Norwegian Cruise Line's much-anticipated Norwegian Epic drew crowds yesterday in Southampton -- but that was only the start of the cruise mania scheduled for the port this weekend. After lunch and a tour onboard, more than 400 U.K. travel agents headed to the QEII Terminal in Southampton for the fourth annual Cruise Convention.
The event, which will run through Sunday at the U.K. port, is organised by the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) and the Association of Cruise Experts (ACE) for travel professionals, offers panel sessions, a trade fair, and the chance to get a peek at a number of cruise ships. Beyond Norwegian Epic, ships on tap include P&O's Azura, Celebrity Eclipse, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Ponant's Le Boreal.
Cruise Critic was on the scene for the first day of the conference, which was hosted by television presenter Judith Chalmers (our very own Carolyn Spencer Brown, CruiseCritic.co.uk's editor in chief, will be speaking tomorrow). Though it is a mostly trade-focused event, we have rounded up some tidbits of interest to holidaymakers. Here's what travel chiefs had to say on all things cruise:
What's The Deal?
Last year was the year of the deal -- so how do this year's prices compare? Cruise lines have said that while some people have been holding off booking due to travel woes (think BA strikes, volcanic ash and oil spills) over the past couple of months, most passengers are still planning ahead and prices aren't dropping -- sorry folks! However, we are still seeing some good last-minute deals to the Mediterranean. Check out Cruise Critic's deals page.
The recent ash crisis -- which grounded flights across the U.K. and other parts of Europe -- caused major travel chaos globally. Cruise passengers were not exempt, with many fly-cruise passengers unable to fly to, or return home from their cruise port. On the plus side, Celebrity Eclipse and Thomson's Island Escape stepped in to help rescue ash-stranded travellers.
Cruise lines were, however, criticised for not offering as much help for passengers as other travel companies were. To be clear, the rule is this: If you book a cruise only, then the line is not obligated to do anything to help out should your independently arranged flight become impacted. If you book a package from the cruise line (flights and a cruise), however, you're going to be in a better position should there be an unprecedented event such as the volcano eruption.
Royal Caribbean's general manager, Jo Rzymowska said: "Did we (the cruise industry) handle it the best we could? Probably not. We have made changes and we have made sure we are far better prepared in resort with ground handling agents."
The Hard Facts
Earlier this year the PSA announced its latest figures -- which indicated that luxury cruising was on the up, and people were holidaying for longer for longer.
Some other stats for the number crunchers among us:
14 new ships will have launched by the end of 2010.
1.65 Brits are expected to take a cruise in 2010 -- PSA expects to hit the big 2 million figure in 2014!
One in 10 package holidays booked in the U.K. is now a cruise.
Did you book your cruise with a travel agent? Chances are good, as some 80 percent of cruises in the U.K. are booked by that way.
Online booking are on the up -- from 9 percent to 17 percent in 2009.
Looking to the Future
Looking into the crystal ball of cruising, NCL's CEO Kevin Sheehan and Carnival U.K.'s CEO, David Dingle gave their view of where cruising will be in three years. Both agreed that the industry will continue to grow and there will be continual innovation, with Dingle citing expansion of onboard offerings, such as dining (though he didn't give specifics).
Europe will continue to see growth, and the expectation among the experts in attendance is that Asian travellers will start to cruise -- the region is already popular with lines such as Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises, but more so with Americans, Brits and Australians sailing onboard, rather than the locals.
In the past year alone, we have seen the launch of the world's largest ship, Oasis of the Seas; a big focus on solo cabins, with P&O's Azura and NCL's Epic; and entertainment expansion with the Blue Man Group, DreamWorks and Nickelodeon taking to the sea. What do you think will be next? Tell us!
--by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor
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After Epic: Talking Cruise at Convention in Southampton
June 25, 2010