Seatrade Debate: Is the Caribbean Dead?

March 11, 2008

Is the Caribbean dead?

In a word: no.

Despite a 5 percent drop in passengers this year, the Caribbean, which has reigned supreme and unchallenged for decades as the go-to cruise destination, still shows some spark.

The Caribbean, which was once a seasonal destination (i.e. late fall through early spring) before transitioning into more of a year-round option, is returning to its previous state. There will be fewer options for cruise travelers heading out on summer breaks -- but no negligible difference for passengers wanting a winter getaway.

The reason for the drop isn't so much about the Caribbean itself (and check out another perspective in this week's From the Bridge: Musings from the Caribbean and a British, Mid-Sized Ship). Indeed, says Carnival's Gerry Cahill, "The Caribbean is still the best cruising place in the world to me."

Instead, what's bouncing ships from the Caribbean is a fresh desire from cruise lines and passengers alike to travel to other corners of the world. The Mediterranean is the hottest region going.

As well, cruise lines are marketing to country-specific travelers, particularly where economies are stronger (South America, Europe, Asia ... well, pretty much anyplace aside from the United States). As a result of this globalization, Royal Caribbean and Costa are working hard to interest Asians in cruises there. MSC, Costa and Celebrity are emphasizing South America for South Americans. And Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corp. have both set sights on Europe -- to the point where they're either acquiring cruise lines (the former with the Spanish Pullmantur, the latter with the German AIDA, among others) or starting new ones.

And even as the Mediterranean is gaining steam as a winter cruise destination, fans of the Caribbean can take heart in one thing: For Europeans and Brits -- for whom the Mediterranean has a bit of a same-old, same-old quality due to proximity -- the Caribbean is one of the hottest, new and most exotic getaway options around.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

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