(March 9, 9:45 a.m. EST) -- Amid the hype surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, cruisers might be surprised to learn that with less than six weeks until April 15, one of two memorial cruises is not yet sold out.
While the transatlantic Southampton-to-New York cruise on Fred. Olsen's Balmoral (following the route of the Titanic to Cobh, Ireland, and then calling in Halifax) has long been filled, a second cruise on Azamara Journey -- a New York roundtrip calling in Halifax with a stop mid-Atlantic at the Titanic sinking site -- still has cabins left to book. Lots of cabins. Both will rendezvous mid-ocean for an on-site memorial ceremony, the intended highlight of the trip.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," posted Jennifer on the Cruise Critic UK blog. "The fact that so many people still think of the ship and its victims warms the heart ... I do believe it's a special tribute to the people on board that night." Others, however, have panned the voyages as morbid.
With fares recently slashed on the Azamara cruise, we wondered if travelers were perhaps losing interest in the cruise or if an early-season, half-transatlantic cruise doesn't appeal. We spoke with Miles Morgan, managing director of Titanic Memorial Cruise, to get more details on this once-in-a-lifetime, and somewhat controversial, cruise.
Why isn't the ship sold out?
The Fred. Olsen cruise has long been sold out with a waiting list (though on March 1, we saw a note that one balcony cabin had suddenly opened up and interested parties should call immediately). Morgan says the Azamara cruise is 70 percent sold out and he expects it "will sell out in the next couple of weeks." He chalks up the difference to the fact that the Balmoral charter went on sale five years ago, while the Journey cruise was only announced last year. As people are still discovering that these Titanic-themed cruises exist, Morgan believes that demand will increase as the sail date approaches.
For Journey, he says that inside cabins are mostly gone and three of four suite categories are sold out, with the most availability for verandah staterooms. However, starting rates for inside cabins are now $999 per person (down from an original price of $4,900) and $1,999 (down from $5,550) for balconies, making the eight-night luxury-lite cruise a much better deal now. For comparison, inside cabins on the themed cruise start at $125 a night, compared with $154 a night for the transatlantic cruise on Journey departing April 18.
Who is booking a Titanic theme cruise?
Morgan says the theme cruise passengers are "very mixed -- you can't put them all in one basket." It's not predominantly an older crowd. He says that many are descendents of Titanic passengers, while others are simply Titanic enthusiasts. One surprise (though perhaps it shouldn't be given the popularity of the film "Titanic"): Many bookings are for moms (sans dad) taking their teenage kids because the kids are fascinated with Titanic history.
What Titanic-themed events are planned for the Azamara cruise?
While the ship will continue to offer its typical onboard activities, the main attraction of Azamara's Titanic cruise will be two 90-minute lectures each day on Titanic-related topics. One dinner on the cruise will be a re-creation of a menu served onboard Titanic, while all other menus will have at least one "Titanic option," featuring a dish served on the fateful sailing. On the two formal nights, passengers can opt to dress in period costume as opposed to modern formalwear.
The ship makes one port call in Halifax to visit the cemetery where many Titanic passengers are buried. Details of the memorial service held at 2:20 a.m. at the exact spot where the Titanic sank will not be revealed until the cruise.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor