look at several of the new ships under construction or, in some cases, ready to launch.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ newest ship, the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic, launches in early May; a sister ship, Carnival Breeze, will launch in spring 2012. Carnival Magic will sail seven- to 12-day Mediterranean cruises this summer and fall, followed by a 16-day transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Galveston, TX. Then starting November 14, the new 130,000-ton ship, the largest ever at Galveston year-round, will operate seven-day Caribbean cruises from the port.
Seven-day western Caribbean voyages sail to Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. Weeklong eastern Caribbean cruises call at Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas, as well as Key West.
Carnival Magic features a top-deck water park, an exclusive adults-only retreat, a wraparound promenade with whirlpools that extend out over the ship’s sides, and expansive spa and children’s facilities. The Caribbean-themed RedFrog Pub will serve its own private-label beer. Cucina del Capitano is an Italian restaurant bringing the heritage of Carnival’s captains to the table with nostalgic family photos. And Sports Square will have the first ropes course and outdoor fitness area on a cruise ship.
“We continue to hear from our travel partners that selling Carnival as a multigenerational product has been a great success for them and I think they’ll find that the Carnival Magic encourages this kind of sale even more,” notes Lynn Torrent, Carnival’s executive vice president, sales and guest services. She says even though the ship is large, “it’s still warm and approachable.”
Among the stateroom choices are family-friendly deluxe ocean view accommodations—some of which have five berths—with two bathrooms. In addition, the ship has Cove Balcony cabins closer to the water line, and spa staterooms with special perks.
If clients seek luxury, the top end of the industry will add another ship this year—Seabourn Quest, the third in Seabourn Cruise Line’s 32,000-ton Odyssey class to carry a maximum of 450 guests. Clients may choose from 225 oceanview suites measuring 295 to 1,682 square feet, 90 percent of which come with private verandahs.
With a panoramic sliding glass wall that leads to an outdoor relaxation area, the ship’s spa covers two decks with seven private treatment rooms, Finnish saunas and automatic steam rooms. Those wanting a fitness workout may head to the gym with its state-of-the-art cardio, strength and weight training equipment.
One unique Seabourn Quest feature? Let your clients know that this gym has a Kinesis Wall, a unique pulley and cable system that enables a new, innovative exercise. Kinesis Group Training focuses on improving balance, flexibility and strength, and personal trainers provide 45 minutes of instruction; one-on-one Kinesis training is also available for a fee.
Agents also are eagerly awaiting the late-July debut of the 122,400-ton, 2,886-passenger Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth in Celebrity Cruises’ popular Solstice-class fleet. “Celebrity has exploded over the past few years with their Solstice-class ships; these ships are classic elegance, but in a really hip way,” says Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, a network of agency franchise owners specializing in cruise.
“They are known for their amazing dining venues. On the new Eclipse, they even added a trendy restaurant called Qsine—it’s where the customer orders dinner off an iPad,” says Fee. “It’s super cool.” However, she says that after three ships with the same design and features, it’s fitting that the next two in the series will be slightly different.
“From what I hear, the Lawn Club area is going to have a few changes and it seems it will be used as more of a place to attract people to come and hang out. So, they are adding three new eateries, from casual to a chef’s paring table along with lots of comfortable seating, including the Alcove, which passengers can rent for the day,” she says.
Fee says Celebrity knows “who its customer is and the changes are right on the money.” New for Celebrity Silhouette, guests will enjoy up to 50 international craft beers in the enhanced Michael’s Club.
As for its accommodations, 85 percent of all staterooms have verandahs and 30 accessible staterooms come with automatic doors. For those wanting a lot of space, the 1,291-square-foot Penthouse Suite has a baby grand piano, separate living room with dining area, a full bar, lounge seating, a surround sound entertainment system with 52-inch LCD TV, a full guest bath, queen sleeper sofa, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, and a 389-square-foot verandah with whirlpool and lounge seating.
That Penthouse Suite’s master bedroom has a king-sized bed, 52-inch LCD TV, vanity and walk-in closet, as well as the marble-floored master bath with whirlpool tub, a separate shower with dual shower heads, double wash basins and 26-inch TV.
A much smaller but decidedly upscale vessel, the mega-yacht L’Austral will join La Compagnie du Ponant’s French-flagged fleet this spring. Built by Fincantieri, the ship combines Italian shipbuilding expertise with French sophistication and interior design by Jean-Philippe Nuel. Precious materials in smoothing neutral tones are brought to life with splashes of cheerful reds.
