Hot cruise trends • While the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera (Pacific coast) remain the top three cruise destinations for Americans, Europe is blossoming and South America and Asia are budding, according to a survey by Cruise Holidays, the nation's biggest cruise agency. • An estimated 12.8-million people will cruise this year, up from 12.6-million in 2007, predicts the trade group Cruise Lines International. About 18 percent will be non-Americans, so expect a greater international flavor even on American-branded ships. • Here's a rundown on cruise trends you'll see this year:
Still hot Europe: Expect a Mediterranean cruise, in a mid-range cabin, to cost about $269 per day per person, up from $250 a day in 2007. That's similar to the cost of cruising Alaska ($259 per day) but more than cruising the Caribbean ($159 per day). The cost increase is mainly due to supply and demand.
Popular Mediterranean cruises last about 12 days and visit spots like Rome, Turkey and Greece. Northern European Baltic cruises usually stop in ports such as Amsterdam, Scandinavia capitals and St. Petersburg, Russia.
South America and Asia: If you look hard and are flexible on travel dates, you can find some great prices, as low as $2,000 for two weeks. The new ship Carnival Splendor launches in July and will sail Baltic cruises in the summer, then do three South American cruises in early 2009 as it repositions to the West Coast for the spring ($1,799 and up, see www.carnival.com).
Cruise Holidays reported its South American bookings are up 23 percent this year, taking people to places like Brazil and Argentina. Its Australia and Asia bookings are up about 10 percent. Asian cruises can take you from busy Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai to Vietnam and Thailand.
New destinations even from Florida: An estimated 17 percent of all American adults have already taken a cruise, so cruise lines keep going farther afield for new ports.
New luxury small ships that appeal to cruisers looking for something new: The Pearl Sea, a 215-passenger ship debuting in August, will ply Atlantic Canada this fall (eight days for about $4,000). The Jewel River Cruises small ship Imperial Blue debuts May 15; it will run seven-day luxury cruises from Paris to Rouen on the Seine (about $5,000; see www.
More "must-see" ports: According to Web site Cruise Critic, top ports for 2008 are Amsterdam; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Hong Kong; Martinique; Maui; Muscat, Oman; Naples, Italy; St. Petersburg, Russia; Sydney; and Vancouver. The still-fresh Grand Turk port on Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean is also drawing attention.
"Flightseeing" air tours continue despite four accidents in 2007 that killed 15 people in Alaska and Hawaii.
Possible softer prices: The poor U.S. economy may mean fewer Americans will be able to afford a cruise, reports the trade journal Travel Weekly. If that happens, look for discounts.
Cost in translation • Here are some explanations of what you might see on your bill:
Fine print: "Due to rapidly escalating fuel prices, Carnival Corp.'s six North American brands
. . . have implemented a fuel supplement of $5 per person, per day." (Carnival Corp.)
Translation: When we set prices, we grossly misjudged how much oil was going to cost. To make up for our error — and to ensure continued record profits — you get to pay our gas bill. But we're not going to reflect that increase in the advertised price.
Not-so-fine print: "Every day, more and more people are discovering the all-inclusive pleasures of a cruise vacation." (Cruise Lines International Association)
Translation: This is your first time, isn't it?
Midsize ships (500 to 1,500): Comparable to an inn, more personal, some activities and no lines.
Small ships (fewer than 500): Similar to a B&B and can navigate shallow water.
Size does matter • A guide to what you can expect on all size ships according to TravelSmart newsletter (www.travelsmartnewsletter.com).
Large ships (1,500+ passengers): A bit like chain hotels, with nonstop activities. Many cannot navigate shallow water. Best if you're prone to seasickness.
Onboard tipping guide • Each cruise line deals with tipping differently. Beware: In most cases, the "per passenger" applies to all ages, even infants. (Note: Almost all lines now add a 15 percent gratuity to bar bills.)
Here are the basics among some of the major lines:
Carnival and Holland America: $10 per day per passenger; adjustable through the purser's office.
Disney: Offers guidelines (about $11 per day). Gratuities can be charged to your onboard account.
Princess: $10.50 per day; adjustable.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity: Both offer tipping guidelines (about $10.50 per day) and envelopes. Gratuities can be charged to your onboard account.