Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: July 16, 2002

CALLING IT "the newest gem" in the Royal Caribbean Int'l fleet, CEO Richard Fain introduced the line's Brilliance of the Seas at a naming ceremony in Harwich, England. The ceremony took place in the ship's Pacifica Theatre; a button onstage was pushed to trigger the champagne bottle break outside. The 2,100-passenger ship -- the second in Royal Caribbean's Radiance-class series -- began revenue service Monday and will sail a series of 12-night northern Europe cruises from Harwich.

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION should reject proposals from both Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. for P&O Princess Cruises, a D.C.-based antitrust watchdog group said. The American Antitrust Institute sent a letter to the FTC protesting both deals, saying that -- within a more narrowly defined North American cruise market -- the combinations would "produce market shares ... above levels that normally raise concerns about unilateral or coordinated exercise of market power." The conclusion was reached after a committee of AAI research fellows studied documents provided by RCCL and Carnival. Meanwhile, the National Consumers League also expressed opposition to both proposals, citing a loss of "effective, vigorous competition."

THE DEFINITION of the market in which the merger proposals are studied has emerged as a key issue in the quest for P&O Princess: If they are studied in a broader vacation market, as Carnival has argued, the cruise lines are not large enough to present antitrust problems. But the AAI said the smaller cruise market is more relevant because, among other things, cruisers "do not consider other vacations in choosing a cruise." An RCCL spokeswoman said the company was pleased the AAI said "the RCCL/Princess deal would create a firm equal in size to Carnival," instead of a "dominant firm" via a Carnival/Princess combination -- although it was disappointed the AAI didn't more fully support the RCCL deal. Carnival, on the other hand, questioned the report, saying a great deal of the AAI's data came from another report, commissioned by RCCL.

ADD WINDSTAR TO THE LIST of cruise lines steering their ships away from St. Croix. The line altered the Wind Surf's 2003 itinerary, replacing St. Croix port calls with calls in Isla Culebra, Puerto Rico. The ship was to have called in St. Croix eight times on its way between St. Thomas and Barbados. Passenger safety was the reason for the switch -- same as the other lines.

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES shuttered its Vacation Store kiosk in Arlington, Texas, but soon will open one in Pembroke Pines, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. The location was shifted to Florida so nearby Carnival executives could study the Vacation Store concept -- and tweak it, if necessary, said president Bob Dickinson. Overall, he said, the Vacation Stores were doing "OK," but added, "They're not doing as well as we know they can be." The other stores are in Houston, Dallas, and Chicago.

WORLD EXPLORER CRUISES will hold its 2002 Alaska prices steady for 2003, which means 10-day Alaska cruises start from $1,525 per person and 15-day cruises start at $1,995 per person.

CLARIFICATION: SeaDream Yacht Club corrected itself last week, restating its 2003 cruise fares for seven-day Mediterranean sailings. Rates start at $4,900--not $6,900, as initially reported by the company.

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