n undercover Travel Weekly reporting team has finally laid its hands on a copy of the secret handbook of the American Cruise Executives Society, or ACES. It confirms what we have long suspected: It is a condition of membership that no member of ACES is allowed to utter the word "overcapacity."

The penalties are severe. They take away your captain's cap and nautical dictionary (so you can't look up words like "athwart") and they make you pick up your own bar tabs. Also, you're forbidden to use the secret handshake.

In fact, the secret handbook makes clear that, to members of ACES, "overcapacity" does not exist and cannot possibly exist because cruising is so good that the demand for it is unlimited. Since demand is infinite, the supply can never exceed the demand and "overcapacity" is therefore a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron like "military intelligence," "jumbo shrimp" or "airline management."

So we breathed a sigh of relief for Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison when he said in the company's latest earnings report that booking levels are "not commensurate with the increase in capacity expected for the second half of the year." That was a close call: He almost said the "O" word.

Arison flirted with disaster again last week when explaining the company's decision to cancel an order for a new Holland America ship and to delay the delivery dates of three ships due to arrive in 2004 and beyond. He actually used phrases like "rational growth rate" and "rational and efficient timetable to absorb additional capacity."

Our antennae also went up when Andy Stuart, NCL's senior vice president for sales and marketing, said at the CruiseTour World show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that "I don't see an increase in capacity as a problem. I see an opportunity." Another close one.

Since they didn't actually say the "O" word, their memberships in ACES are presumably secure. But it's breathtaking, nevertheless, to watch our industry leaders living so dangerously close to the edge.

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On the house?

omes now Continental Airlines with the latest airline money-making scheme: a $10 service fee for using a city ticket office. American started a similar $5 fee last year and it has taken this long for Continental to go into lemming mode.

We don't know what to make of this, but it seems a little strange for a business establishment to charge its customers a fee for taking the trouble of getting dressed and walking in the front door. Call it a brick-and-mortar penalty.

We asked a travel agent friend if she charged extra for walk-ins and she said no. In fact, they get cookies and juice. On the house.

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