NEW YORK -- In the midst of cruising's Wave season, agents are reporting some good news: Clients want to get out of town.

Mary Jean Tully, chairman and chief executive officer of Mississauga, Ontario-based Cruise Professionals, said the agency had its most successful January -- and their most unique booking experience -- this year.

"We had, on Jan. 3, somebody call and book a 100-day world cruise on Crystal. It left Jan. 17," Tully said. "Never do you have something like that book so last-minute. [Clients] just need to get away."

Scott Knoepf, executive vice president of the Cruise and Vacation Specialists consortium, said he's noticed a dramatic upswing from previous months.

Knoepf added that he has heard "varying reports" about Wave season business from member agencies.

"It's back, it's not as good, others say it just exploded," he said.

"The bigger agencies were being a little more aggressive with their marketing and advertising ... in the tough times, and now they're reaping the rewards."

Some agencies said they still are seeing a negative trend: Pricing has risen from its post-Sept. 11 lows, but it's still below last year's levels.

"On balance, it looks like booking passengers ... is up 9% or 10%," said Charlie Funk, co-owner of Just Cruisin' in Nashville.

But, he added, "Cruises that are too inexpensive -- we see that continuing.

"Volume-wise, we're up, but the prices have not returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels," said Spencer Kivet, senior vice president of marketing at Cruise Value Center in East Brunswick, N.J.

"Obviously for a travel agent, the thing is, yeah, we're producing plenty of passengers for these lines to sell drinks to. [But] we're doing more work for a little less money."

Kivet said one of the agency's biggest sellers was Celebrity Cruises' Galaxy, which sails from Baltimore.

"The Baltimore cruise is good because it hits anyone in the midatlantic," he said, and is convenient for clients who don't want to fly.

But some clients are willing to travel surprisingly far for their cruise experience, Tully said.

"South Pacific, we've had a lot of bookings," she said. "We did very well with Crystal for Southeast Asia, and [Radisson Seven Seas] Mariner for South America.

"People are starting to book Europe, and they [must] book soon because there are not that many ships left," Tully added.

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