Cruise trends for 2008: More luxury, potential deals

More choices in food, activities, itineraries and luxury are some of the trends shaping the cruise industry for 2008. But the big unknown is what will happen with prices.

The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that 12.6 million people cruised worldwide in 2007 on the 24 cruise lines CLIA represents, a 4.6 percent increase over 2006. CLIA believes demand will hold, with a projected 12.8 million passengers for 2008 despite the weakening economy. A recent CLIA survey of 500 travel agents found 90 percent expect 2008 cruise sales to be as good or better than 2007.

But consumers with flexible vacation plans may be in for some deals. "The more uncertainty there is in the marketplace, the more deals there will be later in the year," said Heidi Allison Shane, spokeswoman for "When the cruise lines go out with high prices and they don't sell out, the bigger the discounts later on." The softest markets, she predicted, will be in mega-ships sailing to the Caribbean and Bermuda.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of, also expects "more competitive prices for sure, because the economy is shaky, but where you'll find the real deals are on the older ships in cruise line fleets, not the newer and bigger models. Per diems on vessels like Cunard's Queen Victoria, Holland America's Eurodam and Celebrity's Solstice will be pricey and demand is strong because all three are new designs."

In addition to the Eurodam and the Solstice, other new big ships launching in 2008 are Royal Caribbean International's Independence of the Seas in May; MSC Cruises' Poesia in April; Carnival Splendor, July; Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess, November, and MSC Cruises' 3,300-passenger Fantasia, December.

Meanwhile Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the most famous ships in the world, will be decommissioned in November and turned into a floating luxury hotel in Dubai.

Here is some other cruising news for this year.


Last year, ships with bowling alleys and mechanical waves for surfing joined vessels with rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks. Cunard's Queen Victoria, launched in December 2007, became the first ship to offer fencing lessons at sea.

In December 2008, Celebrity Cruises will launch Celebrity Solstice with a half-acre lawn of real growing grass on the top deck. Guests will be invited to play bocce and croquet, picnic with wine and cheese, or practice golf putts. Also aboard Solstice: glassblowing demonstrations created by New York's Corning Museum of Glass.

Princess ships will host a film premiere the week of February 11: "Bonneville," starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen as three friends on a road trip. The movie is in theaters February 29.

In August, Nickelodeon, the children's cable network, offers its first-ever family cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, with a Western Caribbean itinerary.

Shore excursions throughout the cruise industry continue to reflect consumer demand for active and authentic experiences, including kayaking, wildlife watches and bike tours. Regent Seven Seas' Mariner cruises offer a ride on a floatplane in Alaska as it delivers the mail. Silversea Cruises' "Silver Links" program offers excursions to golf courses around the world.

Most cruise ships now offer access to e-mail at sea, but at prices like 75 cents a minute, you might want to wait for an Internet cafe in port.


Sure, most cruises still offer formal dining at 8:30 p.m. and midnight buffets. But more ships are offering casual dining, like Norwegian's successful Freestyle Cruising program, that does not involve scheduled seatings and formal dress at large tables with strangers.

Some cruises also offer restaurants with specialized menus and eateries designed by celebrity chefs. Ships may charge additional fees for the specialty restaurants.

The new Queen Victoria features a Todd English restaurant, as does one of Cunard's other ships, the Queen Mary 2. Famed sushi chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa -- known for his Nobu restaurants around the world -- will travel aboard Crystal Symphony to launch two onboard restaurants, Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, on a March 21 Hong Kong to Beijing cruise. Nobu already has restaurants on the Crystal Serenity.

Cruisers can also enjoy wine tastings at sea, cooking classes and behind-the-scenes food programs. Princess Cruises' Chef's Table dinners, which debuted in May and are now rolling out fleetwide, provide the chef's table experience at sea, in which a chef presents a special menu and then joins the group for dessert ($75 a person).


More cruise lines are offering larger and more luxurious accommodations with private elevators, private courtyards and suites located near spas. Spa suite guests typically get priority or upgraded access to spa services.

Even the mass-market cruise line Carnival is getting into the luxury act with Carnival Splendor, launching later this year with 68 spa suites that feature access by private elevator to a 21,000-square-foot spa. Another new ship, MSC Cruises' MSC Fantasia, will also feature 68 suites accessed by private elevators.

Norwegian Gem, which launched in 2007, not only has one of the most decorative exteriors of any ship at sea -- a colorful jewel design on a white background -- but it has large one- and two-bedroom suites in its Courtyard Villa. The shared private courtyard has a private lap pool, hot tub, steam rooms and fitness area.

