Cruising Comes Home|
These are "uncertain times." That is what pundits, economists and politicians always say when the economy goes south. I have to say that pretty much sums it up for me - I am not certain if I will even be able to afford a vacation next year. Or maybe Europe or South America will be a better bargain than I ever knew. The cruise lines seems to think it will be better to stick close to home. If I had to make an educated guess, it would be that they probably have a better handle on that than I do - however, I must say there have been many times when I knew the cruise line deployments were not the best they could be...
What little birdie is whispering in my ear? The Gull of Gas Prices says car fuel is actually lower now than it has been in over a year, so "drive-to" cruise ports certainly make sense. Indeed, most of the major cruise lines have been sending me special promotions for close-to-home cruises in the near future.
Carnival has even taken the step of choosing to keep one of its newer ships in Miami rather than send it to Europe next summer. My guess is this indicates the cruise lines see weakness with 'the continental crowd" being able to afford cruises next summer. We Americans also have to deal with the fact that trans-Atlantic airfare prices have not fallen as much as gasoline and cruise fares - even as the price of oil receeds.
Royal Caribbean just announced that Radiance of the Seas, one of the line's newer "right-sized" ships sailing out of San Diego next winter, will sail more cruises to the Mexican Riviera, and fewer of them to the more exotic South America, than originally scheduled.
This winter will be a banner season for the West Coast for cruising. Not only are we getting our first mega-ship; the 110,000-ton Carnival Splendor sailing out of Long Beach, we are also getting our second mega-ship, the 140,000-ton Mariner of the Seas sailing out of Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro. Both of these ships are too wide for the Panama Canal so they have to sail around Cape Horn to get to the West coast.
An extremely interesting development is the opening of the Sea of Cortes to larger cruise ships. Holland America is taking the lead here. It has been sailing the Ryndam on the waterway separating the Baja peninsula from mainland Mexico for a few years now. The ship visits La Paz and stops for trips to the Copper Canyon near Guaymas, the site of a very popular historic train well-known to railroad enthusiasts.
The gulf is surprisingly full of wildlife, especially dolphins, whales and sea lions. Even sperm whales, the world's largest mammals, are sighted regularly. The calm waterway with lazy ports cities has been explored by smaller adventure lines like Cruise West and American Safari for many years now. Deep sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking are all popular activities.
Holland America plans to develop Puerto Peñasco as a new port. The area is well-known to Phoenix and Tucson residents as "Rocky Point" near the spot where the Colorado River meets the Sea of Cortes. If fact, the cruise line is developing an extensive harbor facility at Rocky Point as a homeport for four and seven day cruises in the Sea of Cortes. The project is being funded by the Mexican government and will not be completed for three years. This is a radical idea, even if I personally happened to have proposed less than a year ago in a CruiseMates article.
The land holding Puerto Peñasco, about 90 miles south of Yuma, AZ on the Colorado River, is a thin strip of rocky desert just wide enough to connect the Baja with the mainland of Mexico. It was the last piece of land added to the lower 48 states by Gadsden Purchase in 1851, soon after California but long before Arizona became a state.
The ports in the Sea of Cortes (yes, we know it is also often spelled Cortez) include Cabo San Lucas, La Paz (both on the Baja peninsula) and Loreto as the entrance to the Copper Canyon. New port facilities are also being built in Guaymas, a bustling coastal city that has never has a ship docking facility before.
The point is that the cruise industry is pulling in the reins for a few years as our economy sorts itself out. These close to home, close-in itineraries explore new territories for the cruise destination deprived West Coast. They bring cruising to with a morning's drive from Phoenix, Tucson and California's Imperial Valley, and a day's drive from New Mexico. The location of Puerto Penasco just below the U.S. border also satisfies the Passenger Vessel Securities Act nicely.
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