Shorter sailings growing in popularity

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ruise operators have long believed the key to attracting younger vacationers unfamiliar with the cruise format is by offering shorter cruise itineraries from two to five days.

Unlike cruises of seven days or longer, shorter itineraries allow new cruisers to sample a seagoing vacation without committing to a full week.

The industry's swing toward shorter itineraries is backed up by the numbers.

According to statistics from the Cruise Lines International Association, passengers opting for cruise itineraries of two to five days in length grew an incredible 631.7% between 1980 and 2000 (347,000 to 2,539,000 passengers).

Moreover, two- to five-day cruises now account for just over one-third of all itineraries, growing 12.6% from 24.3% of all cruises in 1980 to 36.9% in 2000.

Imperial Majesty's OceanBreeze offers two-day Bahamas cruises.During the same period, the three other major length categories tracked by CLIA -- six- to eight-day cruises, nine- to 17-day voyages and those of 18 days or longer, all lost market share by at least 5%.

Short cruises are key to the cruise lines' expansion efforts; since fewer than 6% of North Americans have sampled a cruise, shorter itineraries are more attractive to potential passengers who aren't sure if they'll enjoy the cruise format.

Vacationers in search of short-cruise options are in luck.

Due in large part to the industry's unprecedented fleet expansion, more ships are deployed on short itineraries than at any time in history.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, offers three- and four-day Bahamas and western Caribbean cruises from Miami aboard the 2,040-passenger Ecstasy and three- and four-day cruises from Port Canaveral, Fla., aboard the 2,040-passenger Fantasy.

In the four- and five-day market, Carnival added a series of western Caribbean cruises departing from Tampa, Fla., aboard the 1,486-passenger Jubilee, and western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas.

Carnival also offers four- and five-day western Caribbean cruises from Miami aboard Imagination.

Cruising's second-largest operator, Royal Caribbean Cruises, also offers a diverse group of short-cruise options.

From Miami, the 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas offers three- and four-night Bahamas cruises.

Royal Caribbean's 2,250-passenger Sovereign of the Seas, meanwhile, will cruise to the Bahamas on three- and four-day itineraries departing from Port Canaveral.

Also, Royal Caribbean's 1,600-passenger Nordic Empress offers three- and four-night Caribbean cruises from San Juan while 1,500-passenger Viking Serenade embarks on three- and four-night Mexico cruises from Los Angeles.

Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the 2,100-passenger Radiance of the Seas, will offer short-cruise itineraries in the Pacific Northwest this fall.

At Norwegian Cruise Line, the 1,518-passenger Norwegian Sea offers three-, four- and five-day Bahamas cruises from Miami.

Despite the recent bankruptcy of Premier Cruise Line, which offered short-cruise itineraries for the budget market, there remains a low-price operator offering short cruises to the Bahamas.

Imperial Majesty Cruise Line operates the OceanBreeze on two-night Bahamas cruises from Port Everglades, Fla.

OceanBreeze's short sailings have grown in popularity since 1999, the line's first year of operation.

In 2000, the 984-passenger OceanBreeze carried 130,000 passengers compared with 120,000 in 1999.

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