Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: March 11, 2003

CRUISE EXECUTIVES were not apologizing for low prices, saying the discounting will help fill this year's new capacity while introducing more cruisers to the product. During a State of the Industry debate at the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention held in Miami Beach March 3 to 6, some panelists said they were disappointed by this year's Wave season, but Carnival Corp. chairman Howard Frank said lines can remain profitable when margins are reduced by low cruise prices, "even through difficult times." Bob Dickinson, however, rejected the notion that the cruise industry had done a good job of conveying its value. "Yes, we're able to get people on the ship, but we're giving away a phenomenal product at ridiculously low prices," he said.

• Gregg Michel, president of Crystal Cruises, said the line is looking at shorter cruises and roundtrip options from domestic ports in 2004. Crystal will take on a capacity increase of more than 50% in July when it introduces the Crystal Serenity. The line also said no-charge soft drinks, water, coffee and all other alcohol-free beverages will be introduced on Alaska sailings of the Crystal Harmony.
• The current state of capacity and geopolitical events can be rolled up into two words, said SeaDream Yacht Club's CEO Larry Pimentel: "Rough times." Small cruise lines will to fall into the hands of "entrepreneurs," he said. And agents will continue to be "important -- but not exclusive" to booking methods.
• Cruise Lines Int'l Assn. said a record 7.6 million North American cruisers sailed in 2002. This year, with capacity growth the business is poised to take on 8.3 million North Americans and 9.6 million cruise passengers worldwide.
• The pace of new building will slow considerably after the next two years, executives said. "Maybe we won't need ships in 2005 in the same numbers," Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Colin Veitch said. "But we will need new ships."
• Cunard Line will float out the partially completed Queen Mary 2 next weekend. President Pamela Conover said a quality control team spotted some flaws in the ship's new Mermaid propulsion pods; the pods were sent back to the manufacturer and the line does not expect the ship's delivery date (January 2004) to be affected.
• Meanwhile, NCL discussed its new position as the only cruise line to be able to offer interisland Hawaii service. NCL hopes to reflag a second ship for that market 10 to 12 months after its first Project America ship hits Hawaiian waters in mid-2004. "We have the ambition to be known as a Hawaii specialist," Veitch said. Meanwhile, NCL will add a new U.S. port to its lineup in 2004, Veitch said. No word on which city that will be, although he said: "It might not be on the East Coast."

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES shifted its 110,000-ton ship, the Carnival Conquest from New Orleans to Gulfport, Miss., for at least six weeks, because rising river levels made it unsafe to navigate the 210-foot tall ship beneath low-hanging power lines strung over the river. In December, Entergy officials proposed burying the lines underground, a process that was expected to take more than 18 months to complete. For now, Gulfport is about an hour-and-15-minute drive from New Orleans.

PHIL KLEWENO resigned as president of Princess Cruises. He had been with the company since June 2001. A statement from Peter Ratcliffe, chief executive of parent company P&O Princess, said: "Phil's leadership has been invaluable in keeping our organization focused ... during the merger activities."

WINDSTAR unveiled a 2004 cruise schedule that includes expanded options in Tahiti and a dedicated homeport in St. Thomas for the Wind Surf's 16 Caribbean voyages. The Wind Star, which is offering Tahitian Island cruises, will sail two roundtrip 14-day cruises from Tahiti to the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotu and the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. The former Wind Song, which cruised in Tahiti, suffered a fire last year and was sunk in French Polynesian waters in January.

SILVERSEA CRUISES will remove the Silver Cloud from service for six months beginning in October for a "major refurbishment" -- one similar to the treatment given the Silver Wind, which will return to the seas in May. The line also expanded its Silver Sailings program, which offers a discount of up to 50% on some cruises. The program, which originally promoted 30 applicable voyages this year, was broadened to include nearly 60 sailings.

PRINCESS rolled out a new promotion with Galileo in which travel agents who book Princess voyages using Galileo's e-Cruise or LeisureShopper to make a booking will receive a 1% bonus override commission. If clients use a MasterCard to pay for any cruise vacation of $3,000 or more, the passenger will receive a $50 MasterCard gift card.

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