Top Tips for Taking a Fall Foliage Cruise

Crystal Cruises’ 10-day New York-Quebec City sailing is one of the longer fall foliage itineraries.

If clients haven’t already booked a fall foliage cruise to New England and Eastern Canada, now is a good time for travel agents to talk with their clients about the opportunities. For many cruisers, it’s a drive market option, particularly for the departures from New York and Boston.

Ports are perceived as safe, English is the first or second language in most destinations, and the region has diverse cultural, heritage and nature options.

Bar Harbor, ME, is a cute town with lots of shops and eateries, plus Acadia National Park is nearby,” says Christy Scannell, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, San Diego. “Halifax is another walking city with interesting history and wineries. Quebec City is a quaint, yet romantic, port with delicious food and breathtaking vistas.”

So how’s demand in 2017? “Demand is up among my clients for fall foliage cruises this year compared to previous years,” says Muffett Grubb, owner, Cruise Holidays, Knoxville, TN.

Brian Blumhorst of Thorin Travel, Boerne, TX, a Nexion member agency, also sees strong interest: “I’ve probably been asked more [about these itineraries] in the past six months than I have in five years.” He believes the wide variety now offered by the cruise lines — more than in past years — is helping. He has clients booked roundtrip from Boston on both Holland America Line and Princess Cruises.

Fall foliage cruises and domestic travel in general have been very steady compared to previous years, according to David Walsh, owner of CWCruises, Bradenton, FL, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, and he sees an extended booking window. “In the past, most of my clients would book their fall foliage cruises during the spring, but that’s no longer the case with more U.S. travelers sailing closer to home,” he observes.

“We typically start booking customers on fall foliage cruises starting in June and July,” says Kim Gray, owner, Travel Leaders, North Olmsted, OH. Also, while Donna Scicolone of Travel Leaders, Solon, OH, has clients who’ve expressed interest in the Canadian Maritimes, only a few have booked.

Generally though, “sales are trending toward North American sailings in general…because of the perceived terror threat in Europe and concerns about Zika in the Caribbean,” says Scannell. “Add to that the large population who can drive to fall foliage embarkation ports, and you have a huge market for a relatively small number of sailings.” Here are a few other tidbits.

Traditionally for Older Clients: “This cruise itinerary is most attractive to clients between 55 and 75 years of age,” says Gray. Most are experienced cruisers who have already cruised the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, so she offers the fall foliage itineraries as “something new.” Scicolone’s older, wealthier clients book for the soft adventure activities, ports that aren’t mass-market and culture. One trend is that even within the older group, Grubb now sees, those in their 50s and up (rather than those in their 60s and up) are booking fall foliage cruises.

New Audiences are Emerging: While many of her fall foliage clients are older, Suzy Gustafson, SG Travel Two, a Nexion member in West Jordan, UT, also has booked a family reunion cruise with a mix of ages on Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas.

Agents say the five- to seven-night foliage cruises have attracted more families who don’t wish to buy air tickets. Yet, it’s also back-to-school time, which somewhat tempers demand. Other new opportunities are also emerging. Blumhorst sees potential with those 35 to 55 years of age who want something different, see Canada / New England itineraries as more affordable and “hip” than an Alaska cruise, are business professionals without kids or desire a pre- or post-cruise New York City stay. Also, “these itineraries offer destinations that are far more LGBT welcoming than the Caribbean, and again add new destinations that consumers are craving,” says Blumhorst.

Maine’s Acadia National Park is visited on fall foliage sailings by Princess Cruises, among others.

Not That Well Known: Many clients overlook fall foliage cruises. They don’t think of this option, though they’ve “been there, done that” in the Caribbean or Alaska. Also, “it’s a great sell to people who are looking to enjoy something other than the beach,” says Gustafson, adding that these voyages deliver charm and culture without the expense and time it takes to get to Europe.

Be sure to paint a visual picture for clients. “Growing up just outside of Boston, I’ve benefited by sharing my personal experiences and knowledge of the area with my clients,” says Walsh. On New England cruise departures, he usually recommends a pre- or post-cruise trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountains to experience the Kancamagus Scenic Highway.

Book Early, Don’t Expect Deals: Balcony staterooms on fall foliage voyages sell out fast, so clients should book early to get the accommodations they want. That may even mean booking for the following year. “Balconies are especially prized, and they can really be enjoyed on itineraries that include the St. Lawrence River,” says Scannell, who emphasizes that “sitting on a private balcony on a crisp fall evening with the moon reflecting off the water is evocative.” She says pricing never seems to go down for these cruises. “The cruise lines do not have much empty inventory near sailing, so ‘no looking for last-minute sales and deals here,’” Blumhorst tells clients.

Something for Everyone: Fall foliage cruises were once nearly all longer voyages, and many — such as Crystal Cruises’ 10-day New York-Quebec City sailings — still are, but now “Royal Caribbean, Princess and Disney are offering a few shorter itineraries for busy families,” says Scannell. “Carnival and Norwegian also provide family-friendly options. Holland America does some lovely 14-night roundtrips from Boston that go all the way to Montreal. And then luxury small ships such as Silversea’s Silver Whisper and Seabourn’s Seabourn Quest create another niche. So there is definitely something for everyone in the fall foliage market,” she adds.

Beyond the Mississippi: Scannell says that western U.S. residents are an easy sell for this itinerary because many of them have never been to the northeastern U.S. Also, they are more willing to invest their time and money for a two-week itinerary and even the seven-night cruises work as they often pair that with a few nights in New York City or Boston, another draw for West Coast clients.

What’s New in the Region

American Cruise Lines has launched a new 11-day “Grand New England” itinerary roundtrip from Boston on the latest 165-passenger American Constellation. New ports of call are Provincetown, MA, and Kennebunkport, ME. Highlights include a lobster bake luncheon at Penobscot Bay, a tour of Newport and the Breakers Mansion, Captain Jack’s Lobster boat adventure and an Acadia National Park tour.

Looking ahead to 2018, Quebec City will become a new port for Disney Cruise Line on two new Disney Magic sailings between New York and Quebec. Departing September 20 and September 27, both cruises feature two full days in Quebec City as well as maiden calls at Saguenay and Baie-Comeau, Canada.

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