European Cruise Focus|
These are interesting times in the cruise business - rarely have I found it more difficult to predict where prices are going. Just a few months ago it looked as if Europe would be sluggish this summer due to higher fuel costs and a lower-value Euro.
We got word that Ocean Village, the "cruise line for people who don't do cruises" would be "discontinued," and concentrating on switching passengers to other lines in the Carnival Corp. fleet such as the two and three-day "party cruises" out of Southampton to Guernsy and Bruges on P&O Cruises.
Now we are suddenly faced with a turnabout in the Euro getting stronger against the Dollar again. In addition, fuel costs are cratering. It is starting to look like Europe will be a much stronger focus than originally expected this year.
One thing is apparent, cruising as a vacation option for Europeans is much more "mainstream" than ever before. If this current economic crisis hadn't popped us between the eyes, this would have been the biggest year in Europe yet. This is especially apparent in the number of year-round cruises available in Europe that did not exist just a few years ago.
Five years ago, the only dead of winter passenger vessels sailing in Europe were Skandinavian car ferries (some of which rival cruise ships for interior decor) and rusty liners sailing regular routes between the Greek Isles. The percentage of English, French or German tourists who had ever set sail on a cruise ship were in the single digits.
Not anymore! Today we have several cruise ships sailing in the region year-round, dedicated solely to the European market.
Today, December 18, we celebrate the introduction of the largest cruise ship ever built solely for the European market; The 133,500-ton MSC Fantasia. This brand-new beauty is based in Genoa and sails to Barcelona, Gibralter, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Spain and Civitavecchia (Rome). With room for 3900-passengers, this is a state-of-the-art cruiser with a sister ship, Splendida, scheduled to make her debut in July. Italian cruise line MSC now claims it will have built "the most modern fleet in the world to a total of 13 cruise ships" by the end of 2012.
Costa Crociere (an independent European cruise line owned by Carnival Corp.) also has two ships sailing year-round from Genoa to Morocco, Greece, Egypt and the Canary Islands, even in the dead of winter. Outside of Europe, the line offers cruises to destinations that Europeans are already well acquainted with; the Caribbean, Mauritius, the Far east and Dubai.
The Brits have two smaller cruise lines that cater to locals but not so much to anyone else; P & O Cruises (a sister line to Princess, also owned by Carnival Corp.) and Fred Olsen Cruises. The onboard atmosphere is decidedly British featuring bacon, beans and beer. The ships are generally older with fewer balconies and smaller staterooms.
Aside from the "European" cruise lines, the other American cruise lines Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and NCL have placed specific ships in Europe for Europeans.
Royal Caribbean has Brilliance of the Seas in the Mediterranean year-round offering round-trip cruises from Barcelona to Sicily, Athens, Rhodes, Cyprus, Egypt and Malta. The ship also makes Canary Islands cruises adding stops in Morocco and Seville.
Come summer, 2009, however, Royal Caribbean and its subsidiary lines will have a total of 22 ships sailing in Europe, a formidable presence. Holland America, Princess, Oceania, Regent, Windstar and more will join them.
When Celebrity introduces the next two ships in the Solstice class, Equinox and Eclipse, both will spend their inaugural summer seasons sailing in Europe out of Southampton; Equinox in the summer of 2009 and Eclipse arriving in 2010.
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has the Norwegian Jade in Europe year-round, alternating cruises to the Greek Isles and Egypt with Morocco and canary Island routes through the dead of winter. In April the itineraries spead out to include more of Italy and the Mediterranean Islands. Norwegian Gem will join her for Mediterranean voyages this summer.
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