Cruise West Web Site King of the Online Ocean

June 2, 2006
What first caught our attention was an unusual blog entry entitled "The Truth About Nanaimo Bars," which opened our eyes to a new aspect of the British Columbian port of Nanaimo (hint: it's about a confection rather than a hangout). A more typical blog entry for Cruise West is the next listing, "Nutrient Rich Waters of the Inside Passage."

Whatever the topic -- ranging from one Cruise West staffer's favorite books on the Inside Passage to another's 82nd birthday celebration aboard the Spirit of Columbia -- Cruise West's blogs are riveting reading.

And while we like to think that at Cruise Critic we do a pretty good job of offering a forum for cruise travelers to share insights, we have to give kudos where kudos are due. That's why Cruise West, the adventure-oriented small ship line, which recently launched a new-and-improved site, gets our vote for best cruise line site (narrowly edging out Princess Cruises -- we just love their bridge cam feature).

The blog concept "came about as a way to communicate with past and potential guests in a way that was really personal," says Leigh Strinsky, the line's "director of online initiatives" and former captain of the
Cruise West's blogs, which are added at the pace of two to three per week, and come from a variety of sources. Employees are invited to collaborate, and as such the site has received postings from a range of contributors, including Spirit of Discovery Captain Rob Earle, who wrote about his last spring season voyage on the Columbia River, and company chairman Dick West, who chronicled his cruise to Japan.

While most emerge from staffer experiences, Strinsky also welcomes passenger contributions, such as Voyage to the Bering Sea photo journal by Brian Cleverly. As well, passengers and staffers, both on-land and at-sea, can respond to blogs via a post feature. Strinsky says that the most surprising revelation to come out of the switch to a more interactive and personal Web site was about Cruise West's passenger base. "Our guests are typically 60-plus for sure," she says, "and we were surprised at how many are online, using the Internet to plan and research trips, and who maintain their own Web sites and have 'flikr' accounts ( is a photo album-sharing Web site)."

The cruise line is definitely getting into more of an Internet spirit, having now implemented satellite connections on three of its ships -- Spirit of Endeavor, Spirit of '98, and Spirit of Oceanus. Additional features, beyond an existing postcard-sending technology and webcast availability, will be unveiled later this month and will include an online photo-sharing gallery and podcasts. Chances of "blog" publication are pretty good at this point, says Strinsky, who reads all submissions before launching them. "I haven't turned anybody down yet."