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Planning Ahead for 2005

| May 19, 2004
CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor

Maybe you haven't booked your 2004 sailing yet, but the cruise industry's fleet planners are already laying plans for where to put their ships next year. All kinds of factors come into play for these decisions, from market demand to international geopolitics. So let's take a look at what 2005 is likely to bring for cruise ship schedules and deployments.

The Caribbean will still be the number one destination in terms of cruise passenger numbers. Seven nights will be the most common cruise length. And Miami and Port Everglades will be the two main starting points for cruises.

However, it appears that in 2005 there will be more diversity in cruise length, destinations and embarkation/debarkation points than ever before. There are plenty of three-, four- and five- night cruises, and many in the nine- to 14-day category. Four world cruises are on the books for next year; they may also be bought in segments. Other than the Caribbean, the two most popular destinations will be Alaska (served by eight lines) and Europe (13 lines). And with several lines now at least cruising through Antarctica (only a handful of ships actually stop there), the seventh and last continent has become relatively available. There are options galore in 2005.

Here's an overview of what many of the lines have planned for next year:

CARNIVAL, with the industry's largest fleet at 20 ships, will have 80 % of its capacity in the Caribbean. The other 20% will be in Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada and New England. Only about 50% of the line's itineraries are seven nights, reflecting an increase in shorter cruises. New seven-night sailings from New York and Baltimore on Miracle will continue, as will the year-round four- and five-night cruises from Mobile and Jacksonville aboard Holiday and Celebration. Carnival Spirit will offer the only eight-night Mexico sailings roundtrip from San Diego.

CELEBRITY has not published its entire 2005 schedule yet, but most likely will have three ships in Europe and three in Alaska. It will definitely offer the brand's upper premium style of cruising on a variety of Caribbean sailings, including one ship sailing that region year-round.

CRYSTAL'S three-ship fleet will be plying international waters, reaching all seven continents; there will be 14 maiden port calls. Some 22% of all Crystal cruises will include the Caribbean or Panama Canal. Of the line's 95 total sailings, 57% will begin or end in a domestic port. There will be 14 seven- or eight-night cruises, a record number for the company. Two ships will offer Europe, with overnight port calls on most sailings and two-night stops in St. Petersburg on most Baltic trips so that guests can visit Moscow. The line's ninth world cruise will be on the new Crystal Serenity -- 101 nights from Los Angeles to London; it's also available in six segments.

CUNARD'S Queen Mary 2, for her first full year in service, will do six-day transatlantic cruises between New York and Southampton from April to December. The ship will also offer 12-day New England/Canada itineraries in the fall, and some 12- and 14-day European cruises (including the Mediterranean) in the summer and fall. In winter, QM2 operates Caribbean cruises from New York City and Fort Lauderdale. The Queen Elizabeth 2 starts the year with a 110-day world cruise, visiting 38 ports in North America, Asia, the South Pacific (including Australia), Africa, and Europe from January to April. Guests can book the entire voyage or a variety of shorter segments. After that, the QE2 spends spring, summer and fall in Europe offering 14-day Mediterranean cruises as well as Baltic, Norway, Northern Europe, and Spain/Portugal sailings.

DISCOVERY WORLD CRUISES has only one ship, the refurbished Island Princess, and the line (started in 2002 by industry veteran Gerry Herrod of Orient Line fame) offers an extensive variety of moderately-priced, longer sailings (from 13 to 25 nights; no seven-night voyages). Discovery features Antarctica and South America. The ship also goes all over the South Pacific (including an Eclipse cruise in April) and to New Zealand. The line even manages to throw in some Western Europe trips and even gets to the Bahamas and Caribbean once during the year (one call in Fort Lauderdale).

DISNEY CRUISE LINE has been the model of itinerary consistency since the introduction of its second ship. One ship does three- and four-night cruises roundtrip from Port Canaveral. The second ship does seven-night roundtrip Cape Canaveral sailings. All cruises include a stop at Disney's fabulous private island. However, in 2005, there will be some variation in honor of the 50th anniversary if Disneyland. Disney Magic will undertake a 14-day Panama Canal cruise in May, ending in Los Angeles. Then, from May 28 through August 20, it will operate a dozen seven-night roundtrip sailings that stop at Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas; two- and three-night land packages will be available with the cruises. On August 20, the ship returns via the canal to the line's traditional home.

HOLLAND AMERICA'S 12 ships will operate a wide assortment of sailings. While 58% will be seven-nights, there's a bunch of longer ones, especially in Europe (both Med and Baltic) where four ships will be stationed -- including Maasdam, which does a mid-summer 35-night sailing roundtrip from Boston to Rotterdam. As in 2004, seven Holland America ships will be in Alaska. Prinsendam will offer HAL's World Cruise, a 115-night voyage from Fort Lauderdale on January 13 all the way around to New York City. The Amsterdam undertakes a pair of 31-night sailings in the fall that may be the most fascinating of all: the North Pacific Explorer Cruise from Seattle to Singapore with calls in Russia, China, Japan and Korea; and the Southern Pacific Explorer Cruise from Singapore to Honolulu with calls in Bali, Australia, Fiji, Christmas Island and more.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE will continue its emphasis on homeland cruising in 2005. The line will increase its Alaskan inside presence, going from three ships to four. In October, Dream will take over the Sea's Houston run (Sea goes to the parent company, Star Cruises). Superstar Leo, renamed Norwegian Spirit and undergoing significant remodeling and refurbishment after the 2004 Alaska season, will be a permanent part of NCL's fleet. When not in Alaska, the ship will offer alternating nine- and five-night sailings from Miami. The longer itinerary gets to the southern Caribbean, including Barbados, Antigua and St. Lucia; the shorter one goes to Grand Cayman and Honduras. NCL no longer has three- or four-nights sailings.

