Closer to Port

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ne of the quiet but important changes taking place in the cruise industry is the redeployment of ships to a wider range of U.S. ports.

A glance at the cruise charts in Travel Weekly's Dec. 3 Cruise Guide supplement illustrates this point.

Consider this listing of ports in the U.S. from which cruise ships will sail over the next several months: Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Port Everglades, Fla.; San Francisco; Boston; Cincinnati; Galveston, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis; Nashville; New Orleans; Norfolk, Va.; Philadelphia; Port Canaveral, Fla.; Port Manatee, Fla.; San Diego; St. Louis; Tampa, Fla., and Warren, R.I. In addition, cruises, not listed in the charts, are scheduled from Seattle and Baltimore.

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's chairman, said his company has been encouraged by the interest shown by a number of cities in bringing cruise ships to their ports.

Although this trend was well under way before Sept. 11, it is proving to be even more important because of what happened that day.

One of the changes wrought by the redeployment of ships to more ports is that a larger percentage of cruise passengers now can drive to the ships rather than be dependent on air connections. For those cruise customers who remain wary of flying, the ability to reach ports by car is a reassuring factor.

The movement of cruise vessels to an increasing number of ports also improves the opportunities for more travel agencies to sell the cruise product. Moreover, with ships sailing from more places, there is a greater potential for diversifying the places that the ships visit.

As Fain pointed out recently, one of the frustrations of the cruise industry has been the inability to induce a larger percentage of Americans to cruise. Statistics show that nearly 90% of Americans haven't taken a cruise. But the data also show that once people cruise, they are likely to become cruise lifers.

It will take a lot of aggressive marketing by the cruise lines and travel agencies to drive up the percentage of travelers who enter the cruise market.

But having ships deployed to more places within the U.S. should help achieve that goal.

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