Cruise Chatter: North to Alaska, Voyage "Restarts," Advisor Tip & More

(Photo courtesy of Icy Strait Point) Icy Strait Point greeters can't wait for cruisers to return in the 2021 Alaska season. The destination will offer a new, second cruise pier, new Wilderness Landing port area and Alaska's first high-speed gondola system, providing access to Hoonah Mountain for alpine adventures.

Editor’s Note: This is a new bi-monthly column, covering cruise line briefings and news, marketplace intelligence, cruise advisor tips, trends and statistics, conference updates, learning opportunities for cruise advisors and a potpourri of other cruise-focused items.  

Looking to Summer 2021

Well, this year's Alaska cruise season was a "no go," but the good news is that Icy Strait Point will debut three big enhancements for cruise guests when ships return in 2021. Most notably, Icy Strait Point is doubling its cruise capacity via a new, second large cruise ship dock, built between 2019 and 2020 in partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

In addition, cruisers will also encounter a new Wilderness Landing port area and board a new high-speed gondola system (the second at the port) to whisk guests easily into the destination with stellar eco-views in the process. 

In a briefing last Friday, Tyler Hickman, senior vice president of operations, Icy Strait Point, told reporters that 99 percent of the community’s tourism-based economy at Icy Point Strait is cruise, so the lack of ships certainly has had a "substantial impact" on the community," but that local residents—most native Alaskans—are excited about the return of ships and their guests next season.

What's special about the growth? Hickman explained that Huna Totem Corporation owns 23,000 acres of land in the area and likes to "spread out" the guests, so they have the best experience ashore. Thus, the company built the second cruise dock a half mile away from the first—not typically what's done in the cruise industry when piers are built close to each other. In addition, the new gondola system is quick, scenic, hassle-free for guests and eco-friendly—avoiding the the need to use 20 to 30 buses an hour in transporting guests into the destination. 

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO, Celebrity Cruises, also participated in the Friday briefing. Alaska bookings look good for 2021, she noted, adding that's very good for Alaska, the destination and for the cruise lines. She also said Celebrity’s guests were very disappointed that their Alaska cruises didn’t happen this past summer. Lutoff-Perlo believes "Icy Strait Point has really progressed" as a cruise destination, as she's been involved with its development from the outset. Celebrity Mercury was the first ship to call at Icy Strait Point back in 2004.

To date, nearly one million Celebrity guests and a total of 2 million cruise passengers from all cruise lines have gone ashore at Icy Strait Point to learn about native culture and heritage, sample the local cuisine such as crab, fresh fish and crafted beer, and enjoy scenic vistas and wildlife viewing.

When guests return in summer 2021, they’ll enjoy the new features mentioned above plus the destination’s other draws. Icy Strait Point is home to the world’s largest zip line system (with six 5,330-foot-long zip lines that drop 1,330 feet in elevation) as well as a fleet of whale watching vessels, retail shops, three cafes, three waterfront restaurants and 32 different tours.  

Conferences Go Virtual

With health/safety in mind, the annual Seatrade Cruise Miami maritime conference, was cancelled this past spring. But last week, officials announced it will "relaunch" as a virtual program on October 5-8. 

Stay tuned for Travel Agent's coverage of Seatrade's annual “State of the Industry” panel discussion featuring Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation; Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Group; and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman, MSC Cruises.

In addition, World Travel Holdings’ annual conference for Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. was planned on Celebrity Cruises during the week of November 9, but Travel Agent has learned that the conference has instead shifted to a virtual program that same week. The group’s 2021 conference will be on Celebrity Apex.

Top Cruise News 

Top news of the week? It mostly centers around voyage "restarts" and new cruise line schedules. Italian-based Costa Cruises outlined its winter 2021-22 schedules in Europe—sailing to ports in Italy, Greece, Malta and Israel. For now, only Italian citizens or, starting in October, citizens of European nations, will be accepted as guests, but more ships will return to cruising and the line's 2021 World Cruise will operate.

MSC Cruises, which began cruising to Italian ports last month, now plans to expand itineraries to include Greece, Malta and other Mediterranean destinations. Its second ship returning to service, MSC Magnifica, will have a new re-start date of October 19, 2020 (with four cruises previously scheduled from Bari, Italy, now cancelled).

MSC Magnifica will sail longer itineraries and operate seven cruises from Genoa to both the western and eastern Mediterranean. Also, MSC Grandiosa's schedule of weekly sailings to Italian ports have been extended through year's end. 

