During a panel discussion brimming with more than 800 cruise specialists (a surprising number considering that past events have drawn 400 to 500 participants -- though maybe the chance to cruise on the innovative new Epic has something to do with it), moderator David Crooks put things in perspective.
The World Travel Holdings senior vice president noted that the year has been a "bit muddy" -- that is, relatively good sales have been followed by periods of "softness," particularly in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps, but as Maurice Zarmati, president/CEO of Costa Cruise Lines-North America pointed out, "Every one of the [newer] vessels is still going out full." Hence, he's "very bullish about 2011." Other panelists echoed the sentiment.
In particular, Carnival Cruise Lines' John Diulus, who believes consumers will be ready to "trade up" to posher digs as conditions improve.
So why the apparent turnaround?
NCL's Andy Stuart gave some credit to the rising stock market, which he believes is putting would-be travelers' minds at ease, and even to competitor Royal Caribbean. The upcoming launch of Allure of the Seas, he said, will lead to media coverage that's "good for the business."
But maybe Royal Caribbean's Vicki Freed put it best, or at least agrees with the vibe we've been getting lately -- vacations are back. After two years of uncertainty and fear, she said, "people need to recharge their batteries," and cruising still offers a relatively good value.
-- John Deiner, Managing Editor