rincess Cruises is making sure we're aware of its growing presence in the Caribbean -- the line will have 75% more capacity in the Caribbean next year than this year.

But it also will have several new ships in Alaska, and it's "going big" into Hawaii in 2004, too. So which destination is the real focus?

"This brand is growing," said Dean Brown, executive vice president of sales. "We're going to grow 33% on an annual basis. We're taking on capacity that lets us do everything strategically.

"[This way,] we can defend and grow our position where we're known, and we can attack in the Caribbean, where we're not as well known."

• • •

Get the platinum credit cards ready. Cunard Line introduced an ultra-luxury package vacation onboard the Queen Mary 2 featuring top suites on the QM2; transatlantic travel via private Gulfstream jet, courtesy of Marquis Jet; and a two-night stay in a top suite at the Mandarin Oriental in New York or London. All that, plus ground transfers by limo, retails for $99,850 per person.

QM2 passengers can also purchase Marquis Jet's private jet services in combination with any voyage or cabin category.

• • •

SeaDream Yacht Club extended its "No Stress, No Strings" cancellation policy to include cruises booked in 2003 for departures in 2004.

SeaDream was one of the first cruise lines to introduce a relaxed version of its cancellation policies in an attempt to persuade skittish travelers to book.

In SeaDream's case, passengers can change or postpone cruise plans for any reason up to the date of departure and receive a cruise credit worth 100% of their fare, good for two years.

• • •

Got math? Holland America Line (HAL) is offering cruise deals to teachers. Currently employed as well as retired teachers can select from five Caribbean sailings, a Panama Canal departure and a South America cruise.

David Giersdorf, the line's vice president of sales and marketing, said that the sailings fall conveniently within most teachers' winter break weeks in late December.

HAL, meanwhile, added an 18-day roundtrip Hawaii cruise from Seattle, and it will continue its 15-day cruises on board the Statendam and the Amsterdam from San Diego.

The ships are not slated to call in Molokai, an island that was on the itinerary this year but was scuttled after "issues were raised in the [Molokai] community about cruise ship visits."

• • •

Viking River Cruises is ready to make its long-planned foray into China, despite this year's SARS-related river cruising bust.

Said president Jeff Dash: "You worry about it; you try to package things ... you make sensible deals. But not once, from March until today, did we consider SARS a hindrance for launching the product in '04."

Viking will own and operate its own ship on the Yangtze when it launches service in 2004, and the cruise will be focused on the North American market.

Perhaps this year's travel downturn helped. "I think SARS certainly made people [in China] more receptive to meeting us," Dash said.

• • •

Windstar is preparing to move into a major overhaul of its three ships.

Parent company HAL gave the tall-ship fleet $6.5 million for renovations in November, sales vice president Tom Russell said. Although each ship will get special attention in different public rooms, all staterooms will be redone and exercise and spa facilities will be expanded on the two smaller ships, the Wind Spirit and the Wind Star.

Windstar, meanwhile, is wooing travel agents with a new Web-based sales tool that helps them design romance-themed packages for their clients.

The Romance Under Sail site (at www.romanceundersail.com) enables agents to customize packages with romantic touches.

• • •

Star Clippers is returning to St. Maarten with the Star Clipper.

The 170-passenger sailing ship had homeported last fall out of Puerto Calica, near Cancun, Mexico, for a series of western Caribbean sailings. But a spokeswoman for Star Clippers said the Cancun experience "didn't work out as well as we'd hoped."

The Cancun sailings slated for the remainder of 2003 were dropped in favor of a return to St. Maarten.

• • •

Radisson Seven Seas Cruises spruced up its Web site.

Among the site's new functions are enhanced search capabilities; a travel agent-only section featuring special offers and news; a charter and incentives section with a downloadable sales kit; and a Find an Agent resource section for consumers.

A Plan a Voyage section enables users to search for a cruise based on their preferred destination, month of travel or length of cruise.

• • •

Europe-based cruise operator First European Cruises is offering discounts on seven-day Mediterranean cruises aboard its two 1,500-passenger ships during October and November.

The European Vision sails the eastern Mediterranean; the European Stars cruises to France, Italy and Spain.

Prices start at $860 per person, double, for these week-long, port-intensive cruises; suites start at $1,230. Commission is 12%.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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