NEW YORK -- The annual Wave season is here again, and both agents and cruise executives are preparing for a banner year -- with one caveat.

"No one knows if we'll have a war [with Iraq]," Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Colin Veitch told agents during a question-and-answer session aboard the Norwegian Dawn. "We're hoping that Wave season should be strong," he added.

"I'm thinking it's going to be very good," said Kirk Lanterman, CEO of Holland America Line. "Assuming the [world] environment is similar."

The possibility of war aside, agents who were interviewed on the Dawn and HAL's new Zuiderdam said they were gearing up for a successful Wave -- a period of historically strong cruise booking that begins this month -- and predicting that the public's concern about safety would play to their advantage.

"I think it's going to be great," said Bea Hymiak of Cammarata's Travel in Lockport, N.Y. "Our bookings have picked up. I think people feel more safe [on cruise ships]. The Caribbean is up, and it's getting big for Alaska."

Cruises are a vacation with price value, said Carole Layer, an agent at the same agency. "That's what we're selling."

Retailers said sales from North American ports would likely be strong, and Andy Stuart, senior vice president of sales and marketing for NCL, agreed.

"There may be a short-term slowdown, but then it will strengthen in close-to-home [sales]," he said.

Meanwhile, the major cruise lines revved up their annual seasonal promotions.

Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises all have launched advertising and marketing campaigns in past months.

HAL will launch a $2 million ad campaign, to run through March, and again is mailing its "Sales Call in a Box" promotional kit to agents.

NCL's first new ad campaign in several years -- which will hit the New York market in time for the Wave period -- will tout the line's New York-Bahamas-Florida sailings on the Norwegian Dawn.

The company also launched two seasonal promotions for the NCL and Orient Lines brands: The "Sale of all Sails Wave of Prizes" awards daily prizes to agents based on the cruise market sold, and the Orient Lines "Sale of the Seven Continents" awards retailers who book groups on cruise-tour vacations.

At Princess Cruises, each reservation booked electronically through March 31 earns agents a 1% bonus override commission on each cruise or cruise-tour booked through any GDS or via Princess' online Travel Agent Center.

"We're anticipating a very busy Wave season," said Princess executive vice president Dean Brown.

Lines embark on promotions offering discounts, bonus pay

NEW YORK -- Other recent promotional efforts by cruise lines include:

• Silversea Cruises expanded its Personalized Voyages program to its entire fleet beginning with January sailings. The program enables guests to custom-design their cruise vacation by choosing the cruise length (with a minimum of five nights in a row) and their embarkation and disembarkation ports from a list of approved cities.

• Costa Cruises is offering promotions for kids and seniors aboard its Caribbean cruiser, the CostaVictoria. Through April 13, children age 17 and younger cruise free when staying in a cabin with two adults. Seniors can cruise with rates beginning at $399 per person, double. The promotion is offered to clients age 60 and older from Jan. 19 through April 6.

• Crystal Cruises is offering several programs for the summer, including extending agent bonus commissions on "Best of Everything" sailings, giving clients transatlantic business class upgrades on Crystal Symphony sailings and setting inaugural season fares for the Crystal Serenity, which will debut in July.

• First European Cruises reduced its fares for the 10-night Canary Island winter cruises on its newest ship, the European Stars. During January, February and March, the vessel sails roundtrip from Genoa, Italy, to Marseilles, France; Agadir and Casablanca, Morocco; Madeira, Portugal; and Lanzarote and Malaga, Spain.

• Seabourn Cruise Line extended its offer of up to 50% on cruise-only savings to include all 2003 Mediterranean cruises of the Seabourn Spirit and Legend, as well as a selection of cruises in Scandinavia and northern Europe aboard the Seabourn Pride. -- R.T.

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