In May, Celebrity Cruises launched a new luxury line, Azamara, with two midsize ships -- Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Both ships carry 694 guests and offer Sky Suites with in-suite spa services. Most itineraries are 12-18 nights with less well-known ports of call like Cartagena, Colombia, and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. In the summer, both ships go to Europe. Azamara Quest will later sail in Asia.


A survey from Cruise Holidays, which calls itself North America's largest cruise specialty retail franchise, found that in 2007, the Caribbean accounted for 43 percent of cruise bookings, Alaska 15 percent, the Mexican Riviera 8 percent, and Europe/Mediterranean 8 percent.

Compared to 2006, the survey found bookings for Alaska were up 17 percent, the Caribbean was up 4 percent and Europe was up 42 percent.

No wonder so many cruise lines are offering more European trips this year. NCL America's Pride of Hawai'i will be renamed Norwegian Jade in February and will serve Europe this summer instead of Hawaii.

European cruises are attractive despite the weak dollar because they are booked in U.S. dollars in advance, covering all lodging and meals. The Cruise Holidays survey figured the average cost per person per day for a 12-day Mediterranean cruise is $269, about a 7.6 percent increase in the past year.

CLIA says some cruise lines are visiting South America this year for the first time, with Australia, New Zealand and Asia as emerging destinations as well.


While more than 50 percent of travel overall is booked online, only 7 percent of cruises are booked online, according to Douglas Quinby of PhoCusWright, a company that tracks online travel activity. Quinby attributes the continued reliance on travel agents to the complexity of cruise bookings and the need for advice, especially for first-time cruisers.

"Think about all the different decisions you have to make," Quinby said. "Where am I going to go, what cruise line do I want, what cabin do I want, what dinner seating, what excursions, what about my pre-embarkation documentation." Even consumers who research or choose cruises online typically follow up with phone calls.

Indeed, the few passengers who don't enjoy cruising probably just needed more guidance. When asked what accounts for customer dissatisfaction, the No. 1 answer from Cruise Holidays agents was: "They were on the wrong cruise line."

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classical odissi staged to mark india's

The celebrated classical Indian dancer Meera Das was invited to perform the Odissi dance as part of commemorations marking the 59th Republic Day of India.

Das expressed her gratitude to the Indian Embassy for the invitation saying it was a great pleasure to be invited to perform abroad, her second professional performance here.

Over 800 distinguished guests were at the extravagant reception on Saturday, held at Taman Mini Indonesia to mark the founding of the Republic of India, 59 years ago on Jan. 26.

In an opening address India's ambassador to Indonesia, Navrekha Sharma, said Indonesian-Indian relations were at a high point.

"We made great progress... I hope for more (progress in) trade and tourism and hope to see the surging middle classes of Indonesia and India be responsible for great dynamism."

As her five-year posting draws to an end, Sharma said she felt sad to be leaving, describing her time in Indonesia as "a love affair".

Members of the Gunjan Dance Academy performed a dance composition choreographed by Meera Das, with accompaniment composed by Sumanta Mohanty and Sri Satchidananda Das.

The dance troupe presented three performances. The Mangalacharan and Batu dances showcased the Tribhangi and Chouka postures of the Odissi style. The Pallavi demonstrated a delicate balance of footwork and hand Mudras.

Meanwhile, the storyline of the Ahalya performance spoke of a special relationship between India and Indonesia.

Trained by renowned Guru Padmabibhusah Kelucharah Mohapatra, Das has been dancing for 22 years.

Das credited her father with inspiring her love of dance and said she is grateful for the encouragement and assistance of her family in her chosen career.

"My day to day affairs are (occupied) by dance. I don't want to be involved with anything but dancing and singing. My husband supports me, and so does my 12-year-old son. Sometimes it is difficult to manage (but) they know it's my life."

Das is particularly devoted to two styles of dance -- the experimental abhinay and the pure dance nrutta.

The abhinay employs spoken word, the dancer depicting the emotions of the characters in the story; in nrutta, only body movements with feet and hand gestures are employed.

Das established the Gunjan Dance Academy, which specializes in the Odissi style, in 1995. Located in Cuttack, the academy has 65 students. The artist's daily activities include workshops, dance performances and visits to temples.

She also has a very busy touring schedule, visiting 27 countries last year to perform the Odissi.

737 Hits Calf in Indonesia

A Merpati Nusantara Airlines 737 landing on the Indonesian island of Papua hit a calf on the runway at Merauke Airport over the weekend. The airport wasn’t fully fenced in from the nearby village from which the calf escaped. One of the plane’s engines was damaged, but no people were injured. The report also says that it’s not clear whether the calf was injured, but I’m guessing he ended up delicious.