When bookings first opened last April for the maiden voyage on P&O's Ventura, Britain's hotly anticipated new-build, all berths for the April 18 sailing were spoken for before noon. And on the first full day of bookings, the ship attracted record numbers for Carnival Corp.: some £27 million in sales, with 18,800 cruisers solidifying their places onboard for the 2008 season.
Yesterday, the frenzy to purchase passes on a new two-night pre-inaugural sailing, an additional cruise announced by the line a few weeks ago, followed is similar fashion.
First revealed on January 16, the sailing, an 11 April weekender from Southampton, went on the market yesterday at 8:30 a.m. ... and various reports indicate that the 3,106 berths sold out somewhere between 9 and 11 a.m.
You would think the purchasers were vying for tickets to the Led Zeppelin reunion tour.
With 3,100 passengers double occupancy (3,600 maximum) virtually jockeying for position, prices quickly rose in line with availability. The original per person fares -- insides from £199, balcony from £299, mini-suite from £399 -- spiraled upward with each click of the mouse, refresh of the page.
"Those people who are talking about recession should have their heads checked." says Kari Reinikainen, a regular Cruise Critic contributor who was trying to book himself a mini-cruise. Making several attempts throughout yesterday morning, Reinikainen saw the lowest price cabins escalate from £375 to £900 (single occupancy), was booted out of the system (perhaps due to strain on P&O's server), and then found that all options were gone when he checked back just before 11 a.m. -- less than 2.5 hours after the bookings opened.
Others on the Cruise Critic forums also saw their chance to get onboard vanish before their eyes.
Wrote Graham UK, "Unfortunately my travel agent that I registered weeks ago wasn't able to get us on at the price we had agreed -- by the time they contacted us to get approval to raise the price it had sold out!"
If the prospect of a new Ventura sailing had some tingling with excitement, the reality that a new maiden voyage had superseded the inaugural left others stiff.
Some Cruise Critic members were blunt in expressing their dismay at no longer being the first cruisers to sail aboard Ventura. There was one particularly active thread on the CC forums entitled "Thought you were on the maiden Ventura cruise? Oh no you're not."
From member mcharnley, who started the thread: "My Parents have booked to go on the Ventura Maiden cruise in April. They booked it because it was the maiden cruise and would be special.
"They have just had their hopes shattered because P&O are now offering a weekend cruise called the Welcome Party the weekend before.
"To say they are upset is an understatement -- I wonder what P&O has to say about this."
And yet other Cruise Critic members felt that the maiden grousers were overreacting a bit.
Wilba wrote of P&O's tactics as common practice: "Oh c'mon every cruise line does this nowadays. It's called the 'shakedown,' and I have been on two or three over the last ten years. It's a way of testing all their services before the big day and the ones I've been on, you sign away your rights to any compensation should things not go according to plan. That is normally reflected in the 'special offer' price you pay for this type of deal."
(Oddly, of course, many people didn't get the bargain they may have been expecting. With such high demand, it wasn't quite the deal that a typical two-night mini-cruise can offer.)
And indeed, adding such "pre-inaugural" cruises has become a somewhat common practice. Prior to Holland America's originally planned maiden sailing for the new Eurodam in July, the line added a three-night preview cruise. When Royal Caribbean recently announced that Independence of the Seas would be completed three weeks before its originally scheduled date in mid May, a few new pre-inaugural cruises were added to the mix. One difference with RCI's handling of the issue, however, was that the line first offered the spots on the newly created maiden sailings to those who had booked the original inaugural.
Others questioned whether this new two nighter should even be considered a maiden cruise. From Jademongoose: "But to be totally honest, you really can't compare a 14-night Mediterranean cruise to a two-night jolly to Belgium. I for one would much rather be on a 14-night cruise that isn't technically a maiden cruise compared to a two-night sailing that isn't technically a cruise at all."
A third viewpoint was voiced by Hooked Cruiser. "To put another perspective on the subject, we managed to get a cabin on the two-night trip and when I spoke to somebody I know who works for P&O/Princess, in Southampton I was reliably informed that there is actually another two-night trip before the 11th April for Carnival staff and invited guests.
"Therefore none of us will be first to use the facilities."
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor