A month after its launch, Pearl Seas Cruises is forging ahead and laying the groundwork for moving its headquarters to the Miami area later this summer.
The new line brings a fresh product and unusual itineraries to the North American cruise scene, marketing itself as a coastal cruise operator.
Pearl Seas conducted its June 25 maiden voyage from Baltimore up to New England and Canada and will operate a series of cruises on the Great Lakes through mid-September.
"Everything is on schedule and running good," company President Charles Robertson said. "The boat's full, and we're all happy."
The line's single ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, is mostly sold out for this year, Robertson said, and sales for 2015 are doing very well.
"People are booking further ahead, there's no question about it," Robertson said. "I think that's true for everybody, probably."
Pearl Seas has the coastal market largely to itself. While other lines offer Canada/New England itineraries in the fall, it's rare for an operator to cruise the Great Lakes or schedule a trip with stops in nine colonial ports along the U.S. East Coast, as Pearl Seas will do later this year.
Robertson said that port operators in particular have received Pearl Seas enthusiastically. "They've been waiting for this for a long time," he said.
'A new type of cruise'
Rene Trepanier, executive director of the Cruise the St. Lawrence Association, a group of nine ports mostly in Quebec, said Pearl Seas has been a bonus for his members.
"They're a new type of cruise, and they come during the summer," Trepanier said.
Other operators that visit small ports such as Gaspesie and Saguanay tend to cluster in the fall, but Trepanier said summer is better "because the weather is good and the attractions are all open."
Other Pearl Seas destinations only lightly served by cruise lines include Chicago, Niagara Falls and Mackinac Island, off Michigan's Upper Peninsula in Lake Huron.
In October, the Pearl Mist will end its northern season, departing on a 15-day Colonial America cruise from Portland, Maine, which will stop in Boston and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.; Newport, R.I.; Williamsburg, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Jacksonville, St. Augustine and West Palm Beach, Fla., before concluding in Freeport, Bahamas.
From there, the ship will go to drydock until mid-February for mostly technical upgrades, although it will also get more teak decking, Robertson said.
The Pearl Mist is 335 feet long and has six decks with 108 cabins (several rooms are for singles). Rooms start at 302 square feet, with suites up to 580 square feet. Each room has a balcony.
Rates on Canada/New England seven-night itineraries range from $4,150 to $5,550 double occupancy, with a single cabin rate of $6,085. When the Pearl Mist shifts to the Caribbean in mid-February, rates run from $3,995 to $5,295 with a single cabin rate of $5,795.
Robertson said Pearl Seas cut back on marketing earlier this year because most trips have sold out. He's waiting until next spring to offer fam trips for agents but will have a couple of open houses in the fall so that agents can come on for a few hours and see the ship.
Dates and locations have yet to be decided, Robertson said.
Pearl Seas plans to open an office in Miami after Labor Day, Robertson said. It currently shares space in Guilford, Conn., with sister company American Cruise Lines.
Jill Wood, an agent at Eyre Travel, in Glenelg, Md., said the typical client for Pearl Seas is a well-traveled senior who has done the big ships and is looking for a fresh experience.
Some like the idea of a coastal cruise not traveling so far from shore, especially in case of medical emergencies, she said.
Wood had clients on the June 25 inaugural cruise, which had to run ahead of Hurricane Arthur and changed a few of its ports of call as a result.
"They said the boat handled as well as it could based on the weather conditions," Wood said.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.