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Your Ship Has Come In

By Carolyn Spencer Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 1999; Page E01

   


    Cruise Photo File Photo
Recently the government of Bermuda – considered one of the world's most restrictive cruise ship ports – announced that it was expanding access in 2000 from five ships with in-season weekly docking privileges to six. Competing for the new slot were Commodore's new Crown Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line. Both lines had submitted proposals to sail from ports other than New York City, which is the traditional U.S. embarkation point for cruises to Bermuda.

Bermuda's decision last week to select Commodore, which plans to sail from Philadelphia, is a letdown for Washington area cruisers, because Carnival had been planning to use the more conveniently located Port of Baltimore as a home base for these voyages. Still, the situation illuminates the cruise industry's renewed focus on establishing seasonal cruise hubs in what Terry Thornton, vice president of marketing planning for Carnival, calls "outport" cities – places within a 200-mile driving radius of large groups of passengers. That's good news for cruisers who want to avoid the added expense and inconvenience of flying to traditional cruise ports like Miami.

Cruising from local ports isn't a new concept. Apple Vacations, a Philadelphia tour operator, has been chartering ships from mass-market cruise lines for 15 years, often deploying them from smaller ports. It's offering Bermuda, New England and "cruise to nowhere" voyages out of Baltimore and Philadelphia on Celebrity's Horizon and Premier's Sea Breeze. Locally, Ed Didion, a D.C. cruise travel agent, chartered Norwegian's Leeward for cruises out of Alexandria last summer and fall (Didion wasn't able to get a ship this year but says he's negotiating with Commodore to charter voyages from Alexandria in 2000). Along with Apple, small ship operators like Clipper Cruise Line and American Canadian Caribbean Lines sporadically depart from cities ranging from Alexandria to Rochester, N.Y.

But what's significant is that the big, mass-market cruise lines are beginning to invest in close-to-home ports. Previously, says Doug Brown, director of cruises for Apple Vacations, "they've been able to control the business by directing passengers to their major centers." Carnival, for instance, has begun creeping up the Eastern Seaboard, offering first-ever cruises from Newport News, Va., and Charleston, S.C., this year. The line is planning to return to both cities in 2000 and has its eye on Baltimore and Wilmington, N.C..

For Carnival, Newport News's appeal is in part financial: Both the Inspiration and Fascination will be in Newport News anyway for dry dock (all cruise ships make an annual visit to a shipyard for maintenance). But the port is also attractive as a way to attract a regional audience stretching from northern North Carolina to Washington.

Similar strategies (minus the convenience of dry-dock schedules) prevail in other parts of the United States. Both Commodore and Carnival are home porting in New Orleans. Holland America is using San Diego as a seasonal embarkation point. Next summer, Norwegian will become the first major line to sail out of Seattle regularly.

Ultimately, the impact of Carnival's encroachment on a local level means you can cruise for less money. Washington area cruise passengers not only have more geographic options (Newport News and Philadelphia are about equal driving distance), but Carnival is offering five- and six-day voyages, which are cheaper than the traditional seven-day sailings Apple offers. All this is part of the company's (and indeed the cruise industry's) strategy to snare the younger, more time- and budget-pressed traveler, with a focus particularly on first-timers.


Nearby Cruise Ports

Rochester, N.Y. To Quebec City (Clipper Cruise Line)

Boston

To Bermuda (Norwegian Cruise Line); Canadian Maritimes, New England (NCL, Seabourn, Royal Caribbean); New York (Clipper Cruise Line)

Philadelphia

To Bermuda (Celebrity); Maritime Canada, Cruise to Nowhere (Regal Empress)

Warren, R.I.

To Chicago; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Quebec City; New England; Erie Canal (All on American Canadian Caribbean Line

Baltimore

To Bermuda (Celebrity); Savannah, Bahamas, Charleston, S.C.; Portland, Maine, Halifax, Newport, R.I., Cruise to Nowhere (Premier); Alexandria (Clipper)

New York

To Bermuda (Celebrity, QE2, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Premier); Canadian Maritimes (Holland America, Norwegian, QE2, Regal Empress, Princess, Seabourn, Carnival); Alexandria, Va. , Hudson River Valley (Clipper Cruise Line); London (QE2); Cruise to Nowhere (Premier)

Alexandria

To Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., Halifax (Clipper Cruise Line); Philadelphia (American Canadian Caribbean Line)

Newport News, Va.

To Bahamas, Cruise to Nowhere (Carnival); Bermuda (Carnival, Celebrity)

Charleston, S.C.

To Bahamas (Carnival); Bermuda (Celebrity); Cruise to Nowhere (Carnival); Jacksonville, Fl. (Clipper)

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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