Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: March 25, 2003

RADISSON SEVEN SEAS CRUISES cut the Radisson Diamond's Mediterranean season by 13 weeks and extended the ship's Caribbean offerings. The line also will be test-driving an open-bar policy on the Diamond's new Caribbean cruises, to get a feel for the guests' reaction and the impact on on-board revenue, as well as a "country-club casual" evening dress code, CEO Mark Conroy said. "This is 'The Other Caribbean: upscale but not uptight'," he told Travel Weekly. Instead of crossing the Atlantic in April en route to its traditional Med season, the Diamond will offer roundtrip voyages from Fort Lauderdale and one-way cruises between Fort Lauderdale and San Juan. It repositions to Madeira, Spain, Aug. 2.

RSSC also delayed the re-entry of the Song of Flower into the cruise market until May 26. The 180-passenger ship, which was to return to service April 21 with a series of Mediterranean cruises will now spend the summer in the Baltic region. The ship has been out of service since November, when its South America season was cancelled due to soft bookings.

CRYSTAL CRUISES was officially bounced from the Monterey, Calif., port last week; the city council there voted to ban the line from using Monterey facilities for 15 years--and the Crystal Harmony forever--following a November incident when that ship discharged treated sewage into the Bay of Monterey Marine Sanctuary. Crystal had not planned on calling in Monterey this year but said it was "disappointed," and added the discharge was contrary to its corporate policies.

SECURITY AT CRUISE PORTS was ratcheted up last week following the start of the war in Iraq with the introduction of the Dept. of Homeland Security's "Liberty Shield," a nationwide security initiative that includes increased water patrols and cruise ship escorts, and armed Coast Guard sea marshals on some "high interest" vessels. The ports and cruise industry have operated at a Level III security alert, its highest, since 9/11; a spokeswoman for the International Council of Cruise Lines described the security additions as "Level III-plus." Additional security measures that were visible to the public included increased inspections of luggage and carry-on articles, additional security personnel and controls, and canine inspections.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISES LTD. is in the midst of a major facelift in its group bookings department for both its Royal Caribbean and Celebrity brands. It changed its group bookings policies--for example, giving agents more time to arrange final deposits and slashing initial deposit requirements by 50%--but it's also been quietly rearranging its department management and putting new internal checks and balances in place. New technology gives group reps a checklist of agents to call and finalize reservations; an "ambassador" staff calls agents with groups to make sure all's well; a devoted accounting staff is on call to help RCCL reps answer questions. Eleven months ago, "We did not have a quality assurance program in place ... employee morale was not particularly high," said reservations vice president Brad Miller. Now, he said, "we think we're well on our way."

THE ROCK-CLIMBING WALLS affixed to the smokestacks of Royal Caribbean International's newest ships will be installed on the rest of the Royal Caribbean fleet by the end of this year, the company said last week. The walls were an industry first when introduced on the line's first Voyager-class vessel in 1999. The retrofit will start with the Monarch of the Seas in late May and is scheduled to be completed by November with the Legend of the Seas. Dan Hanrahan, Royal's senior vp-marketing and sales, said the rock-climbing walls, which are featured in the line's ad campaign, have become a brand icon. "Increasingly," he said, "the rock-climbing walls have become the symbol of the active ... spirit we are known for."

CARNIVAL CORP. was buoyed by a 14.7% capacity increase in the first quarter, but the company said earnings dipped because of the uncertainty of war and higher operating costs. Revenue rose 13.7% to $1.03 billion, but net income fell 2.1% to $126.9 million for the quarter ended Feb. 28. Net revenue yields were equal to 2002 levels after deducting travel agent commissions and air transportation costs; higher fuel costs accounted for a 60% increase in cost per available berth day, Carnival said.

CEO Micky Arison said war, the economy and high fuel costs created an "extremely challenging environment for leisure travel businesses. Carnival said booking volumes for the second half of 2003, although ahead of last year's levels, currently are not keeping pace with expected capacity increases, and pricing remains slightly below 2002 levels." But Carnival vice-chairman Howard Frank was upbeat about the rest of the year, saying there is "ample time to recover" by the third quarter.

CELEBRITY CRUISES will send its 1,374-passenger Zenith to Jacksonville, Fla., this fall, making it the first cruise line to sail from the north Florida city. The Zenith will spend 13 weeks in Jacksonville and offer 11- to 14-day itineraries to the southern and western Caribbean from Oct. 26 through April 22. The Zenith originally was scheduled for a South America series this winter. The Infinity, one of Celebrity's newer Millennium-class ships, will instead handle that route. A replacement ship for the Infinity's originally scheduled Hawaii cruises has not yet been named, a spokeswoman said.

THE CARNIVAL SPIRIT added two roundtrip departures from San Diego: A six-day Baja Mexico voyage on Oct. 18 and an eight-day Mexico Riviera cruise on Oct. 24. The two new cruises replace a 14-day roundtrip cruise to Hawaii.

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