The sleek ship will serve from 224 to 264 passengers. Clients can expect the aura of a large, private yacht; elevator service to all decks; unique itineraries and calls at smaller, more intimate ports that large ships can’t visit; and haute French and international cuisine with fine wines.
Also debuting this year is the 115,000-ton Costa Cruises’ Costa Favolosa, which will sail its maiden voyage from Venice, Italy, on July 4. The 3,780-passenger ship is the 15th in Costa’s fleet. Its theme will help guests celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.
Agents also have newly refurbished vessels to sell, some that have switched lines. Orion Expedition Cruises’ is doubling its capacity with the 100-passenger Orion II, which goes into service for the line in May on expedition-style voyages to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Borneo and Japan. The vessel originally sailed as the Renaissance Four and most recently as Clelia II.
Orion is spending $19 million on technical enhancements and upgraded environmental systems, as well as cosmetic changes. With fin stabilizers and an ice-strengthened hull designed for Antarctic voyages, this private yacht-like ship should ensure a smooth ride for guests.
Orion II will accommodate only 100 guests in its 50 suites, each with ocean views. The suites range from 215 to 285 square feet, and have either a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, along with spacious closets and air conditioning. Guests go exploring in the ship’s Zodiacs.
Looking ahead to 2012 deliveries, at least nine more new oceangoing ships are on the order book, according to Seatrade, a major shipping publication. Among those is a 12th ship for MSC Cruises, as well as vessels for Oceania, Disney, Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Sea Cloud and several lines serving non-North American markets.
There is also plenty of activity on the river-cruise front. For example, Phyllis Dale, co-owner, Great Escapes Travel, Lake Mary, FL, is already anxious for the August 2012 launch of American Cruise Lines’ new 140-passenger sternwheeler—the first new Mississippi River paddlewheeler in two decades is under construction at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, MD.
Currently unnamed, this new vessel will operate on the entire Mississippi River system, including tributary rivers. But its technology will permit it to sail faster than other boats did in the past on those heartland rivers. That opens up the possibility of enticing new itineraries for the future. Seven-night cruises will take passengers from New Orleans as far north as St. Paul, MN, and to Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.
Since the former Delta Queen Steamboat vessels and RiverBarge ceased operations a few years ago, Dale says there’s been a big void. Many of her past clients for those vessels were extremely loyal, racking up 60 to 100 cruises. After Delta Queen and RiverBarge folded, those clients were “lost.”
Dale tried to find investors to buy one of the old Delta Queen boats and relaunch, but she says the recession made that impossible. So she met with Charles Robertson, president, American Cruise Lines, and asked for his help. “Bless his heart, he called me last year and said, ‘Yes, we are going to have a new paddlewheeler,’” recalls Dale, who has been tapped as the ship’s godmother.
|Clients aboard Compagnie du Ponant’s L’Austral can expect sophisticated interior design and the aura of a large, private yacht.|
For clients, the ship will have the largest staterooms ever on the river, nearly all with private balconies. Public venues include a grand salon, and multiple venues including sky lounge, card room, library, showroom and Internet lounge.
The best clients for the new boat are age 50 and older, in Dale’s opinion. Of the line, “it’s not inexpensive but the quality is there,” she says. “And you feel like family when you’re on the boats; the rooms are spacious, and it just feels good.”
The new-ship launches will continue into 2013 and 2014, with, among others, two new 3,600-passenger ships for Princess Cruises. The first, Royal Princess, will introduce a cantilevered, enclosed glass SeaWalk on the mid-ship starboard side. The walkway will extend more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel, with dramatic views to the sea 128 feet below.
But new ships—even those with enticing features—don’t just sell themselves. With all the new choices in the marketplace, and an unending flow of Internet information and consumer feedback, agents and industry executives say consumers are often confused about which ship is really the best for their vacation style and personality.
Clearly, “the happiest and most satisfied guests are the ones that have the assistance of a travel professional during every step of their vacation,” says Brad Anderson, co-president of Avoya Travel/America’s Vacation Center. “Every experience we have in life is exponentially better if experts are involved.” And he and others say travel professionals are primed to sell a host of new ships for spring 2011 and beyond.