Bored? Money burning a hole in your pocket? Tired of the same old vacations at St. Tropez and Vail?
Holland America lines may have the answer: an 82-day, super-luxury round-the-world cruise, everything first class and some lucky passenger will win a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.
Fares start at only $15,585 per person for an inside cabin, though the best staterooms go for $35,275 a head, not counting liquor, land excursions and the cost of the clothing for a voyage where formal dress is required every night but Sunday.
But if you want to go, you'll have to wait a year. The 1983 version of the annual cruise, sailing from New York on Jan. 8, is fully booked.
"You'd never know there was a recession," said Jon Firestone, marketing director of Holland America Cruises Inc. For the 1983 voyage, which Holland America is promoting as a special "silver cruise" to mark its 25th anniversary, "the most expensive cabins were the first to be sold out; they went first and fastest. We have 650 people booked for the full, round-the-world cruise. Last year we sailed with under 500."
The rich folks' rush to sign up for Holland America's most expensive cruise, however, is apparently not indicative of the health of the cruise industry. The industry is growing rapidly, adding capacity and seeking out new customers with aggressive marketing. But the recession, the increase in capacity and a series of price reductions and inducement giveaways are causing some rough sailing, according to industry officials.
Several major lines have installed new management teams in the past year to shore up sagging sales. Many are offering discounts, rebates and even free air fare to ports of embarkation to keep their cabins filled. Almost all vessels in international cruise service are foreign-registered and have installed full-scale gambling casinos, which American-registered ships are not permitted to do.
The 29 cruise ship companies serving U.S. ports are nearly all owned by foreigners or by closely held corporations, so precise financial figures on them are hard to obtain. But there are signs that some lines are struggling to keep afloat. The longer, more expensive cruises are selling well, several companies have reported, but the shorter, lower cost voyages, the ones consumers have to save up for, have been lagging.
"Our most expensive cruises are filled chockablock," Holland America's Firestone said, "but the less expensive ones, seven days to Bermuda and the like, we are having trouble filling."
"The bottom of the line isn't moving so well," said Andy Spielman of Washington's Waters Travel Agency. "The people with big money are still spending it, but the guy who can just make it, people who take the minimum rate, can't afford to go."
"The industry generally has experienced the same fall-off that other consumer services have had," said Walter Titus, chairman of Royal Viking Lines, of San Francisco. "Traditionally, the top of the line is the least affected, and that's what we offer, so we are not so heavily affected as the shorter lines. We did see a fall-off, which I personally did not expect, but we are looking at a short-term downturn and a very strong recovery. The industry is healthy."
Royal Viking, which is increasing its capacity by cutting its three ships in half and adding new midsections, recently began soliciting business by direct-mail advertising, a departure from the industry's traditional near-total reliance on travel agent bookings. Royal Viking also joined the list of companies offering "fly-free" discounts, paying its passengers' air fare to the port of embarkation.
In addition, Royal Viking has offered passengers credits of up to $1,500 on future cruise tickets, joining Sitmar Cruises, Princess Cruises Inc. and several other lines in trying to lure bookings through discounts or rebates.
"I feel the industry is making a mistake in adopting the wide range of giveaways that they are," Titus said, but acknowledged that Royal Viking had to adopt the fly-free plan "to remain competitive in the short cruises." Royal Viking is also offering discounts of $1,500 on future cruises to customers who take cruises of 22 days or more this year.
One of the companies Royal Viking has to remain competitive with is Carnival Cruises of Miami, an aggressive and innovative line that has shaken up the industry by building big new ships, reaching beyond the traditional clientele of the wealthy elderly, and offering discounts and price incentives to lure passengers.
"We were the first cruise line to introduce 'fly-free' for seven-day cruises," said Robert Dickinson, Carnival's marketing director. "We would rather keep the ships full and make less money per passenger. It's not as much fun to cruise on a half-empty ship."
Dickinson says the reason the long-established, luxury cruise companies -- such as Holland America and Royal Viking -- are having trouble filling their shorter cruises is that they have concentrated on their traditional upper income markets and failed to tap the vast majority of ordinary vacationers who have never taken a cruise. Those average vacationers are the people Carnival is pursuing with its short, economy-class cruises to nearby ports.
For the expensive cruises of 11 days or longer, he said, the primary market is the wealthy retirees and widows traditionally found on cruises, passengers he described as "old people and their parents."
Dickinson said Carnival Cruises does not cater to passengers such as those on the television program "Love Boat," "who are very upscale, impeccably dressed, dropped off at the pier in their Maseratis. That's not the way most people live. We market to Everyman."
On traditional lines -- such as Royal Caribbean, Cunard, and Lindblad (which is cruising to Antarctica in November), a majority of the passengers are repeaters, people who cruise again and again. Now, through heavy advertising and direct mail, these companies have begun to try to attract first-timers who will become their future core of passengers. Dickinson said Carnival has taken that approach for several years, emphasizing short, relatively low-cost cruises for a younger and more diverse clientele.
He said about 1.5 million persons will sail on cruises from U.S. ports this year. And, "at least 80 percent will be on cruises of seven days or less." Overall, he said, only 8 million of the 250 million people in the United States and Canada have ever taken a cruise. "Our potential market is the 242 million who have not.
"Selling cruises to first-timers is like trying to talk about sex to a hermit on a desert island," he said. "He has no idea what it's all about, but once he tries it he's going to like it."
A cruise on a Carnival ship, he said, is "not sedentary; it's a nonstop party," appealing to customers younger and more active than the "little old lady who has taken 54 cruises already."
Unlike Cunard's Queen Elizabeth II and other former passenger liners built for transportation, most of the ships now entering cruise service are built specially for the purpose, with bigger windows, larger cabins and more recreation areas. Carnival kicked off the expansion in 1978, a boom year, by announcing it would build the 1,022-passenger Tropicale for $100 million.
The Tropicale is now in service, and 10 other ships have been commissioned since it was ordered. Two vessels that Holland America has ordered from a French shipyard will cost $150 million each and increase the company's capacity by 1,600 berths. All these ships are being constructed in lower cost foreign shipyards and can be expected to be registered outside the United States and crewed by foreigners, a sore point with the U.S. maritime industry, which has found itself unable to compete in international cruise marketing.