ORLANDO, Fla. – Those who have never taken a cruise vacation, as well as those who have made numerous sailings, should take a look at what cruise ship operators have just over the horizon, AAA travel agents say.
New ships, upgraded amenities, flexible dining options, and innovative shipboard entertainment are just some of what the industry is doing to make cruising even more fun and entertaining in the new year. Innovative shore excursions and multi-million dollar enhancements to private island resorts will be waiting for passengers aboard some ships, and even the sometimes frustrating boarding process is being streamlined by at least one operator.
“It is common knowledge that cruise lines have been discounting berths this year to attract budget-minded travelers,” said Amy Nicholas, managing director, AAA Travel Services. “What is not so widely-known, is that despite the soft economy the industry has continued to invest in an ever-more attractive vacation experience for the upcoming cruise season.”
World’s Largest Cruise Night virtual travel show
AAA will conduct the World’s Largest Cruise Night virtual travel show on Wednesday, October 14.
During the free online event consumers can explore cruise vacation options with AAA’s preferred cruise partners, take advantage of special offers and promotions, interact with fellow cruise enthusiasts and travel experts, and view live webcasts. The AAA virtual travel show times are from 6:00 p.m. to midnight, Eastern; 5:00 p.m. to 11 p.m., Central; 4:00 p.m. to 10 p.m., Mountain; 3:00 p.m. to 9 p.m., Pacific. To register go to: www.aaa.com/virtualshows .
AAA operates the largest leisure travel agency network in North America and has unique relationships with the world’s most trusted cruise and travel providers, allowing AAA to offer exclusive packages with deals and perks not available elsewhere. AAA travel agency services are available to both members and non-members, although members enjoy access to special incentives and rewards.
Top innovations in cruising
AAA’s favorite examples of what the cruising industry is unpacking for late 2009 and 2010 are:
1. Six new ships will be launched this year and next: Launched in 2009 are the Carnival Dream (3,646 passengers); Celebrity Equinox (2,850 passengers); and the largest cruise ship yet commissioned, Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas (5,400 passengers). Next year will see the launch of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth (2,092 passengers), the Celebrity Eclipse (2,850 passengers), and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas (5,400 passengers).
2. Upgrading amenities on private islands: Disney’s Cruise Line’s private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, will have a larger beach, private cabanas, and new water play areas, including a 2,400 square feet water slide platform featuring a 140-foot open slide and an enclosed cork-screw slide. New restaurants and a beach bar are being added. Holland America Line added a pirate-themed play area with two pirate ships on Half Moon Cay. Carnival Cruise line placed a Flowrider surfing simulator in Grand Turk (although not a private island), and private, air-conditioned cabanas are available on Princess Cruises’ Princess Cay.
3. Flexible dining: By February, Celebrity Cruises’ fleet (except for Celebrity Xpedition) will offer a flexible dining option that lets passengers reserve when they want to eat dinner on every day of their cruise, before they set sail. Called the Celebrity Select Dining Program, the innovation is intended to avoid some of the long lines associated with flexible dining plans that typically allow passengers to show up without a reservation during specific hours.
4. Around-the-world cruising: Holland America Line’s flagship ms Amsterdam will depart from Los Angeles on Dec. 23, 2009 for a 128 day Grand-Holiday-and-World Voyage making 45 port calls to some of world’s most remote and exotic destinations, including a transit of the Panama Canal, and visits to Mexico, South America, Africa, India, the Far East and scenic cruising in Antarctica.
5. A look below deck: Carnival has created “Behind the Fun”, a tour to see the inner-workings of a Carnival “Fun Ship”. The guided tours give guests a unique behind-the-scenes look at shipboard operations.
6. Floating fine art gallery: Celebrity Cruises is presenting a permanent, seagoing collection of museum-quality contemporary art aboard the Celebrity Equinox with the “Essence of Equinox”, a collection of nearly 500 original works. The newly-commissioned ship began sailing the Mediterranean this summer.
7. Easier air connections: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced a new air purchase service called “ChoiceAir”. Customers of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises can now choose specific airlines and flight times while shopping for the best published fares. This will allow passengers to know their airline itinerary as soon as they book and have the cruise lines air support team available before, during and after the cruise. Users pay a $15 fee per person for domestic flights and $25 per person for international air.
8. Pocketbook protection: Several cruise lines, including Carnival, have added job-loss coverage to their cruise protection plans. Besides the standard trip cancellation coverage, the plans typically provide for reimbursement up to the total cost of the cruise if you lose your job.
The cruise industry is a major player in the American economy contributing an estimated $19 billion in spending by ship lines and their customers in 2008, according to the Cruise Lines International Association. Adding indirect spending, which includes expenditures of cruise line vendors and businesses that provide services to passengers and crew, the total estimated impact in the U.S. was $40.2 billion last year.