Travel Weekly's Cruise E-letter: March 2, 2004

CRUISE LINES INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION members transported a record 9.52 million passengers worldwide in 2003, a 10.2% increase over 2002; the number of North American passengers increased 6.9%. The cruise lines hit a 102.6% load factor, besting the 98.6% in 2002. Mark Conroy, CLIA's chairman and president and the CEO of Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, said in a statement that passenger numbers could set a new record this year. If occupancy remains steady, he said, "we could anticipate another record year in 2004, with approximately 10.6 million guests." In other 2003 stats, CLIA said the average length of a cruise dipped to 6.88 days in 2003, from 6.96 in 2002.

THE U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE (GAO) released its report on its review of Norwegian Cruise Line's exemption from the Passenger Services Act (PSA), which will allow the line to operate foreign-built ships in Hawaii. The GAO said NCL's exemption is specific to three vessels and will likely have "little or no impact" on how the PSA is administered or interpreted. And, it added, independent of the exemption, there are other "substantial obstacles," such as labor costs, for other potential U.S.-flag cruise vessels. "Granting additional exemptions ... could lead to benefits for port cities, U.S. seamen and consumers," the report said. "However, it is unclear how many cruise lines would choose to enter, even if they were permitted to operate foreign-built ships under the U.S. flag because of the higher operating costs ... and because of uncertain market conditions."

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES' officially welcomed its latest Spirit-class ship, the Carnival Miracle, into the fleet last weekend with a naming ceremony officiated by former Army private Jessica Lynch. The 2,124-passenger Miracle finished up its inaugural three-day voyage from Jacksonville, Fla., Monday -- marking the line's first cruises from the north Florida port -- and then began a series of three-, five- and six-day cruises from Jacksonville through April 17, when it positions up the coast to Baltimore and New York.

MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES (MHI) delivered Princess Cruises' 116,000-ton Diamond Princess to Nagasaki, Japan, Thursday, and a naming ceremony, complete with traditional drumming, a dragon dance and a sake barrel-bursting ceremony, took place later that day. The 2,670-passenger ship is the largest cruise ship built in Japan, a departure from the cruise line's typical shipyard partners in Europe -- but both Carnival Corp. CEO Micky Arison and Princess CEO Peter Ratcliffe, who were on hand for the ceremonies, praised the shipyard's work and the condition of the ship, and said they would "love" to work with MHI again. The Diamond Princess then departed Nagasaki for Los Angeles to prepare for cruises to Mexico March 13; in the summer, the ship will be based in Seattle for seven-day Inside Passage cruises to Alaska. The Diamond's sister, the Sapphire Princess, will be delivered in May.

A GREEK COURT gave financially troubled Royal Olympia Cruises six months to find a compromise with creditors. The court, the Greek Maritime Court of Appeal, appointed a mediator for a six-month period "in order to try and find a compromise agreement with the creditors." The court also allowed the Royal Olympia subsidiaries which own its "tradition fleet" vessels, the Odysseus, Triton, World Renaissance and Olympia I, to be included in reorganization proceedings, which are similar to Chapter 11 in the U.S.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL AND CELEBRITY CRUISES waived the fees they previously charged for customers who travel from gateways from which the cruise operators don't offer air. Under the previous arrangement, customers traveling from a gateway not offered by the cruise line had to pay either an administrative fee for a custom air booking or book the flights on their own.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN, meanwhile, enhanced its Insight agent software to make it easier to access information, check reservations expiration dates, manage tour bookings, and work offline. A new search function enables agents to sort bookings by expiration date to catch bookings that are about to expire; another new feature helps agents export information from Insight to Excel so they can work offline. The Insight upgrade also has a new tweak that helps agents check information about their group bookings.

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