Holland America Line Rotterdam

Look for five Holland America Line five ships to sail European waters between April and November 2021. Two Pinnacle-class ships, the new Rotterdam (a rendering shown above) and Nieuw Statendam, will be positioned in northern Europe, plus Zaandam will operate the line's “Voyage of the Vikings” itinerary roundtrip from Boston.  

Princess Cruises unveiled its 2021-22 Australia line-up including its 13th World Cruise from “Down Under.” And on the luxury side, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection outlined its 2022 and 2023 winter season with 15 new ports of call including Golfito, Costa Rica; Portsmouth, Dominica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Bocas Del Toro, Panama,

Health/Safety & COVID-19

CroisiEurope confirmed that two guests and five crew members on its Vasco de Gama, which sails the Douro River, tested positive for COVID-19. The sick passengers were taken to a local hospital, and the line said "all crew were tested and the ship has been locked down for 10 days in agreement with the local Portuguese health authorities who were satisfied with the handling of this matter." 

CroisiEurope said all protocols were properly adhered to, "the five crew who tested positively are in self-isolation and are currently fit and well," and all passengers have left the ship and were notified. The line also stressed that it's sailed on multiple rivers throughout Europe since July with no other issues.

Cruise Advisor Tip

Marketing during a pandemic can be tricky. From one cruise seller's perspective, "take what you're most comfortable doing from a marketing perspective and ramp it up,” says Christy Mahon, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Branchville, N.J. (shown at right with her daughter Katie at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.)

“I'm very comfortable in front of a crowd," she says, so she enjoys putting on virtual presentations (#WeWillTravelAgainEvents) and engaging with people about them. She also recommends using free tools whenever possible and only paying for premium tools when absolutely necessary. Look for much more from Mahon in the October issue of Travel Agent magazine.  

Deep Diving Adventures

Traveling for culinary enrichment is a passion of many cruisers. Foodie fans can check out the newest installment of Silversea Cruises’ virtual S.A.L.T. Lab Radio series. Adam Sachs, director of Silversea’s new S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) program, explores the history and soul of the Portuguese “tasca” in Lisbon with chef Jose Saudade da Silva and food journalist Miguel Andrade. Look for the S.A.L.T. program for Silversea's guests to debut on the new Silver Moon, which passed its sea trials last month and is slated for an October 30 delivery.

Since many new expedition ships are entering global fleets, Antarctica is increasingly top of mind for cruise advisors. A fantastic new resource is the first installment of Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic's new webinar series, "Deep-Dive: Antarctica," which focuses on Antarctica's geography, topography, wildlife/marine life and history of exploration. 

Lindblad's expedition team member Ella Potts gives insight about Antarctic whales and seals while fellow team member Jim Kelley talks about the Southern Ocean. They're just two of many experts sharing their knowledge about Antarctica. 

Partnering for Success

The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) recently selected Royal Caribbean International (ocean cruising) and AmaWaterways (river cruising), respectively, as the “Cruise Line Partner of the Year" in each sector.

AmaWaterways river cruise ship, AmaDouro

AmaWaterways' AmaDouro is shown above on the Douro River. // Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways was also named “Partner Company of the Year” across all segments of travel. In addition, ASTA named Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support & service, as "Partner Representative of the Year" (across all travel segments). 

So, we asked Freed about how advisors can enhance their pool of potential clients this year? “Building a database is easy during this ‘pause,’” she said, noting that when advisors host a virtual travel night, “give prizes and encourage your clients to invite their family and friends.” Then if one of their invited guests wins the prize, the client who invited the guest also should win an identical prize, Freed suggests.

She also recommends advisors who want to build a bigger book of business “always ask people who they like to travel with. That’s an easy way to get new clients since your existing client is sharing their friends with you.”

Caribbean Isles  

The Caribbean is always popular but likely to be even more so as consumers seek seek "closer to home" cruises when sailing resumes from U.S. ports. Many eastern Caribbean itineraries include the U.S. Virgin Islands, so advisors desiring to gain expertise in talking about St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix to clients have a good resource in the U.S.V.I. specialist course at Travel Agent University. 

Professional travel advisors who become certified in U.S.V.I. General travel will receive invitations to U.S.V.I. in-market events and be the first to know about FAM opportunities. U.S.V.I.-Romance and U.S.V.I.-Multigenerational Travel courses also can help cruise advisors focus on specific markets.  

Stay tuned here in two weeks for our next Cruise Chatter.

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