If you live in Florida and want to cruise, the best deals are in the Caribbean. That's because those trips don't require plane tickets and for locals, last-minute deals are easier to grab.
That's just some of the insight from Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruisecritic.com. She answered a handful of questions via e-mail from London last week. Here's what she had to say about the state of cruising.
What are the trends in cruising destinations?
The Caribbean is making a rebound for a couple of reasons. After a few, economically prosperous years in which the demand was for cruising to exotic places (Europe, Asia, South America), a lot of travelers want to avoid long and expensive air tickets and trips. And cruise lines are once again embracing the home port concept — bringing ships closer to coastal cities so people don't even have to fly — and then cruising to the Bahamas and Caribbean. It's a relatively hassle-free way to go on a rather exotic trip.
How is the economy affecting the industry? And will that affect prices?
The economy is just now starting to affect cruise travel. Celebrity recently announced it would pull its ship out of Australia/New Zealand early; we're told that reluctance of long-haul travelers to ante up for ever more expensive flights has really hurt business there. And we're seeing some unbelievable deals; last week on Cruise Critic we featured a news story on an NCL ship, cruising three-nighters out of Miami, that was selling from $75. That's $25 a day! Mind you, not a fancy ship, not a fancy cabin category, but still. And holiday cruises, which used to get booked up way in advance, are frequently on sale. I haven't seen that before.
Are Florida cruisers a different market than the rest of the country?
Yes. Cruise ships have been around Florida for decades and so aren't as exotic or otherworldly as they are to travelers from different markets. It's more casual for Floridians to take a cruise. They have more choice and definitely more home-porting options. They do it more often and are definitely more likely to take advantage of last-minute opportunities.
What's the future for new ships?
They are getting bigger: Celebrity's Celebrity Solstice, debuting in November (sailing from Fort Lauderdale), is 40 percent larger than its current biggest ships.
Oasis of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship that's under construction in Finland, is also 40 percent bigger than its nearest fleet rival (Freedom of the Seas). The interesting thing there is that Freedom is currently the largest ship afloat. When Oasis launches . . . wow! It'll be the largest by a significant margin. It's going to be the ship of the decade, no doubt.
Even upscale ships are getting bigger. Seabourn and Oceania are both building new ships that are bigger than those already in the fleet.
How is the cruise industry attracting young adults, say between 25 and 35?
It's attracting young adults by offering more recreational options onboard (such as surf parks, rock-climbing walls, bowling alleys, ice skating) and onshore. And it's also appealing to younger travelers by focusing on the fact that you can visit a handful of destinations without packing and unpacking. For this traveler, it's a convenient way to sample a whole bunch of places — and then decide where you want to revisit.
How are cruise lines responding to increased environmental concerns?
I was really impressed with the commitment of Celebrity/Royal Caribbean, to investing in innovative ways to be more environmental efficient. They worked with a manufacturer to develop a new type of light bulb that would make a big difference in terms of conserving energy on a cruise ship; commercial companies can't even buy it yet on the marketplace because it's all so new.
Ironically, though we cover eco-oriented approaches to cruising, we do it because we believe in it. Passengers aren't really concerned with it at this point. In terms of actually buying a ticket on a cruise line that does practice efficiency rather than one that does not — there's no big difference.
What is your favorite cruise line and why?
I don't have one almighty favorite but I do have "bests" depending on how I'm cruising. With my parents, Princess is a great choice; there's plenty that appeals to them with enough to also be fun for those of us a bit younger (from the Movies under the Stars to the Sanctuary outdoor area and a great spa). If I'm traveling with friends with kids, I like Royal Caribbean and Carnival; there's plenty for them to do. Oceania, which I've cruised on with my husband and also on my own, offers the best value-for-money proposition: Food and service are superb, ships are mid-sized and intimate, and cost is reasonable . . . not quite luxury but definitely not mass market.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.