Indeed, in the past few years, luxury-oriented onboard innovations are often just as prevalent on the big-ship lines as they are on boutique fleets. These include celebrity chefs; multi-room suites and villas; the expansion of cruising's class system (along the lines of airlines' first, business and coach categories); spas that feature cafes, boutiques and even special accommodations; and designer accouterments, including bedding to electronics to coffee.
Other tidbits emerging from today's forum include:
Europe remains the industry's hottest cruise destination (mind you, Europe encompasses a variety of regions -- the Baltic, Norway's fjords, British Isles, Western Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Mediterranean and even the Southern Mediterranean (which includes North African ports of call). World cruises are another "destination" that all agreed is trendy and popular. The Caribbean continues to struggle -- partly due to congestion and quality issues. And one attendee's question about Asia, which Cruise Critic still touts as one of the most intriguing cruise destinations, received a tepid response from CLIA's Terry Dale: "It's a tremendous market for us ... someday."
If you cruised last year, you were one of 12.61 million others -- in the world -- who did the same thing. What's interesting about that number isn't so much that North American cruise lines are attracting more travelers (they carried over 10 million of 'em and they have been attracting higher numbers every year for awhile). It's that Europe, though representing what seems like a paltry two million out of that total, is definitely on the move. Its numbers were higher than predicted. Dan Hanrahan noted that Europe, in terms of cruising's evolution as a vacation option, is about 15 years behind that of the U.S. -- and so there's plenty of room for growth.
Editor's Note: These numbers reflect only those passengers carried on CLIA's member lines (such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Princess, Seabourn, MSC); significant cruise companies such as Britain's P&O, Germany's AIDA and Malaysia's Star Cruises, among others, are not reflected in these statistics.
On the passport front, deadline day for airline travelers is January 23 -- but CLIA, through sister organization International Council of Cruise Lines, was able to successfully lobby for an extension for cruise travelers; CLIA hopes to have definitive word on a deadline soon. Currently, the U.S. State Department has not issued a hard and fast deadline for cruise travelers who sail to international destinations from U.S. homeports.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor