Bermuda cruising, a bright light on the horizon

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NEW YORK -- These days, predictions come with caveats, and the 2003 Bermuda cruise season is no exception.

With continuing reservations about military conflicts, the economy and the SARS outbreak around the globe, cruise executives say they are in no position to make bold proclamations about how ships might do in any given market.

That said, it would appear that Bermuda has as good a shot as any destination of performing well because the island is close to home and has a reputation as a "safe" destination.

Cruise passengers have several shore days to spend exploring Bermuda's historic areas. Above, St. George's Town Square. The Bermuda government vigilantly controls the number of ships it allows in its harbors, and three lines -- Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean -- have coveted long-term contracts that enable them to sail to the destination.

This year, two new players, Carnival Cruise Lines and Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, have entered the Bermuda cruise fray with shorter-term contracts.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival dipped two ships into Bermuda waters with a series of seven weeklong itineraries aboard the Carnival Pride sailing roundtrip from New York.

The line also will operate the Carnival Legend on two six-day sailings from Philadelphia, and it launched another two from Baltimore; the first sailed April 29. All 11 voyages will dock at King's Wharf.

Carnival is promoting the fact that the two ships, which debuted in 2002, are the newest in the Bermuda market.

"Carnival has, for many years, wanted to offer a program to Bermuda, and we're really enthused that we've finally been able to work it out," said a Carnival spokeswoman. "It's the first time we've had a big-capacity commitment to the Bermuda market, and we think it's going to go extremely well with two of our newest ships."

The Carnival Pride sailings depart from New York on Wednesdays from July 16 through Aug. 27. The Carnival Legend will sail roundtrip out of Baltimore again Oct. 28, and roundtrip out of Philadelphia on May 6 and Oct. 21.

Cruise fares for the Carnival Pride start at $799 per person, double. Per-person fares for the Carnival Legend's itineraries start at $599, double, out of Baltimore and $699 out of Philadelphia.

Celebrity/Royal Caribbean

Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, both units of Royal Caribbean Cruises, positioned three ships in the Bermuda market this year with sailings out of New York: the Horizon and the Zenith for Celebrity and the Nordic Empress for Royal Caribbean International.

According to Rod McLeod, senior vice president of industry relations for Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, Bermuda and the Port of New York are benefiting from the homeport strategies that were brought on by 9/11.

"For the cruise industry, Bermuda is a very good lever for the development of the Northeast market," he said. "Bermuda has been the sustaining [destination for this market] over the last 20 years."

Although it is impossible to predict just how well the ships will perform, McLeod noted that sailings for both lines are booking fairly briskly.

"I expect that we will sail at capacity this year," he said. "I think Bermuda fits well into the homeport strategy."

Celebrity's Horizon sails roundtrip to Bermuda from New York every Saturday through Sept. 13. On Sept. 21, it will sail on the first of four seven-night cruises roundtrip from Philadelphia.

The Zenith operates its series of Bermuda itineraries roundtrip from New York on Saturdays through Oct. 18. The two ships spend two days in the port of St George's, and another two days in Hamilton. Fares start at $800 per person, double.

Royal Caribbean International's Nordic Empress was set to begin its weekly Bermuda series May 4, concluding Oct. 12.

Departing on Saturdays, the ship will spend three days at King's Wharf and also feature an overnight in Hamilton. Fares start at $799 per person, double.

Norwegian Cruise Line

For its part, Norwegian Cruise Line will carry more passengers to Bermuda this year than any other cruise line, the company said.

NCL was able to grow its Bermuda-bound fleet to two ships, the Norwegian Sea and the Norwegian Majesty, by taking over a Bermuda slot previously filled by Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess.

The Majesty and the Sea will collectively operate 45 cruises to Bermuda from three ports -- Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

"Bermuda historically has been a good market for us," said Andy Stuart, NCL's senior vice president of marketing and sales.

This year, NCL is offering its passengers a new twist to its Freestyle Dining program. Those sailing with the line can have lunch at a choice of 35 Bermuda restaurants for a nominal fee of $5. They can do the same for dinner, at a cost of $10.

"If you're in Bermuda for three days, it's really nice to have the opportunity to experience Bermuda hospitality," Stuart said.

The Norwegian Majesty was set to sail on seven-day itineraries roundtrip from Boston every Sunday from May 4 to Oct. 19, calling at St. George's. Fares start at $799 per person, double.

Every Sunday from June 8 to Sept. 21, the Norwegian Sea will depart from New York to Bermuda, calling at St. George's, Hamilton and King's Wharf.

On Sept. 28, the vessel will reposition from New York to Philadelphia for a six-day sailing to Hamilton and King's Wharf before launching a series of seven-day Philadelphia to Bermuda itineraries on Oct. 5, 12 and 19. Fares start at $699 per person, double.

Radisson Seven Seas

Radisson's Bermuda schedule aboard the Seven Seas Navigator marks the first time the line has sailed out of New York.

"Radisson Seven Seas Cruises saw an opportunity to position one of its luxury vessels on the East Coast," said a spokesman for the line. "We do so well in Alaska that we thought we'd balance that with an East Coast presence."

Radisson's Seven Seas Navigator will sail roundtrip from New York to Bermuda May 7 through Sept. 17. Departures are on Wednesdays, and the ship will spend Fridays and Saturdays in Hamilton and Sundays in St. George's.

Prior to the inaugural roundtrip Bermuda cruise, the line operated an April 23 sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Hamilton, followed by an April 30 Hamilton to New York itinerary.

As an incentive to book, the line is offering free, two-night pre-cruise stays at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria, including a ticket to an array of Broadway musicals.

The offer applies to the cruises of May 7, 14, 21 and 28, and June 4, 11 and 18. The incentive package also includes roundtrip transportation to the ship for those passengers who live within a 50-mile radius of the cruise terminal.

Those guests opting not to take advantage of the pre-cruise/hotel/theater package will receive a $300 credit. Per person prices for the Bermuda sailings start at $2,695.

The spokesman said Radisson Seven Seas plans to renew its contract to operate the sailing again next year. "We have every intention of going back in 2004," he said.

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For more details on this article, see Too soon to track bookings for Bermuda's season.

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