Where in the World is Xiamen? Royal Caribbean's new Chinese port city is an open economic zone with considerable affluence - for mainland China.
Royal Caribbean has had a strategy of placing its ships wherever the currency is strongest for a long time, but the line is now taking more calculated risks by moving ships to ports, even an entire nation, that has very little exposure to cruising.
Xiamen, China, is a deepwater port on a small island connected to mainland China with bridges and tunnels for cars and railroad. The entire metropolitan area holds over five million people who are considered to be above average economically - for mainland Chinese citizens. The island of Xiamen is just about 10 sea miles away from the island nation of Taiwan.
A local Xiamen Web site, Whats On Xiamen, is reporting in English that Xiamen will become the new "home-port" for Legend of the Seas with the first five-day cruise to set sail October 19, 2011, to Taiwan (Jilong), Taizhong and Hong Kong.
Xiamen was made a special economic zone in 1980, similar to Hong Kong, meaning it is allowed to trade freely with the western world, but it is still under the strict control of the the Mainland Chinese government. The idea behind these special zones is to attract investments in China from the people who fled the nation during the early days of Communism, now referred to as the "Chinese Diaspora." Many of these people have done very well economically and maintain a fond regard for their homeland.
Although the city is only 10 miles from Taiwan, the home of the ousted "Free Republic of China" (the former government that was overthrown by Mao during the Chinese Communist revolution), even with the special economic zone status, citizens of Xiamen were not allowed to travel freely to Taiwan. Then, in 2001, the governments of mainland China and Taiwan forged the "three-links agreement" to allow limited travel between the two islands. But similarly to the limitations we maintain with Cuba -only people with families on the island were allowed to visit. Even shorter than the trip from Miami to Havana, one can travel from Xiamen to Taiwan in 20 minutes by ferry.
But here is an interesting detail - that local Xiamen Internet site, WhatsOnXiamen, is reporting that that Xiamen is becoming a new "home-port" for Legend of the Seas and that the first cruise by the ship commences from Xiamen on October 19, 2011.
Royal Caribbean is indeed selling cruises on Legend of the Seas sailing from Xiamen, with its first cruise scheduled for October 19, 2011 as a five day sailing to Taiwan (Jilong), Taizhong and Hong Kong, but the article is reporting the cruise originates in Xiamen and refers to the city repeatedly as a new "home-port" for Legend of the Seas. But in fact, on the Royal Caribbean web site this is a six-day cruise that begins the day before in Hong Kong - where it ends.
The lowest, entry-level price for Chinese citizens sailing from Xiamen on this cruise is 3999 yuan, or about $625. The web site reports that about 1084 "tickets" have been sold to locals for this cruise from Xiamen. It also adds more than 700 tickets have been sold to overseas tourists. In fact, on the Royal Caribbean web site the five-day cruise is selling for $779 lowest category - so the Xiamen pricing is in line with prices for "overseas tourists." But the positioning of the article that Legend of the Seas is now "home-ported" in Xiamen is interesting when in fact the cruise officially starts in Hong Kong. While they can join the ship in Xiamen they will have to find other transportation for the return trip when the cruise ends in Hong Kong.
Now, we are not saying there is anything nefarious about the way this cruise is being reported in China. If you live in Xiamen and know nothing about cruising you would probably just read this article and think it is a regular five-day cruise from your hometown to Hong Kong. It is just a nuance of marketing, most likely very typical in China, to report it the way you want people to see it, rather than accurately as we have learned to expect news to be reported here at home.
This not the only cruise Royal Caribbean will be sailing from Mainland China. Voyager of the Seas is set to join Legend of the Seas in 2012 and some 45 cruises all together are planned to "originate" from China. And absolutely no matter what - any cruise on Royal Caribbean is better than that North Korean tub we saw in the news last week.