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CRUISE 2008

Big Ships, Quick Trips

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 5, 2008

The captain woke me up, then freaked me out.

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"Some of you may have gotten up this morning and not seen any land," Capt. Roger Gustavsen announced over the speaker, his strong and steady voice rousing hundreds of passengers aboard the Norwegian Sky.

Could this be a tale of a fateful trip that started from a Miami port?

Our ship had been scheduled to arrive that morning at Norwegian Cruise Line's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, after a full night of sailing. In my windowless, changing-room-size cabin, I was already a bit confused, never quite knowing day from night, sky from sea. Adding to the confusion was my itinerary. I was headed to the second destination aboard the first boat on the third day of my trip. I still had two more ships, six ports (including Miami twice) and eight days left. So, when the captain informed us that there was no land on the horizon, I felt my body start to spin in a disorienting undertow. Just stay calm and swim to the surface.

After further explanation, I realized the drama was not of Gilliganian proportions. Two hurricanes, Gustav and Hanna, had made the water too rough for safe passage to the Bahamian island. The captain decided the safest course was to stay at sea, promising to chase down the sun for us.

Unlike some of the other guests, I wasn't too disappointed about missing the island. Because I had booked myself on three ships, back-to-back-to-back, I was scheduled to disembark nearly a week later on another sandy slice of heaven, that one owned by Royal Caribbean International, and to visit Key West, Fla.; Cozumel, Mexico; Nassau, Bahamas; and, yep, Nassau again. I was hardly in a position to lament a lost day at the beach.

Why not just take one 10-day cruise instead of three ships in a row? Because short hops are in vogue and are a blossoming trend in the industry. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, between 1980 and 2007 the number of passengers sailing for two to five days increased by 1,012 percent; by comparison, the number of six- to eight-day sojourns rose by 660 percent. In addition, quickie trips make up 31 percent of the market, up from 24 percent in 1980. I did not have to search long or wide to find three short cruises that I could line up in a row.

The spurt can be traced back to multifarious sources. The development of home ports, for example. "Now, you find short cruises all over the coastline, even Norfolk and Baltimore," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, an online cruising guide. "It's a great way to take a quick trip for not a lot of money." (The cruises I took, for example, fell in the $200-per-trip range, per person double occupancy, not including taxes and fees.) In addition, these "samplers," even a string of them, are less of a commitment than one long voyage.

"If you've never taken a cruise before, this is a good way to get a taste of it," said Trevor Block, cruise director of the Carnival ship Fascination. "If you don't like it, you are on and off."

Or, in my case, back on again.

* * *

None of my three cruise lines looked or acted alike.


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