Ship-shape Travel Plans

It's a bummer to miss a cruise due to airline delays, roadway traffic congestion or bad weather, but it's happening more and more frequently. And even if your clients arrive at the pier in the nick of time, their checked luggage might not. Susan J. Young

While agents have always encouraged clients to stay one night pre-cruise at the embarkation city, retailers say it's time to absolutely insist on that.

"With airline delays caused by weather, mechanical problems and schedule changes, we are now even suggesting that people allow themselves a two-day window for Europe," Bonnie Crosby, owner of Vegas-based Cruise Holidays, tells us. "During the recent 'scare' we had one client who had a three-day pre-cruise stay in Paris, and missed all three days, but was able to get to the ship on time," she notes.

An interstate tie-up might also wreak havoc. Jim Sweat, managing director of travel agency services for Tampa, FL-based AAA Auto Club South, says that "even with the drive market, we always try to encourage clients to purchase a pre-cruise hotel package in case they experience some unforeseen highway challenges." Pre-cruise packages like those from Mobile, AL (www.mobile.org) and Philadelphia (www.cruisephilly.com) often offer free parking during the cruise and free pier transfers.

Take a Pre-Cruise Tour

Still, not all customers listen. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (GFLVCVB) reports that only 10-15 percent of cruisers who sail from Port Everglades stay overnight in the destination. One reason may be easy access between that destination's airport and its cruise port. Seeking more of the cruise pie, though, the GFLCVB has developed a "three-hour tour" flyer for cruisers (www.sunny.org) designed to give them a taste of the destination so they might stay overnight prior to their next cruise. Similarly, Los Angeles cruisers may receive up to $250 in savings for local attractions using the Cruise L.A. Card (www.cruisela.com). Encouraging your clients to enjoy these "snapshot" options may help in convincing them to accept a pre-cruise stay the next time around.

Sweat's agents routinely suggest that clients add HollandAmerica's "Rocky Mountaineer Vacations"—a pre- or post-cruise Canadian Rockies trip—to an Alaska cruise from Seattle or Vancouver. "This is where the real add-on selling comes into play," Sweat says, noting that most clients say the combination "enhanced" their vacation.

Some clients cite time or money as their enemy. Sabine Harris, owner of Tampa-based Cruise Planners, recently booked one couple on a Hawaii cruise who just couldn't add an extra day; they purchased insurance instead.

Other options? Agents tell us many clients pay the air deviation fee so they gain greater control of the airline schedule and carrier—and can cut out unnecessary connections.

Clients flying to a foreign port to catch a "same-day" cruise should always leave at the crack of dawn. "Some international arrival halls are very slow in processing international passengers and delays can be very long and frustrating," Sweat cautions.

Passengers checking in at Philadelphia's cruise terminal

Princess and Silversea Exclusives

That issue aside, what's happening elsewhere in the cruise industry? Reports from the field show the new PrincessAcademy is going gangbusters. We've learned that nearly 7,000 agents have enrolled and collectively completed 50,000 training courses. Twelve new courses will be introduced over the next few months, and, in an exclusive, we've learned that these include "South America and Cruisetours" and "Princess.com—A Selling Resource." Visit www.princess.com.

Look for Costa Cruises' (www.costacruises.com) new three-tiered Costa Club program for frequent guests later this year; guests will earn 100 points for every cruise day sailed and 40 points for every $50 spent on their onboard account.

And—in another exclusive—Silversea Cruises (www.silversea.com) tells me that it plans to replace production shows with what it terms "individual and unique" entertainment acts in 2007.

It will also launch a new shore program collection focused on enriching, personalized lifestyle adventures. Among the tours? In Catania, Sicily, a single guest or one couple will stroll through a local produce market with a renowned chef and then head to his or her restaurant for a private, one-on-one cooking lesson.

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