OCEANIA is one of the most consistent lines in terms of itinerary length as well as one of the most distinct. By offering a series of mostly 10- to 14-night sailings (no seven-night trips at all), the line offers its upper-premium guests the chance to really see a variety of ports yet still have time to enjoy the onboard portion of their trip. All three ships will spend the spring/summer/fall season in Europe. The highlight will be the introduction of Oceania's third ship, Nautica, which comes on line in May 2005 starting in Piraeus (the first of nine sailings from Greece or Turkey). Insignia and Regatta will cover both the Med and Baltic, highlighted by the Dover-Stockholm itinerary, the line's most popular. The longer Caribbean cruises being offered (14% of the line's capacity) are very different from the norm.

PRINCESS will undergo a fleet change when the P&O Adonia joins the line as Sea Princess, and the Royal Princess (a mid-80s ship that set many standards for the industry's later success) goes to P&O. Princess, even with 32% of its capacity in the Caribbean, is truly an international line, reaching all the popular spots. The line will put three ships in Europe with 44 different departures, 20 of which are enhanced or new itineraries. There will be two ships in the Caribbean during the summer -- Caribbean Princess out of Fort Lauderdale and Golden Princess out of San Juan (Sunday departures to NYC). While most sailings are seven nights, there's a nice variety of longer ones, bringing the fleet's overall average up to 8.7 nights.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN hasn't published schedules beyond April yet, but the line said it does not anticipate any major changes. The rumor of a Voyager-class ship being in Europe is just that. What is interesting is that while 40% of all RCI's itineraries are seven-night, it offers an assortment of cruises of all lengths, from three to 12 nights as well as 14- and 15-night options. And, while 68% of all cruises nights are in the Caribbean, the fleet (based on 2004) will have ships in Alaska, New England/Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, Hawaii, the Panama Canal and all over Europe. New embarkation points include Baltimore and Port Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey (across the Hudson from Manhattan).

SEABOURN'S three ships will be all over the map, offering an array of great destinations. All three ships will be in Europe during the spring, summer and fall with Spirit and Legend being in the Med the entire time, while Pride splits the season between the Med and the Baltic before repositioning back to the U.S. via the British Isles for four seven-night New England/Canada sailings. Some 40% of all sailings are listed at seven nights, but with so many guests booking more than one sailing, only about 20% actually sells that way. Beyond Europe, the ships get to South America, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Panama Canal, Canary Islands and the Caribbean (6% of all voyages). The repositioning cruises offer some great choices including the Red Sea, Kenya, etc.

SEA DREAM YACHT CRUISES features primarily seven-night sailings in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Greek Islands and Croatian Coast. SeaDream I does seven-night Caribbean cruises (from St. Thomas and San Juan) in the beginning of the year. Then the ship heads to Europe for a series of seven-night sailings in the Western Med in the spring and fall and the Eastern Med in the summer. SeaDream II starts the year with mostly seven-night sailings from St. Martin, St. Thomas or San Juan. The ship then spends the spring, summer and fall in the Western Med with a variety of seven-night departures. Interestingly, both ships will spend Christmas Eve in Gustavia, St. Barts. Note: Many SeaDream sailings are privately chartered, so guests may have to be flexible with preferred travel dates.

SEVEN SEAS offers a vast array of worldwide itineraries; 85% are seven-night sailings and 20% are in the Caribbean/Panama Canal. Highlights for the year include: the first world cruise for Voyager – 108 nights from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale (shorter segments available); Mariner will offer a great 83-night fall South Pacific cruise from Vancouver to Whittier and on to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Auckland before heading back to LA. Navigator has two summertime North Atlantic crossings from NYC to Reykjavik and Copenhagen and back. Paul Gauguin, of course, will be in Tahiti year-round (featuring an Eclipse cruise in April). And the line's Explorer II will again offer two Antarctica cruises. Three ships -- Diamond, Voyager and Navigator -- will be in Europe with lots of Med and Baltic cruises to choose from.

SILVERSEA'S four ships will cover virtually the entire world with enticing itineraries and more than 30 new ports (including Benghazi, Libya). Some 29% of its cruises are seven nights, but there's an assortment of shorter and longer cruises; 9% of the fleet's nights will be in the Caribbean. All four ships will be in Europe. Cloud and Whisper cover both the Med and the Baltic (with several two-night calls in St. Petersburg so guests can go to Moscow). Wind and Shadow cover the entire Med. Before and after Europe, the line will offer voyages to the South Pacific, South America/Amazon, Egypt, Seychelles, South Africa, Far East, Mexican Riviera, Canada, the Colonial Coast and the Caribbean. Repositioning cruises really offer something out of the norm.

WINDSTAR will offer primarily seven-night itineraries (72% of all sailings), along with a variety of longer holiday and repositioning voyages, as well as four 10- or 11-night Wind Surf cruises in the Med with heavy Greek and Italian coverage. They will not be in Tahiti in 2005, but will offer Costa Rica, Panama Canal and Belize/Mayan Riviera and the Caribbean before and after an extensive Mediterranean/Greek Island season (all three ships). More overnight port calls than normal are scheduled, including Ibiza and Cadiz (Spain); Livorno, Venice and Sorrento (Italy); Grand Harbor (Malta); and Marseille and Monte Carlo.

WHEN TO BOOK?

With all lines trying to utilize "yield management" principles and to raise fares, it would be wise to book as early as possible. Deals may never be better than they are when itineraries first come out, as the lines try to get ahead of their own projected booking curves. Take advantage of these early booking incentives, but keep an eye out (or have your travel agent do it for you) for later drops in prices. And if you find them before you have to pay additional deposits or make final payments, you might save a few bucks.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail .

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