SeaDream joining other lines in Asia

By Tom Stieghorst

SeaDream IISeaDream Yacht Club is venturing into Asian waters for the first time in 2013, part of a growing contingent of new operators in the Far East.

The two-ship line has put together a series of 18 cruises on its SeaDream II vessel that will run from Oct. 12, 2013, to April 4, 2014. Most of the cruises will be seven days, with a few 13- to 14-day itineraries as well.

"In our entire history, we have not done any Asia," said Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream, which started sailing in 2002. "There's significant additional interest in that part of the world."

SeaDream joins a few cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, which have a long history in Asia. But other cruise lines are just getting started there, or are adding new ports of call as Asian countries become more attuned to cruise tourism.

One of the biggest lines now moving into Asia is Celebrity Cruises, which will begin a new series of Asian itineraries next month. The Celebrity Millennium will sail both northbound and southbound between Singapore and Hong Kong on a trip that includes stops in Thailand and Vietnam. It will also offer a northern Asia cruise from Hong Kong to Shanghai via Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with a stop in Beijing.

Asian itineraries are fueled in part by a shortage of warm-weather destinations in the North American winter months outside the crowded Caribbean. The Regent Seven Seas Voyager, for example, will spend from November to June in the South Pacific and Asia.

In 2015, Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony will spend the entire first quarter in southeast Asia.

"We are constantly pushing ourselves to find new ways to show the world to savvy travelers," said Jack Anderson, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Crystal, which also has a ship in the Caribbean part of the winter.

Single-ship lines must choose one or the other. Voyages to Antiquity will sail its 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey in Asia for the first time beginning in December with a 16-day cruise from Singapore.

Port calls include Kuala Lumpur, Pengang and Malacca, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; and Yangon, Myanmar.

Heather Krasnow, a spokeswoman for Voyages, said a highlight of the trip is Myanmar, where the government until recently offered tourists very limited travel options.

The SeaDream II also plans an overnight in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, formerly called Rangoon. A 13-night cruise leaves Nov. 25 from Singapore and explores small ports and islands in Thailand along the way.

"These itineraries are really unique and different," said Lepisto, whose 110-passenger vessels can navigate many areas that would be unavailable to larger ships.

Interest by SeaDream in Asia is also driven in part by a growing international customer base that doesn't have to fly as far to reach Asia.

SeaDream has cultivated a following in Australia, for example. "Suddenly we offer some sailing opportunities closer to home," Lepisto said. Asian cruisers from countries such as Japan are also finding their way onto SeaDream ships, he added.

Lepisto said that this winter both SeaDream ships will be sailing in the Caribbean and Central America but that customer surveys revealed interest in new places to explore.
About 60% of SeaDream passengers are from North America.

Some cruise lines that already sail in Asia are adding new ports of call. Oceania Cruises, for example, will stop for the first time in 2014 in Dalian, one of China's northernmost ports.

The city, which has a population the size of Philadelphia, has several popular beaches, a historical district and a zoo devoted to polar animals. The stop in Dalian is part of a 16-day "Pearls of the Orient" cruise that departs Hong Kong and ends in Beijing with eight stops in four countries along the way.

For cruise news, follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.  

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