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Bon Voyage from Baltimore!May 7, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
The Inner Harbor in Baltimore, now home to year-round cruising
Baltimore is the latest U.S. port to offer year-round cruising, as the cruise lines continue to seek inventive ways to draw new customers, particularly those first-time cruisers who feel most comfortable driving to a cruise port. Carnival Cruise Lines launched Baltimore’s first year-round cruising just two weeks ago with the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride.
In addition, Royal Caribbean International, currently offering seasonal service from Baltimore, will begin its first year-round deployment there in 2010 with the 2,252-passenger Enchantment of the Seas.
Through September 6, Carnival will operate six-, seven- and eight-day cruises with calls at such ports as Nassau, Freeport and Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, along with Port Canaveral in Florida (for day trips to the Space Coast and Orlando) and Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
Then, the Carnival Pride will switch to a year-round, seven-day cruise program departing on Sundays. The ship will alternate between two itineraries—one that calls at Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay and Freeport, and another that calls at Port Canaveral, Nassau and Freeport. Each voyage will feature three days at sea.
“The announcement of year-round cruises has been a good thing for me,” says Shawn Udovich, owner of Tiburon Travel in Westminster, MD. “With clients trying to save money anywhere that they can, a cruise out of Baltimore allows [them] to do this. They have the opportunity to jump in their car and be at the Port of Baltimore in less than an hour in most cases.”
Why did Carnival choose Baltimore for year-round service? Terry Thornton, senior vice president of marketing planning, told Travel Agent that the line completed a detailed analysis that looked at two key criteria. First, Carnival wanted to attract a large pool of first-time cruisers. Second, it wanted to appeal to its repeat guests who would enjoy cruising from a port closer to home and, thus, might sail more frequently. “We found that [Baltimore] was very large and lucrative on both ends,” says Thornton.
According to the Port of Baltimore, Maryland’s median household income in 2007 was $68,080, the highest in the nation. And, besides drawing clients from Maryland, the port attracts many passengers from Washington D.C., Philadelphia and other parts of eastern Pennsylvania (York and Lancaster, for example, both have easy Interstate access to Baltimore), along with northern Virginia. “That corridor has a huge population base,” notes Thornton.
The operational advantages of Baltimore—in terms of sea conditions—were another consideration in Carnival’s decision. In wintertime, sailing from the Northeast and New York City can be rough in terms of ocean conditions, notes Thornton, who reports that ships sailing from Baltimore have the advantage of a 12-hour transit southward in the Chesapeake Bay upon departure (and the same northward on the return trip), providing a more protected environment from rough seas for a sizable period of time.
Carnival’s analysis also showed Baltimore wielded a larger potential “unpenetrated” cruise-market draw than other embarkation ports, including New York City, according to Thornton. “And demographically, Baltimore suited us well,” he says. Two-thirds of the U.S. population reside within an overnight drive of Baltimore, which is the closest East Coast drive port from Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh and Midwest cities.
Udovich says the most popular cruise departure point in the past for his agency’s clients has been either Port Everglades or Miami. “That being said, most experienced clients will continue to go where their favorite ships are sailing from,” he acknowledges. Still, he’s upbeat that the year-round Baltimore sailings will give those who haven’t cruised a chance to try out cruising and see if it’s the kind of annual vacation they might enjoy.
Historically, Carnival hasn’t done much in the past in terms of dedicated local marketing, but it has promoted the new year-round service in Baltimore more visibly—with a billboard campaign, TV spots with local messaging, an animated aquarium exhibit in an office storefront and an event in the city’s popular Inner Harbor.
More Cruise Options
Diana Block, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of revenue management and deployment, says her line’s decision to go year-round in Baltimore next year—as well as to bring in a larger ship to operate that service—is attributable to the success of the line’s Baltimore sailings over the past few years, its partnerships with travel agencies and its relationship with the port.
Until Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas arrives in June 2010 for year-round service, the Grandeur of the Seas will offer seasonal service beginning June 19. This year five-, seven-, eight- and nine-night voyages sail to Canada/New England, Bermuda and the eastern Caribbean, followed by a 14-night November repositioning cruise to the Caribbean, which then debarks guests in Tampa.
Other lines sailing seasonally from Baltimore this year include Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises. The Norwegian Majesty will operate seven-day sailings to St. George’s, Bermuda, from May 24 through mid-August as well as a five-night Bermuda cruise on August 23. Starting in November, the Celebrity Mercury will operate wintertime seasonal cruises including 12-night journeys to the eastern Caribbean and nine-night voyages to the Bahamas. The ship’s 2010 seasonal late fall/winter sailing schedule will begin in October.
Baltimore offers cruisers a multitude of activities pre- and post-cruise
If clients prefer a small-ship experience, American Cruise Lines operates Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage or Chesapeake Bay itineraries departing from Baltimore.
For 2010, Baltimore expects to welcome a record 92 cruises, including six ships on port calls. “With year-round cruises in Baltimore and the announcement that Royal Caribbean is bringing Enchantment of the Seas here in 2010, things should continue to improve for the Port of Baltimore,” says Udovich. “I have toured the facility personally and think that they are taking great strides in making Baltimore a port that many northerners may choose.”