Travel Agent Event Reveals New Cruise Tidbits

March 10, 2008
Cruise Critic was on hand in an unseasonably cold Ft. Lauderdale for the fourth annual cruise3sixty convention, sponsored by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry marketing and training organization. Though the multi-day event is mainly geared to travel agents, it's one that never fails to reveal some more intriguing bits of information that might be of interest to everyone.

The highlights?

Another tidbit on Celebrity Solstice. We've already heard from Celebrity Cruises about certain features found onboard its under-construction Solstice -- cruising's first lawn club, a glass blowing show, and dining venues to for Asian, Italian and French cuisine. At a press conference here, this time the line unveiled details about onboard entertainment. A Cirque du Soleil-inspired offering will be shown in the main "Solstice Theater"; there will be dedicated spaces for cooking demonstrations and tarot card readers; and a top-ship spot will provide dance classes by day and performances of the same style of dance -- such as tango or ballroom -- by night.

First info on Carnival Dream. Carnival offered guests a sneak preview of a spectacular theatrical show, "G-Force," which will debut on Carnival Dream, its massive new-build (and first in a new generation of designs) due out in fall 2009. A combination gymnastics display and hip hop dance routine, the performance featured people spinning on their heads, walking on walls, bouncing and flipping on pogo stilts, hopping over a human jump rope, and otherwise defying gravity. Seriously, these were mind-bending displays of acrobatics and might just be worth sailing on Carnival Dream just to watch….

Small-ship cruising is hot! While the innovative offerings from cruising's behemoths typically demand the most attention, the more intimate lines, where frills come in terms of 5-star dining, and exotic destinations -- rather than surf simulators or onboard lawn clubs -- have their own place. The number of cruisers looking for obsessively personalized shore tour assistance is on the rise ("I'd like a beach front table for two at 12 p.m. at the best restaurant in the South of France"). The small-ship execs who spoke on a panel here noted the growing desire for "travel experiences" -- where enrichment, unique excursions and off-the-grid itineraries -- become the meat of the cruise, a far cry from the amenity-laden new-builds also being built.

Europe remains front and center, but.... This summer alone, Independence of the Seas, two Carnival ships, the newly named Norwegian Jade (which will homeport in Europe year round) as well as huge ships from the "Italian" brands MSC and Costa Cruise, will all be sailing (clogging?) the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. And with guests paying for their cruises in dollars, European cruising -- at least in terms of savings on hotel (the ship) and dining (onboard) -- represents the most price savvy way to see the Continent. But let's not count the Caribbean, which still holds the mantle of the first-timer cruiser, out just yet. Both Royal Caribbean Genesis-class ships (which will earn the biggest-ever crown when they launch), the first in 2009 and the second in 2010, will homeport out of Port Canaveral. And you still have Freedom and Liberty of the Seas, currently the world's largest cruise vessels, calling the Caribbean home.

Huh? There was a particular irony that we can't help but relate: the green theme. American Express, the main sponsor of the event, spoke of its plan of reducing their carbon footprint 10 percent by 2012. MSC spoke of its news ships being the greenest at sea. Executives from other lines spoke vaguely of their lines' commitments, via at-sea recycling programs and such, to the environment. And yet? Paper signs were everywhere offering tips on how to reduce waste, such as "save a tree, proof your work online." Throughout the conference, there was an unimaginable volume of pamphlets, flyers, packets, business cards, individually wrapped mints, brand-embossed mouse pads, key chains and squishy things, circulating -- all destined for the trash heap.

Stay tuned all this week as we reveal heaps of even newer tidbits gleaned from Miami's Seatrade, a cruise industry-wide gathering.

--by Dan Askin, assistant editor