Princess Cruises has launched its first sustained series of short cruises on the West Coast, with the goal of getting past passengers to cruise more frequently.
The three- and four-day cruises begin in late September and run through early January, offering ports of call in Santa Barbara, Catalina Island and San Diego in California, in addition to Ensenada in Mexico.
The getaway cruises from Los Angeles are offered on the 2,634-passenger Golden Princess and 2,674-passenger Sapphire Princess. Prices start at $199 per person for a three-day cruise to Ensenada.
Princess is also offering a few short cruises from Houston for the first time and returning to a short-cruise program from Fort Lauderdale that was last offered in 2008-09.
Jan Swartz, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service at Princess, said the typical past guest vacations on a Princess ship once every two-and-a-half to three years.
“The short-cruise product offers us a way to accelerate that cycle and introduce new people to Princess at the same time,” Swartz said.
Los Angeles-area travel agents said the program is proving popular with their clients.
“Absolutely, there’s a high demand locally for the shorter excursions,” said Jill Robbins an agent at Eden For Your World, in Long Beach. “I have people asking all the time.”
She said she recently booked a family group of about 20 cabins on a short Princess cruise to celebrate an 80th birthday. One attraction is that some members of the group couldn’t take a lot of time away from work, Robbins said. They also liked not having to fly to the cruise.
Robbins said that in the past, options for short cruises have been limited primarily to Carnival Cruise Lines. “Sometimes people are looking for a step up,” she said.
Joni Notagiacomo, owner of a Cruise One franchise in Los Angeles, said the short cruises dovetail with a Princess strategy to offer aggressive discounts to past passengers.
“I’m doing great with them,” she said of the three- and four-day cruises, citing the convenience of not having to fly and availability of itineraries beyond just Los Angeles-Ensenada.
Clients appreciate another alternative besides Carnival, she said. “They want a short getaway, and cost-wise it’s easier,” Notagiacomo said.
Montrose Travel leisure sales manager Chris Martin agreed that short-cruise customers are price sensitive but said that Carnival holds the advantage there.
“It’s starting to gain some traction,” he said of the Princess product, “but it’s going to take some time.”
While Los Angeles-based Princess has offered a few short West Coast cruises in the past, they have generally been one-off repositioning cruises. It will again offer several overnight Seattle-Vancouver cruises this month, as well as a three-night Vancouver-Los Angeles cruise on Golden Princess sailing on Sept. 23.
Princess is also offering a four-night Galveston cruise with a stop in Progresso, Mexico, on Nov. 5 and will offer a similar cruise in 2014 when it shifts embarkation to Houston.
From Fort Lauderdale, Princess is using the 2,852-passenger Ruby Princess for a series of four- and five-day cruises on both Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. The Eastern route includes stops at Princess Cay and Grand Turk, with two cruises that also include Nassau.
The western route includes either Grand Cayman Island or Cozumel on the four-day itinerary, and both destinations on the five-day cruise.
Princess will be going up against similar cruises offered by Carnival out of Miami and by Royal Caribbean International from Fort Lauderdale.
One four-night Princess Cruise to Cozumel starts at $299 per person, with other itineraries and dates listed on the Princess website for $30 to $200 more.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.